Friday, February 24, 2006

Put on Christ against the Powers

Donna Reinhard, in her paper "Ephesians 6:10-18: A Call to Personal Piety or Another Way of Describing Union with Christ?" argues that the “whole armor of God” pericope represents a summary of the letter of Ephesians. It does this because (a) it gathers in itself emphases found in the both the indicative and imperative halves of the letter; (b) it retains the tension in Ephesians between God’s sovereign provision for his people and their ethical response.

As an example of the latter, consider the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is a gift from God; it can't be drawn from one's own well. Yet, believers are called to interpret in thought and action the implications of the imputed righteousness of Christ Jesus that has been applied to them by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:4--in the indicative section (Eph. 1:3-3:21)--Christ is described as “our peace” whereas in Ephesians 4:3--in the imperative section--believers are urged to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

In find most intersting the contribution Reinhard’s exegesis of Ephesians 6:10-18 makes to my ongoing meditation on the Powers. Ephesians 6:10 exhorts the faithful to be made “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Why? Because the principalities and rulers are in opposition, seeking to sow discord in the church any way they can. Believers are to “recognize that disunity within the church is a result of both external forces acting against the Church and attacks on individuals within the Church, weakening individuals in order to weaken the whole.” “These enemies are the same forces (2:2) that had once enslaved them. These are not enemies one can withstand in one’s own strength. Only by God’s resurrecting power are believers made alive in Christ (2:1-5) and freed from slavery to these dark forces. Again, the juxtaposition of God’s might and sovereignty (these enemies have already been defeated!) and the human responsibility to respond to God’s grace is clear.

So, in order to avoid being overrun by the divisive forces of the Powers, believers are to put on the armor which, as Reinhard argues, is a metaphor for putting on Christ & his purposes. “Putting on the whole armor of God” is the same as “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Origen) “Putting on the armor of God is another way of talking about being “identified with God and his purposes.” (O’Brien) “Putting on God’s armor is an aspect of putting on Christ, that is, being united with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, picking up the Indicative/Imperative Sovereignty/Responsibility tension as above, the armor is God’s “God’s sovereignty and power and the riches of Christ for the believer.” “The armor given by God to believers is in some sense his own” where “the Christocentric use of ενδύω” is shorthand for union with Christ. And there is only a short distance between this and theological anthropology with the renewal of the imago Dei. Indeed, the product of this putting on is unity.

Reinhard strongly connects Christian unity and opposition to the Powers. Putting on the armor (putting on Christ) is as much for corporate as for personal protection. “Put on Christ for the sake of the unity and maturity of the Church.” Where the Powers seek division, the epistle urges believers “to live according to the now-revealed mystery of God’s will—unity in Christ.” “Putting on” empowers one to live in community in a way pleasing to God (see Col. 3:10, 12). It is the acceptance of “another view of the world,” namely warfare, resistance to the Powers, fundamental protest, the trusting and active attitude of hope. “The contradiction to the existing reality of himself and his world in which man is placed by hope is the very contradiction out of which this hope itself is born -- it is the contradiction between the resurrection and the cross. . . . It is only in following the Christ who was raised from suffering, from a god-forsaken death and from the grave that it gains an open prospect in which there is nothing more to oppress us, a view of the realm of freedom and of joy. Where the bounds that mark the end of all human hopes are broken through in the raising of the crucified one, there faith can and must expand into hope. There it its hope becomes a ‘passion for what is possible’ (Kierkegaard), because it can be a passion for what has been made possible.” (Moltmann)

Finally, Reinhard lists seven prominent thematic topics in Ephesians, which I found helpful in my reading of this epistle. (1) the unity of believers in Christ; (2) the source of opposition to Christian unity; (3) God’s power exercised on behalf of believers (which Reinhard says is found only in the indicative section: “This topic is presented differently in the two sections of the letter. In the indicative section, it is the power of God exercised on behalf of believers, and in the imperative section it is the call for believers to recognize their dependence upon Christ for strength.”) and the need of this power in the life of Christians; (4) the mystery which is now revealed.” Further, she says, “two topics are found in only one section: God’s will or purpose is found in only the indicative section, and the exhortation to walk worthy of one’s calling is found in only the imperative section.”(524)
Reinhard, Donna R. “Ephesians 6:10-18: A Call to Personal Piety or Another Way of Describing Union with Christ?” JETS 48/3 (September 2005): 521-32. See also the last post in this series Haustafel and the Powers

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Haustafel and the Powers

In the June 2005 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Timothy Gombis, assistant professor of Bible at Cederville University, Cedarville, OH, argues that the Haustafel (the injunctions for the household) of Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is actually a “manifesto for the New Humanity” (319) Gombis explains that “in the thought world of Ephesians, the eschatological new age has dawned with the death and resurrection of Christ (1:20-23) so that it exists in the midst of the old creation ruled by the evil powers. The term Paul uses for these two spheres are the ‘New Humanity’ and the ‘Old Humanity’.” (318) Ephesians is then a manifesto “painting in broad strokes a vision for how believers ought to conduct themselves in new creation communities, thus epitomizing the triumph of God in Christ.” (319)

And what has Christ triumphed over? Why the powers! Indeed, Gombis’ discussion of the powers in this article is fascinating given the vocabulary about them which I am discovering exists in the academic community. And how does Gombis define the powers?

These are evil powers “that rule the present evil age (Eph 1:20-23)” and which “formerly held people captive in death through transgressions and sins (Eph 2:2).

“The powers ruling the present age fulfill a God-given role in creation. They were created to be mediators of God’s rule over this world. According to Jewish thought, the nation of Israel was deemed to be the special inheritance of the God of Israel, but he appointed gods to rule over the nations (Deut 32:8-9; Sir 17:17) (Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians [Louisville: Abingdon, 1998] 51). They were given a stewardship to rule the nations and order their corporate life in such a way that the nations would fear the Most High God. However, these gods have rebelled against their God-given stewardship so that their rule is characterized by a perversion of their original commission. Instead of being faithful stewards of God’s rule, they have corrupted their cultures and have ordered their nations in such a way that those in positions of authority now exploit the weak and powerless, grasping after power, prestige, possessions, and sensual gratification (Ps 82:1-8; Jub. 15:31). What is important in this tradition is that the cultures and nations under the rule of these powers have come to resemble the powers themselves, along with their selfish and self-destructive behavior. Ephesians reflects this tradition in that the character of the Old Humanity is oriented according to that of its rulers. Just as the powers have incurred the judgment of God because they have become graspers after the cosmos (Eph 6:12) instead of faithful stewards of the rule of God (Longenecker, Triumph, 54), so the Old Humanity is characterized by the sins mentioned in the two triads of Eph 4:19 and 5:3. Those in the Old Humanity have been led astray into idolatry (Eph 5:5), having their lives ordered by the evil powers and reflecting their own selfish and self-destructive character.” (319 n12)

But, he continues, Christ is victorious over the powers. Now, “because of his victory in achieving peace (Eph. 2:17), Christ has the right to build his temple, which stands as a lasting monument to his triumph (Eph. 2:20-22). His temple consists of the people of God, the Church, the place where God in Christ dwells by his Spirit. [see Timothy G. Gombis “Ephesians 2 as a Narrative of Divine Warfare,” JSNT 26 (2004), 403-18 on Paul’s utilization of divine warfare ideology.] Indeed, “the Church participates in and epitomizes the triumph of God in Christ by effectively actualizing its identity as the New Humanity by the power of the Spirit in the midst of the enemy territory that is in the present evil age ruled by the rebellious powers.” (320)

As he says, the Haustafel is a manifesto for this new community, where the household (including, but not limited to what we think of as a nuclear family) stands for the city. He writes, “when ancient political theorists addressed the proper ordering of the politeia, they wrote about the ordering of the household”(Ibid.) the oikonomia. “The Haustafel in Ephesians, then, presents a comprehensive vision of the eschatological New Humanity—the new creation politeia—realized under the conditions of this present fallen age.” (322)

The Haustafel is also a community of protest. It is “elaborated against the chaotic, destructive, and divisive social patterns created and fostered by the evil powers who have perverted the created order in such a way that has affected every aspect and level of society” where “those in positions of power manipulate, dominate, and exploit those who are weaker in order to increase in social status and honor.” (Ibid.) Thus, says Gombis, the injunction to “be filled with the Spirit” is a call to “embody and actualize the identity of the New Humanity as the dwelling place of God in Christ.” (323) Paul’s exhortation to be “filled with the Spirit” is not an exhoration “to be controlled by the Spirit vis-à-vis intoxication with wine, but rather to actualize effectively their identity as the dwelling place of God in Christ by the Spirit (see Timothy G. Gombis, “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit: Ephesians 5:18 in its Epistolary Setting,” TynBul 53 (2002) 259-71).” (322n24) The church does this in several ways.

First, it does this by “counteracting the devestating effects of the powers upon human relationships and in transforming relationships within appropriate hierarchical structures.” (324) Gombis does not see Paul arguing for an overthrow of all hierarchy in favor of pure democracy. He doesn’t understand a paradigm of mutual submission. The problem isn’t authority but its abuse and misuse to dominate, exploit and oppress for the sake of power! “The Haustafel as it appears in Ephesians does not identify the corruption of the powers in patriarchy or hierarchicalism per se, but in the perversion of relationships by selfishness and greed, leading alternatively to domination and rebellion.” (324) The remedy is headship defined by sacrificial love and examplified in the self-giving Christ in his relationship to the Church.

The New Humanity, second, assembles itself under the banner of Christ. “This speaks to the chaotic and perverted situation as it exists because of the corruption of creation by the powers, which has its source in the powers’ rejection of their “modesty” and having “claimed for themselves an absolute value,” in the words of J. H. Yoder [The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994)].” The powers ”ceased to recognize the sovereign lordship of the Most High God” but “the New Humanity operates “in the fear of Christ” (5:21) … accountable to their Lord Christ (6:9)” and to God the Father as “the cosmic Paterfamilias (Eph 3:14-15) with “all things” in heaven and earth ordered under his ultimate authority.” (324-25)

Thirdly, and so on, Gombis details the ways in which the Haustafel of Ephesians differs from similar oikonomia injunctions found in contemporary political philosophies. The theme of these, as he visits each section of Paul’s argument, is an attitude of willing, even cruciform submission, just as the Son submits to the Father, not adopting “survival strategies of manipulation,” (325) and the manner in which Paul addresses each person involved, ascribing to each the dignity of the New Humanity, “each a valuable part of the new creation people of God.” (326)

In every case “Paul directly confronts the system of domination in the wider culture—fostered by the powers—where the great authority that is invested in patriarchs . . . was often exercised with conniving manipulation.” (327) The goal of the New Humanity, rather, is “to actualize effectively its identity as the household of God in Christ by the Spirit, reflecting the character of God in Christ in every way and at every level.” (326) Because the household of God is under the authority of Christ “authority over another person is not an opportunity for exploitation or manipulation, but rather a stewardship—a responsibility to protect, provide for, and treate with dignity another person who is also under the Lordship of Christ.” (330) “The aspect of God’s power that human beings should imitate must result in empowerment of others, which stands in striking contrast to the understanding of power on which every patriarchal system is based, namely, domination” (Scott Bartchy “Who Should Be Called Father? Paul of Tarsus between the Jesus Tradition and Patria Potestas,” BTB 33 (2003), 137).
Timothy G. Gombis, “A Radically New Humanity: The Function of the Haustafel in Ephesians” JETS 48/2 (June 2005), 317-30. See also the last post in this series Review of Max Stackhouse's Powers-taxonomy

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Review of Max Stackhouse's Powers-taxonomy

Jonathan Chaplin “On Globalization – an Exercise in Public Theology” Comment V. 21 I. 2 (Spring 2003).

I’m going to pull some lengthy excerpts out of this article, which is an exploration of a series of three books which are the product of Princeton’s Center for Theological Inquiry. What follows is excerpted from the article, but you can read the whole thing here.

Can a theme as complex and seemingly technical as globalization be adequately addressed through the eyes of religious faith? The authors of this handsomely-produced series proceed from the assumption that it can only adequately be addressed through such eyes.

The subtitle of the series is “theological ethics and the spheres of life.” The notion of spheres is billed as playing a central organizing role in the volumes. In his introductions to the three volumes, Max Stackhouse sets out an imaginative framework for analyzing globalization in terms of a series of differentiated domains of social life—“spheres of dynamic activity”—which make up the modern globalized world. These spheres act as channels for powers—“moral and spiritual energies”—which drive the core principalities structuring human life in every society: the economy, the polity, the family and sexuality, culture and media, and religion. Stackhouse proposes that these are universally present: they reflect the deepest needs and capacities of human social life, and, he implies, they are grounded in our very created being.

The modern world has also seen the emergence of specific authorities which have come to be differentiated from the principalities, including the classic professions of education, law, and medicine. A newer species of authority are the regencies of late modernity. These include familiar authorities such as science and technology.

Stackhouse also suggests that nature has come to exercise an authoritative hold over the late modern mind. And the heroic personal authority of figures such as Ghandi, Mandela, Tutu-in his chapter, Peter Paris calls them “moral examplars”—also hold regency-like sway over us. These regencies are “seats of power . . . exercised in the various spheres of life by those principalities, authorities and dominions” possessing moral and spiritual legitimacy.

Finally, the dominions traverse and penetrate all the above. These are civilization-wide religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism. A dominion is what “integrates the principalities into a working whole, and gives distinctive shape to the development of authorities in complex societies.”

…Stackhouse’s crucial proposition is that the plural spheres of our differentiated society have not emerged, do not function, and cannot be sustained in a spiritual vacuum. They challenge head-on the assumption that institutions such as the state, the market, the professions, and the universities must be insulated against the influence of religion. Indeed, when religious believers participate in debates about global human rights, they should first dig deep into their own confessional traditions to find an authentic language in which to speak about such rights.

A possible pointer toward a distinctively Christian account of globalization appears in Stackhouse’s introduction to the first volume (God and Globalization: Religion and the Powers of the Common Life Vol 1. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000.) It arises from his posing some fundamental theological questions: are the powers, principalities and authorities somehow based in creation? If so, how radically have they diverged from their created purpose by sin? Can they be open to redemption?

I [Chaplin] would answer yes to the first and third questions (the second doesn’t admit of a simple answer). But we also need to be able to link these basic affirmations to an account of contemporary globalization. To do this we need a biblically-based account of historical development and the norms which should govern it. Such an account seeks to trace the ways in which the created design of our social possibilities can be discerned historically through the enormous variety of particular practices and institutions in many different cultures and even amidst the deep distortions and oppressions caused by human sin.

Using this idea of historical development, the Christian social scientist Bob Goudzwaard proposed a generation ago the suggestive idea of the normative “disclosure of society” as a framework for evaluating major historical transformations in social and economic life (Capitalism and Progress Eerdmans, 1979). He has now applied the idea to our contemporary context in Globalization and the Kingdom of God (Baker, 2001). Goudzwaard ventures that globalization can be viewed in principle as a further normative historical disclosure of our created social possibilities, even though its present course is being profoundly warped by the gross over-extension of the economic sphere.

I think this is a promising perspective. We have been created to aspire to mutual enrichment and global interdependence within God’s one world. More specifically, globalization is a disclosure of the spatial dimension of our created social possibilities, as they work themselves out in many spheres of human activity.

Note that disclosure is not just endless forward or outward movement. It is a vocation to advance human well-being by widening the circles in which we cooperate for the common good of all God’s creatures. So while expanding global trade for needed goods is valuable in itself, it must not be allowed to thwart or destroy other dimensions of human well-being, such as the stability of local community or equitable access to basic resources.

[Chaplin then argues that] the connections between the spheres, powers, principalities, authorities and regencies in each of the various fields are not stated precisely enough. For example, if the powers of regencies are, as Stackhouse suggests, exercised by principalities and authorities, how can they have come to be emancipated from the authorities? And how can dominions which are civilization-wide religions also exercise the power of regencies? Are spheres more basic than powers, or vice versa.

Part of the reason for the conceptual slackness in the framework may be because most of the terms used to denote the six categories of sphere arise directly out of an exegesis of specific New Testament Greek words (e.g. powers is a rendition of exousia; principalities of archai). It is not clear, however, that such terms correspond sufficiently closely to the contemporary realities they purport to illuminate. Is the economy as a whole really what the word principality appropriately refers to today? Isn’t a transnational corporation or a currency market a closer fit?

Such biblical language may serve well the aims of theologians whose main focus is, rightly, the overall spiritual direction of such modern spheres. But social scientists and policy-makers will want a more detailed and exact conceptual apparatus.

The volumes seems to circle around but do not pay consistent enough attention to the centrality of institutions. Although Stackhouse tells us that the spheres include organizations and “clusters of institutions,” none of the terms in his six-fold classification correspond exactly to specific entities like states, schools, corporations, hospitals, and families, or networks of structured interactions between them, such as markets, media domains, or policy-making networks. Yet these are the actual centres of decision-making shaping globalization-or the vulnerable recipients of its effects.
Cf. the previous post in this series: With the cross of Jesus / Marching on before.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Sermon 1/30/05 Matt. 6.1-15 The Prayer of the Kingdom

We live in a refugee world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are twenty million refugees in our world today. Burundi, Somalia, Palestine the Sudan, in these and many other countries may be found people who do not have a home or country. They have nowhere to go. Some live in fear of persecution on the basis of political or racial association. Others are fleeing war or natural disaster. By whatever means, they dwell outside the margins of the world, and are people to be pitied.

We are truly insulated from this phenomenon in New England. Our nightly news is more concerned with coastal snowfall than with the hopeless tent-squalor of refugee camps. We don’t even think about it. I confess that I don’t think about it much. And even when I try I can’t imagine what it must be like for those twenty million refugees.

The closest we get to understanding what it feels like to be a refugee might be a description of his teen years that a friend of mine uses. He says that when he was a teenager, he was constantly aware that, “there is something good going on somewhere, and I am not a part of it.” There is an “in” and there is an “out” and you are definitely out. That is a refugee feeling. You aren’t important. You aren’t a part of things. You are lost and powerless. Your situation is hopeless. There is no way out. Refugees don’t have a prayer.

When we turn to our text in Matthew today, the first thing we should understand is that Matthew is a refugee gospel.

The Roman provinces were home to innumerable Greek-speaking Jewish communities. Acts chapter 8 tells us that due to persecution after the death of Stephen, thousands of Jewish Christians scattered out into these communities. They took the gospel with them, and churches sprang up wherever they went, in Lydda, Joppa, Damascus, and Antioch.

Remember, though, that these are Jewish believers. They worship in synagogues. Most of them continued to practice the dietary laws and calendar observances of their Jewish heritage; a heritage geographically dominated by Jerusalem and the temple complex. Imagine, then, what it meant for them when, on July 10, AD 70, the Roman general, Titus, breached the temple’s inner courts and set everything on fire. In September, he ordered the temple razed to the ground. Not one stone was left upon another, including those emotional and psychological stones that defined the Jews as a people.

Think about the affect on these Matthew Christians? Their confession of Jesus had made them different, yet. But they were still Jews. Now even that was gone. Who were they now? Politically, emotionally, socially, they were cut off. They were refugees.

Matthew is written to them. It is a thoroughly Jewish gospel. Matthew quotes from and alludes to the Hebrew Bible more than any of them. It employs Jewish terminology and doesn’t care to explain Jewish customs.

Matthew's gospel is also interested in, above all, proclaiming Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Fourteen times--seven twice over--Mathew says of Jesus’ ministry, “all this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophets.” Jesus fulfills all that has come before. Matthew records Jesus’ teaching in five great sermons, echoing the five books of Moses. Indeed, Jesus is the one like Moses who was to come. He is the Messiah, approved by God. In his mouth is the new Torah, and it is to him that God-fearing Jews should listen.

Thus, when we come to our text today, the first of Jesus’ five sermons, we should be very aware of exactly what is happening. Here is the Messiah of God. We are at the very beginning of his ministry, still in Galilee. He has just called his twelve disciples, and now he has ascended the mountain. The people have clustered about him. He has seated himself, just as Moses did, and from his mouth comes an inaugural speech: the constitution of the new Israel. But, you see, there is a problem: Jesus himself is a refugee.

Have you ever been lost and you try and get directions from someone only to discover that they are as lost as you? And invariably at first they sound like they know what they are talking about [improvises speech, which sounds fine until it ends with, “even though I’ve never actually been there.”]

Remember that Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus gets crucifixion at the end of all of this! Suspended between earth and heaven, condemned by Jewish and Gentile courts, abandoned by his friends, he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” This is the cry of a refugee. He is not at home here.

Matthew is writing this gospel to give a sense of direction to the lives of the Jewish Christians all over the Roman world. They want a home. They want to belong, to be a people. They don’t want to be refugees any longer. They want to be Israel again. But Jesus isn’t talking about Palestine; he’s talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. [read some of the beatitudes simply to introduce the word “kingdom.”] This isn’t Jordan or Tel Aviv or any other place where we can emigrate or possess. This place is something that Jesus’ describes as a reward. Jesus is a refugee, too, but he knows the way home. Like Moses, he can lead you to the Promised Land. That’s the context of our passage today. A refugee gospel written for refugees relating the message of a refugee messiah, and it yearns for what all refugees yearn for: home.

So how do we get there? Let’s examine chapter 6 vs. 1.

[1] Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

This verse is very plain: if you want to have your reward--if you want to obtain the blessing of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and no longer be a refugee--then you have to do this (the verb is imperative): “be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them.”

And what are these acts of righteousness? Look at chapter 6.

[2] So when you give to the needy . . . [5] And when you pray . . . [16] When you fast . . .” Almsgiving, prayer and fasting, these are the “acts of righteousness.” Such acts would not surprise a God-fearing Israelite. They are par for the course of what a good Jew should do. But notice that Jesus is warning us about this, he says, “Be careful!” in verse 1. What is Jesus talking about?

This warning occurs five times in the Gospel of Matthew. In each case, it is warning against false teaching which, in 16.6 and 16.11 Jesus calls the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The Pharisees, even more than the Sadducees, are the principal bad guys of Matthew’s gospel. So who were these guys, what were they about?

The Pharisees were highly religious and strictly pious. But note why: because they felt that by returning wholly and completely to the Law, by obeying it in every nuanced detail, that Yahweh would again favor Israel, kick the Romans out (remember, the Romans ran the country in Jesus’ day), and re-establish the remembered theocracy.

And it isn’t like the Pharisees were just a problem in Jesus’ day. Decades later, the people reading the Gospel of Matthew didn’t like the Romans either. They were being persecuted by them, and the Pharisees were still around too. Yes, the Pharisees were still there, with their message of relief from the burden of being a refugee. The Pharisees were refugees too, and they didn’t like it any more than we would. No one wants to be disenfranchised and dispossessed. But, remember, the way the Pharisees had to overcome the problem was about them. Their superb piety would impress God and move his hand to re-establish the Kingdom and remove the burden of being a refugee.

Now compare and contrast. Jesus has a plan for getting the Kingdom, and the Pharisees have a plan. Both of them don’t want to be refugees anymore. They want a country of their own, no persecution, nor marginalization, instead: belonging! And, if 6.1 tells us anything, it says that prayer has a role to play in all of this.

Okay, now we can read our text! Look carefully, beginning at 6.5, this section is subdivided into three parts:

[5] And when you pray . . .” [7] "And when you pray . . .” [9] "This, then, is how you should pray.”

I plan to deal quickly with each part and end with some concluding observations.

The First Subjunctive

[5] And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. [6] But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

A couple of observations. Couched as it is coming after a warning against the Pharisees, we understand quite well who the hypocrites are. We are also well aware of the danger of pride when it comes to the spiritual life and are suitably warned as Jesus says, “they have received their reward in full.” And isn’t this last part wonderful, warming the hearts of introverts everywhere, “go into your room, close your door.” And I love this part here in which the Father is called “unseen.” It hints at a parallel between the way we pray and the nature of the person to whom we pray.

I also love this idea of a prayer closet. The image here is the inmost room of a house. There would be no windows or anything, kind of a person’s “holy of holies.” (Personal story or whatever of setting aside private places to pray. Having set times and places for prayer is a good idea. Idea of creating a family “prayer chair.”)

Think for a minute, too, about how strategic this is. I said before that Matthew’s gospel was a very Jewish gospel. It references the Hebrew Bible more than any other Gospel. It is also a gospel of mission. This gospel ends with the Great Commission. Matthew’s point isn’t just to speak to Jewish Christians of his day, it was to keep them “going into all the nations.” It is a lot easier to melt into foreign cultures if you don’t have to import elaborate ceremonies with you. Every house, no matter the construction or the language of its builders, has a place for prayer.

But wait a minute! Look at the promise here on this section: “the Father will reward you.” Wait a minute. What sort of reward are we talking about? The sweet fellowship of prayer? The fellowship of his peace? Certainly these are rewards, but think of the context. The context is the Kingdom. This is a refugee gospel. When we think of it this way, this section begins to change.

First, what exactly is this person up to who is praying standing in the synagogues and on street corners? Is he really doing this just so people will say how religious he is? Well, sort of. He’s hoping people will join his cause. He’s advertising. By his public prayer, he becomes an evangelist for the cause. Remember, he is a Pharisee. He believes that his effort will move Yahweh to usher in the Kingdom. Not so, says Jesus. You can’t make the Kingdom come any quicker by advertising, by marketing. The results you get from that kind of work are a return on your investment. They may look good, but they aren’t the Kingdom. You want to see the Kingdom, don’t go out and make it happen, pray and receive it.

There is a lot of hype in our time about marketing your church. We are a media-savvy people. No matter how good the product, if it isn’t marketed correctly then it will never sell, that’s the wisdom of our day.

And is this bad? We just finished a slick-program ourselves. Did we sin in doing that? Some of us have been pretty frustrated about the results. We wonder, after all the effort and expense, has anything really changed? Let me say this, and I humbly submit this to your judgment. As I read this, it isn’t so much what you do as it is where you put your faith for the results. Was your faith in your effort? Put another way, do you judge success in the church according as you see a result? Individually, are you counting on a result to convince you as to the presence of the Kingdom? Do you rate your walk with God according to visible fruits of your “ministries”? You are putting your faith in the wrong place: your efforts and their results.

Success in ministry is measured only as God measures it. It is a surprise, so to speak. God loves surprises. Business is about managing so-called risk and surprise down until it is a computable, quantifiable, recognizable equation which we can manipulate. That isn’t what the Kingdom is about. I understand how difficult it is to be a refugee, how much you long for home, but trusting in some external activity or product is not the way to get there.

The Second Subjunctive

[7] When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. [8] Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Have you ever noticed that the ratio of hearing goes down as the number of words goes up? (Maybe you are noticing this now.) My Dad tells the story of my Grandfather Pater’s fondness for long prayers. Once, he says, Pater was asked to give a blessing at a family meal. Instead, he preached a sermon and, by the time he was done, the food was cold. (When I was younger, I thought that story was about his being long winded. Now that I’m older I understand that, as a married man, my Grandfather was actually seeking martyrdom.)

You may think of the author of Ecclesiastes warning, when you hear this verse. “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. Let your words be few.” (Eccl. 5.2a) Others have taken this babbling which Jesus mentions to be a condemnation of written prayers. The term, “Hocus Pocus,” for example, is lifted right out of the lips of a medieval priest muttering the Latin mass in so confused and hasty a manner as to be smashed together and sound a lot like “hocus pocus.” This is about plain praying, it is said. Written prayers or liturgies, then, are forbidden as just as much paganism.

Another thing people say about this passage is, “Well, if God knows what I need before I ask him, then why do I pray?”

But let’s look again at this verse. We are refugees, remember? What we need is the Kingdom! Now maybe I need to define the Kingdom quickly for you. Jesus came preaching the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the central focus of Jesus’ ministry. Simply put: the Kingdom is manifest wherever Jesus rules as king. We want his rule over our lives. We have a ministry of reconciliation, bringing people into citizenship in his Kingdom. We yearn for the full in-breaking of his Kingdom. We are refugees longing for our King and his Kingdom. That is what we need.

When it reads, “the Father knows what you need before you ask him,” it is talking about the Kingdom, not your or my perceived needs.

So what does he mean by babbling? Is it about forbidding written prayers and proscribing only spontaneous praying? Not at all! Rather, it warns us against trusting in our own private piety. We are in our closets, but the need to earn came in with us. I didn’t pray hard enough. I don’t fast. I am not giving like I should. We think these things about ourselves because we believe that the Kingdom is given to us on the basis of our piety: let us pray harder and God will work.

Just as we cannot trust in programs, marketing, and other tools, even though we must use them; just as in that case we must trust in a rewarding God. So, here, we cannot trust in our piety or religiosity. There is nothing wrong with praying harder, with fasting, with pursuing virtue, but it is wrong if you trust in those things. Our God is a rewarding God. He did not hold his only Son from us, so why do we think that he will withhold the benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom of his son from us unless we are good enough? The Kingdom doesn’t come in any faster because you worked harder. Why do we keep trying to make God do what we want him to do?

A word about written prayers. I see no problem with written prayers, nor do I think they are forbidden in this passage. What counts is the intent of the heart.

The Third Subjunctive

[9] Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven; hallowed by your name. [10] Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. [11] Give us this day our daily bread. [12] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. [13] And do not bring us to into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. [14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you; [15] but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Since the earliest centuries of the Church, theologians, pastors, and authors have contemplated this prayer line by line, word by word and have found in it the summation of the gospel. That is not my goal here today. Rather, in the time we have left, I want to just make a few comments on this prayer which has been called “the Lord’s prayer,” even though we have no record of the Lord ever praying it.

With this prayer, Jesus turns from saying what not to do to saying what to do: “This, then, is how you should pray.” Many people have used this prayer as a model prayer, which is fine, but, remember, we are looking at this in terms of the Kingdom. “This, then, is how you should pray [for the Kingdom].” That’s the overall point Jesus is getting at. You are a refugee, and you are longing and aching. What can you do about it: pray like this.

Earlier I said that refugees don’t have a prayer. Now they do. They are given a foretaste of home in one another under the word “our” and the common pledge of a common prayer.
“The Lord's Prayer binds the people together, and knits them one to another, so that one prays for another, and together one with another; and it is so strong and powerful that it even drives away the fear of death.” Martin Luther, Table Talk, 338

Who gives this to us: the Father.

The overall pursuit of this discourse has been the reward of the Kingdom. You can’t make it happen by your own efforts, or earn it through some holy zeal, you receive it from the rewarding God.

But note the singular context in which Matthew places the prayer: forgiveness. After he has recorded the prayer, Matthew highlights forgiveness. We refugees need to practice forgiveness one to another.

As we join together under this prayer, so the need for forgiveness becomes greater.

[At this point, my notes leave off. I remember talking about how the injunctions to forgive and the warnings about the Father not forgiving serve as a litmus test. Putting people and actions up against this reveals something about them; no true disciple of Jesus will fail to pass the test.]
Sermon preached at North Shore Baptist Church, Peabody, MA, on January 30, 2005.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

With the cross of Jesus / Marching on before

It seems I have opened a door into something much larger, and this through a process of reading Walter Wink’s The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium (Galilee/Doubleday, 1998)

And what are the Powers? Here is Wink’s description:

Latin American liberation theology made one of the first efforts to reinterpret the “principalities and powers,” not as disembodies spirits inhabiting the air, but as institutions, structures and systems. The Powers are simultaneously an outer, visible structure and an inner, spiritual reality. What people in the world of the Bible experienced as and called “principalities and powers” was in fact the actual spirituality at the center of the political, economic and cultural institutions of their day. (Powers That Be, 24)

Wink continues:

It is merely a habit of thought that makes people think of the Powers as personal beings. In fact, many of the spiritual powers and gods of the ancient world were not conceived of as personal at all. I prefer to think of the Powers as impersonal entities, though I know of no sure way to settle the question. Humans naturally tend to personalize anything that seems to act intentionally. But we are now discovering from computer viruses that certain systemic processes are self-replicating and “contagious,” behaving almost willfully even though they are quite impersonal. For the present, I [Wink] have set aside the question of the actual status of these Powers, and instead have attempted to describe what it was that people in ancient times were experiencing when they spoke of “Satan,” “demons,” “powers,” “angels,” and the like. “None of these “spiritual” realities has an existence independent of its material counterpart. None persists through time without embodiment in a people or a culture or a regime or a corporation or a dictator.

The issue is not whether we “believe,” in them but whether we can learn to identify them in our actual, everyday encounters. When a particular Power becomes idolatrous—that is, when it pursues a vocation other than the one for which God created it and makes its own interests the highest good—then that Power becomes demonic. The spiritual task is to unmask this idolatry and recall the Powers to their created purposes in the world. But this can scarcely be accomplished by individuals. A group is needed—what the New Testament calls an ekklesia (assembly)—one that exists specifically for the task of recalling these Powers to their divine vocation.

Evil, then, is not just personal but structural and spiritual. It is not simply the result of human actions, but the consequence of huge systems [Dominations Systems] over which no individual has full control. Only by confronting the spirituality of an institution and its physical manifestations can the total structure be transformed. Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure. (Ibid. 27, 30-31)

Now an address by Dan Liechty, "Principalities and Powers: A Beckerian Reading of Walter Wink's The Powers Trilogy."

"In the Yoder/Berkhof line of interpretation, Principalities and Powers are understood as social forces, encompassing

an inclusive vision of religious structure (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures (`ologies and `isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race, and nation).

Walter Wink's voluminous work self-consciously builds on and extends this line of interpretation. Wink's approach emphasizes the following points, which will also become our final points of comparison for a social scientific view.

The Powers are Good. Wink suggests that the Powers were created by God for the ordering of human community. The Powers are part of the original creation of God and, as such, were created good, like all of God's original creation. If the Powers functioned according to God's original intention, they would be our ally in assuring that people are fed, goods are distributed to those in need, and in general, that communal laws would govern life together for the common good.

The Powers are Fallen. But these Powers are in rebellion against God's original intentions. As such, these Powers act in accordance with the `system of domination,' creating vast inequalities and injustices in the economic order. They make themselves the hand servants of the worst of human emotions and motivations, of greed, envy, revenge and violence. They facilitate actions leading to ecological destruction, inequality and injustice, making such actions appear `logical' and `inevitable,' causing good people to act accordingly, even as they may personally regret the results.

The Powers must be Redeemed. Christ has brought redemption for the Powers. They have been broken and shown in the Cross to be a mockery of God's justice and goodness. The decisive battle against the Powers has been won in the Cross of Christ. The task now is to bring the Powers to this recognition and to allow them again to function for the common good according to God's original intention.

The eschatological Christian community is God's tool to bring this redemption of the Powers into historical reality. The problem arises when Christians themselves fail to recognize this corporate and transpersonal element in God's salvation and retreat into satisfaction with personal salvation, the world be damned. They then become easy prey for the fallen Powers, seducing them into acting corporately and politically according to the Powers' own fallen dictates. Christians then begin to value `patriotic duty' as equal to or above their Christian commitments. They begin to lean toward the `expediency' of violent solutions to political problems. They close their eyes to the systemic inequalities and injustices of economic and political systems, however much they may regret the suffering that results. And worst of all, they begin to play power politics within the Christian community itself on the model of the fallen Powers rather than according to Christ's suffering love, thus diluting and negating the very high calling with which God entrusted them."

One more note from Wink. He writes:

William Stringfellow's Free in Obedience(New York: Seabury, 1964) had provided me a vision of how the biblical category of principalities and powers could serve as the basis for a social ethic based on the New Testament. The received wisdom till then was that the New Testament is only concerned with personal ethics; if one is interested in a social ethic, one must turn to the Exodus or the prophets. Work on the Powers series, first conceived as a single volume, grew into three, and occupied 28 years. The titles in the Powers trilogy are Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers (which was awarded the "Best Religious Book of 1993.”) A related volume, Cracking the Gnostic Code, rounds out the understanding of the Powers in the early centuries of our era.

And a nod toward his solution to the Powers:

I became increasingly convinced that nonviolence was the only way to overcome the domination of the Powers without creating new forms of domination. (Walter Wink, “Write What You See: An Odyssey.” The Fourth R Vol. 7 No. 3 (May/June 1994)

Now all of this meshes quite well with what N.T. Wright was saying about Colossians. And, as I said, it opens a door for me that hasn’t been opened before, both to the role of the liberal arts, as I stated, and also for the role of the church and its people: people like me going about their Kingdom-work within the everyday.
Walter Wink, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, New York, NY. has worn many hats. Previously, he was a parish minister and taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. And, in 1989-1990, he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. His many award winning books include: The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament and When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations

Most recently, Wink has written The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man(Fortress Press, 2001; read scholar's responses.) and edited the book, Peace Is The Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation(Orbis Books, 2000.)

See the previous post in this series, Unmasking the Powers with N. T. Wright

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fee in '98 on Spirit and Trinity

Gordon Fee lecturing on: The Spirit: The Restored Presence of God

[This lecture consists of] three interwoven urgencies which bring this material together:

1. Lack of scholarship/need for trinitarian re-emphasis. While preparing this material for publication. at the time, NT scholarship treated the Spirit as a minimal reality, lip service but not serious study. Ridderbos's Paul only gives five pages to the Spirit. Ziesler only gives one page to the Spirit. While gathering the material together for the entry in the Dictionary of Charismatic Movements (Zondervan) on the Spirit in Paul, Fee realized there was no work on this. He was also writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians. The Spirit is a central view of Paul. Paul isn't christocentric, as has been said, but, rather, is theocentric; in other words, Paul is a trinitarian. It was Paul's experience of God that led to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity wasn't dreamed up by the church two hundred years later, but was there in the experience of the early church. Most christians today are binitarian in practice even though they confess the Trinity. For most, the Holy Spirit is a grey oblong blurr. Let us become trinitarians in life and living.

2. The Personal/Existential Dimension of the Trinity. There is not just trinitarianism as doctrine, but the personal dimension of the trinity that should be experienced.

3. Deep concern for the church, arguing for a more Pauline view. We cannot restore the full New Testament church. There is just too much between ourselves and the first century. We can, however, reclaim the heart of the early church. In a postmodern world, how can we live the life of the future in the present so that the world dislikes us for the right reasons, not the wrong ones? We can't do this without the work of the Spirit.

Personal nature of the Spirit; the Trinity and what it means to understand the Spirit as the renewed presence of God.

We must break the habit of talking about the Spirit in abstract and removed terms. All Christian traditions seem to speak abstractly of the Spirit--even Charismatics emphasize the language of experience rathern than personal encounter. You hear such phrases in Charismatic circles as "baptized in the Spirit", baptize is always a verb. You can't say, "receiving the baptism" because baptism is a verb not a noun. When we start using language like that, we over emphasize experience and talk about "it" rather than "he." The Spirit isn't an impersonal force. In other evangelical circles, the emphasis is on the still small voice not the power and presence of the living God. We become practicing binitarians. Part of the reason for this is the language about the Spirit we read in the Scriptures. All our images about the Spirit (dove, wind, water, fire, oil) are impersonal and move us away from seeing him personally as we see the Father or the Son.

I Corinthians 2:6-16. The Corinthians are transforming the gospel into sophia/wisdom and measuring such wisdom in human terms. Paul tries to shatter this (1:18ff) by pointing to the evidence that the gospel is not wisdom humanly understood. No human wisdom could have come up with the gospel--would human wisdom have chosen you. ("such as were some of you") The only way you can know divine wisdom is if the Spirit reveals it; the gospel is foolish without the Spirit revealing it as true. Spirit must touch spirit and change the heart. Romans 8:16, the Spirit touches the spirit. That allows us to cry in the language of Jesus [Aramaic] "Abba!" 8:26 Likewise the Spirit cries for us when we do not know how. The mind does not understand. [He's making a veiled reference to tongues assuming we all agree and understand a larger amount of unspoken doctrine] You can't talk about an impersonal Spirit when the Spirit prays and convinces. The Spirit isn't an "it" but has true personhood [hypostasis/person]. What people pray & sing is what people really believe [Pastor Bob adds to my notes, "and how you serve."] In the Old Testament, the Spirit is called the Spirit of YHWH. Kurios in the LXX becomes "Spirit of the LORD," which is what Paul picks up on and changes to the "Spirit of God," because Lord refers to Christ in Paul. Yet, several times Paul says "Spirit of Christ" (pneuma tou Xristou) so that the Incarnation not only put a human face on the father but on the Spirit as well. We can see the face of the Spirit in the face of Christ.

Galatians 3:3-7 adopted sons/heirs, receive the Spirit of the Son by which the death and ressurection of Christ is appropriated to us. The Spirit is our link with what happened two thousand years ago. Because we have the Spirit of the Son we speak "Abba" the language of the Son. Paul, in almost every instance, speaks of salvation in a trinitarian way. God's love initiates. "The love of God shed abroad" by the Spirit through the work of the Son on the cross. Our salvation is a trinitarian event. Jesus saves, yes, but Paul says more exactly: the Triune God saves! Fellowship (koinonia) is fellowhship in and through the Spirit (koinonia en pneumatos). Without the Spirit there is no salvation. The final word in our theology must always be doxology. Eph. 1:1-14. It is an overloaded, stream-of-conciousness passage because it is worship. The work of the Son carries through to verse 12. In verse 11 the passion of God begins to emerge, God has created one people. The experience of the Holy Spirit indwelling is what seperates pagan and believer.

[Short Break in the Lecture]

Renewed Presence . . . is central to some other truths about the Spirit & the Church.

Narrative. You can't tell the Biblical story without telling the story. Abstract theology can't lose the story from which it originates. If you don't start with creation, then redemption doesn't make much sense. Paul was always in the Biblical story. "four score and seven years" is a stock phrase that is innately a part of the story of what it means to be an American. Such are the OT allusions in the New. Such allusions triggered the whole story of Israel in the minds of the hearer--but we only hear "87" years, the same way a foreigner hears that American phrase. We are little engaged in the symbolic universe of the NT writers. Don't think NT--think Bible as a whole. John Stott tells a story of when he was at Regent College doing his seminar "Pastor as Storyteller" and his grandson came to him and said, "Grandpa, gell me a story and put me in it!" This is exactly what our task is, to tell God's story and put people in it.

Paul believes that this is a continuation of the story.

II. The Spirit, the Present and the Future

The new covenant promise finds it first clear articulation in Jeremiah 31. The new covenant has to do with the failure of people to keep the old. Ezek. ties this new covenant specifically to the Spirit. Ezek. 36:26 picking up the language of Jeremiah "new heart/new spirit/remove heart of stone/give heart of flesh". The valley of dry bones was written during exile. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.

Paul picks up on this in 2 Corinthains 3: "The letter [Torah] kills but the Spirit gives life. New vs. old covenants. Dr. Fee then says that when he finished this section of his commentary, he sat down for an hour or so and just thought about that text.

The second symbol is the presence. The OT people were marked out from the surrounding nations because they were a people of the presence. The law, the land, circumcision, all were just out-workings of this central tenet, the presence. God left Sinai, his dwelling, and the tabernacle is built so that his people are now known as the people with whom the Lord dwells. The tragedy of the exile is the destruction of the temple, they are no longer a people of the presence. Ezekiel is trying to say that the destruction of the temple is not necessarily a bad thing. The crucial text for this is Is. 63 His presence saved them. (10) yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. Paul quotes this when he says, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit" in Eph. In Isa. already the presence is being identified as the Spirit. The boldness of I Cor. is that the temple is still standing in Jerusalem while Paul is calling the church the temple. What distinguishes the church, then, is that they are a people of the presence. Romans 6 Paul uses temple language to refer to the individual believer. We live in the presence of God. Christ lives in us by his Spirit, not an "it" but "he" "Christ" "GOD!!!!" and because God is there, then we are empowered. Gentiles, who had no place in the symbolic universe of Israel, now do.

I Corinthians 5 is difficult to understand because our symbolic universe is so different than Paul's. You should go into mourning because this man has died. I being absent in body but present in spirit, not as though present in body but in Spirit. They don't carry sentence out alone. (4) but when you & my spirit are assembled together in the power of the Lord Jesus. Paul understands his letter as a prophetic word, his letter is his presence in their midst. [True knowledge is evidenced in love] "with the power of the Lord Jesus" They couldn't understand that the Spirit could be present without power and without manifestation! Our problem is that people "go to church." People go to church, you see, on a consumer basis. You give them a good product, says the contemporary wisdom, and they'll come. This is demonic. Nobody "went to church" in the 1st century. TSOUNERKOUMAI we assemble as the church, you can't go to church: you are it! Going to church is like hoping without really expecting. The way to correct abuse is not disuse, but correct use. [in this section, he is alluding to the gifts of the Spirit. At least that is my belief from listening to him--he kind of slipped around a bit. It seems that what he was saying was that where the Spirit is, we should expect power because the Spirit is the living God. Not only so, but we should stop not expecting because of this going to church attitude, but instead should expect something. As for how to expect something, simply disusing something because of past abuses isn't mature, rather instead learning to use --and I'm assuming he means the gifts here -- the gifts correctly is the mature option.]


III. The Spirit, the Present and the Future

Ecclesiology. Fee is not against denominations, the question is how can we recapture a more biblical sense of the church. /kirk/ has no reference to EKKLESIA. Today the word "church" carries too much baggage to be useful. Rather, Fee uses the language of the "people of God."

"Trust me," he says, "these separate concepts will eventually come together." The people of God are an eschatological people. We always deal with the end, the story has an end as well as a beginning. The story must be told in total. The people of God live in the realities of the future. Elizabeth à John; Hannah to Samuel. there is a parallel there. Movement from Judges to Kings with Hannah N Samuel, and later from Kings to the Davidic Kingship.

Psalm 89. Resurrection and the gift of Spirit are two eschatalogical expectations contained in the prophets. The ressurection of the body and the gift of the Spirit are the signs of the end times. Jesus is tested by Satan at the points where Israel failed in their wilderness journey. Jesus' resurrection is the certain evidence that the crucial eschatalogical event has taken place. Examine the church calendary. you abound in hope only by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit becomes for Paul the crucial eschatalogical symbol of the certainty of what is coming. Our present existence is already/not yet. We live in certainty of the future. What makes Paul so certain is the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is the the deposit (arabone) guaranteeing all the rest. In the New Testament, joy is a verb not a noun. The Spirit is the seal, not baptism. (Sorry all you Presbyterians.) The Spirit is the authenticating reality in our lives. The Spirit is the evidence of salvation. God is already creating his eschatalogical people.

The ecclesiological dimension with the Spirit. The difference between Old and New covenant is how people enter into the Kingdom of God. The continuity between old and new is that God is always about saving people for his name. This is why the cross is central. The New Testament always puts the saved life in terms of "with others." The Trinity informs and underlies christian anthropology and the imago dei saying that humanity is at it heart social. We are only human beings in community with others. How can you love God and not your neighbour? We leave out the message about community. Conversion is a giant umbrella term. It includes all that ends with a new body and a new earth. How do we know if we love when we only are with people who look like us? Paul does not believe in homogenous churches, because how then do we know if we love? We live in the most intensely selfish and self-centered culture on the planet.

Romans. Luther and Calvin got almost all of it correct, but missed a few percent. What drives Romans is the question "Who are the People of God?" Circumcision/food laws/observance of days. Circumcision is dealt with earlier in Romans. Later (Romans 13:1-15:13) the other two are dealt with. Paul says the only thing is faith expressing itself through love. Peace has to do with Shalom. By Paul's day, Jew and Gentile are seperated by intense ethnic hatred. Only the Spirit can overcome race, class, and gender separation.

IV. Life in the Spirit

The Spirit is person, the renewed presence of God.
The eschatalogical people of God living the life of the future in the present age.
The people of God are called saints, every believer is called this. The Scriptures do this because God says he's going to make a holy people for himself. The holy ones of the most high stand in the presence of the most high. Every bit of New Testament theological language finds its roots in the Old Testament. Ekklesia is not the Greek city state, the polis, where landed men gathered to debate and vote. No, Paul was using this out of the LXX, referring to the people gathered in Israel. Paul recognized that all the promises which include Gentiles eschatalogically drive the understanding that there is one people of God. Most of the New Testament doctrines are written in multicultural cities with tons of divisions. The New Testament knows nothing of homogeneous churches. Philemon tells me the gospel works, because Jew (Paul) Gentile and Slave (Philemon) come together in unity. Unity is not because we all wear the same clothes. Rather, we live as one people abiding in a foreign land. We live this heavenly citizenship worthy of the gospel. Humility means to place the needs of others ahead of your own. At the end of Philippians 3 Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we await our Savior and Lord, Jesus. The people of God are counter-cultural because their citizenship is in heaven. We are a colony of heaven; you want to know what heaven will be like, look at a colony of it. What chance do people have of hearing the gospel if they don't see the gospel in its citizens? Christians are always countercultural. Fruit of the Spirit: fruit in Galatians is Chapter 5, which is a natural part of Paul's whole argument in the epistle. The argument doesn't work without the fruit. Gal 5:13. don't let freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, rather use your freedom to perform the duties of a slave. Walk in the Spirit and you won't obey the lusts of the flesh. Now flesh is often interpreted as an inner tendency toward physical lust and sins of lust, yet Paul's list has 8 of these works of flesh pertaining to sins of discord, conflict and the desire to win. If you are led by the Spirit, you aren't under law, but you have the fruit of the Spirit now. The fruit is almost totally involved with relationships in the community. The fruit isn't individual peace but communal shalom. Whether we want it or not, we are thrown into a community of other forgiven sinners to live a counter cultural life of the Spirit before the eyes of the world. we are bound together absolutely so that even though we aren't geographically together we are one body in community. We are at war. Some are torn to pieces in the conflict. Others fight on and some come fresh to the front, yet we do not fight alone. If we aren't living in community then what hope does the world have for hearing the gospel?

Question/Answer Session

Q: What is the relationship of the charismata/gifts to all this?
A: In Paul they exist only for the building up of the body. Our American individualism has destroyed the whole thing. The church didn't care what gift you had, just that you are open to be used by the Spirit in whatever gift he gives you in the moment for the good of the body. We don't believe this stuff anymore. However, our churches in latin america and Africa do--they came from animism and tribal gods who manifested themselves commonly and demonically. If those false gods had power, then they assume quite naturally that the real living God will be a force indeed. Remember, though, such gifts are for the community.

Q: How do we "test all things"?
A: That is a good question. 2 Thess. 2 where Paul is not sure of the source of what that church is saying. Did they it from reading a letter or from a prophetic utterance? In 2:15 hold to the traditions of word & epistle. So the way the Spirit is tested is the apostolic tradition (ie. Scripture). Another thing is that all who have the Spirit ought to have a sense of the what the Spirit is saying? Does the blood run cold, so to speak. And there should be a mechanism for judging/testing and discipline/reconciliation, too. also 1 Cor 14:3: edification, exhortation, encouragement. You should ask, "Does this message do these things?" "Most of us don't have the courage to take our hand off the control button…I think we ought to have the courage to make mistakes. Remember, too, that the 1st Century church met in houses in small groups. They couldn't have imagined the 200- or 1500-member churches of today."
Notes taken during a lecture given by Dr. Gordon Fee at the Gordon-Conwell Chapel on November 1st, 1998.

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Sermon fragment Matt. 5.17-20

The following is the last half of a sermon I gave in the Fall of 1999 Matthew 5.17-20.

Most people think of the Ten Commandments as God's guilt-trip-rules imposed on people, but they are missing the point. Wherever there are nations, there are laws. Wherever there are kingdoms and governments, there are laws defining what it means to be a citizen. Laws express the character and beliefs of an assembled people. So God wasn't imposing anything. Rather he was creating a people for himself. The Law at Sinai defines for the remainder of the Old Testament what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Salvation is being a citizen of that Kingdom, and so salvation was of the Jews, for the Jews were the receivers of God's Law.

Applying this knowledge to the Sermon on the Mount, the parallels with Sinai are obvious. The people are assembled. The disciples have come up the mountain. And the Messiah, the second Adam and very God of very God, is seated. The Kingdom is on his mouth and is flowing down the mountain like rivers of milk and honey. How can we not expect him to talk about the Law? The Law defines the nation or kingdom, and the Kingdom is what is on his mind--the new Kingdom which he has come to proclaim to all the world. To be its citizen is to be saved from the coming wrath. To be outside it is to pass away and be destroyed.

Let us quickly, then, examine our text. Again, what is our relationship as Christians today to the Law and the Prophets?

[17]Don't ever think [you see how that is like "Thou Shalt Not", very strong language] that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

Now, what does fulfill mean? It is quite obvious what abolish means. Jesus was the Messiah, and it was generally believed by all Israel that the Messiah was going to alter the Law in some way or other. But, especially if you think of Sinai, no one expected the word "fulfill" to be a part of it! Can you see the shock on their faces, their mouths dropping open as they are hearing this. "This wasn't like at Sinai!" they're saying. And, no it wasn't. Back then, you either obeyed or your were cursed. But now, Jesus is saying something about fulfillment. What does he mean by "fulfil?" Is he imposing a new command on us?

But follow: Jesus continues and says the word "for." Some of your translations don't have this little word at the beginning of verse 18, but it is extremely important. How we read that little word says everything about our own relationship to the Law and the Prophets. Let's go further.

[18]For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a pen will ever disappear from the Law until everything might come to pass.

Nothing new here. Jesus' audience knew this already. The Law was here to stay until the new heavens and earth should swallow up the present ones when the Kingdom of Heaven would come. Until then, even the smallest most obscure commandment--like one hidden perhaps in one of the Minor Prophets that no one can find when they need to--remains in effect. What that means for us is that we are just as shackled to the commands as they were. The Law at Sinai and you and me are all chained together like prisoners at the hands and feet. Wherever we go, it is there with us and we can't get away.

But Jesus is not done. He keeps talking.

[19] Therefore, [before that time] whoever should relax one of the least of these commands and teach others to do the same will be called "least" in the Kingdom of Heaven [for that is what they will be] but whoever should practice and teach these commands will be called "greatest" in the Kingdom of Heaven [and rightfully so].

According to the United States Immigration & Naturalization Service, there are several requirements for persons wishing to become U.S. citizens. You must be at least eighteen years of age and be living in the United States. You must have a good moral character, have some knowledge of how the government works. Let me read this: "An applicant must show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States." Requirements for citizenship. Obedience to the supreme law of the land. Is this any different from what we find in verse 19?

You can't get away from Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. The words of his first recorded sermon are "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" Now he's talking about obeying or disobeying the Law as proof of citizenship in that very Kingdom. Want to be a good citizen in the coming Kingdom? Practice and teach these commands. Want to be a US citizen? Obey the Constitution. As a matter of fact, that's part of the oath required of new citizens, that they promise to, "support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States." Incidentally, notice the contrast he makes between people who disobey or relax one of the least of these commands and those who obey. One is called "least" and the other "greatest." You should know that Jesus is using a figure of speech. It may look like even the disobedient get a place at the table--after all, least is better than none, right? However, it is a figure of speech. Least is just a nice way of saying not at all. If you don't practice and teach the Laws of the Kingdom, then you are no citizen.

Is it becoming clear now why Jesus started out this whole section by saying, "Don’t you ever even think I came to abolish the law"? Don't ever think it, because your and my obedience to the Law determines whether we are saved into the new Kingdom. To be mistaken on this point is a matter of life and death!

An influential and important group of people in Jesus' day strongly believed this. We know them as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious Hercules of their day, and Jesus' words would naturally have made his audience think of them. The Pharisees were the most law-abiding people they knew. Surely, if the Messiah's new Kingdom requires obedience to the Law, then the Pharisees are in the front of the line for citizenship.

That said, we are set up for the next verse:

[20] For I say to you, [there's the oath language again] unless your righteousness greatly surpasses the Scribes and Pharisees, under no circumstances will you enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Surpasses the Scribes and Pharisees! Doesn't Jesus realize just how nutty for obedience those people are? This is an impossibility.

But Jesus is clear: unless you surpass, you cannot enter. He has made immigration and naturalization into the Kingdom of Heaven impossible. The border is effectively closed. We are lost.

See, we cannot go down the mountain to the crowds; they are as lost as we are. We cannot go any higher; the King himself is before us. In despair, caught between the doomed world of the now and the holy righteousness required by the one to come, we can only hurl ourselves at his feet and cry, "Please, please, oh Lord, let us in! We will try, we will try! Please! Have mercy on us!" And that's when we hear the most curious thing.

"It is I who have come to fulfill, not you."

What? We feel a ray of sunlight on our darkened faces. We blink in confusion and amazement. Jesus' voice runs like sweet aloe into our ears. "What made you think," he says, "what made you think, weak as you are with sin, that you could meet the divine requirements for citizenship in my Kingdom? It is I who have come to fulfill, not you."

Why didn’t we see it before? We thought he was talking about us. But he was talking about himself. He is the one whose righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees. He is the one who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is his obedience to the Father, even to the cross, that will bring everything to pass, that will last after heaven and earth are passed away, and will fulfill even the smallest letter and the least stroke of a pen.

Suddenly everything is different. We ask again, what is our relationship as Christians to the Law of God? And now we can answer, he is our Lord. We know him and love him. Jesus, after all, is himself the Law, not the Law, Jesus. Jesus is, as it were, living righteousness, and as we read the gospel and read of his death for us, we see that fact acted out time after time, verse after verse, until all that was spoken by the Law and the Prophets of old is fulfilled and Jesus cries out, "It is finished!" With Peter we can only say, "Where else can we go? Only you, Lord, have the words of life."

You might object, "But that doesn't answer the question. The question is about relationship." Okay, fine. Then think of it this way. He is our husband and we, the church, his bride. What is his is ours, what is ours his. In the covenant of love that binds us together, sealed in his blood and assured in the will of God before the creation of the world, he takes upon himself our sinfulness and goes to the cross. And, further, he gives to his bride the whole measure of his perfect and spotless obedience.

We hear a lot about the former, about how our guilt is wiped clean by the atoning and willing sacrifice of Christ upon a Roman gibbet. Now fill in that empty place where our sin was with the fullness of his perfect and divine obedience.

Can you contemplate that? Can you see that? If I ended the sermon here, that would be enough. But let's go furtehr and see how they apply to us.

First, Christ's obedience is better than yours. Stop trying to earn his favor. You have it. God isn't like man that you should earn his favor. Stop kicking yourself for the little ways you fall down day by day. Stop harassing your spirit to death with guilt because you aren't so regular in your devotional life, because you are so timid a witness to your co-workers or friends, or because your marriage isn't what you wish it would be. Stop telling yourself it is up to you to be the best Christian you can be. There is only one good Christian, and that is Christ himself. Don't you ever, don’t you ever, don't you ever forget that Christ came to fulfill the Law for you. Put on the breastplate of his righteousness and do not be afraid.

Second, obey the law. "Wait a minute," you say, "what about the temple and the sacrifices? Do we need to start sacrificing young lambs to celebrate Passover?" Ah! You are sharp! Look at what comes after our section today (vv. 21ff). See how Christ asserts the moral but not the ceremonial and civil demands of the Law. It is not obvious, but implied, so listen carefully. Our husband, Christ, has done it, but now he reasserts the moral part of the Law. And this makes sense, because the Law is just a reflection of the character of the Godhead. Want to look in face of Christ? Look at the Law and the Prophets which describe him. So, obey the moral demands of the law.

I challenge you, teenagers, kids, adults, heads of families. Memorize the Ten Commandments in the coming week. Memorize them and pray over them. Talk about them in your goings out and your comings in and with your families and friends. Bind them upon the door posts of your house, so to speak, and write them deep on the tablet of your heart. Christ has told us that whoever should practice and teach these commands will be called great. Let us aspire to greatness.

Third, a word to those outside of Christ. The law is in effect. The simple fact that we live on this earth under this heaven proves it so. Doesn’t your conscience prick your heart with guilt at your willful life? I don't care how good you are. And what does ignorance matter? Ignorance of a speed limit doesn't keep the nice police officer from giving you a ticket. Don't try and disappear into the crowd. Don't struggle up the mountain to try and find another god, either in some abstract heaven above or some mysterious chamber of your soul. There is only Jesus before you. The Kingdom is near. Repent and believe in Jesus' life and death for you, and become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Isn't it wonderful what happens when we put our whole confidence in Christ! We ourselves become the true law-keepers and the true law-teachers. In placing our faith, body and soul in life and in death, in the King of the Kingdom, we are true citizens of his true Kingdom and fall into no error.

The Pharisee obeyed the law but forgot God, others, in our own day, forget God and obey their lusts, but we are Christ's and he is ours forever.

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