Sunday, October 19, 2008

Church and State

Today in Dr. McGrath's class we finished our introductory topic on the Bible in the "When Christians Disagree" series. We looked at the example of circumcision, which in Genesis 17 is quite plainly said to be a permanent and absolute condition of membership in the covenant people, even for those not actually descended from Abraham. We then turned to Acts 15 and looked at how the church (or at least part of the church) decided that it was going to do something different than what a plain reading of Genesis 17 would require. Reading Acts and Paul's letters as Scripture, it can be hard for Christians to put themselves in the situation of the time in which they were written, when these texts were not yet Scripture, and were making the case for something that seemed to many to represent a departure from Scripture.

In Acts 15, as also in Galatians, the argument seems to allow experience to trump Scripture. God had shown acceptance of Gentiles by pouring out the Holy Spirit on them while uncircumcised. If God had accepted them in this way, who are we to impose other requirements upon them? To get a sense of how this argument seemed to many Jewish Christians in the first century, one may usefully compare the topic of homosexuality, in connection with which many today might make a similar argument...

As we turn to various topics on which Christians disagree, there are other factors beside the Bible that we'll need to consider, such as reason, tradition, and experience. The Bible can of course be thought of in different ways: as a source of writings which are authoritative on Christian doctrine and practice, or as a source or writings which allow us to see examples of how the earliest Church worked through issues, themselves making use of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.

The biggest news is perhaps that we have chosen our next major topic: "Church and State". It was on our list and seems particularly timely (we'll probably finish with the topic in early November). We will begin next week. We did not have a chance to discuss what we'd read to prepare, but I'd suggest that, in addition to the Ten Commandments and some of the places where Paul and Revelation mention those in authority, we should also read the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, since that is a key component in the distinctive form that debates on this topic take in an American context. Here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Church and Facebook

Crooked Creek Baptist Church is now on Click on the link and sign up!

In addition to the features offered on this site, this will also allow members who are on Facebook to list their connection with the church on their profile.

Crooked Creek Baptist Church does have a presence on Facebook, by the way, so do pay us a visit there too!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fulfillment of Prophecy

In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class today, we discussed what Matthew's Gospel means by "fulfillment of prophecy". A number of passages are quoted and said to be fulfilled in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's Gospel. Yet if we read the texts which are quoted in their original context, we'll see that they are not predictions about a future Messiah. In fact, a common theme seems to be that they relate to key events in the life of the people of Israel - the Exodus and the Exile, for instance. In Matthew chapter 4, we see another great instance of this sort of typology, as the story of the temptation in the wilderness takes on more meaning as we understand it to be intentionally echoing the story of Israel in the wilderness, presenting Jesus in comparison and contrast with that story.

We also paid a quick visit to the Book of Jonah, and considered the fact that Jonah's prediction that Nineveh would fall within 40 days did not come true. This shouldn't lead us to conclude that Jonah was a false prophet, but rather that prophecy in ancient Israel was not about the inevitability of things that were predicted, but precisely about averting disasters that the nation was heading towards. This is important, since some who understand prophecy as about predictions that inevitably come true may not grasp the Bible's teaching about second chances, repentance, and new beginnings (a key theme in today's sermon).

Next time, we'll look at an instance when it seems that the early church discerned that something that appeared to be God's commandment for all time was no longer applicable! If you want a head start, take a look at Genesis 17:9-14; Acts 15; Galatians 5:6 and 1 Corinthians 7:19. (Scot McKnight's latest book, The Blue Parakeet, has an interesting section on this topic, if you want to dig deeper still). Hope you can make it!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Word(s) of God

In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class today, there was an interesting discussion of some of the ways that Christians at times refer to the Bible, such as "the Word of God" and "the words of God". A good example of the difference between those two expressions can be seen in the Book of Job. In the book, there are many words attributed to Job's friends. Yet at the end of the book, God is depicted as saying he wasn't pleased with what Job's friends said about him. So, when one considers the book as a whole, are the words of Job's friends the "words of God"? Or is the "Word of God" one encounters in and through the Book of Job something that requires that one read the whole story?

We also talked about textual criticism (i.e. the fact that we do not have the original manuscripts of the Biblical writings, and the need for scholars to make their best judgment about the most likely original form, at the very least the earliest form), and touched on many other topics.