Saturday, April 28, 2007

Basketball & Bible

It’s that time of the year. There’s only one team in the league with two players from Argentina, so all I can say is “Go, Spurs, go!”

During the NBA playoffs in 2006, my family and I moved from the heart of Spurs country (Stockdale) to a city in enemy territory (Abilene). Suddenly I was surrounded by Mavericks fans. Right in the middle of the Dallas - San Antonio series.

It wasn’t just a change in geography; it was a change in perspective. Listening to San Antonio sports announcers, I was fully informed of the league-wide conspiracy against the Spurs. I knew all the things that the officials were doing to insure that the Mavs came out on top. I knew that the Spurs were the better team, and the victories that had been won by the Mavericks were totally undeserved. Besides the Mavericks’ owner was loud and profane, having cursed at a Spurs player following a game because the player had played well, having led his fans to boo an ex-Mav star who had joined the Spurs when the owner refused to pay to keep him in Dallas. It was obvious that no true Christian could consider backing the Mavericks.

Funny thing was, people in Abilene didn’t see it that way. They talked about a league conspiracy against the Mavs. They thought all the calls were going against the Mavs and that the only reason the Spurs were still in the series was because of luck. And the Christians thought the Mavs owner “colorful.”

It’s amazing what different perspectives can do. Just wondering… do you think anything like this ever happens when we talk about Christianity?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Lion, the Lamb, and the Throne Room

It’s definitely one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Revelation 5. The great throne room scene. The apostle John is seeing a vision of the very presence of God. “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” (Rev 5:1-4) Why does John get so upset? Because the scroll represents God’s plan, and that plan will not come about unless someone opens the scroll.

Then he gets the wonderful news: the Lion of Judah can open the scroll. He is worthy. Why? Because He has conquered. John turns to see the conquering, triumphant lion… and finds a lamb. Whereas lions are an image of strength, lambs are just the opposite. How many schools use “the Fighting Lambs” as their mascot? And not only is this a lamb, but a lamb with its throat slit. It’s a slaughtered lamb.

This verse is key to understanding the whole book of Revelation, dare I say, the whole of Christianity. Christ has redefined victory. You win by losing. You live by dying. The Lamb isn’t worthy in spite of having been slain. He is worthy because He was slain. Suddenly all the Old Testament prophecies take on a new light. All of our images about who the Messiah is are now defined in terms of the cross. There is victory in dying! There is triumph in suffering. The Lion is a Lamb. Death is a victory. Christians overcome by being faithful when persecuted, following the example of the Faithful Witness who triumphed through martyrdom.

What a message for a church that was about to be persecuted. “Faithful unto death” doesn’t mean a lifetime of faithful service; it means being faithful even as the blade severs our head from our body, even as the wild animals rip our lives from our bodies. It means faithful to the point of death… and beyond. We share in the Lamb’s triumph when we renounce our lives to share in His death. We don’t become powerful lions, we become lambs to the slaughter. By doing so we become worthy, just as the Lamb is worthy. Not because of our sacrifice, but because of His.

“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)

Powerful image. Powerful passage. Powerful message.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Collecting money in 1 Corinthians 16

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.”

Having beaten the topic of breaking bread into the ground, I want to look at a text that is somehow strangely related. In countless tracts, we find 1 Corinthians 16:2 paired with Acts 20:7 to prove unequivocally that Christians met for a worship assembly on Sunday and only on Sunday. And that one of the authorized acts of worship is giving. (For those who may be unfamiliar, the teaching goes that the authorized acts are not only allowed, but must be present in the main assembly each week)

Interesting passage this one. If I were to read all of 1 Corinthians, I would have to conclude that Paul is instructing the Corinthians about something new. Note that he doesn’t say “as I instructed you before.” No, this is something that he has shared with the Galatians. He doesn’t say “here’s what I want you to do with the collection that you take each week.” No, he tells them when to take a collection. It’s a new instruction, not something that had been taught to them as a normal requirement.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that this passage is legislative, that Paul is laying down rules for all places and all times. Using the laws of approved example and silence, let’s make a brief list of what those rules would be:
  1. This collection was "for the saints." Any use for non-saints is prohibited by silence.

  2. We also see that this collection was for the saints in Jerusalem. Any use for non-Jerusalem saints is prohibited.

  3. This collection was for saints in another geographical area (as are all collections mentioned in the New Testament). Collecting money to be used locally is prohibited.

  4. These collections were to end before Paul went to Corinth. Any continuation of collections by Christians are thereby prohibited.

  5. Monies collected are to be held until Paul's arrival. Any prior disbursement is unauthorized and thereby prohibited.

It’s interesting to me that we can take a brief mention of a short-term, special collection and somehow extract “laws” for the modern church. It’s a wonderful example of Christian generosity, of how the church should come together to meet a specific need such as the famine in Judea. The procedure used is no more normative than the practice seen several times in Acts of selling goods to raise funds for the local church. One could easily argue that a garage sale is as scriptural as the Sunday collection and even moreso when applied to funds destined to be used locally.

But that wouldn’t suit our purposes, so it’s much easier to mold 1 Corinthians 16 into something that it never was.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Breaking Bread—Acts 2:46

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:46)

For all of those willing and able to set me straight on all of this about breaking bread in Acts, please feel free to comment on the last few posts. I’m trying to figure out how we decide when “breaking bread” in Acts refers to the Lord’s Supper and when it refers to a common meal. In the last post, I asked for help with Acts 20:7. Lots of people believe that this is one of the most important verses in the Bible; it consistently makes its way into tract after tract, proving that the Lord’s Supper must be taken every Sunday and only on Sunday.

So what do we do with this verse? Acts 2:46. It’s threatened my Sunday-only mindset, so now is the time for people to bring me back to orthodoxy.

In Acts 2, the brand-spanking new church is meeting in the temple. They apparently aren’t holding their church assemblies in homes nor church buildings. It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for thousands of them to take the Lord’s Supper together in the temple. They would have met together in the temple, then separated into individual homes to take the Lord’s Supper… just like this verse describes! Don’t let the fact that it was in homes get in your way.

The best evidence also indicates that the early church took the Lord’s Supper in the context of a meal (yes, I know that’s debatable; feel free to give evidence to the contrary, just don’t say “as 1 Corinthians 11 says,” unless you’ve found something new in that passage). So the “received their food” wouldn’t be out of place, either.

What makes us conclude this passage is not about the Lord’s Supper? Please don’t be shy about giving reasons. I honestly, sincerely, truly want to know. If you know someone who knows reasons why Acts 20:7 is the Lord’s Supper and Acts 2:46 isn’t, please send them here. I consider this an important point and would truly appreciate any insights toward resolving this.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Breaking Bread in Acts 20

Acts 20:7   On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

How many doctrines hang on this verse? I can think of several (okay, maybe not on this verse alone, but much literature cites this verse when speaking of these doctrines):

(1) Sunday as the day of meeting.

(2) Lord’s Supper every Sunday.

(3) Lord’s Supper only on Sunday.

I’ll continue asking the question I’ve asked in the last two posts: how do we know this is the Lord’s Supper, over against, for example, Acts 2:46? That seems like a pretty important thing to me, especially considering the weight we’ve hung on this one verse. There’s got to be some people that read this blog that believe this verse refers to the Lord’s Supper and teaches the things I list above. Will no one step forward?