Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 3 of 3)

(Continued from Part 2)       (Or you can start with Part 1)

If looking at salvation as a human right can be seen as valid, then the question is whether it is useful. What, if anything, can be gained from this perspective. Here are a few VERY TENTATIVE suggestions.

  1. It firmly places salvation within a community. It has been common for Christians, especially Evangelical Protestant Christians to focus on the individualistic aspect of salvation. That is quite valid, but the Bible expresses salvation in both individualistic and communitarian terms. In this sense it is more like the public health perspective. Lostness in an individual is a social ill, a failure for the individual members to flourish to their potentials.

  2. Lostness would be seen as a problem. If condemnation is getting what one deserves, then one might argue that condemnation is not really a problem. If salvation is a human right, then lostness is a problem that must be addressed.

  3. It does condemn community complicity in lostness. The public health perspective, or the disease model, is often seen avoiding judgment. This is especially true in the United States, but also true in places like here in the Philippines. When we label a social ill as a disease, many people decry that saying that pulls it out of ethical scrutiny. There is nothing inherent to that, of course. To call addiction a disease does not remove moral issues or judgment from it. Still, the public health perspective does tend to downplay the ethical. Identifying hunger as a public health problem certainly does get people thinking about what can be done to solve the problem. However, if one says that it is a human right for each person to have enough food daily to live, then there is a more clear condemnation of any society that accepts the condition where some people in the society do not have enough food to eat, while there is overall enough food to go around. Likewise, if salvation is a “public health” problem, then it is a problem that must be rooted out and addressed. On the other hand, if salvation is a basic human right, then the community that makes salvation unavailable, through inaction or through making salvation appear undesirable, is held accountable for this. It other words, embracing an ancient metaphor, if the church holds the “keys to the kingdom,” then if people find the door locked, then the church is culpable.

  4. Seeing salvation as a human rights issue balances the focus between God and Mankind. In the criminal justice perspective, God is the standard, the judge, the mediator, and the provider of salvation. This is not wrong. With the public health perspective, salvation is seen as a more human activity. It is a disease that must be rooted out, from causes, the hindrances, to opportunities, and then to holistic transformation and flourishing. God is there, but the human aspect is given greater attention. This is not inappropriate. However, the human rights perspective draws from both. It takes seriously our humanity and communal responsibility for making salvation available, and living out our salvation. However, salvation as a human right only has real meaning if understood as instituted by God.

So is one perspective right and the others wrong? There is great benefit to intersubjectivity or multi-perspectival understanding. Each overcomes the weakness of the other, giving a fuller understanding of what is real– God’s activity for us.

Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 2 of 3)

(Continuation from Part One)

In Evangelical circles, at least, salvation has been classically framed in a CRIMINAL JUSTICE model. We are all sinners, guilty before God, the judge. Salvation is only available through the payment of the judgment against us… that price was paid by Jesus. This is a perfectly fine way of looking at salvation, but of course, it is just a way of looking at it. It is a perspective that does not actually change salvation, just how it is acted upon. This view comes off more individualistic. Also, from a community perspective, the responsibility appears a bit muted since it is seen as primarily a contract between the person and God. Ultimately, however, if someone dies unsaved, it can be interpreted as “getting what he deserved.”

Another perspective a consideration of salvation is through the lens of PUBLIC HEALTH. This main seem odd at first, and yet not only is this perspective with us, it is quite strong. An early adopter of this view in the 20th century was Medical Ambassadors with the development of CHE or Community Health Evangelism. The view is that evangelism needs to have a perspective that is broader than simply a “get out of jail free card.” In fact, a more holistic approach is needed, with the understanding that salvation is meant to be transformative. The concept of Shalom as a condition of spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being is emphasized.

But what about salvation as a HUMAN RIGHT? From the criminal justice perspective, or metaphor, such a statement appears to be ridiculous. After all, would it not be accurate to say that all humans are deserving of condemnation rather than salvation. This is the basic message of the first two verses of the Romans Road (Romans 3:23; 6:23). However, a perspective is merely that— a way of viewing something. This does not affect the thing itself. As such, all that is really needed is to establish that the perspective has validity, and that it is useful.

Could it be valid to say that salvation is a human right? Since salvation is from God, the concept of a “human right” in this case must clearly come from God. So what might God have revealed that would support the idea that salvation is a human right?

  • Much of Biblical Anthropology is established in the first three chapters of Genesis. According to this section, mankind (male and female) were created by God in His image. There has been a lot of ink used to argue what to make of mankind being created in God’s image, some of which is non-sensical. However, less controversial would be that mankind was a good and intentioal creation of God, that mankind was intended to have a unique yet harmonious position in the created realm, and mankind was meant to have a unique and harmonius relationship with God. In other words, mankind was created to live in a state of salvation— or in a sense to never need saving because the relationship was not broken in the first place.

  • The rest of the Bible maintains the intertwined threads of righteousness (right relationship with God) and salvation (the process to have that right relationship). One can go to one of the most oft memorized verses in the Bible, John 3:16, to see the follow-on to Genesis (and foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15). God’s love of the cosmos (mankind) compels Him to act so that salvation, restoration of harmony, between God, mankind, and the rest of creation can be available to all.

Now if you bring these together, the result is that God created mankind (each person) to live in a “saved state” and with mankind’s failure/fall, has acted for all, to make that state possible.

I think that it would make it valid to say that salvation (or living in a state of “savedness”) is a human right. For one not to be saved is genuine failure to possess whatever is actually their right. This doesn’t cancel out the criminal justice or public health perspectives, but provides another complementary view.

(I am well aware that there are those of the Limited Atonement camp that would argue against both of my above points. In the end for them, God has created some for salvation and some for condemnation. As such, one could neither view salvation as a human right, nor Christ’s sacrifice as their gift of love from God. However, the Biblical and Theological challenges with that perspective appear to me to outweight the interpretive ease it provides for a relatively few verses. For me I have to view it as a sub-biblical perspective.)

(Continued in Part 3)

Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 1 of 3)

I have been reading the essay, “Women Confronting State-Instigated Violence” by Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana. This is not normally the type of writing I would be reading, but it was part of a book that was gifted to me by Father Terry from Aglipay Central Theological Seminary. The book is a collection of essays and poems of female theologians in the Philippines. So far it is an interesting read. The writer of this particular essay noted three fairly rapid transitions that have occurred in looking at an addressing Violence Against Women (VAW).

One phase goes back a few decades, particularly the 1970s, where VAW was seen in terms of CRIMINAL JUSTICE. To address concerns regarding violence against women, laws had to be changed, and the way existing laws are interpreted or applied also had to change. In the early 1990s there was a transition towards seeing things as a PUBLIC HEALTH issue. Violence is a symptom of an overall sociological sickness that needs to be addressed much like many other illnesses. One can’t simply punish or quarantine those who act violently, one must root what causes violence and creates the environment where such violence flourishes. In other words, one must discover and cause of the contagion, and eradicate the supporting environment and carriers.

By the mid-1990s, things had changed further and there was a growth of seeing violence in terms of HUMAN RIGHTS. The way women are to be treated is not simply a matter of legal violation, culturo-social malady, but is a supracultural violation of what should be expected based on, well, being human.

I have known some Christians who balk at this term “human rights,” noting that such rights are generally agreed upon by mutual consent, rather than based on anything indubitable. In a sense this is obvious, but such a statement is not particularly useful. Of course— we are born without warning labels, warrantees, or operating manuals. As such, we have three choices. One choice is to say that since we come with no contractual obligations, we can act however we want. People can be bought and sold as chattel, tortured or blessed at the whim of those who who have the power to have their wills acted out. If that choice is undesirable (and I certainly think it is) another option would be as a people to agree that there are certain inalienable rights. Perhaps these can be seen as derived from natural law, or perhaps they can be seen as drawn from cultural values. Either way, it is a human-based agreement. A third option is to see human rights coming from God. With this view, human rights exist because God seesthem existing supraculturally, and has then made them known to us through divine or special revelation.

For Christians, such revelation would be seen, primarily, as the Bible. The Bible says that certain behaviors are right and certain are wrong. They can be seen in terms of Law— matter of keeping the law or breaking it. Another way would be to look at them as sociologically healthy (“It is not just the law, it is a good idea,” societally.) But it can also be seen a a statement of basic rights. We have a basic right to not be murdered, to not be stolen from, to be trained up in a nurturing family and community. Anything less than this is a violation of the rights that we have as revealed by God.

These three perspectives do not change reality. Rather they change perception. VAW exists and that existence is unaffected by how it is viewed. However, a different view can lead to a different response.

So I was thinking about these three views as it relates to Salvation— a strange thing to think about, I grant you. I wondered how salvation may be seen in terms of Criminal Jusitice, Public Health, and Human Rights.

Continued in the next post

Unexpected Break

I like to put up a post around once every three days. However, we had a major typhoon blow overhead this last weekend. The day before the storm a tree next to us fell over knocking out power lines and narrowly missing the spot where we normally park our car (I had moved it to a safer spot a couple hours before to weather the storm). We lost power for around 3 hours at that time. Then the storm hit and we lost power for 63 hours. We are still without Internet except for going on cellular internet for brief periods to type stuff on my cellphone… like now. So I guess that means I should take a bit of a break.

What our family has are just minor annoyances. Say a pray for those not far from us (especially in Itogon, Benguet) who have suffered much greater losses due to flooding and landslides. We MAY be asked to help with post-disaster response— especially defusing. We shall see.

Imagine a World With Limits

Picture two artists tasked to create works of art.

mending the hurts
“Mending the Hurts” by Rebekah Munson 2011.  Charcoal and Colored Pencils

Artist A is given limitations. He is told that it must be a painting on a 1 meter by 1 meter canvas. He is also given time constraints– perhaps 4 weeks. Further he may be given subject constraints— perhaps the one who commissioned it is a wealthy person who wants the painting to express hope in overcoming cancer.

Artist B is given essentially no limitations. There are no guidance as to the size, or even type of art. There are no time constraints— take as long as is needed.  And there are no subject constraints— just make the artwork “awesome!”

Who is likely to create the better piece of art? Most likely it will be Artist A. That is because most of us tend not to do well with no constraints. Most of us lack the discipline to keep working as hard when no one is holding a clock to ensure that we are making progress as agreed upon. Most of us would struggle to be creative when there are no limitations in media. For example, consider the massive creativity involved to apply paint to a limited size 2-dimension surface to show great vistas of outdoor scenery, or abstract imaginings? This requires a great deal of creativity.

Essentially, creativity is the act of overcoming the limitations of media or time. How does one create a moving 2-D image on a screen, with sound) that tells a story of huge battles in outer space? Or record a chariot race in a hippodrome in a setting that had disappeared 2 millennia before the film was produced? How can words on paper or sounds in a radio play draw one into the story so effectively, that years later one cannot recall whether one read it, heard it, or watched it as a movie.

I am presently reading “The Golden Bough” by James G. Frazer. The edition I am reading is almost 800 pages long. It is a LONG book… a compendium of minutiae. On a certain level I appreciate the bits of cultural trivia that are brought together to explain culturally the somewhat obscure ritual of the Arician Grove. While I may appreciate the book, I must also believe that the book would have been stronger as a creative construct if it was about 1/3 the length. There is far too much of — Group G has this practice… and Group H has a pretty similar practice… and so does Groups I, J, and K, although contrasting somewhat with Groups L and M. The book would certainly be easier to appreciate if it was shorter. Perhaps Fraser would have said, or did say, that it needed to be that long to cover the topic fully. I have heard some preachers make the argument that they have to preach for ______ minutes because they have to say what God told them to say. But it is quite likely that they would tell what God told them to say better and more effectively if they recognized that they were limited in time and in the attention span of the recipients. Preachers would most likely be better at preaching if churches put limits on their oratory.

Now suppose, surprise surprise, that Artist B produces a better work than Artist A. Is that possible? Certainly. There is no guarantee. But Artist A is LIKELY to do better because we thrive with REASONABLE limits.  An artist who gets paid minimally for making 2 minute caricatures of people at a carnival may have too many limiters to grow beyond a certain limit. But at the same time, the limitations of that situation may still motivate the artist to hunger (literally and figuratively) for bigger things    Too great of limitations MAY crush the creative spirit, but it can also act as a fire the drives growth.

But suppose that Artist B (without limitations) does do a better job than Artist A (with limitations) at that time.  What if the situation repeats itself? Who will improve the most? Almost certainly Artist A. Pushing against the limitations of media, subject, and time, exercises the creative “muscles.” Artist A is likely to grow as an artist through the discipline provided. It is likely that A will overtake B, all else being equal.

Sometimes there seems to be exceptions to this. The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, designed by Anton Gaudi, seems like an exception– an extravagant piece of art with very little constraints. Almost a century later, the building still is not complete. The Taj Mahal, and the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel seem to point to greatness coming from no limitations. But my argument is that creativity grows through constraints. The artist grows through limitations… and in this culture of limitations and discipline, growth occurs. That creative growth and discipline provides the environment for an artist to shine if many of the limitations are removed. (I would still argue that time constraints are still needed… the Sagrada Familia’s century of build is hard to justify as a design project.)

Ministry is creative as well. And in a similar manner we need limitations.

It is good to have time and money limitations. I have seen ministry projects where money and time were not key constraints. The results were wasteful and sloppy. It is also good to have people who provide limitations through guidance and accountability. We simply do better with those things.

But suppose you are one of those unfortunate people in ministry that does not have a lot of accountability or constraints… what can you do? Well, you can create constraints.

  • If asked to speak/preach somewhere, ask for the topic. If they say to speak on whatever you would prefer, seek preferences or find out what are the concerns. It is comfortable, and lazy, to fall back into one’s own favorite topics.
  • If others don’t place limits on you, such as for preaching, set them for yourself. Maybe aim for a 20 minute or 30 minute sermon. While there are some cultures that appreciate longer sermons (especially where oratory is more of a performance art, rather than an act of prophetic ministry), most groups lose attention soon past 30 minutes. Don’t fall in love with your voice so much that you think the longer you speak the more effective you are.
  • If you head an organization, place people over you. Billy Graham established a board over him who guided him and even determined his pay. In the mission field, missionaries sometimes are in a position where no one (at least no one within a few thousand miles) has oversight. If you have none, find some.
  • Develop accountability partners. Today, some pastors serve in churches where there is no one they are accountable to. The same is true of missionaries— especially now that we are in an era where some missionaries are self-sent.
  • Tighten the limitations. If one has 10,000 dollars to accomplish something, establish a budget of $7,000. That not only gives you $3,000 for emergency, but it also pushes you to find creative solutions.
Of course, every time one gives advice, one risks someone (strangely) taking the advice too much to heart. I have known medical missions here in the Philippines that are very wasteful… depending on foreign medicines and foreign professionals, to say nothing are burning money wherever they go. Yet there are other ones that cut TOO many corners. They use expired medicines or doctors samples, and use underqualified medical professionals. Creativity is driven by oversight that sets limitations, but also maintains quality control.

I hope you will look for opportunities to be limited in your ministry!


Misinformation in the 2nd Century

Three things are alleged against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts, Image result for athenagoras 2nd century

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

-Athenagoras (ca 177) “A Plea for the Christians” chapter 3

Athenagoras refers to three charges against Christians: Atheism, Thyestean feasts, Œdipodean intercourse—- that is Atheism, Cannibalism, and Incest. As ridiculous as these charges sound, each one had a very understandable, even reasonable source (at least reasonable in a context of limited communication).

  • Atheism. Christians rejected idol worship, the Greek and Roman gods, and pretty much all of the trappings of theism in the 2nd century. The God they worshipped was identifiable primarily in Negativa. It is quite understandable that they would, in their rejection of all the gods of the time, be seen as Atheists.
  • Cannibalism. The Eucharist uses metaphoric language– the blood and bady of Christ– in its description of the wine and bread. Thankfully, in the 2nd century the reification of the metaphoric language had not yet developed, so Athenagorus did not have to address that awkwardness. Despite the language, Christians were not cannibals.
  • Incest. Christians commonly used, as many still use today, close familial language for fellow believers in Christ. If Christians describe each other as brothers and sisters while also being married and producing children, the confusion is understandable.

That is the value of people like Athenagoras, who was willing to bridge the gap between US and THEM. He was able to clarify and dispel confusion.

I know many today who like to go on about “FAKE NEWS.” Ignoring the laziness of the terminology, this sort of misinformation has been with us for centuries. I have friends who are unhappy with sources I use to get information, because they say they are sources of “fake news.” Sadly, those people actually perpetuate such problems by discouraging communicatuon, or even awareness, between groups. In the 2nd century, Non-Christians knew little about Christians— just enough to be very confused about them. Part of these was due to Christians trying shield themselves from legal and moral dangrs. This action of separating oneself off from others’ views, boycotting people who you find (for some reason) distasteful, not only makes the problem worse, it essentially creates the problem.

Misunderstandings and stereotyping come from a failure of dialogue. Additionally, misunderstandings and stereotyping are likely to increase as lack of dialogue causes each group to become more extremist in their thinking.

Here Athenagoras says that if there are such charges against Christians, it is the responsibility of non-Christians to investigate, bring forward evidence and judge rightly. I can hardly disagree with that. However, we don’t have really have the ability to require others to do what they should do, we only have the ability to do what we should do. That is why Athenagoras does not leave the situation dumped on the the non-Christians to investigate. He spends many more chapters presenting a case to correct misunderstandings.

What Athenagoras was doing was breaking down barriers to conversion. While ostensibly about reduce persecution of Christians, he was also seeking to show Christians as commendable, virtuous based on the writings of great Greek and Roman poets, philosophers, and orators. Clearly a person at that time would be more interested in beliefs of a virtuous sect, than a sect of godless incestuous cannibals.

If non-Christians in the 2nd century thought that Christians were godlessuch s incestuous cannibals, the failure is at least as much on the Christians, as it was the “news media” of the Roman Empire. Christians are supposed to reveal Christ in word and deed. It is their responsibility— NOT the responsibility of non-Christians to investigate and “get it right.”

When is Being a “Follower of Christ” a BAD Thing?


My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1:11-17

For me, this passage doesn’t go the way I expect it to. I would have expected the flow of Paul’s writing to more like one of the two:

  • One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; and still another “I follow Cephas.” Is the church divided? No! We all follow Christ.         Or…
  • One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” No one should follow me, or Apollos, or Cephas. The church follows Christ and no other.

But it doesn’t say that. I seems to condemn (or at least fails to condone) those who say they follow Christ. Why is that?

It is pretty obvious why some would say that they follow Paul. He was the founder of the church. Many people maintain a very strong attachment to the churchplanter, or any founder of an organization. Sometimes, such a person may even use that to apply undue influence over the church years, even decades, later.

It is pretty obvious why some would say that they follow Apollos. He had ministered there in Corinth as well. Apollos was described to be fervent of spirit, much like Paul. On the other hand, unlike Paul, Apollos was a great preacher/orator. Paul, by his own admission, was identified by others as a stronger writer than speaker. Frankly, churchplanters are commonly not the greatest preachers— it is not a critical skill in planting a church. They are often better at evangelizing than oratory. It is hardly surprising that some would prefer Apollos.

It is less certain why some would say that they follow Peter. Perhaps the use of his Aramaic translation (Cephas) is indicative of a strongly Jewish camp in Corinth. Paul indicates in his Epistle to the Galatians that Peter had a strong influence in Antioch. The context suggests that Peter had a strong influence in Galatia as well. Further, since Peter was the preacher at Pentecost, some might argue that while Paul founded the Church of Corinth, Peter founded the Church (as some groups argue still to this day.) On the other hand, adding Peter may have been more of a rhetorical device— making the point that the issue is more than simply about Paul and Apollos.

And then we get to the followers of Christ. I have seen commentaries that speak of these as possibly the “hyper-spiritual.” I suppose that is pretty likely, and my thought is petty consistent with that. Still, I would like to keep this simpler. After all, the passage is not about spirituality per se, but rather about divisions in the church. When one sees this as the central point, then the issue changes a tiny bit. The labels, after all, are not simply labels, but descriptions of divisions. I believe one could read verse 12 as:

One of you says, “I follow Paul— unlike you”; another, “I follow Apollos— unlike you”; another, “I follow Cephas— unlike you”; still another, “I follow Christ— unlike you.”

This way of saying it is consistent with the context, I believe, but it gives a very different feel. Of these, which is the worst?

I have a friend who also teaches missions. I like to say that he is more “Ralph Winter” while I am more “John Stott,” expressing in this how our theology lines up with a couple of 20th century missiologists. That isn’t really that bad. I Corinthians 3:6-7 downplays individual roles (specifically Paul and Apollos) but does not discount them. Rather the emphasis is on God.

But when we get to “I follow Christ” there is something different entirely. Now it could be that in chapter 1, some people were saying:

“I follow Christ— as, of course, we all do.”

It is possible. But that breaks the parallels with Paul, Apollos, and Peter. It also seems inconsistent with the next verse that utilizes the previous verse as the basis for describing the divisiveness found in the Corinthian church.  It’s more likely that some in the church of Corinth were saying to other members of the church:

“I follow Christ— and you don’t”

That is quite a strong statement. This tendency to see oneself as uniquely of Christ as opposed to other Christians has a fairly long history. Some of that has roots in fairly important doctrinal issues. After all, if one claims to follow Christ, but Christ is only a prophet, or a docetic divine being, and archangel, or deluded apocalyptic revolutionary, it may be fair to say that we don’t follow the same Christ. But it is hard to see that in the Great Schism of 1054 AD when the Western Church excommunicated the Eastern Church over issues that today appear less than trivial (except for issues of control and power— temptations of most churches). In theory the Protestant Reformation should have improved things as it became clear that the church is a spiritual entity, not a governmental entity. But alas, more fighting ensued.

In recent years it still happens. )There was a tendency to say something to the effect that, “Outside of the (as in our very specific) church, there is no salvation.” This was especially noticeable in the Restoration Movements in the 19th century… some of which had very inadequate Christologies, but many relatively orthodox. Restoration was built on the premise that the Church had for all intents and purposes died soon after the New Testament age, and they were needed to “restore” the True Church.

I am a Baptist missionary professor although I don’t generally emphasize my denominational pedigree. The Baptists were not officially among the Restorationists, but often acted like them. In the 19th century there was a movement that sought to view Baptists as uniquely God’s chosen church. They saw themselves as part of a “trail of blood” going back through to Christ Himself, while other Christians were deluded. One still comes upon this view at times.

And sometimes being Baptist isn’t enough. One has to be the right kind of Baptist. I haved lived near two Baptist churches that share a neighborhood. The pastor of one of those two churches stated they their church was the only “God-ordained” church in their neighborhood. (I wonder how one can tell that one’s church is “God-ordained”?) There is a lot of hubris there, although I hold slight hope that the pastor was joking. Less serious perhaps was a Baptist minister who told a Baptist churchplanter that she was going to hell because she had apparently committed the unforgivable sin– being a churchplanter while female.

Anyway, I can see that I am drifting off topic.

The question is “When is being a ‘Follower of Christ’ a bad thing?” I would say that when that label is used particularistically to tear apart the Church (or a church) it is a bad thing, and really draws into question whether the one speaking really is a follower of Christ.

“Two Masters” Repost

Barry Phillips is a missionary here in the Philippines. He and his wife oversee Aurora College of Intercultural Studies, among other things. This post (on FB) speaks of his concerns about Americanism (and similar ethnocentric tendencies of other groups).  He also expresses concern about militarism.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the post… but then I don’t agree with everything I say, either. But I hope you will take time to look.

Two Masters

You may also want to check his blog:  Jungle Jot


A Rewind at the Love Feast

Have you ever wanted to do things over again— perhaps do something different, or something the same but better. I rewind things in my mind and try to “fix” whatever I did poorly, or not as well as I could have. One of the joys of blogging is the ability to do just that. Go back and fix whatever wrong-headed opinions I had` before, or perhaps simply say it better or with less grammatical or typographical errors.

There are stories in the Bible that I would love to see a rewind made. Obviously, I am not speaking of changing the Bible, but simply wondering if the participants in the bible story would like to amend their words or behavior. This is actually one of the wonderful things about the Bible that “heroes of the faith” are shown as humans, with both strengths and weaknesses. In the church age thinsg began to change when it became impious to show such people in ways that were not laudatory. This pattern of sanitizing the records of Christian saints was so prevalent that one argument for the early date of some Christian writing was willingness of the writers to show Christian saints “warts and all.”

One story in the Bible that I wonder if the participants would have liked a rewind is found in Galatians 2:11. The story, related by Paul says:

“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he wold eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? …” (Galatians 2: 11-14 NKJV)

This passage is generally taken by commentators as an example of Peter behaving badly. I have a study Bible with me (“The Nelson Study Bible”). In the notes for this passage, the commentators say things like, “Given Peter’s immense influence, Paul had little choice but to point out the hypocrisy directly.” “… the behavior of Peter in Antioch was contradictory and hypocritical.” “Peter’s example was so divisive…” “Peter’s actions did not represent conviction, but hypocrisy.” “Peter’s hypocritical example implied that Gentiles had to behave like Jews in order to receive God’s grace.” Clearly, the commentators have taken a position that takes Paul’s actions and perceptions quite uncritically.

I struggle with this passage, and even more so with many commentators. First and foremost, I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates that Peter was guilty of hypcrisy. Perhaps it could be generously stated that he behaved in a manner that some would be tempted to interpret as hypocritical. Of course, perhaps he DID do something wrong, but if he did, the text doesn’t clearly indicate it. After all, adapting to the culture of those you are ministering to is considered a good behavior, not bad. Behaving as a Gentile with Gentiles and a Jew with Jews could arguably be described as good missiological practice. In fact, Paul did exactly that at times. Now some would argue that the fact that it is in the canon of Scripture it must indicate the truth that Paul’s charges are completely correct and Peter was completely in the wrong. However, often godly principles in the Bible are revealed through stories that are in themselves contrasting rather than supporting godliness, or containing ambivalent behavior. Also, the point of the story was that “all people are justified equally before God” NOT “how I was completely right and Peter was completely wrong.”

Secondly, even if you feel that the context suggests that Peter did something wrong, that doesn’t mean that Paul was in the right. In fact, even if you feel that the story must accurately indicate a failing of Peter (and don’t we all have failings?), there is nothing explicit (or I would argue implicit) in the passage that the Holy Spirit found Paul’s behavior without fault.

Instead of arguing that one must be completely right and one completely wrong, is it possible that both were right… and both were wrong? Real life is often muddy that way. Only rarely is one side of a disagreement completely right and blameless and the other side completely wrong and deserving of all blame. If this story is real, as the text indicates, most likely such muddiness exists here as well. And I have to wonder if one or both of them would have liked to have a rewind.

I might imagine such a rewind as being something like this:

Paul came over to where Peter was dining and said, “Brother can I speak to you on a matter privately.”

“Of course,” responded Peter. They went outside to a quite place and Paul spoke.

“Peter, I see you separating yourself from the Gentiles for at the love feast just now. In the past, you joined with all Gentiles and Jews to eat. I felt that you provided a great example to all parties that God is not a respecter of persons— all are equal before Him. But now associates of James from the church in Jerusalem visit and suddenly you are separating yourself off from the Gentiles. It seems hypocritical to me.”

“Paul, I don’t really see it as hypocritical. Here in Antioch there is a strong culture of accepting each other regardless of our background. That is something I really love about this place. But the church in Jerusalem is not like that. While all of the leadership understand that we are equal before God, there is still a strong sense that being Jews is a key part of their group identity. Many of them still go to the temple regularly and participate in many of the festivals and activities of the Jews. Perhaps their attitude is immature, but sometimes one has to adapt oneself to the immature because they are not ready yet for the more challenging things. It is not hypocritical to feed a baby, while expecting an adult to feed himself. One needs special care and another doesn’t.”

Paul responds, “Peter, I see where you are coming from. But I think you need to know something about Antioch and many of the churches that are up here. They are not as mature as you think. They struggle like a yoke of oxen with each ox trying to go in a different direction and a different speed. There is a lot of tension between Jews and Greeks, Rich and Poor, Slaves and Masters, and more. One thing I appreciate in the love feast is that it models, symbolically, what we are and what we are meant to be— one family of one God and Savior. You may be acting in consideration to our brothers from Jerusalem, but there is a cost. That cost is the confusion it causes here in Antioch.”

“Paul. I did not know the challenges you and Barnabas and the rest have here in Syria. I will talk to our brothers from Jerusalem. I think I can explain it to them in a way they would understand. This may be a good time for them to learn not just through words, but through actions.

Peter and Paul returned to the love feast and had a joyous time.

Frankly, I like the sound of this story better. Now you may not feel the same. You may feel it is unrealistic because people tend not to deal with disagreements in such a tranquil thoughtful manner. But I can’t help but think that Paul and Peter would have preferred this rewind if they thought about it. That is because in the first story, arguably, both Peter and Paul were wrong. Peter was wrong in that he adapted culturally to a small number of people from Jerusalem without understanding that it would be interpreted by people in Antioch as either hypocritical, or supporting a racist or separatist perspective in the churches of Syria. This would be quite consistent with the impetuousness that seems to be part of the personality. of Peter. He could definitely act in ways that failed to consider the repercussions on others. Paul, on the other hand, has issues with anger. That anger sometimes leads him to lash out. (Let’s be honest, telling Galatian church members that they might want to consider emasculating themselves certainly points to someone who struggles with anger management.) Paul sees Peter respecting the feelings of the churchmembers of Jerusalem while undermining, intentionally or not, the work of the leadership at Antioch. So Paul publically lashed out at Peter.

Both were wrong, but both were right. Muddy… just like real life.