18 Church Trends (and More!): Trends 7 & 8

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:

Trend 7: An acceleration of church closures.

The death rate of churches is sadly increasing in America. I do not see that trend abating.

Trend 8. Church acquisitions becoming normative.

I am surprised how quickly churches and denominational entities have become strategic about acquiring churches that are declining and dying. While the trend of church closures is not encouraging, it is encouraging that more churches are becoming intentional about saving these churches from total extinction.

Here’s the pattern I see arising: Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 24 (Passing over sins previously committed, Part 3)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:24-25

(Rom. 3:24-25 NET)  24 But they are justified [declared faithful to God’s covenants with the Jews] freely by his grace through the redemption [freedom from slavery] that is in Christ [King/Messiah] Jesus.  25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat [place of forgiveness in the Holy of Holies, God’s throne on earth] accessible through faith [faithfulness/trust]. This was to demonstrate his righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant], because God in his forbearance [tolerant patience] had passed over the sins previously committed [by whom?]. 

Do the Scriptures ever speak of death without an afterlife? [JFG]

The Greeks, based on the speculations of Plato, largely believed that humans had a soul that survived death and was innately immortal. The Jewish view in both testaments is that immortality is a gift from God, as covered in the last post. In Rom 2:7, Paul states that immortality is reserved for those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.” That is, evil people do not receive immortality.

The various passages in Paul’s speeches and writings that say that previous sins will not be punished therefore suggest that the unforgiven will neither suffer punishment nor gain a reward in the afterlife. Rather, they will go the way of all innately mortal beings, they will die and not be resurrected.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 6

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:

Trend 6: The multi-site movement becoming a neighborhood church movement.

I have written about the multi-site movement many times at this blog. The next extension of this movement is an intentionality to start or acquire campuses to reach and minister to residents of specific neighborhoods.

This is a good thing — if I follow Rainer correctly. In the past, most multi-site churches added sites largely to accommodate their large size. They remained cosmopolitan churches drawing members from a very large area — and so didn’t identify with a particular neighborhood or even a particular town or city. This is not unusual for very large churches. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 23 (Passing over sins previously committed, Part 2)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:24-25

(Rom. 3:24-25 NET)  24 But they are justified [declared faithful to God’s covenants with the Jews] freely by his grace through the redemption [freedom from slavery] that is in Christ [King/Messiah] Jesus.  25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat [place of forgiveness in the Holy of Holies, God’s throne on earth] accessible through faith [faithfulness/trust]. This was to demonstrate his righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant], because God in his forbearance [tolerant patience] had passed over the sins previously committed [by whom?]. 

Passing over Gentile sins [JFG]

If anything, the case for Paul to be referring to passing over Gentile sins in these passages is stronger than the case for passing over Jewish sins. After all, at Mars Hill, Paul declared to an entirely Gentile audience,

(Acts 17:26-31 NET) 6 “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live,  27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’  

29 “So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.  30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

“Overlooked such times of ignorance” seems to clearly imply a forbearance to punish sins. Just so, “He now commands …” implies that things are changing. The present rules are different from the previous rules. Now, repentance is required of the Gentiles (just as God is requiring it of the Jews). In particular, Paul calls on the Gentiles to repent of their idolatry (v. 29). Obviously, this would require giving up many kinds of immorality, but as Wright as noted in his discussion of Romans, sin is a product of idolatry. Thus, repentance begins by worshiping the true God.

There are other passages in Acts that bear on this question. For example, in Lystra Paul said,

(Acts 14:15-17 NET)  15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.  16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways,  17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.”

Paul says that God previously “allowed all the nations to go their own ways.” That is, the rules have changed.

In Acts 11, after baptizing Cornelius and his household, Peter defended his actions to the Jewish Christians. After his explanation, the Jewish Christians declared,

(Acts 11:18 NET)  18 When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.” 

Notice the language. We assume that the ability to repent and so be saved is in the nature of forgiveness itself. But the Jews concluded that the ability to repent and so be saved is a gift from God, given first to the Jews (Acts 2:38) and then to the Gentiles (beginning with Cornelius).

Much later, Paul defended his mission to the Gentiles to King Agrippa,

(Acts 26:17-20 NET)  17 [“Jesus told me] ‘I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you  18 to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  

19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,  20 but I declared to those in Damascus first, and then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with repentance.”

If Wright is right and “forgiveness of sins” had become synecdoche for all the Kingdom blessings — the Kingdom itself, the Messiah, the outpoured Spirit, repentance leading to forgiveness and salvation — then this makes a whole lot of sense. Not only had God given the Jews the ability to escape Exile and enter into the “forgiveness of sins,” he’d given the Gentiles the same ability — to escape the curse on Creation that Sin brought and so receive the same blessings as the Jews. And, of course, Paul urges the Gentiles to “turn to God” because worshiping the true God leads to “deeds consistent with repentance.” That is, if you worship the true God, you must leave behind idolatrous practices.

So it fits.

“Forbearance” [JFG]

There is, I think, a very important distinction here. “Forbearance” does not mean forgiveness. Obviously, God granted forbearance to the Jews for 490 years and to Gentiles going back to Babel at least (when God assigned each people to its own territory (Acts 17:26; Deu 32:8). But in Romans and in Acts, the language speaks of not punishing only. There is nothing about forgiving the Gentiles. In fact, the scriptures are quite clear about the Jews being unforgiven during this time.

Now, if we remember that immortality is a gift from God and that neither we nor our souls are innately immortal (Rom 2:7; 1 Cor 15:53-54; 1 Tim 6:16), then we have to reckon with more than two possibilities.

  1. The unpunished Jews and Gentiles were all saved to live forever in heavenly bliss despite their sinfulness.
  2. The unpunished Jews and Gentiles were all damned to perpetual conscious torment.
  3. The unpunished Jews and Gentiles suffered a temporary punishment and were then annihilated, never to live again.
  4. The unpunished Jews and Gentiles received no resurrection and no afterlife at all.

Well, 2 and 3 can’t be right because you can’t be both punished and unpunished. What about 1? Most contemporary Christians would hear “unpunished” to mean “go to heaven when they die.” But could a just God reward murderers and rapists with an undeserved, blessed afterlife?

Miroslav Volf writes, “A non-indignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence.” Perhaps the reason we have trouble with this is that we are ourselves accomplices. Yet most people will say at some point that their “blood boils”; the question then becomes, what is the boiling temperature? If our blood does not boil at injustice, how can we be serving the God who said the following through his prophet Isaiah?

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive degrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people. (Isa. 10:1–2)

Where is the outrage? It is God’s own; it is the wrath of God against all that stands against his redemptive purpose. It is not an emotion; it is God’s righteous activity in setting right what is wrong. It is God’s intervention on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.

Fleming Rutledge, “The Wrath the World Needs,” Christianity Today (December 23, 2016).

It is, to me, unimaginable that idolatrous serial murderers, cruel totalitarian kings, and other great sinners would go to heaven when they die. So that eliminates 1.

That leaves option 4: No afterlife at all, neither punishment nor reward. Forbearance means punishment is escaped due to ignorance or just God’s good grace, but it does not mean that impenitent, idolatrous sin is rewarded.

[to be continued]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 5

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:

5. Increased financial fraud in churches.

Once again, some of those with ill intent see the church as a place of opportunity to commit theft. I will address this issue more fully later. I am an advocate of outsourced church financial ministries like MAG Bookkeeping to do payroll, bookkeeping, and financial records. It takes the burden and liability off the church. Indeed, I could have added to the list an entire trend of churches moving toward more virtual workers through organizations like MAG Bookkeeping and eaHELP.

Again, no one gives the checkbook to someone they don’t trust. Therefore, all embezzlement is by highly trusted individuals — and many never are caught. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 22 (Passing over sins previously committed, Part 1)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:24-25

(Rom. 3:24-25 NET)  24 But they are justified [declared faithful to God’s covenants with the Jews] freely by his grace through the redemption [freedom from slavery] that is in Christ [King/Messiah] Jesus.  25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat [place of forgiveness in the Holy of Holies, God’s throne on earth] accessible through faith [faithfulness/trust]. This was to demonstrate his righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant], because God in his forbearance [tolerant patience] had passed over the sins previously committed [by whom?]. 

Passing over previously committed sins [NTW]

Rom 3:25 has this mysterious, surprising phrase: “because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.” Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 21 (Jesus, the Mercy Seat, Part 2)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:24-25

(Rom. 3:24-25 NET)  24 But they are justified [declared faithful to God’s covenants with the Jews] freely by his grace through the redemption [freedom from slavery] that is in Christ [King/Messiah] Jesus.  25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat [place of forgiveness in the Holy of Holies, God’s throne on earth] accessible through faith [faithfulness/trust]. This was to demonstrate his righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant], because God in his forbearance [tolerant patience] had passed over the sins previously committed [by whom?]. 

Wright on “mercy seat”

Obviously, the translations that prefer “propitiation” to “mercy seat” have their reasons. And in terms of atonement theory — that is, how Jesus’ death brings about our salvation — the difference is huge. “Propitiation” means to offer something to a divinity to avoid his anger: “If you’ll forgive me, I’ll give you this goat.” Among the pagans, even repentance was not required. Just payment. The Greco-Roman concept was that the gods require and are sustained by sacrifice, and so a sacrifice effectively buys goodwill. The Greco-Roman gods were not moral beings and cared nothing about having a personal relationship with their worshipers. But they demanded sacrifice and loyalty because they needed these things. Think of the gods as the Godfather — I’ll do you this favor, but you’ll owe me big time. But the God of Israel acts unilaterally, out of love, for the good of the person loved. There is no comparison.

Now, if you were raised in a church that teaches that the sacrifice of Jesus satisfies God’s demand for blood as a condition to forgiveness, “propitiation” seems a perfectly obvious and natural translation. But in the other 29 uses of the word in the LXX and NT, it’s always translated “mercy seat” — which should be enough to put us on notice that just maybe we’ve missed something important.

Therefore, understandably, Wright wishes to avoid a Romans Road understanding of the One True God.

[T]he usual reading assumes that the problem Paul is facing [in Romans] is divine wrath and that in 3: 24– 26, and in particular with the key term hilastērion, he is explaining how this wrath is somehow dealt with. This is lexically possible, but there are four problems with it.

First, … the word in context is far more likely to refer to the “mercy seat,” the place in the tabernacle or Temple where God promises, as the focus of his covenant, to meet with his people and to that end provides cleansing for both the people and the sanctuary so that the meeting can take place. 

Second, it is simply a mistake to assume, as the “usual” reading has done, that a reference to the Bible’s sacrificial system indicates that a sacrificial animal is being killed in the place of the worshipper. [See our earlier discussion of the Levitical sacrificial system.]

Third, when Paul sums up the effect of the present passage in 5:9, he says that if we have been “justified by his blood,” we shall be saved from the future wrath. He cannot therefore intend the phrase “justified by his blood”— the summary of 3: 24– 26— to mean “being saved from wrath,” or 5: 9 would be a tautology (“being saved from wrath, we shall be saved from wrath”).

Fourth, at the heart of this passage Paul says that God has passed over former sins in his forbearance. This is the very opposite of “punishment.” It could be of course (and many have suggested this) that God had previously “passed over” sins in order to save up the punishment until it could be vented on Jesus. But there is no indication that this is what Paul has in mind. [Hence, Wright rejects the “rolling forward” of sins theory that is so commonly taught. There is no such text in Hebrews or the rest of the Bible.]

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 4850-4861). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Paul is not saying, “God will justify sinners by faith so that they can go to heaven, and Abraham is an advance example of this.” He is saying, “God covenanted with Abraham to give him a worldwide family of forgiven sinners turned faithful worshippers, and the death of Jesus is the means by which this happens.” This joins up with the clear implication of 2: 17– 20: God called Israel to be the light of the world, the answer to the problem of human idolatry and sin.

The usual [Romans Road] reading of Romans 3: 21– 26 is therefore outflanked. It is a shallow reduction of what Paul is actually saying. Sin and God’s dealing with sin in the death of Jesus are undoubtedly central, but these are set within the larger questions of both idolatry (and therefore of true worship) and God’s commitment to rescue the world through Abraham’s family, Israel. Neither Romans 1: 18– 3: 20 nor Romans 4 is simply concerned with “sin” and “justification,” as in the normal reading. They are indeed concerned with both, but they frame both within the question of cult [Temple ritual] and the question of covenant. If there are signs that Romans 3: 21– 26 is also about cult and covenant, we should assume that this is what Paul thinks he is talking about.

We can come even closer. Romans 3: 27– 31, the bridge between our key passage and chapter 4, is all about the coming together of Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, on the basis of pistis, “faith”— which looks like an additional fulfillment of the hints Paul dropped in 2: 25– 29. And the heart of Romans 3: 27– 31 is the firm declaration that the God in whom both Jew and Gentile must believe is the One God of Israel: Jewish-style monotheism is at the heart of the justification by which Gentile and Jew alike are declared to be within the sin-forgiven family. The whole passage, from 2: 17 to 4: 25, is all about God’s covenant with Israel and through Israel for the world and about the true worship at the heart of this covenant, the worship of the one true God, which replaces the idolatry of 1: 18– 23 and thus undoes the sin of 1: 24– 32.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 5044-5060). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. (Italics in original).

Likewise, when we note that the central statement of the passage, that God “put forth Jesus as the place of mercy,” uses the word hilastērion, which in the scriptures refers to the covering of the “ark of the covenant,” the place where God cleanses Israel from sins so that he and his people can meet, we ought to assume that he is speaking of the way in which true worship is being restored in place of idolatry. Paul is not simply invoking a “cultic metaphor” [mercy seat] alongside a “law court” metaphor [“justified”], on the one hand, and a “slave market” metaphor [“redemption”], on the other. He is thinking of the restoration of true cult, true worship: the one God cleansing people from defilement so that the true meeting, the heart of the covenant, may take place at last.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 5070-5075). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Jay’s reflections

[JFG] In the ancient world, blood cleansed people so that they could approach the presence of God. Just so, there is the thought that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross cleansed those with faith in/faithfulness to/trust in Jesus to allow them to approach God — and to allow God to come dwell within them through the Spirit.

[JFG] Jesus said in John 7:37-39 that the Spirit had not yet been sent because Jesus had not yet been glorified. If the crucifixion served to remove the separation between believers and God, then this makes just all kinds of sense — at least to the minds of Second Temple period Jews.

(Jn. 7:37-39 NET) 37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and  38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.'”  39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) 

[JFG] Or to look at it another way, the sins of Israel had stained not only the literal Holy of Holies, but God himself. After all, God had covenanted to fulfill Abraham’s side of the covenant in the blood oath ritual. And God no longer dwelled in the Holy of Holies — since the time of Exile began. Rather, God lived in  heaven and not where heaven and earth meet in the Temple — not any more. And so the sins of Israel stained heaven — the location of the true Temple, the New Jerusalem, and the actual throne of God.

[JFG] To cleanse the stain of Israel’s Sin required blood, and so God the Son provided the price (the ransom, meaning “price”) for restoring right relationship and allowing Exile to end, forgiveness of sins to be once again provided, and to end the curses of the Law.

[JFG] But as Paul finally gets to in Rom 8, it’s not just the covenant curses that are ended. Jesus’ death ends all barriers between God and man, even the original curse on Creation going back to Gen 3. And this opens the covenant to Gentiles, who are freed from all curses and stains that separate them from God just as are the Jews. They now also have the opportunity to repent and gain forgiveness of sins in the Kingdom.

(Acts 17:30-31 ESV)  30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness [according to his covenants] by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

[JFG] That my theory, any way. And it reconciles Paul with Hebrews, in which Jesus is pictured as bringing his blood into heaven at the heavenly Temple that exists in the New Jerusalem.

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments