Sunday, November 08, 2020

Terry Pruitt’s Philosophy of Ministry

Whole Person Education is a Foundational Ministry of the Church

The teaching ministry of the church enables evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, and individual growth.  The central teaching ministry of the church is the Sunday worship service.  The worship should engage the heart, emotions, will, mind, social capacities, attitudes, moral compass, and behavioral attributes so that the whole being grows in grace.  Worship directs us to God by being focused on Scripture.  Worship is where we hear God’s Word.  Prayer in worship allows the covenant community to express our hearts to God.  Music aids in engaging the whole being by praying in song, proclaiming the gospel in song, and singing Scripture in song.  Corporate singing is preferred in worship as prayer and learning rather than performance pieces, although sharing performance has a place too.  While the preaching ministry is normally to be done by ordained or licensed leaders, the worship service is a time to share the diverse spiritual gifts of the congregation members.  This may take the form of members of the congregation reading Scripture, singing, praying, decorating, and testifying.  The congregation is a community with a variety of gifts.  The Session is responsible for oversight of the worship service but congregational participation in worship planning brings variety, a diversity of gifts, along with a sense of belonging, inclusion, and value.

While the Sunday worship service is the central teaching ministry, small groups and one-to-one discipleship ministries bring greater depths and address specific needs of individuals.  Small group ministry is not merely a social gathering but a participation community of learners.  Training small group leaders to teach Scripture and provide shepherding ministry ensures greater depth of ministry than simply having the pastor do these tasks.  Small groups aid the church in leadership develop, providing avenue for members of the congregation to exercise their gifts, and a diversity of gifts to flourish.  One-to-one mentorship is where leaders are developed in a more intentional fashion.  

Jesus gave his disciples a commission to make disciples.  Evangelism calls for a verdict which asks, “Do you believe the gospel?”  This call for a verdict is likely best sequenced after the gospel has had time to take root.  Evangelism is primarily a teaching task which declares the message of Scripture.  The church in recent decades has attempted to proclaim the gospel in a winsome fashion but being winsome does not remove the problem that the unregenerated disdain the cross and those who proclaim it.  Being an evangelist means proclaiming the message.  Being an evangelist means teaching and making disciples.  

Growing Leaders is Key to Creating a Healthy, Sustainable Ministry

Training leaders is a key foundation to the work of the ministry.  A foundational component to Jesus’ ministry was that he trained a cadre of leaders who are the 12 Apostles.   While Jesus taught large crowds, he heavily invested in a small group of leaders. Likewise, Paul urged Timothy with these words, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2 KJV) Training leaders is best implemented through one-to-one mentoring and hands-on projects.  Mentoring means listening, asking questions, discussion, advising, and occasionally pointing out blind spots. The hands-on projects likely include bringing someone along when do an act of ministry and then collaborating with that person in ministry.  For instance, if a pastor is visiting the sick in the hospital, he should consider taking along another member of the congregation and teach that member how to conduct a pastoral visit.    

Spiritual gift identification is best discerned through service in ministry.  Rather than taking a survey of interest, doing acts of service with a mentor will likely reveal more about the gifts of the individual.  The person who goes with a deacon to deliver food and pray with a family can better identify if this ministry is too uncomfortable or brings joy.  This act of service brings understanding regarding those being served.  Getting people to try on various ministries also helps identify those with leadership potential. 

By default, the Ruling Elder (RE) or the deacon is often trained via a semester class followed by an interview by the Session.  The interview is essentially a test tantamount to matriculation. The model of classroom instruction followed by matriculation is an excellent model for many academic programs.  Seminaries use this model.  It is one reason it has becomes the default method for training the RE or the deacon.  A weakness with this model is the desire to speed through material.  The need for leaders to fulfill the role cannot wait for three or four years.  The program is likely a one semester class which attempts to teach theology, praxis, and organizational behavior very quickly. Often those who are struggling with a theological issue will not be given room to ponder and work through to natural resolution.  Another weakness of this model is that the RE or the deacon does not have parity with an ordained pastor.  Often, those who develop parity are those who are self-taught.  The self-taught RE or deacon must be encouraged in this pursuit.  Many gifted people do not flourish when relying solely on being self-taught.  It is the responsibility of the church to take leadership develop further than give a class and hope for the best.     

Rather than a one semester class for raising up leaders, my ministry philosophy focus’ on three layers of development.  1.) The first step in the process is mentoring with little discussion of holding an office.  This mentoring process includes theological content from discussion, recommendation of books or sermons, and interests of the learner.  The mentorship also includes small incremental ministry projects.  Example of small incremental ministry projects are host a Bible study, teach a Bible study, make a hospital visit, help senior citizen pay a bill online, drop off groceries, share one’s testimony, or befriend someone new in the community.  Unpacking the project afterwards in discussion helps to refine if the project was synchronous the gifting of the individual.  If a ministry project shows a match with gifting, increase of responsibility is appropriate.  Instead of leading a lesson, the project might be the lead Bible study in an ongoing manner.  Instead of dropping off food for someone in need, organize a food chain.  If a person has maturity in knowledge of the Christian faith and is serving, it is more natural to move from service to ordained service. 2.) Once mentoring has helped develop the leader, then a one semester class which focuses on filling educational gaps is appropriate.  3.) The third step then should be the continuing development model.  Session meetings and deacon board meetings should have continuing development as a component. The goal is to make this training a lifelong pursuit.  Pastors are lifelong students, and so RE and deacons must also not be left to their own devices to continue in growth.  Leadership meetings should include consistent training with a bent on strong time management.    

The system of elder leadership is seen in Exodus where elders represent the community.  These are not leaders over the community, but rather seasoned members of the community.  The ministry of pastors, RE, and deacons are not that of a specialist.  The pastor is not a specialist like those who provide psychiatric care.  The RE is not a company executive who manages human resources.  The deacon is not a professional social worker.  Pastors, TEs, and deacons are generalists who must account for the whole person.   Shepherds care for the whole person.

Foundational to this way of thinking, power is shared.  This shared leadership means that the elders must respect the diversity of thought and ways of speaking.  A Session of a congregation is not primarily a body of policy makers, but of Bible interpreters.  Policy must be made, but this is a secondary or tertiary task.   Sessions can only learn to take on hard questions as they practice with easier questions of how to interpret and apply Scripture together.  Bible interpretation and application should be routinely practiced by the elders on the Session.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Why We Should Give Up Meeting Together Face to Face for Now


And they said to him, "The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink."  And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days."  He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'"  (Lk. 5:33-39 ESV)

Are we being disobedient to God’s Word by giving up face to face meeting for church during the COVID-19 global pandemic?  The Bible does say to “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Heb. 10:25 ESV) Many churches like our own have moved to ministry via streaming video or video teleconference call (VTC) in order to practice social distancing.  However, I am anticipating that this does not feel good for pastors.  I could be wrong, but I think this has a lot of pastors nervous regarding how the local institution will fair.  Pastors work hard to serve God, but that service is in the context of an institution which has a local footprint.  How do we know if a church is prospering?  David Wayne, the Jollyblogger, used to say it was the metrics of buildings, budget and attendance.  I am not sure have the order nor the wording correct but these are measurable features of the church.  If any of those metrics are in the decline, then one could attempt to fix the problem.  What if those metrics go away?  How valuable is a building that cannot gather people together?  What happens to the budget when there is no easy way to give?  What is that attendance number when it is all online?  My guess is that we all feel like we like the old way better.  We say, “The old is good.” 

I read the book The Problemwith Wine Skins: Church Structure in a Technological Age in the early 80s.  I am grateful that a mentor and friend recommended it.  I am captivated by the prospect of innovation in general, and this book put that in the context of Christian service.  Later, I got to see how many of the ideas actually work out.  The book advocated that innovation in terms of real estate.  Why not rent a location rather than invest heavily in a building and land that is used once a week?  Why not make cell groups a main part of the ministry of the church?  Why not decentralize the ministry so that more people are able to participate in the life of ministry?  I have been a part of implementing these ideas in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s.  


Innovate Ideas from The Problem with Wine Skins
Innovative Idea
Strength
Unexpected Weaknesses
Rent public space rather than invest in real estate
1.       Invest finances into ministry rather than in static land
2.       Flexible use of space allows for rapid growth
1.       Relational friction between owner and tenant; public space may not welcome the cost for them
2.       Set up and tear down of temporary space consumes volunteer time
Use cell groups for main part of ministry
1.       Build relationship within the congregation
2.       Cells can focus on different needs and demographics
1.       Cells often devolve into merely social hour
2.       While we may give lip service to training cell leaders, it is often neglected
Decentralized ministry which appreciates the priesthood of all believers
1.       Value of a variety of gifts and callings
2.       Ownership of ministry
1.       Dissipation of effort
2.       Lack of openness to guidance from church leadership




Back to that question, is it good to give up the assembly especially when we actually do have a direct command? Are these innovations that we are trying on for size going to cause crazy unexpected problem from which we may not recover?  Well, it is a possibility.  There are affects we might easily anticipate.  However, there will likely be results that are not easy to anticipate.  We just do not know what they are. Since there is risk to our institutions, this may make us fear.  For others, it could make us feel excitement of anticipation.  I know I have felt both in regard to how to serve in an innovative fashion during the COVID-19 global pandemic.  Likely other pastors have other feelings than I do, both negative and positive.   The negative feelings may make us say, “The old is good.” 

                Jesus parable of the wine skins has been somewhat difficult for me since the main voice in my head was the interpretation coming from Snyder:

The last statement is the key: “new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” The old Judaism could not contain the new wine of the gospel of Christ. The Christian faith would have to grow and burst the old wineskins of Judaism. And that is what happened. The church began to spread into the whole world, shedding the old Jewish forms.[i]

As I read the passage again, I will have to disagree with Snyder that the old wine is Judaism and the new wine is the gospel of Christ.  It is not a matter of institutional structure and message.  Rather the parables which Jesus is using is the appropriateness of the practice to the situation.  All three parables of wedding guests, patching clothing and storing wine are all about appropriateness of a practice to a situation.  In our current situation, rather than doubling down on Hebrews 10:25, the general equity[ii] taken from Leviticus 13[iii] of social distancing is a better passage to think about.  The passage calls for people with a skin disease to go outside the community, an ancient form of social distancing.  COVID-19 is not a skin disease and there are indeed many differences.  Also, we must not disdain those who have COVID-19, but we do need to keep slow the spread of the infection so that our health system of systems does not get overwhelmed.  While I long for the day when we hold precious a face to face gatherings, right now the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic calls for social distancing.

Besides streaming church and VTC, how have you innovated to handle the current ministry context? 


[i] The Problem of Wine Skins: Church Structure in a Technological Age (How to Foster Church Renewal) Paperback – 1977  by Howard A. Snyder (Author)

[ii] https://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/WCFScriptureProofs.pdf
”> Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 19  3.  Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.
 4.  To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.


[iii] And if the priest examines the itching disease and it appears no deeper than the skin and there is no black hair in it, then the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for seven days,  and on the seventh day the priest shall examine the disease. If the itch has not spread, and there is in it no yellow hair, and the itch appears to be no deeper than the skin, then he shall shave himself, but the itch he shall not shave; and the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for another seven days.   (Lev. 13:31-33 ESV)


Monday, February 10, 2020

How should we respond when someone asks us to pray that her dead mother will watch over her like a guardian angel?

How should we respond when someone asks us to pray that her dead mother will watch over her like a guardian angel?

The question has several components to it.  Let’s deal with the emotional part first.  This lady is likely missing her mother and is grieving.  As Christians we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15 ESV)  We share in the emotion of someone who is sad.  Christian counselor Robert Kellemen in his book Soul Physicians describes soul care as sustaining and healing.  An important part of caring for your spiritual friend is sensing your spiritual friend’s story of despair.  One must truly weep with those who weep.  To do so one must empathize and embrace the friend.  If someone is suffering, we as Christian brothers and sisters enter into their suffering with them.  An important part of community is bearing one another’s burdens. (Gal 6:2)  So, listening with a trajectory of making sure the person is heard is an important part of this building of spiritual friendship and building community when this becomes a network of people caring for one another.

A way to share in this lady’s loss is to ask basic questions about her relationship with her mother.

Were you two close to each other?
How long ago did you mother pass away?
What ways has your mother cared for you?
What memories do you cherish when you think of your mother?

It is not unusual for people to seek solutions to resolve people’s grief which may be seen as a symptom that needs to be relieved or a problem to be solved.  The grief of someone with loss may be the strongest connection with a loved one who has died.  If the grief is gone, so is the strongest connection with the loved one who is gone.  Unexplained sadness should be treated by a mental health professional.   Sadness which is causing a disruption to basic functioning to care for self, family, or other responsibilities also should be treated by a mental health professional.  As a spiritual friend you may need to give advice to seek care from a mental health professional, but you are not the mental health professional.  Your function is to be a friend by listening, hearing, and ensuring that your spiritual friend knows you are empathizing.  In other words, be with your friend.

The second half of this issue is addressing the Christian’s estate after we are dead.  Popular culture such as the book The Littleist Angel by Charles Tazwell tell how a person may become an angel after death.  The movie Its a Wonderful Life has a character Clarence who was a person and after his death became an angel who needed to earn his wings.  These popular versions of what an angel is do not agree with the teachings of the Bible.  The Scripture does discuss angels which protect children. “"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 18:10 ESV) However, this does not imply one angel is assigned to one child, nor that this was a person in a previous life.  Rather than being humans, angels are ministering spirits.  “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14 ESV). Rather than being dead people who are saved by being transformed into angels, angles are created as ministering spirits to help people.

The Bible is God’s story to tell us about his covenant with us.  There is a lot of detail.  The Bible does not tell us many things; like what the names of the continents are, nor what the type of tires are best for your family vehicle.  There is information in the Bible about angels, but that information is not a systematic treaties on angels.  Those gaps of knowledge regarding angels fits the divine author’s intent.  The focus is not on understanding a hidden world, but on the revelation of God’s plan of salvation.  These gaps of knowledge regarding angels have been used by more than one person as a playground for the imagination. There is a cultural bent to use angels in literature, movies, painting and other narratives as imaginary beings, much like a fairy or troll.  Cherubs as seen in art work as winged children.  The Bible never describes them in this fashion.   This use of the angels as imaginary beings may be unintentional by those who do it.  It may also fit with certain ways people interpret the type of literature the Bible is.  However, I would advocate that the parts of the Bible which speak of angels does not show imaginary beings.  The Bible portrays these beings as real.  Paul writes about these unseen realities in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16 ESV) We may understand experientially the seen reality, but the Bible tells us of an unseen reality, a heavenly reality.  As the Bible tells us about this unseen reality we are wise and well served to not state more than is said in Scripture.  We should avoid myths, speculations and imaginary wondering about things not addressed.  There is of course good and necessary deductions we can make from Scripture, but when something is unclear in Scripture we should not supply fanciful clarity.  The Bible tells us about angels, but a deceased loved one will not become an angel.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Online Education is a Loop Back to the Beginning


  • Era of Education:  Traditional Tribal Society
    • How Education Was Done:
      • Stories
      • Learn by Helping Adults (Participation) 
        • I do - We do - You do
    • Goal of Education:  Survival
    • Strength:  Multi-generational Cohesion
    • Weakness:  Narrow Focus and No Curriculum 

  • Era of Education:  Greek and Classical Academy
    • How Education Was Done:
      • Lecture by Paid Tutor
      • Didactic Questions
      • Greek Tutors Trained Roman Elites
    • Goal of Education:  Leadership in Complex City or State 
    • Strength:  Broader Curriculum
    • Weakness:  Audience is Elites

  • Era of Education:  Agricultural American One Room School House
    • How Education Was Done:
      • Lecture by Trained Teacher
      • Canon of Text Books 
      • Focus on Basics
        • Reading
        • Writing 
        • Arithmetic 
    • Goal of Education:  Train Citizens and Work Force 
    • Strength:  Broadly Available and Re-enforce Sense of Community
    • Weakness:  Overly Concentrating on the Practical and Functional

  • Era of Education:  Industrial American Consolidated Schools
    • How Education Was Done:
      • Lecture by Trained Highly Teachers
      • Canon of Text Books 
    • Goal of Education:  Train Citizens and Work Force 
    • Strength:  Bring Equality To All Members of Society
    • Weakness:  Mass Produce Education; Disconnect Community from School

  • Era of Education:  Information Age - Online Education
    • How Education Is Done:
      • Online Materials
      • Life-long Learning
      • Bite Size Material
      • Social Aspects of Learning Re-emerge  
    • Goal of Education:  Self-Directed Learning to Meet Personal Goals 
    • Strength:  Brings Back Learning By Doing
    • Weakness: Narrow Focus on Personal Interests and No Set Canon 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

In What Way Did God Redeem Israel?

A friend of mine read the Cross of Christ by John Stott and had questions regarding chapter 7.  This chapter deals with the concepts of propitiation & expiation.  He considers the idea of redemption in terms of a ransom price for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  The ransom price terminology is also involved when Israelites return from exile in Babylon.  God brings Israel out of Egypt in the same way as Christ giving his life as a ransom for many. Stott quotes BB Warfield: "the idea that the redemption from Egypt was the effect of a great expenditure of the divine power and in a sense cost much, is prominent in the allusions to it, and seems to constitute the central idea sought to be conveyed." Stott goes on to say:"For God redeemed Israel "with an outstretched arm" and "with a mighty hand". We conclude that redemption always involved the payment of a price, and that Yahweh's redemption of Israel was not an exception."  What does it mean that a great expenditure of divine power cost much? And how in relation to Egypt was there a price paid?

To answer this, let us first seek a definition, then look at key Scriptures, and lastly break down components of the question.

Definition: 

The word to Redeem (Ga’al) in Hebrew is a concept of payment in order to achieve deliverance.   גָּאַל I, redeem, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman. (ASV and RSV similar, except that they translate "avenger of blood" instead of "revenger of blood.")

Key Scriptures:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. (Exod. 6:6 ESV)

Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt. (Ps. 74:2 ESV)

You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah (Ps. 77:15 ESV)

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert.  So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.  And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left.  (Ps. 106:9-11 ESV)

Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isa. 41:14 ESV)

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.  (Isa. 43:1-4 ESV)

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "For your sake I send to Babylon and bring them all down as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice.  I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King."  Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,  who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isa. 43:14-19 ESV)

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isa. 52:9 ESV)

And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. (Isa. 62:12 ESV)

Question 1: What does it mean that a great expenditure of divine power cost much?

In one sense we might think, God owns everything, so how can he give a lot for us?  He has the cattle on a thousand hills.  He created you and I.  So doesn’t he already own us?  This is true he owns everything.  Still there are economic transactions that take place in our relationship to God.  We give him gifts.  He gives to us.  We must understand that while in an absolute economic sense, we have nothing to give him and he owes no one nothing.  But he has established the covenant, an ordered relationship.  Within the context of the covenant, there is redeeming of the nation of Israel.  There is a cost to God in many ways.  While the defeat of Egypt through the 10 plagues and the washing away of the Egyptian army, this is really just pointing to the reality of Christ defeating death by dying.  He dies on the Cross according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the ultimate cost.  God is patient with our sin. God is forgiving.  God’s covenant love costs him a broken heart.

Question 2: And how in relation to Egypt was there a price paid?

The concept of redeeming through victory is archaic to our system due to the fact that war booty is considered immoral.  In our way of thinking, non-combatants are not to suffer in a conflict.  We have to set aside our way of thinking. In our modern way of thinking payment in an economic transaction and money as war booty are two different things.  However, a modern equivalent would be to win a sporting event and get the “purse” as they call it.  Two boxers enter the ring and one earns the right to take the money by winning.  Notice the combining of the concepts, of God “redeem you” and also “with outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment”. Is it economic payment or is it God defeating the enemies?  However, it is both in this ancient covenant way of thinking.  The Egyptians get no payment.  The Egyptian nation is defeated, not through the military conflict with the nation of the Hebrews, but rather through the mighty acts of God in 10 plagues. God wins the first round. The Egyptian army is defeated by being washed way in the waters of the Red Sea.  God wins the second round with a knock out. God wins the prize through his mighty acts and the people are his.  He has in a sense bought them through his victory.

Question 3: So my question is, have you any idea about the cost of redeeming Israel from Egypt?

I would assert that this is not a payment in our sense of the word, but about God defeating Egypt militarily but ultimately pointing to Christ dying on the Cross. Christ defeats death by rising from the dead. 

Question 4:  What's that all about?

We have a hard time making sense of God’s covenant love, his steadfast love.  We need to understand his love through his mighty acts.  The ultimate Old Testament act was his redemption of his people from Egypt in the Exodus.  The ultimate New Testament act was his redemption of his people from sin through the death of Christ on the Cross.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Terribly Distracted from the Goal

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:7 ESV)

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

The first time sin is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 4:7 where Cain is warned that temptation to sin is coming.  If we look at this passage, does the definition from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) make sense?  Can we replace the word sin with definition from the catechism?  It then becomes thus: 

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, a want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:7 Catechism Definition Substitution Version.)

Does this make sense? 

Let us first examine if this makes sense from a cultural point of view.  From a modern point of view, we don't think of sin as our basic problem, rather we think that some technical issue is the problem.   So we call in the technicians to solve our problems: doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, school counselors, environmental scientists, etc...  By the way these are all fantastic means of service to human kind.  There is only one who can solve our sin problem though, the Lord Jesus Christ.  No, it does not make sense for our culture, but it is the Biblical teaching.  Our main problem is that of sin. 

What is this sin? 

Let us secondly examine if this makes sense linguistically.  Linguistically the word "sin" in the Hebrew of Genesis 4:7 is khatah (חטָּאת) and means "to miss the mark".  As in, if you are shooting at a target and you did not hit it. So there is a target which is metaphorical.  That target is a standard of word, thought, or deed which was not met.  The target or standard is missed and that is sin.  In Cain's case, his behavior goal was to not kill his brother.  However, we could say his sin is complex and he had other goals he should have met, like worshiping in faith.  It is possible he knew that a blood sacrifice was needed and he gave the fruit of the ground rather than a blood offering.  If that is an issue, it is not explicitly called out, but it is clear that he was going about worshiping God on his own terms rather than God's terms.  There is so much no spelled out on what specific sins were crouching at his door.  Likely, he was already doing things according to his own terms.  He then hated his brother because of the lack of acceptance of his own gifts.  As is often the case, one sin begets another. 

Back to the linguistic question, sin is a moral mistake.  All morality has implied authority.  God is the authority who defines right and wrong.  So the metaphorical target he is missing is God's direction.  He instead is lacking conformity to what is good and right.  He is doing his own thing. 

But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 NET)

Using the technique of paraphrasing it in order to meditate on the meaning, let's try this on for size:

But if you do not do what is right, moral failure is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Strange paraphrase - ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, rebellion against God is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Stranger paraphrase - authority paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, disastrous self-assertion is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Strangest paraphrase - utilitarian ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, a personified cosmic disorder is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Stranger than Strange paraphrase - natural order ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, not a little mistake is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Simply Stranger Than You Would Think paraphrase - hyperbolic understatement paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, downright mean, evil and despicable actions are crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Absolutely Strangest paraphrase - political attack ad paraphrase)

Then again, the word "sin" works too.   All the major English translations I keep up on my Bible software uses that English word. 
When I took Arabic, if we made a mistake in Arabic class, the teacher would say "khatah" (خطأ).  This was the teacher saying were were "wrong".  This was not a moral mistake rather an academic mistake.  We were missing the mark, but it was not moral but academic.

It is a common teaching technique for God to make an oblique reference on a topic in order to help the mind and heart to be ready to accept a hard or uncomfortable teaching.  Jesus used parables so that a person could enter the issue slowly. This technique recognizes the need for perspective, context, and background information in order to embrace.  We are not going out on a limb here by saying, Cain did not understanding what was happening to him.  He could not receive it all.  He needed to stop and ponder.  Instead he went on a rampage.  We often are in this sort of situation where we need God to help us understand what is going on. God teaches via questions.  We often look for answers, but that is less important than the question.  With bad questions we get answers that really are not all the relevant or insightful.   Perhaps someone should write a Bible study called "Divine Questions: Answers to Stuff We Did Not Know Were Terribly Relevant".

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Steadfast Love and Knowledge of God

Text:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos. 6:6 ESV)

What We Are Like: 

It is often easier for us to imagine a God who desires us to fulfill basic duties. In this Old Testament verse, that duty was sacrificing an offering in the Temple. Today we might think that attending church, giving our tithe or volunteering our time is what God desires. Certainly those are good things, but the God of the Bible desires our hearts to have "steadfast love". Other good translations say "mercy". The second half of the verse has another but related emphasis. The God the Bible wants us to know him. This is not knowledge about him, but relational knowledge. This is knowing him as a person, not a mere academic theological. Knowledge of theology is not bad, but it can be disconnected from things like wonder of worship, sense of purpose in life, sense of connection, and understanding of one's own existence in relation to God. The God of the Bible desire "steadfast love" and "knowledge of God".

Explaining the Text:

This Old Testament passage of Hosea 6:6 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13. The religious leaders of the day questioned why Jesus ate with sinners. Before quoting the first half of Hosea 6:6 Jesus says those who are not sick have no need for a physician. Steadfast love for God and people fulfills the two great commandments. Steadfast love means loving God and loving people. Jesus was befriending those who had a need.

Illustration:

It is easy to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. It may be true that we have done well.  However, our focus on that success may keep us from seeing the needs of those around us. A part of love is seeing the needs. We can only direct our focus on so many things. It is a common experience. When driving, we can have a conversation with someone beside us. We can drive and adjust the radio. Switch off the radio and add our phones things become a bit more complex. Then add it all together. Have a conversation, follow the navigate in a new location from your phone and solve a dispute in the back seat may keep us from focusing on the most important thing, driving safely. Likewise, when we think have our Christian duty conquered, and think about how well we are doing, we may not see those who have needs right beside us. We are focused on self, rather than God and others.


Application to Us:

Whether it is a phone call to a shut in, or a food for the grieving or simply loving the unlovely, God wants our hearts. God does not desire us to focus on achievable duty but on a heart full of steadfast love, compassion, and knowledge of him. We cannot do this under our own power, we need the grace of God.  We must not see the steadfast love as a new duty, but a heart empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love others. 

3rd Verse of  Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, radiance divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

                                 ~Charles Wesley