Sacrifices

The Old Testament sacrificial system is confusing to me. Today I am reading in Ezra where the second temple is finished and starting to be used. The small community of post-exilic Israel offers offerings to God. Hundreds of animals are sacrificed. And then the text mentions twelve goats as a sin offering, one for each of the tribes. The sin offering is a small add-on to the main offerings. And it is goats, not lambs.

The great mass of the offerings were not for sin, but for thanksgiving and other modes of worship.

Then came the passover, and the lambs were sacrificed and the week of unleavened bread was celebrated. The passover lamb was not a sacrifice for sin. It was originally to use the blood to mark the doors of Israelites in Egypt, in order to avoid the judgment of God. Subsequently that passover lamb was a reminder of what God had done in delivering them from Egypt. And, in a way, this return from exile was a second exodus, so perhaps the passover celebration takes on additional meaning.

The main thing, though, is that the lamb is not a sin offering.

Jesus died at passover time. Should we view him as our passover lamb? I’ve heard preachers confuse passover with the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) in Easter sermons, saying things like that Jesus was sacrificed for us at the time when the high priest was in the holy of holies. The curtain was ripped to show that we could no all go in there. But Yom Kippur is in the fall and passover is in the spring. The two cannot possibly happen at the same time.

Anyway, all this causes me to ask how we should see the death of Jesus. Of course, he died for our sins. Scripture is clear about this. But, perhaps, the atonement aspect should take a back seat to the deliverance and protection aspect.

I don’t know where I come out on this. I need to do some more thinking and reading. I love having stuff to read and think about.

Staying Alive

Today is my transfusion day. As I write, my 108th unit of red cells is flowing into my jugular vein.

Thanks to all who give blood for those of us who need it.

I need another type of transfusion every day for my spirit to stay alive. You do too. Read the Bible.

Biblical Literacy

Dominating my thoughts these days is the fact(?) that biblical literacy is low, even in the church.

Of course, there are lots of people in the church who are highly motivated to know the Bible and to make it a guiding force in their lives. I’m not worried about them.

I’m worried about the large group of people in the church who don’t know the Bible and aren’t bothered by that. They seem to be satisfied that the snippets they get in sermons and, perhaps, devotional readings.

The problem, it seems to me, is not that people don’t have access to the Bible and to materials that would help them. Rather, it is that they don’t care about the gap in their discipleship.

How can people like this be motivated to read and learn the Bible?

Sola Scriptura?

Reformed Protestants have “Sola Scriptura” as one of their main slogans. If Latin isn’t your thing, that slogan might be translated as “Scripture Only”. Of course, there are many different interpretations of what that means and many different ways of utilizing it in practice.

As one who is very focused on scripture reading and study, it is to me an attractive thought to make scripture the only thing that matters. But I can recognize that it also carries danger onboard.

Problem 1

No one can read scripture without doing some kind of interpretation of it. Even translation into vernaculars requires a measure of interpretation. “Sola Scriptura” can be used—and has been used—to advocate for a private interpretation os scripture that is heretical, that is, out of line with traditional orthodox Christian teaching. Or it could be a minor point of interpretation that is not necessarily heretical, but still out of line, possibly in a harmful way.

Even church groups who claim that they have no doctrine but the Bible are involved in interpretation that becomes authoritative tradition in their movements. Restoration churches and Baptists, for example, insist on baptism by immersion even though I know of no place in scripture that requires it. Perhaps, it is implied, but only perhaps. It needs some kind of interpretation. This example is not really a problem; I’d call it more of a quirk, to be tolerated like that one uncle at Christmas dinner.

As an aside, I don’t see anything in scripture which stipulates communion administered in styrofoam wafers attached to plastic cups of grape juice, but that seem to be de rigueur today.

These private interpretations are generally done within the church and within the tradition of a church. But sometimes, they are totally private interpretations, which leads us to the next problem.

Problem 2

Private interpretations, when held as authoritative, lead to disunity in the church. In fact, many of Paul’s letters are actually addressing interpretation that are outside the pale of apostolic tradition. For Paul—and for us—church unity is a very important thing.

Why are there so many Protestant denominations and movements that are not unified? It really comes down to private interpretation of scripture. One guy sees it this way when most people see it that way, so the guy splits off and starts a new church. Rinse and repeat. This is why there are hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations today, not counting all the hundreds of non-denominational megachurches which are really movements within themselves.

Toward a Solution

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along. I guess we did pretty well for a thousand years or so until the Great Schism. Then another half a millennium until the Protestant Reformation. Luther and Calvin introduced the slogan “Sola Scriptura” (I simplify) and now we have the disunity that we have.

  1. Let’s make sure our interpretations are within the church. Lots of people propose lots of ideas from scripture, but many of those people are truly false prophets, not really part of the church. They have their own agendas, which don’t have anything to do with the gospel and much to do with accumulating followers.

  2. Let’s recognize that tradition comes into what we believe, along with scripture. I think it would be more honest if we said “Scripture First”, rather than “Scripture Alone”. And considering the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience might be a good move. I certainly don’t want to minimize the importance of scripture, surely, not I! But let’s be honest and reasonable.

  3. Probably the thing the church most needs today is to increase biblical literacy among the people. It is appalling that people don’t know the Bible and don’t know how to interpret for themselves in order to measure what they hear from the airwaves and even from the pulpit. I wish I knew how to accomplish this more quickly and easily, but I fear it must be done a little at a time. It may take a shaking-out of the church, as experienced by many Christians around the world already, in order to move the task forward. That’s a painful thought, but it just might be biblical. You should check it out for yourself.

What is the Bible to you? Do you measure your tradition against it, or vice versa? How do you interpret it? Or do you leave that to some spiritual leader? Do you even read the Bible? If not, why not? Or maybe you read a verse a day at the beginning of your devotional guide. Come on! Read the Book!

Pro-Life

It seems apparent to me that one who opposes abortion must also oppose capital punishment. To support one, but not the other, is base hypocrisy.

But that is just me thinking, which I may not be all that good at anymore.

For a Little While

No cover-ups can outlast the eschaton. There is no attorney-client privilege at the judgment seat of Christ. That should prompt us—no matter what institution we serve, no matter how much we love it—to call it into the light, into accountability, into the protection of the vulnerable.

And if we can’t, we don’t try to conform the mission to the institution’s demands. We walk out into the mission—with tears in our eyes, shaking the dust off our feet, but with our consciences still intact.

Institutions know how to impede accountability. Sexual abuse cover-ups work. For a little while.

Russell Moore

Trust

I used to trust people first and let them prove my trust deserved or not.

Lately I find that I tend to default to not trusting and make people earn my trust.

I don’t like that change, but I don’t think it is based on a decision as much as experience in life.

Am I alone in this?

Sunday School

I have been thinking about Sunday School, and lamenting its demise.

I suppose the day of Sunday School for both children and adults has had its day and gone into eclipse. Now it seem like kids have a kid’s service, focusing on entertainment, while the adults have a church service, also focusing on entertainment. Is that cynical?

Anyway, I’m fine with changing ways and procedures. But what I lament is the loss of biblical literacy. Sunday School was always the main way people learned about the Bible, and read it and prayed through it together.

SS is not an old traditional thing, anyway. It’s a rather new invention in terms of the life of. the church. I don’t know how biblical literacy was accomplished before SS. Maybe I should look into that.

These days, SS has been replaced, I guess, by small groups. But in my experience, small groups are less about Bible study and reading, and more about social connections. I’m not knocking the need for koinonia, but I wish there was a way to accomplish both those goals, both being important to true discipleship.

We need to find a way to replace SS as a way to learn to read the Bible, or the next generations of the church will be without foundation.

Ideas?

Pressure

Our culture tells us that it is foolish to walk the Jesus path. We are more sophisticated than that. That path is outdated. There are other paths that are more pleasant to walk, more fun.

But there is only one path that I care to walk. I will not be distracted by bobbles and bits. I want to see Jesus.