Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reading Through the Bible

One of the greatest experiences of my life was reading through the entire Bible. I've only accomplished this once, sadly, but it was such a wonderful experience. I have had ambitions to do it numerous times since, but, of course, like so many others, I have been held up right around the end of Exodus or the beginning of Leviticus.

Well, I am not one for New Year's resolutions, but I do feel that God is inviting me to "taste and see" His goodness again this year. And so, I am accepting His invitation to explore the depths of His love in the Bible.

And now I am trying to come up with a plan. When I did it before, I followed the Amazing Facts plan where you read through four different sections (two in the OT, and two in the NT) at one time. I enjoyed this, but I almost feel like it was "cheating," as if I wasn't getting a true experience of reading through the Bible.

So I've been looking around the Internet for another plan, and I came across this wonderful site that has many different options. It is Bibleyear.com and they have many different ways that you can read through the Bible. The first way, of course, is simply reading straight through the Bible. Another way is to read through it chronologically (where the events are placed in chronilogical order), and yet another historically (where the books are placed in chronological sequence from when they were written). These two options are a bit subjective, of course, because no one knows when the events or books were really written, but I might try them.

Whichever way is attempted, I would encourage you to pick your Bible up and give it a try as well! As I said, it is very rewarding.

Will you join me?

Merry Christmas, and All That

I just wanted to extend warm holiday greetings to everyone. I apologize for the fact that I have not written in a while. Christmas and New Year's and all that can get pretty busy. I had a great time with family and friends, but I got sick along the way. In fact, my sister, my brother-in-law, my mother, my brother, and I have all gotten sick with a stomach bug. So far, I've thrown up the most! (Hooray for me!) The only ones who have not been stricken with this unfortunate ailment are my dad, my wife, and little niece. We're taking bets on who will be the last man/woman/girl standing.

Until I get back into the blog mode, enjoy a picture below of my litte niece going on her first sledding adventure last week in my parents' front yard.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

KJV Only, Please!

Note: The following is an e-mail I recently sent to someone who goes to one of my churches. He is a very bright young man, who has informed me that the King James Version is the only Bible we should be reading. He is not one of these typically closed-minded individuals who is just trying to cause an annoyance. I detect in him a sincere desire to know the truth. This desire recently led him to our small country church, and even though we have only 10 other persons at the church (all at least 20 years older than him) he has stuck with us. Truth matters.

He relies heavily on Dr. Walter Veith, and until I talked with him about it recently, I thought that KJV-only advocates were simply fundamentalists who closed-mindedly wanted to stick to the old English. But their arguments are a little more in-depth than that, and their main argument is that the KJV is based on better Greek manuscripts. Of course, after watching the Veith video, I am not convinced by their arguments. Below is my response to him, with my four main arguments as to why this theory does not hold water.

1. Lack of evidence.
At the beginning of Veith's video, he makes the claim that the "family" in which the Textus Receptus comes from most closely resembles the original manuscripts. However, there is just no evidence, whatsoever, to support this claim. The same can be said of the Codex Sinaiticus, of course, as well as any other manuscript that is anything other than the original. The fact is, we do not have the original manuscripts that the apostles wrote and so any claim that such and such a manuscript most closely resembles the original is pure conjecture.

The other challenge is that the Textus Receptus is anything but perfect itself. Erasmus originally created it based on two 12th century MSS. The one manuscript that he was working from on the book of Revelation was completely missing the last 6 verses of the book. So Erasmus took the Latin Vulgate version of it and translated it back into Greek. This is hardly good scholarship.

Erasmus also placed the famous Comma Johanneum in 1 John himself, even though there was not one Greek MS at the time that he consulted with that included these words. He informed others that he would place it in the TR if he could find one MS that supported this. Not surprisingly, someone came up with a MS that had this phrase, but even Erasmus was suspicious that the person placed it in there on his behalf (and he made a note of this suspicion). Since Erasmus' day, three MSS have been found with the phrase: a twelfth-century MS with it written in the margin in a sixteenth-century hand, a sixteenth-century MS copy of the Polyglot Greek text, and a fourteenth- (or as some argue a sixteenth-) century MS. The phrase seems to have originated in a fourth-century Latin work.

2. Little significance. Even if, for the sake of argument, the King James is based on "better" manuscripts, the changes that are made in the other versions are not as drastic as one would like to imply. Many in the KJV camp argue, for example, that replacing Jesus with "He" is akin to stripping Jesus of His divinity, or some other terrible thing. The problem is, no such thing results from that variant translation. Isn't the Bible allowed to use pronouns - especially when, in immediately preceeding verses, Jesus' name is explicitly mentioned?

Similarly, some modern translations are actually stronger on Jesus' divinity than the KJV. Notice this example that was cited in that article that I sent you:

In some passages, modern versions make a clearer statement about the divinity of Jesus than the KJV. This is especially true in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 where they adhere to Granville Sharp's rule. Sharp's rule, simply stated is, When two common, singular nouns in the same case are connected by "kai" (and) and there is an article in front of the first noun only, both nouns refer to the same person or thing.
Compare Titus 2:13 in the KJV and the RSV:
Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (RSV).

The wording of the KJV presents two Gods: (1) "the great God" and (2) "our Saviour Jesus Christ." The RSV presents only one, "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." The RSV is following Sharp's rule of Greek grammar and thus renders a clearer statement on the deity of Jesus.
This difference can be seen again in 2 Peter 1:1:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (RSV).

The RSV is clear that Jesus is both God and Saviour, while this important truth is obscured in the KJV. Is there then a conspiracy on the part of the men who produced the KJV to minimize the divinity of Jesus? No.

As I said the other day, none of our doctrines are based on one or two passages, anyway. A person can certainly prove the divinity of Christ from the NIV or NASB or other modern translations. I think, for many zealous proponents of the KJV, they often use the Bible in a "proof-text" method. Thus, they want to be able to point to one verse - ignoring the context - and be able to prove a doctrine. The Comma Johanneum is a classic example of this. In order to proove the Trinity, it would be so convenient to just point to this one verse and say, "See! There is a Trinity." But the Bible does not always work this way. We must dig deep and put themes and ideas together. And a person can certainly establish an argument in favor of a plural godhead without using 1 John 5:7. In fact, a person can see the hints of this plurality in the first two verses of the Bible: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (NIV).

At the same time, why can't Matthew 28:19 serve as a good evidence of a Trinity? "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (NIV). If the producers of the Codex Sinaiticus, etc., were trying to conspire against the Trinity and Jesus' divinity, why wouldn't they have ommitted this clear passage?

I would also pause to say something else: the translators of the KJV were stewards of some bad theology as well! They were not Adventist. They did not believe in anhilationalism; they did not believe in soul sleep; they did not believe in the seventh-day Sabbath; they did not share our views on clean/unclean meats. Are we then to conclude that we should not read this translation because they may have had an agenda to downplay or undermine these doctrines?

No English translation is perfect. Inevitably a person's theology is going to creep into his/her translation of a given text. This is why it is good to know the original languages, keeping in mind that even the Greek/Hebrew manuscripts we do have, whether from the 12th century, or the 4th century, were copied by fallible human beings.

Which leads me to my next point . . .

3. Verbal inspiration. I think many people who push the KJV-only agenda have a somewhat skewed view of inspiration. Walter Veith quoted Jesus, saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," and he thus asked, "How can we live by every Word from God's mouth, if we cannot be sure that what we are reading is completely accurate to the original letters/epistles, etc." Such a question reveals to me that Veith believes that every single word that Paul or Peter or Moses or Jeremiah wrote was dictated by God to be written. This is called "verbal inspiration" and it is what many fundamentalist Christians (including some Adventists) subscribe to. The other extreme, of course, is that God didn't inspire any of the biblical writers to write anything, but that they were just writing from their own perspective. Neither of these is a healthy view of the Bible, and it denies the reality of how the biblical authors wrote.

Except where there are direct quotations from God, and God explicitly instructs a certain person to write something exactly, the Bible was written under "thought inspiration." So, for example, if Paul was writing to the Corinthians, God wasn't telling Him the exact words to write (this would deny the human element of the Bible and would make the need for a human being to write it unnecessary. If God simply wanted to deliver a dictated Bible, He could have delivered it by an angel, much like Joseph Smith allegedly received the Morman Bible from the hands of the angel Moroni), but impressing him with the thoughts to share with his audience. To some extent there is mystery surrounding how the Bible was written as we realize that it is both human and divine.

This is much like Jesus Himself. We cannot fully comprehend how He was both fully human and fully divine. So, too, with the Bible. God chose to reveal Himself through the pen of godly men, but He chose to reveal Himself through "their armor," so to speak. This is why we can see sylistic differences between Paul's letters, say, and Peter's, or Moses'. If the writers wrote only what God had explicitly dictated to them, then we would not see any stylistic differences.

The reason I bring this up is because if a person believes in verbal inspiration, then they have to figure out some way to make the claim that this particular Bible, and this particular Bible alone, is "the Word of God." Every word that this Bible contains is directly from God. But such an idea has weaknesses, because unless a person wants to maintain that the translators of the KJV were also themselves verbally inspired by God (and that God was dictating to them exactly the word he/she should use in translating from the Greek), then believing in verbal inspiration is somewhat challenging. After all, even if the original Greek manuscripts were verbally inspired and dictated by God, I doubt anyone would like to claim that the translators of the KJV, or versions in other languages, have the same status.

Thus, inevitably, our desire to live by "every word" that proceeds from God's mouth, is going to be somewhat veiled.

Instead, I can rest in the assurance that God has miraculously preserved the Bible insofar as He needed it to be preserved, in order for us, living the 21st century, to be edified by it.

4. Ad hominum attacks. As so often happens in the courtroom, people try to do a "character assisination" on the individual that they are trying to build a case against. And when a person does not have a strong case based on the facts alone, they must spend a great deal of time using ad hominum tactics. Thus, according to Veith; Westcott and Hort are two of the worst people in the world, it seems. Nevermind the fact that the quotes he uses from them are totally devoid of their context (which I would be hard-pressed to check myself), but if we are wanting to use such tactics, then no person would be qualified to even touch the Bible, let alone preach, translate, or teach from it. King James I, who commissioned our wonderful KJV translation, may or may not have been gay. And he certainly didn't share our sentiments on the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the sanctuary, etc. Martin Luther seems to have been antisemitic. And on and on it goes.

Aside from this, I am not even convinced, based on Veith's claims and quotes, that Wescott and Hort had an agenda to simply demolish the TR because they wanted to undermine the authority of scripture. When he quotes them as saying that they wanted to "subtly" change a verse here and there, so as not to rock the boat all at once, that is a legitimate method - for good or bad - when trying to bring about change. Abraham Lincoln didn't abolish slavery all at once. And if Westcott and Hort felt as though the TR was not completely legitimate and that there were some textual challenges, why would they make these changes all at once - especially since the KJV is so highly revered (and almost worshiped).

At the same time, Westcott and Hort's Greek NT is not even the used text today anymore, anyway. The Nestle-Aland NT, which has some considerable changes from Westcott and Hort's NT, is the prevailing Greek NT that is used among scholars today. Of course, even with this as the prevailing Greek NT, it is very exhaustive in its margins as to variant readings, and how many MSS have a certain alternate reading, etc. They are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Bible on Slavery

I am hoping to return to this subject sometime in the future when I have more time to revisit it, but I have to give a little primer before then. I am currently reading Newsweek's cover article called, "Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy," and, in the middle of the article, the author makes a bold claim that I have heard ad nauseum recently. Proponents of gay marriage, or any other lifestyle that they want to justify, make this assertion: "The Bible endorses slavery." There it is, right in the middle of the article.

I may be embarrassing myself, considering that my job requires me to be informed on biblical issues, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out where the Bible "endorses," "commands," or "promotes" slavery. This idea comes up over and over again, and I don't know where it's coming from. Does it "condemn" slavery? It doesn't seem to. But does it "endorse" it (the kind of slavery, at least, that went on in this country 150 years ago)? I plan to do an exhaustive study on the Bible's treatment of slavery sometime soon, but until then, can someone help me out here?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Preaching Mozart

I had an "aha!" moment last week during Prayer Meeting at one of my churches. I don't lead out in this particular Prayer Meeting for the time being, so it gives me a little more time for reflection. And as we were talking about the Holy Spirit and prayer, the fellow who was leading quoted Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing . . . " And that's when the "aha!" moment came.

This verse lays out the divine imperative of the preacher. As Paul writes just a few verses earlier, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (10:14). Thus, the pastor's primary responsibility is not to be a counselor, not to create a board agenda, not to be a visionary. The pastor's primary job is to draw faith from the heart of his people.

This, of course, speaks especially to our preaching. When I stand up each week and deliver my message, what does that message chiefly elicit from my audience? Guilt? Boredom? Fear? A sense of duty or responsibility? I am afraid, far too often, that this is what my audience feels after too many of my sermons. And if that is the case, then I have failed to a large degree in performing my chief goal: drawing faith from their hearts.

The truth is, maybe God places more responsibility into the hands of the preacher than we realize. While everyone is ultimately responsible for his or her own salvation and the implementation of faith, Paul unabashedly tells us that the way this faith is exercised is by "hearing," and the way that a person hears is by listening to a preacher. Of course, in Paul's day, very few people actually had access to the written Word. Their primary encounter with the Bible was through the weekly readings that took place in the synagogue.

But is it all that different these days? For most people, though they have access to the Bible on their bookshelves, their only encounter with the Bible from week to week is what they hear from the preacher on Sabbath or Sunday morning. This causes the burden to fall all the more on the preacher to make sure that the one time that person meets the Word, that Word is drawing upon the faith that God has placed into every heart.

And that faith, of course, is nothing more than a heart-experience with God. Faith, as Paul tells us elsewhere, "works through love" (Gal 5:5). So I am trying to raise the appreciation in the hearts of my listener's for Christ and His agape love. And by so doing, I am drawing a faith-response from them.

This cannot be done by preaching a 45-minute sermon on how we should all be "prayer warriors." If it is devoid of the truth about God's saving love, then I am simply giving a humanistic sermon, and rather than drawing faith from my listeners, I am trying to play off their sense of duty. Which doesn't work in the end.

Some may not realize that Albert Einstein was an accomplished violinist. He would often pick up his violin when he was stumped by a certain mathematical problem, and begin to strum the instrument profusely, trying to work through the problem in his head. He would create melodies as he strummed, and then he would, all of a sudden, put his violin down and return to his math problem, having figured out the solution as he was playing.

But Einstein didn't always love the violin. In fact, he didn't like it at all when he first started playing. His mother, as so many other mothers have done throughout the ages (just like my mother), insisted that he take lessons and practice. He was on the verge of giving up the instrument altogether when, one day, he came across Mozart's sonatas. He instantly fell in love with the instrument, and could hardly put it down. And reflecting on that experience, he later observed, "I believe that love is a better teacher than a sense of duty" (Walter Issacson, Einstein, p. 14).

His experience and subsequent observations are poignant. How often do we try to coax people into a "faith-experience" by trying to elicit a sense of duty and responsibility from them? Instead, we should be preaching Mozart to them, and drawing faith from their hearts.

Do our parishioners hear Mozart when we preach? "So then faith comes by hearing. . . "

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Spiritual Abuse and Church Polity

In the span of about ten minutes this morning, two friends shared with me three or four examples of people they knew who had suffered "spiritual abuse" at the hands of certain church leaders. The examples given were outside my particular faith community, and though the Seventh-day Adventist church certainly sees its share of "spiritual abusers," something suddenly dawned on me.

I know there are many within our ranks who lament over our church structure. They want more independence on the local level, with less involvement from the higher levels. More money should stay locally, etc., etc. But I don't know how many times I have been extremely appreciative for the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist church is organized the way that it is. Among other things, I believe our church structure does a fairly good job of weeding out spiritual abusers.

This is not meant to be arrogant back-slapping on my part. As I said earlier, I do recognize that there are problems that inherently surface in any church. Adventism is, by no means, immune from these problems. But I believe that our structure is set up in a way so as not to perpetuate the ever present component in the human heart to covet power. Hear me out for a second. . .

There are basically three types of church structures (and please forgive me for simplifying this). There is the Episcopal structure, which places much of the power in the hands of a bishop or bishops. The Roman Catholic church, Anglicans, and Lutherans are examples of this type of church governance.

More relevant to many Evangelical churches, there is the Congregational model, and the Presbyterian model - of which the Seventh-day Adventist church subscribes. Most Evangelical churches have some type of congregational government, and I believe this is largely to blame for much of the "spiritual abuse" that takes place (as was the case with all of these examples that my friends shared with me). Essentially, although there is a local board that ultimately governs a congregational church, if the local pastor can coax enough people to his side, he can, for all intense and purposes, "control" the church. Thus, the pastor's goal is far too often to learn how to manipulate, cajole, or do anything he can to gain power for himself.

This is even easier for the pastor who starts his own church. Because he is autonomous, and is not really accountable to any other human being, he figures out what he needs to do to control the masses that are coming to worship at his new church. The pastor becomes the arbiter and final authority on what can and cannot happen. Coupled with the fact that the more people he can get to attend his church, then the more money he can pad his wallet with, and one can see how dangerous a congregational model can be.

I don't think that it is a coincidence that all of the megachurches are non-denominational, congregationally-based churches. The pastor is the church. Bill Hybels is Willow Creek. Rick Warren is Saddleback. Joel Osteen is Lakewood. This is not to say that these men are wicked or they have bad intentions. It is to say that they know what they are doing. Neither is it to say that many pastors, when they set out to start a new church, have these motives in mind. But the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9), and the more a person tastes a little bit of power, the more power he wants. And when such a person abuses others "spiritually," it is a devestating fall (Jim Jones, anyone?).

I am glad that in the Seventh-day Adventist church, it doesn't matter how many members I have; how many churches I pastor; or whatever else is involved. I get paid what I am going to get paid, and it doesn't change based on how many people I impress or don't impress, or other circumstances. And, on many levels, my success in the minstry is not necessarily based upon how many people I can make happy or influence, or which big church I can convince to take me as pastor. Granted, this does happen. But, at least hypothetically, my ministry is based more upon external circumstances; about other men and women prayerfully considering where I should be placed as a minister next.

Congregational churches inherently attract a "maverick" mentality, and there are no true checks-and-balances that can address some of these challenges. If a pastor in the congregational model ruffles enough feathers in his present church, he might be driven out of town, but he can still go somewhere else and start pastoring another church, or perhaps even start his own (if all else fails). This, of course, happens sometimes within Adventism, but structurally, I don't believe that it is the inherent byproduct that it is in a congregational model.

This is why I think it would be a grave mistake for Adventism to become more congregationally oriented. Yes, the ultimate "power" is in the local congregation, but if we were to go down that route we would be setting ourselves up for more spiritual abuse, more power grabbing, more irresponsible autonomy. And, more than that, we would lose site of the fact that this is, indeed, a global movement. Just as democracy, though not perfect, is the best model of secular government we have, so, too, the Presbyterian/democratic model is the best model we have of church governance.