Trinity Sunday— Athanasian Creed

Trinity Sunday and Athanasian Creed

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. For most Christians who follow such a calendar, it means that we speak together the Athanasian Creed. For some that might conjure images of drudgery, reciting words, upon words, upon words. Some would like to sit down, and snooze while the rest drone on.

But it need not be that way. In our congregation, we use the responsive reading form that CPH put out a few years ago. It breaks the creed into sections that become antiphonal (you can look up that word), and the responsive sections break into male and female responses. Excellent resource, CPH Athanasian Creed

Not again!?!

Over the past six decades I have heard sermons preached on Trinity Sunday that try to “explain” the Trinity, without much success. The apple (core, meat, skin), the three-leaf clover, and especially H2O (water, steam, ice), and the list goes on. Long ago I gave up on this approach. Each one might offer a glimpse into one small aspect of the Trinity. But most people walk away with a modalist view of the Trinity (one God taking three forms) rather than the Biblical view of the Trinity.

So a sermon on the Trinity? Obviously any of the texts chosen for the day can be used. If we preach one of those texts, let’s be honest and preach the text, not trying to force it into a doctrinal presentation of the Trinity. Likewise if we preach on the Trinity, let’s be honest and do so as a doctrinal confessing point, rather than trying to maneuver a Biblical text to fit what we want to preach. I think as we keep these two approaches in mind, we can avoid the “not again” problems of Trinity Sunday. Rather we can faithfully peach the Trinity without trying to explain the unexplainable.

Breath of Fresh Air

God_the_Trinity
Not an explanation but a symbol used of the Trinity

What makes the Athanasian Creed refreshing? It is not meant as a common sense explanation or science explanation of the Trinity. Rather the creed is conprehensive, but is confessed, not explained. Sometimes the speaking of the creed is far better than trying to explain something that is unexplainable. In the Church today I think we need more confessing of the faith in the creeds than explanations or dissections and arguing over the creeds. Note: there is a place to hold such doctrinal discussion. But worship is not the place for such discussions.

I think in the grander scheme of history of the Christian Church symbols of the Trinity have served the Church well rather than explanations. Thus, the designs used on the paraments, stoles, etc. function as visual reminders of the truth of the Trinity and what is confessed, not explanations.

imgres

imgres

Let’s believe, teach, and confess this wonderful creed, not only on Trinity Sunday but whenever necessary and helpful.

You can find the three ecumenical creeds here: Ecumenical Creeds

Book Review: On Edge

Kansiewicz, Kristen, On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context. 2014

[Note: This is the longest book review I have written, but the topics are critical and the discussion is important for the church.]

If someone is looking for the definitive guide and be-all-end-all book on this important topic, this book is not it (I don’t think such a book exists). But if you are exploring this topic, then this book serves as an excellent starting point in the discussion.

I have a personal interest in the topic. I have battled depression for a long time, and I have an immediate family member who has been diagnosed bipolar since 1987; little to no help for us, on the spiritual side of things. When I experienced the worst years of depression, the church had really nothing to address it for pastors or congregations. In the past 15 years that situation is beginning to change for the better. And I have a professional interest as a pastor of a congregation and as seminary professor teaching future pastors. Thus, I am looking for ways to equip them to be aware of developments in mental health issues.

My approach is to go through the book, chapter-by-chapter, and offer thoughts.

Part 1: Foundational Concepts: Understanding Mental Illness in the Church

Chapter 1: The Church and the Mental Health Revolution

Having grown up in the 1950s through mid 1960s, “mental health” was never discussed. In our family, to admit a problem such as that was an admission of weakness and failure. I remember how some WWI and WWII veterans struggled because they suffered PTSD (before it was recognized as such). They were ostracized, told to “get over it,” etc. As for mental illness in the broadest terms, the colloquial phrase was “they are nuts” and they needed to be confined. Yeah, there wasn’t any recognition of the problems, and if they were recognized, it was to be swept under the carpet to avoid facing it (in someone else).

When I served in the Navy (intelligence office) I came under the influence of a chaplain who was wholeheartedly supportive of Jay Adams and his approach to such issues (p. 10 ff.), namely that anything that could not be detected by medical tests was only the result of sin. I went through Seminary 1982-86, and that seemed to be somewhat the accepted stance (I’m sure that I missed some nuances in seminary training on this). During that decade my battle with depression began to surface. But I had no framework to deal with it.

As I began to serve in a congregation, it became apparent that such a simplistic division of problems was not matching what I saw. I ministered to people whose loved ones had committed suicide. They were looking for answers, and while I ministered and cared for them, I also realized I was not prepared for the more complex reality.

Kansiewicz describes the history (and my own journey) when she writes:

Average church attendees, who are likely unaware of this historical debate with the church about how to respond to mental illness and emotional problems, may find themselves caught in the crosshairs. In his book Grace for the Afflicted, Matthew Stanford shares his surprise and dismay in encountering Christians who did not believe mental illness—in this case depression—could happen to “true” Christians… In the American church culture, many have been taught that emotional problems are only a spiritual issue. (pp. 11-12)

The typical pastor seems to have followed my own path, giving some help, but not really understanding some of the inter connectedness of mental health and Christian care.

Kansiewicz offers the Church Therapy model, “a professionally trained, licensed Christian counselor works on a church staff alongside and in conjunction with the pastors” (p. 13). While I see the advantages of such an approach, it is not realistic in most parts of the US (let alone other cultures). I serve a congregation in an area in which the nearest hospital is 50 miles away. We have one doctor at a clinic, so only basic medical care is available, let alone a Christian counselor. So while I agree with the concept, I think a broader approach needs to be taken if the majority of congregations and pastors can be helped.

Chapter 2: Is Mental Illness Real?

The author notes that great strides have been made in science, and it is beginning to influence how to treat some mental illness. A simple blood test or brain scan cannot be used to accurately deal with mental illness, leaving only observation as a starting point medically. “However, because we have not yet developed objective measures, doctors and counselors are currently forced to rely on their observations of mood and behavior.” (p. 18)

Kansiewicz offers an accurate assessment of where we are as Christians: “Because of that in-between place of embracing the kingdom of God while we wait for it to be fully realized with Christ’s return, we fall victim to disease like the rest of humanity.” (p. 18) Accordingly, she notes “The church must be a place where hope resides, where love endures, and where emotional safety flourishes, for it is Christ alone who offers a way out of our present suffering. Christ alone will walk alongside us as One who has also suffered.” (p. 19)

Although this chapter is short, it is perhaps the most important for the current state of Christians and mental illnesses.

Chapter 3: Should Christians Take Psychiatric Medicines?

This chapter hit close to home because the example offered deals with depression. When I hit bottom, a breakdown, medicine was really necessary for me. I would never have considered it, except I had no choice. My treatment also involved sessions with a psychologist (3x week for a while).

The encouragement Kansiewicz offers is that the integration of all: psychiatrist, psychologist, and medical doctor are critical. And of course, the church/pastor. “Medication is simply a tool. It is one piece of the treatment puzzle that actually works best when combined with counseling, as numerous studies have shown.” (p. 29) That balance is critical. It is good that the church is finally entering team approach to mental illness.

From now on each chapter includes a case study and then the Counselor’s Response. Very effective and helpful approach in presenting the concepts.

Chapter 4: Is Faith a Feeling?

This is an interesting chapter, examining Dave as a case study. Feelings/emotions are an important part of who we are as people. But “sometimes our feelings can not be trusted…We must cling to truth to provide stability through all of our emotional states.” (p. 37) Obviously mental illnesses can exaggerate the disparity between healthy feelings and those that do not respond to the reality of what is happening.

Perhaps the most powerful statements in the book:

Equally important to note si that feelings cannot define truth. God alone can define reality, and His word creates truth. All humans must humbly acknowledge their inability to feel and perceive truth accurately. (p. 38)

Emotions are a tool for us that can enable us to experience life and God. Beauty, interconnection, and a sense of need for a Savior are all understood through emotional senses. But this tool does not provide a definition of reality—God alone can set reality in motion. Feelings must always remain in proper alignment to the One who sets truth in order. When we find that any of our senses lead us astray, we must cling to the truth of the God who is greater than all things. (p. 39)

Part 2: Specific Mental Health Disorders

Chapter 5: The Bipolar Experience

Again, this chapter hits close to home because our son is Bipolar. Kansiewicz offers the insight that the highs and lows can be deluding, and so systems need to be in place to help with each.

The hardest part is forcing yourself to keep these systems in place at your highest high and or lowest low. When you are on a high, you will be convinced you do not need grounding. When you are in a low valley, you will wonder why you should even bother to try. (p. 47)

And that is exactly the problem our son faced, and still does 30 years later. The systems she offers are: feedback, focus on truth, and “routines of obedience to God.” In my experience with Christian members in the congregation, someone who is bipolar presents perhaps the most challenging aspect of ministry in the congregation. Certainly extra grace is needed in such ministry.

Chapter 6: Can Real Christians Be Depressed?

I have already mentioned much on this topic. One helpful observation from the author highlights this chapter:

When true clinical depression has taken over the brain, removal of one’s life stress does not remove the depression symptoms. Even those things that led to the onset of depression do not need to remain for the depression to continue. (p. 55)

For me, I discovered that there are triggers that instantly bring about memories (even unconscious) that feed depression. It took many years to recognize this problem. This chapter is well worth reading many times.

Chapter 7: How Can I Trust God When I Worry All the Time?

Until 15 years ago I had not really encountered anxiety as a problem (or at least was not aware of it). Anxiety was generally considered just another emotion, but nothing to do with mental illness. But I have ministered to people who deal with this daily.  GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) is defined as “when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months.” Reading through the case study was helpful for me.

Often the extreme form of fear and worry leads to avoidance of activities and encounters with others. Responding to GAD requires medicine as well as psychology, and spiritual care. As the author states: “Counseling, medication, books on anxiety, prayer, and mental repetition of important biblical truths all play important roles for those with anxiety each and every day.” (p. 67)

Chapter 8: Schizophrenia: Didn’t Jesus Just Call It Demon Possession?

I am thankful the author included this chapter. Especially helpful was the six guidelines to help distinguish between schizophrenia and demon possession by Steven Waterhouse. One quote from Waterhouse: “Authors who have clinical experience both with demon possession and mental illness believe those who claim to be possessed are very likely not possessed.” (p. 78)

In 1989 I had the privilege of interviewing a world recognized authority on demon possession. He advised taking a slow approach in consultation with medical specialists before claiming a person was demon possessed. In other words the tendency among some Christian movements is to automatically assumed demon possession. Unfortunately other Christian movements deny any possibility of demon possession of a Christian. This chapter provides the pastor and congregation a good starting point for assessing someone’s condition.

Chapters 9-10 ADD and Addiction

I only note that each chapter is important, and need attention. I think addictions within the Christian church are bigger problems than we want to admit. The key in addictions is that there is often a change in the brain that makes stopping the addiction more difficult. Note that such a statement is not an excuse for sin, but that sin combined with other changes complicate the interaction of physical and spiritual connections.

Kansiewicz offers wise words:

Addictive behaviors are sinful, but they can be different than other types of sin in that they require different and more complex steps to stop. (p. 96)

Most of the time, Christians struggling with addictions were at one point in their lives facing a lot of emotional pain that they did not know how to process. (p. 97)

Professional treatment is required through either medication or therapy. Understanding the root of the addiction is also critical to treatment and relapse prevention. A professional Christian counselor can help you explore the reasons that you became addicted in the first place, and can help you create strategies for quitting. (p.99)

It is in this area that I have appreciated a Christian counselor who can provide much more than I as pastor can provide. I have referred several people to Christian counselors for addictions. But I have also continued to meet with them for spiritual elements related to addiction. That combination is essential.

Kansiewicz makes a critical observation about addictions (but also true for other mental illnesses):

Some believe, “Once an addict, always an addict.” While it may be true that relapse prevention and recovery strategies need to be a permanent part of your life, it is important not to define yourself as something you once were. God certainly did not create you to be an addict, and your sense of identity should reflect what His designs are for your life. (p. 100)

Part 3: Other Challenges: When the Christian Life Isn’t Rosy

Chapter 11: Why Do I Still Hate Myself When God Loves Me So Much?

I can readily identify with this problem as well. Kansiewicz identifies causes, which can be verbal, physical, emotional abuse, as well as many other things. However, this is the one chapter in which I think the “Counselor’s Reponse” is wrong-headed. When someone says, “I hate myself,” she offers these words:

I have never heard someone who grew up in an emotionally stable, nurturing environment with a healthy family make that bold statement.(p. 106)

Now why is it that people in that happy circumstance does (sic) not come to the conclusion one day that they just aren’t worth it? My answer: they truly know themselves. They have been told about the beauty and wonder of just being themselves. (p. 107)

You entered this world with beauty. You entered this world with potential. …Maybe if you had been encouraged rather than told to conform you could have discovered that truly unique and beautiful self. (pp. 107-8)

If you were to ask the first century Pharisees they would have had a well adjusted view of themselves, but were sinners. So, what is wrong with this approach? I think it fails on two points: 1) It contradicts several Scripture passages that state that we were born as sinners, not neutral people with potential, and 2) it takes away from the true freedom, comfort, love, joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (NAS)

Psalm 51:5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. (HSCB)

There are many other passages that support this idea. I think part of the problem might be that in the book, sin is presented as only sinful actions and thoughts. But sin is deeper. Committing sinful actions does not make a person a sinner, rather sin causes the person to commit sinful acts and thoughts.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. (HCSB)

This is critical when considering how the New Testament presents the change that God works in the Gospel, namely through what Christ has done for us.

Romans 5:6-10 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be savedby His life. (NAS)

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (NAS)

Notice in that Romans passage, it is not the “truly well adjusted person who has a healthy esteem” that Christ died for, but for those who fall short of God’s demands, hence everyone. That is the good news, that no matter where anyone started as a sinner, Christ died for him or her, in other words, he only died for sinners, and that includes every person. And that is the worth and value of a person.

Chapter 12: How Does Christian Deal with Grief?

Chapter 14: Life or Death? When Mental Illness is Fatal

As a pastor I work with people in all stages of grief. I have found that everyone expects to recover quicker than they actually are. A doctor once told me that for every day you are down with sickness or surgery, it takes seven days to recover. So if someone is in the hospital for 7 days, it takes at least 49 days to recover. Many people laugh at that. But after surgery they discover how true that is.

So with grief, it takes time. No matter how many steps people identify, the time is non-negotiable. And here again triggers can present setback (each event in life after the loss: 1st birthday, 1st anniversary, 1st Christmas, etc.

I like how Kansiewicz adjusted the Kübler-Ross stages, especially the last one: “Acceptance with Prolonged Depression.” This is a very good chapter and offers help to the person, but also the church and pastor in continuing ministry to those who grieve.

Chapter 13: Submission or Abuse? Facing Domestic Violence

This is a topic very near to my heart. The abuse is bad enough, but the church’s often silent acceptance, or worse, indifference to those who are abused. I preached about this topic (The Silent Epidemic) about three years ago. You could hear a pin drop during the sermon.

Why do pastors and leaders as well as churches ignore this topic? Kansiewicz offered this assessment from John Shore,

Shore suggests that part of the problem may be that if you are not living in an abusive situation, it is hard to truly understand the systemic ways in which abuse festers. He also points out that abusers are very good at manipulating others, and may easily convince pastors to minimize the reality or severity of the wife’s report. (p. 129)

Do we need any more indictment of us as pastors or churches? Thankfully Kansiewicz offers several steps to move ahead in dealing with abuse. Here are a couple essential guidelines for pastors:

Pastors must also connect both abusers and victims with separate Christian counselors, and pastors should remain involved in this treatment by maintaining frequent contact with the counselors.…Pastors may be too personally involved to judge when it is or is not appropriate for a couple to reunite after an abusive situations. Christians counselors can offer a trained, objective insight into the appropriateness of reconciliation in a given situation. (p. 131)

I would modify that last sentence to “can offer a trained, more objective insight” since no one can be truly objective. But the advice? Every pastor ought to heed her words here.

Chapter 15: How Do I Talk to My Pastor About My Mental Health?

Another good chapter for advice on the one seeking help regarding mental illness. Also, a reminder for pastors to not avoid such conversations. If you don’t know the resources, then find out. Ask other pastors, visit Christian counselors to see what they recommend. Find out about psychiatrists who accept Christian pastor’s involvement.

The goal is not for the pastor to be all, serve all, but to work within a larger framework than just the local congregation. Some of these issues are far beyond out abilities, training. It is okay for us to seek out additional help and resources, for you as pastors and you as members of the congregation.

Conclusion

Excellent book that raises the right issues. I would add that Word and Sacraments as part of the liturgy become an essential environment for continued ministry to people, especially “on edge.” I found it challenging and had to read the book twice to make sure I was understanding it correctly. I recommend pastors especially, other leaders, and members in the congregation read this book. Even with my objections to the foundation of Chapter 11, this is a worthwhile resource.

Evangelism Study Bible — not

This Bible is of mixed value. I had high expectations, but was disappointed with the result. There are some very good things, and then there are some serious concerns.2662 cvr CC.indd

Good:

Design

One of the best features: the footnotes. Sadly many Bibles have footnotes that are just barely legible (i.e. ESV Global Study Bible). In contrast, Kregel provided remarkably readable footnotes in this edition. The center column notes are a little small but still readable.

The Bible is well designed from the paper (no significant issues with bleed through; the accompanying photo highlights the bleed-through but in real life not that bad), background color for special articles (pleasant faint gray that makes the articles standout without jarring contrast), font choices (right choice for Biblical text, footnotes, special articles, and center column), which complement each use. The binding is solid and would appear to hold up well over time. Cover design is very attractive without being distracting or off-putting. Typographical error in footnote p. 1296 (right column, 2nd and 3rd line are repeated).Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.54.44

Well done to Kregel for the design and look of this Bible.

Translation choice:

Some may not care for the NKJV, but I think it is serviceable for this kind of Bible. There is a familiarity with the translation. As stated in the Introduction, this is “designed to be a study and training resource that will equip and encourage believers to share the gospel.” Thus, the choice of NKJV will work for many in that purpose.

Articles vary in quality

Included are some articles and notes that I find acceptable. I have only noted a few here:

Article on Matthew 9:9-13, “Don’t lose contact with non-Christians.”

Article on Matthew 11:28-30 “Inviting people to a relationship, not to regulations” (p. 1063)

Article on Matthew 13 “Illustrations: valuable tools for evangelism” (p. 1064)

Article on Philippians 2:1-11 “The only way up is down” (p. 1305)

Some concerns:

One article I found helpful was on humility relative to Numbers 12:3 and Moses’ humility (p. 148). I think this article accurately reflects the text about Moses, and by application the attitude of any believer in Jesus Christ.

But there many lists throughout this Bible about “steps” or “action items for evangelism” that could be helpful. My underlying concern has to do with whether some of these lists are faithful to the Bible text. In other words, taking sections out of context to apply to evangelism might seem helpful, but does it reflect the text? I think the article regarding 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 on Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple (p. 442) is an example that isn’t supported by the text itself. I don’t have a problem with the list that is provided in the article. However, I don’t think that list is sustainable by the text nor does it reflect the importance of the temple and the dedicatory prayer within God’s work in pointing ahead to Christ.

Not good:

Imported theology and downplaying the Biblical text:

My major concern with this Evangelism Bible is the footnotes and special topics. A little background on why this is so important to me. I have been involved in evangelism efforts for 40 years and have been training congregations since 1979, and pastors and congregations since 1989. Evangelism is critical for the Christian and the Christian church. I am always looking for good resources to help in this work of the church. Sadly I find this Bible does not help true evangelism, despite its stated goal.

There are central texts that deal with evangelism and yet they are downplayed and even changed. This has to do with theology.

Footnote on Matthew 3:6

“Later New Testament baptisms symbolized a believer’s identification with Christ following Him in faith” (p. 1049)

Thus, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 has this footnote:

“baptizing them” “Christ commanded that those who trusted Him as Savior should be baptized. The New Testament teaches that baptism is not a part of or necessary to become a Christian. It is, however, the first step of discipleship” (p. 1089).

This approach continues in Acts 2:38:

be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. “Baptism is a public testimony of the inner reality of forgiveness. It is a testimony to our salvation, not a means of salvation (p. 1198).”

Romans 6:3-5 footnote:

“Some scholars believe it refers to spiritual baptism. By faith we are joined with Christ. Others believe that Paul meant water baptism is a public announcement believers make when they identify themselves with Christ in His death and resurrection. Though it isn’t necessary for salvation, water baptism furnishes a picture of what happens spiritually to Christians.” (p. 1244)Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.55.41

The same kind of note is made with Ephesians 4:5 (p. 1299), when Paul states there is “one baptism.” Based on the footnotes above and here, the reader of this Bible isn’t sure if there is one baptism (or which one) or two baptisms. So again, rather than the Gospel being something that is assuring through Word and Baptism, the Gospel is left uncertain, and part is considered unnecessary. The Biblical text does not support any of these footnotes—that is a theology imported to the text .

On the contrary, 1 Peter 3:21 clearly states that “baptism now saves you.” So in this Bible the great Commission is changed from God’s saving work (through His Word and Baptism, Matthew 28:18-20) to humans taking at least half of the Great Commission away from God making it their work.  Interestingly the article at the bottom of the page discussing the Great Commission has no word about baptism. Even worse, a fable is used to note that God has no second plan. (p. 1089) (see accompanying photo of the article).

Conclusion

I think from a design standpoint this Bible deserves praise and well done to Kregel. From a theological perspective evangelism, this Bible falls short. I am disappointed to say the least. In good conscience I can not recommend this Bible for evangelism work.

Ex. 14 and ESV

In my daily reading (today Exodus 13-14, using ESV), I came upon an unusual rendering in two places in Exodus 14.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (Exodus 14:4 ESV)

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”  (Exodus 14:18 ESV)

I don’t remember that kind of translation (bolded text) in others (NAS, HCSB, etc.). So when I looked at the Hebrew I saw this: וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה, which is a Niphal form of the verb כבד, often translated as “to be heavy” or “glory.” But the Niphal form typically has a more passive sense of the verb, which the ESV does not suggest by its translation.

HALOT includes several options under the Niphal form of the word with some references.

1. to be considered weighty, to be honoured Gen 34:19; Num 22:15; Dt 28:58; 1 Sam 9:6; 22:14; 2 Sam 23:19, 23; Is 3:5; 23:8f; 43:4; 49:5; Nah 3:10; Ps 149:8 1Chr. 11:21,25,

2. to enjoy honour 2 Kg 14:10; 2 Chr 2519; to be held in honour 2 Sam 6:22

3. to behave with dignity 2 Sam 6:20

4. to appear in one’s glory (God) Ex 14:4.17; Lev 10:3 Is 26:15 Ezk 28:22 39:13; Hg 1:8

5. glorious things Ps 87:3; —Pr 8:24

In the Lev. 10:3 and Isaiah 26:15, ESV provides a more appropriate translation of the Niphalfor of כבד:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:3 ESV)

But you have increased the nation, O LORD, you have increased the nation; you are glorified; you have enlarged all the borders of the land. (Isaiah 26:15 ESV)

I checked the LXX translation of the Hebrew and saw that it, too, carries the passive sense of the Hebrew. ἐνδοξασθήσομαι “I will be glorified” (future passive)

ἐγὼ δὲ σκληρυνῶ τὴν καρδίαν Φαραω, καὶ καταδιώξεται ὀπίσω αὐτῶν· καὶ ἐνδοξασθήσομαι ἐν Φαραω καὶ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ στρατιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γνώσονται πάντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος. καὶ ἐποίησαν οὕτως. (Exodus 14:4, LXX)

So, it seems that ESV leaves a little to be desired in its translation of וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה in Exodus 14.

Just some early morning thoughts on the text. I probably have missed everything; that happens because I am old, slow, and confused, but at least I’m inconsistent.

Bible teaching and method

In Sunday morning Bible study we have been studying The Gospel According to Matthew. Since September 2011. We finally reached Matthew 26 two weeks ago!! A week ago Sunday as an introduction to chapters 26:2-28:20, I showed several connections in the beginning and end of the section, and how some previous threads (chapters 1-25) were coming together.

There are many ways to look at the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, but I think this particular view is most helpful. This basic five division structure comes from noting these specific passages:

7:28 And when Jesus finished these sayings,
11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing
13:53 And when Jesus had finished these parables
19:1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings
26:1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings

These five verses mark out the concluding boundaries of five major sections. Each section has a group of deeds related to one aspect of Jesus’ ministry, followed by a group of words that expand and explain the deeds. So when we get to Matthew 26, we read the last concluding comment or division marker:

When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” (Matthew 26:1-2 NAS)

The last section of Matthew’s Gospel begins with the plot to kill Jesus:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.” )Matthew 26:3-5 NAS)

Anointing of Jesus

Then I briefly mentioned the anointing of Jesus by a woman in 26:6-13. A question arose about the anointing and when it took place, because John’s Gospel seemed different. I noted that each author had his own purpose and style. Attempts to reconcile the various accounts have to be undertaken cautiously: 1) to let the individual uniqueness of each Gospel remain intact, and 2) to not force a reshuffling of any Gospel account just to achieve “a harmony.” I spent a little time on each point.

During the week, I realized that such an answer, while true, didn’t provide a more complete answer to the specific question in class. So last week I was thinking how to address the issue again. In my teaching experience, if I can draw a Timeline, map, chart, or diagram, I can teach most topics. So I began a reading of all four Gospels, using Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the base point (since all four Gospels have the entry in the same basic position leading into Passover).

Here are my handwritten scribbles; not very helpful for most people, but I knew what each portion meant and how I would proceed. And it gave me ideas about how to organize the material

Anointing Initial

As I began to write down the two events (entry and anointing), it became clear that the order of events was not identical. Further, the other details of the anointing weren’t all of one piece. Notice, that Matthew and Mark essentially tell the same story line in the same sequence with the details of the anointing corresponding. Luke, however, has an anointing, but unrelated to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. At that point I was realizing that the location was different, but also different in John’s Gospel, and with different people involved.

So I began thinking in terms of table showing each Gospel, then looking at the sequence (entry, anointing), as well how, how, what, and location the anointing took place. I came up with this approach in class Sunday, filling in the spots as I taught.

Triumph-Anointing

Sunday night I realized I needed to formalize this from handwriting to computer organization. This was the result.

AnointingTriumphalEntry

General Observations:

It appears from this table that there are at least three anointings, an early one in Luke (7:36-50, taking place in Galilee), plus two separate anointings in Holy Week. In John’s Gospel, the anointing takes place in Bethany, in the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, the anointing occurs in Bethany, but in the house of Simon the leper, and it is after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

Notice that the anointing in Matthew and Mark is done by “a woman,” (as also in Luke’s account), whereas in John’s account, the woman is identified as “Mary,” but we don’t know which Mary. In Matthew and Mark, the woman anoints Jesus’ head, in Luke’s and John’s accounts, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet.

Now, there are many other things that could be said and studied. But I approached this task from the standpoint of a lay person who likely will not have access to detailed commentaries. Rather, the only necessary tools to achieve this kind of study are: the Bible, paper, pen/pencil (or computer). Then the process involves looking at each account within that specific Gospel, note major features, and after all four are examined, note parallels and challenges.

This approach allows the student to continue to appreciate the integrity of each Gospel, and the ability to note that we don’t have to destroy one (or more Gospel) accounts to satisfy an urge to see or resolve inconsistencies. Granted, not all such endeavors will work as well as this, but at least we don’t have to automatically capitulate to critics of the Bible.

This is by no means the end of the story (how do you think we lasted 3 ½ years in studying Matthew so far?). But, at least this serves both as a tool for further study, and a method that people can follow without the maze of academic trails to follow.

Hope this helps someone in the study of God’s Word.

Pastoral Formation 2

Last week I had the privilege of updating the convention attendees at TAALC East Region about our seminary, American Lutheran Theological Seminary (ALTS). My report included an updated status of the seminary, and especially the online program, Master of Theological Studies (MTS), as well as an update on the new database system that will support our continued growth. The other half of my report included some thoughts on Pastoral Formation, specifically related to online seminary. This is just a sketch of the topic; I am writing a more complete version for our theological journal.

When someone raises the issue of pastoral formation and seminary education, the focus always leans to the theological education. And rightly so, because a solid theological education is important for pastoral formation. In traditional terms we speak about four areas of theological education: exegetical, systematics, historical, and practical. Each area assists in providing the necessary tools, experience, and knowledge to effectively carry out pastoral duties in the congregation.

But other aspects influence Pastoral Formation. Here are four critical components in that formation: spiritual formation, character formation, catechetical formation, and Churchmanship formation.

1. Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation involves three realms: worship, Bible reading/study, and prayer. Luther wrote about spiritual formation for all Christians as: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (read/study), and Tentatio (affliction). This is vital for spiritual formation and growth. I leave tentatio out of this discussion at this point, only because it affects all areas of pastoral formation.

Worship: What kind of worship experiences has a seminary student had? Does he live in a congregation that has only one form of Divine Service? Where and how does the student learn about the great traditions of divine service? What can be done to help him learn not only history but also to practice that? As part of our seminary training, we examine how to best form the pastor regarding worship and leading worship. For online seminary this is a particularly challenging area.

Bible Reading/Study: In Peter’s second letter he writes about end times and the Christian in the midst of waiting for Christ’s return. His last words express this point of spiritual formation:

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18 NAS)

It might be a surprise to some, but pastors struggle with daily Bible reading and study. They study for preparing to preach a sermon or teach a Bible study. For some that is the extent of reading/studying. But the issue of spiritual formation is “How can someone grow spiritually without regular, consistent Bible reading and study?”

When I visit with seminarians and pastors I will ask what they are reading. Some respond with the latest theological books (which can be good). My concern, however, is what are they reading in the Bible. I then say, “If I ask you what you are reading in the Bible, you should ask me what I am reading.” So, for the record, my wife and I are reading through 1 Samuel, last night it was chapter 24. In my private reading I am reading through Genesis; last night I read chapters 28-30.

Bible reading and study are the means to grow in this knowledge. Yes, many theological books can help. But they can never replace Bible reading. To do so is to stunt the seminarian’s spiritual growth. When a student learns Greek and/or Hebrew then the desire is to also read the Bible in those languages. If we are not reading God’s Word daily, regularly, then we are short circuiting God’s desire for spiritual growth. Ultimately the seminarian/pastor will have little to nothing to offer his people in sermons and teachings.

Prayer: Prayer is speaking to God. It is the human response to God speaking to us in His Word. Prayer is individual and corporate. It is often easy to get used to leading prayer in the corporate worship setting. But it can also become mechanical. The right entry phrases, the right endings, the appropriate statements of petitions.Congregation2

When prayer is individual and privately with one or two other people, then the words may not come so easily. Instead prayer is the outpouring of a heart devastated by sin. Prayer reflects the struggle that we face in a sinful world. Prayer reveals our broken hearts, our desire for answers, our pleas for mercy. And many times it is joyful, but quiet contentment to praise God with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs. Prayer isn’t necessarily learned by a book, but by imitating a praying person. I have grown much in this area in the past four years because of a group of people who pray, pray, and pray. Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 5:18-20; 6:18-20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; and many other Scripture texts can be used to encourage and grow in prayer.

2. Character Formation

Most people are surprised to learn that there is only one talent/gift for a pastor: “he is apt to teach.” Everything else about the formation of a pastor has to do with character. And so little is written/spoken about this. We have a seminary class, Pastoral Theology and Life, in which we explore this whole concept of character formation.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and cthe snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NAS)

This is a challenge, but also an encouragement to those whose who serve as pastors. It does not mean that pastors are perfect in all of these areas. But unless he wrestles through each of these, he is only examining his life to satisfy “what can I get by with?”spiritual-formation-character-building-300x225-300x225

Character formation affects all relationships: with God, with spouse, with children, with members, with neighbors, with outsiders. Notice how especially negatives in vv. 3-5 highlights the need for self-examination. For me, the one about “keeping his children under control with all dignity” became a four decade battle and challenge. I almost left the pastoral office three times because of that. I have known some who struggle with drugs or alcohol. In reality, every pastor fails in these areas whether in deeds or in the thoughts. As always, when we fail, we confess and seek forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9), but we also recognize that there may be further consequences.

One particular issue that affects the current state of the church is that the pastor is not to be “pugnacious, but gentle” or as one translation has it, “not a bully but gentle.” Unfortunately the internet provides a platform for bullies in the church. But even worse is a pastor who is a bully, whether on the internet or especially in his congregation in his dealings with people.

Paul provides the proper perspective on character formation, for everyone.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS)

3. Catechetical Formation

Catechetical formation is not “how to teach the catechism.” It is much more comprehensive than that. Catechetical formation refers to the entire approach of the congregation in “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, it includes catechism instruction, family devotions, family and church gatherings that reflect the life of grace and mercy, shaped by proper distinction and application of Law and Gospel.

How easy it is for the pastor to be distracted from this essential task. Meetings are important, but they do not direct the congregational life. Activities are important, but they can divert energy and interest away from learning the essential truths of the Christian faith.

Catechetical formation also involves a consistency throughout congregational life. Hymns, prayers, and readings done in worship form the basis for shut-in visits, hospital visits, family crises ministry. That is the faith confessed, and expressed, in worship is not about a la-la land, but of real life, lived in the trenches as well as on the mountains. Thus, catechetical formation provides the threads that unite and emphasizes the Christian life and growth. In our seminarian curriculum we have a course, Catechesis, in which we explore the dimensions of catechetical formation.

4. Churchmanship Formation

Of all the areas mentioned, Churchmanship formation is the least mentioned or even acknowledged as important. Yet, when Churchmanship is missing, everyone suffers. So what is Churchmanship?

In church life, life can be messy for the church and for pastors. Churchmanship calls pastors and lay leaders to stand up to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. Paul gives some guidelines here:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. (1 Timothy 5:17-22 NAS)

Note, then, that Churchmanship is not taking charge as if you are the only one who knows what to do. It means that sometimes when the system is broken, the pastor identifies areas that need fixing, but not going on a vendetta against someone. In cases of difficult discipline, the pastor is a churchman who takes the avenue that is appropriate and consistent with the sin involved.

Churchmanship may also involve leading the congregation, the area group, or the entire church body in a way that will be difficult, challenging, frustrating but ultimately good for the body. This means that a churchman will listen to advice, seek consensus if possible, and move with deliberate yet responsible steps to achieve the goal.

Sadly, over the past four decades in church service, I have seen many examples of poor Churchmanship. When I quoted Peter above, it was a continuation of a previous thought. Now look at it in context:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18 NAS)

But sometimes, silently I have observed Churchmanship demonstrated that was outstanding, but was seldom, if ever, recognized as Churchmanship. I have had the pleasure of knowing churchmen who upheld the highest integrity and concern for the church at large. One of my professors (now deceased) in seminary was not the flashiest, but I refer to him with the accolade: “a gentleman scholar.” My hope is that in the seminary, the other professors and I can follow that path.

Dr. Curtis Leins,  Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman
Dr. Curtis Leins, Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman

Weeping to Joy

Guest post by Shan:

Today is Good Friday. It is on this day that I end up in tears. I think about my Savior who was spat upon, beaten and killed—willingly for my sake. I remember that He lived the perfect sinless life in my stead. I know that He died and rose again so that I may have eternal life with Him. I am so very grateful for it all, yet today I weep.weeping

I weep because I have the full realization that on this day, in all of my sinfulness, I am found standing with the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!” How could I say that! I’m so ashamed that I would rather see my Lord suffer and die so that I could live. And yet…still I say the words, “Crucify Him!”

Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Messiah?”
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
Then he said, “Why? What has He done wrong?”
But they kept shouting, “Crucify Him!” all the more. (Matthew 26:22-23 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is just how sinful I am; I place “self” before my God.

I admit that I am rebellious. My sin is always in front of me. I have sinned against you, especially you [LORD]. (Psalm 51:3-4 GW)

I am weeping because He chooses to die for me and my sins.

Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-12 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how much He loves me, a pathetic sinner.

This is a statement that can be trusted and deserves complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost sinner. (1 Timothy 1:15 GW)

I am weeping because though I am not worthy, Christ declares me worthy and crowns me with His righteousness.

He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB)

There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how mighty and loving my God is!

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. (1 John 4:10 GW)

Blessed is the person whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sin is pardoned. Blessed is the person whom the LORD no longer accuses of sin and who has no deceitful thoughts. (Psalm 32:1-2 GW)

I am weeping because my joy is complete in Jesus!

BcDpPVhCQAIBnLB