From Malibu

Lectureships No Comments »

We really are listening to some really great speakers at the annual Pepperdine Lectures this week. But it’s just not very exciting to post pictures of Rick Atchley and David Kinneman. On top of that, there’s just absolutely no time to reflect in this space on all the compelling sermons and informative teaching. So, I’m just posting a couple of pictures to illustrate what happens before and after the lecture sessions.

This first pic is of some of the finest people I know, all brought together for a wonderful dinner at Malibu Seafood. HubDaddy and his wife, Debbie. Jim Martin. Grady King. John Mullican. Crazy Ray Vannoy’s eyeball. Andrew next to Ray. Greg’s in there. The edge of Jason’s glasses are in the picture. And two bearded guys I just met.

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Jason and Greg and I took off during an afternoon break to hit the beach here in Malibu. Come on, we had a couple of hours, the sun was out, no wind, 70-degrees, free parking along the Pacific Coast Highway, what would you do? We were able to convince Greg to keep his shirt on, but we couldn’t keep him from practicing his yoga postures.

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Peace,

Allan

Going to California

Lectureships, MLB No Comments »

I’m making my first trip to the annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu, California to spend four days at the feet of some of our very best preachers and teachers in Churches of Christ and to hear and meet the legendary bishop N. T. Wright. More on Tom later…

Pepperdine1PetcoYou won’t be surprised that Greg and I took off from Amarillo a day early so we could fly into San Diego and take in a Padres game at Petco Park. As was our good fortune, the Padres are hosting the Colorado Rockies which means my friend Jerry Schemmel, the Rockies radio play-by-play voice, scored us some sweet (free!) seats right on top of the visiting dugout with all the Colorado players’ families. As expected, Greg and I both ate for the cycle and watched rookie sensation Trevor Story go oh-fer in a 2-1 San Diego win.

This morning we took our time getting to Malibu. We drove across the bridge over to Coronado Island, toured the Midway battleship and a couple of other sights and attractions around San Diego before downing a couple of spicy shrimp tacos and hitting “the five” up north to L.A.

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Pepperdine2Greg

 

N. T. Wright is giving the keynote this evening, teaching a couple of classes tomorrow and Thursday, and then meeting privately (sort of, I guess) with 24 ministers Thursday afternoon. Thanks to Mike Cope, Greg and I are going to be in that group of 24. I have no idea what we’re going to talk about or what’s going to happen. But just being in Wright’s presence for an hour will be a blessing and an honor.

Looking forward to catching up with lots of great friends this week, being inspired by some of our best speakers, and being further shaped by our Lord’s generous Spirit.

Peace,

Allan

Retrieval Theology

Austin Grad, Bible, Church, Stone-Campbell History 1 Comment »

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If, as we have noted in this space this week, the Church cannot escape its past and if the Church is influenced in both negative and positive ways by its history and tradition, it seems like we ought to embrace this history in order to examine it. It’s ours anyway; we belong to it. Why not learn from it? Why not study the things we find misguided so we can avoid them in our time today and incorporate the things that might actually benefit our spiritual formation and our passing on of the faith?

I’ll conclude my thoughts on Dr. Keith Stanglin’s article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” with today’s post. Honestly, this has been much more a re-hash of his work — not too much original thought from me.

Keith suggests we engage in what a lot of people call “retrieval theology.”

“This is not a call to re-create or ape the faith and practice of a specific time or place from the past; not every thought or practice in church history is equally good or relevant for us. It means learning from the wisdom of our ancestors and appropriating the best that it has to offer for the sake of the church today.”

There are many valid and good reasons for embracing all of church history. One, it gives us our identity; knowing our past helps us know who we are and from where we came. Two, it gives us wisdom; most of the questions and debates we face today have been handled or anticipated at some point in the church’s history. Third, we could gain some needed perspective from the study of church history; the history calls us to a holy balance. Knowing the history of our practices and traditions will help us recognize the swing of the pendulum over time. Then we can start to get a good idea of the pendulum’s position and direction and momentum. Then we’ll be better equipped to take the pendulum where it needs to go or, as Keith puts it, “to stand in its way and push back before it goes too far.”

Studying church history can confirm or challenge our interpretations of Scripture. Maybe this is one of the main reasons we resist it. We like to think our interpretation and practices are pure and strictly biblical and come from an un-biased heart. I know that’s what a lot of us have thought. I remember being told at an early age that if everybody in the world would just read the Bible with clear eyes and an open, honest heart, without any preconceived notions, then everybody would believe and worship just like we do. I still occasionally hear versions of that today! When will we admit that a lot of our “distinctives” in Churches of Christ are not born of slam-dunk biblical arguments or unambiguous passages of Scripture? Most of our distinctive practices are not wrong — I think I’d argue they are all faithful and good and beneficial to a life of discipleship to Jesus. But our arguments come from history, not from Scripture. Every Sunday communion and acappella worship and baptism for the forgiveness of sins comes from what our own guy Everett Ferguson calls “historical foreground.” It’s the historical norm that confirms no baptizing for the dead AND observing the Lord’s Meal every Lord’s Day.

Finally, this concluding section from Keith’s article, with which I strongly agree and advocate:

“Restorationism and church history need not be an odd couple, but can be more like the dynamic duo. I personally applaud and support the genius of Thomas Campbell’s restoration vision: The unity of all Christians by means of restoration based on Scripture. Thus articulated, I stand behind the restoration vision. But I must take leave of any interpretation and application of Scripture in the church that seeks to bypass nearly two millennia of church history, or tries to read the Bible as if no one has read it before, or tries to do theology and worship as if they have not been done for the last 1,900 years. The “Bible only,” in this sense, has never worked.”

Retrieval theology is about embracing and knowing our past — all of it —in order to benefit the Church today and into the future. It requires the discipline of learning from our mistakes, the stamina to refuse to repeat bad decisions and bad practices, and the hard work of incorporating the good and faithful from our past into our present. It also demands a humility in the knowledge that we’re not the first ones to attempt to follow Jesus, we’re not the only ones, we’re not the only ones who have done some really good work by God’s grace, and we’re not the only ones who need God’s grace to cover us in the things we’ve really messed up.

Peace,

Allan

Tradition Informing Scripture

1 Corinthians, Acts, Austin Grad, Baptism, Bible, Carrie-Anne, Christ & Culture, Church, Lord's Supper, Stone-Campbell History No Comments »

DoleHulaBefore we continue our discussion of Dr. Keith Stanglin’s article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” I must wish my beautiful wife Carrie-Anne a very happy birthday. Today is Wednesday so, with our church schedule, it’ll be impossible for the family to celebrate together with our traditional birthday dinner. That’ll have to wait until tomorrow evening. It’ll be our typical Sharky’s burrito tonight and the birthday steak dinner tomorrow. But, Carrie-Anne, I love you, darling. I hope you have a fabulous day.

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BonoPetersonAlso, if you’re a Eugene Peterson fan or if you’re a fan of U2 or, especially, if you’re a fan of both the Irish rocker and The Message translator you might spend 21-minutes today checking out this video. Fuller Theological Seminary has produced a very short and very high-quality documentary on how Peterson and Bono engage the Psalms. Apparently, once Peterson finished the Old Testament “Message-style,” Bono began reading the Psalms in a whole different way. He reached out to Peterson and the two have become pretty good friends. The short film documents a visit Bono had with Peterson at the author’s mountain home in Montana in which they discussed together the Psalms, honesty and dishonesty in Christian art and music, and violence. It’s good. Really interesting. It’s funny listening to Peterson butcher the name of “Rolling Stone” magazine and refer to the floor near the stage at a U2 concert as the “mash pit.” It’s also really cool when Peterson, while discussing the imprecatory psalms, tells Bono, “We’ve got to learn how to cuss without cussing.” Bono replies, “Yeah, I like that. That’s going to stick with me.” You can watch the video by clicking here.

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Though we in the American Restoration Movement have been intentional in ignoring and resisting any church history before the early 19th century, we cannot deny that all of us are influenced and shaped by all church history. We don’t acknowledge it, mainly, because we take it for granted. Keith points out that the New Testament table of contents in our Bibles is taken for granted as some kind of unquestionable truth as if it came straight from the apostles at the end of the first century. So, we make an exception to Thomas Campbell’s “nothing not as old as the New Testament” when we accept the New Testament itself (see yesterday’s post).

Keith argues for making these exceptions, which we all make, “with clear eyes and full awareness.”

We could spend several days talking about the things we believe and practice in our churches that are not “as old as the New Testament.” The separation of the Lord’s Supper from an actual meal didn’t begin to happen until late in the second century and into the third. Nobody thought to refer to God as a three-person Trinity until the second century and it wasn’t made an official church position until the fourth. The idea of translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew instead of the Greek came from the fourth century. The use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper didn’t happen until the eleventh century. Congregational singing in harmony wasn’t practiced until the twelfth century. These are all beliefs and practices (innovations?) that are not “as old as the New Testament.” Yet, instead of throwing them out, we take them for granted in our faith and worship.

Let’s also acknowledge that there are plenty of practices which are as old as the New Testament, commands and examples written in our holy Scriptures, that we don’t practice, and would never consider practicing, because of church history and tradition. To move the conversation along, allow me to concentrate today on two very obvious ways Keith observes that we adhere to church tradition and actually use church history to interpret Scripture and inform our practice.

The first is with baptism for the dead that the apostle Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:29:

“Whatever this practice was, we do not practice or endorse it. Why don’t we practice it? It is not because Paul expresses disapproval, because he does not. In fact, he raises the issue to show the Corinthians how, though they deny the resurrection, their practices are undergirded by a belief in the resurrection. Far from being negative about baptism for the dead, Paul is neutral or perhaps positive. So why doesn’t the church now baptize for the dead? The reason we do not baptize for the dead is because the historic church has not baptized for the dead.”

Imagine if we had nothing else in Scripture about baptism for the dead other than this one verse in 1 Corinthians which, by the way, is indeed the case. But what if the historical record were different? What if there were written documents from the second and third centuries attesting to and approving a ritual for baptism for the dead? We would probably be practicing it today! But with the exception of Latter-Day Saints, no one in the history of Christianity has practiced baptism for the dead. So we interpret the verse in 1 Corinthians 15 as an aberrant practice. We’re convinced that if Paul had been writing a sacramental theology, he would have clearly condemned the practice in unambiguous terms. Why? Because no one’s ever done it. As Keith points out, Sunday School classes have a lot of questions when they study 1 Corinthians, but they never seriously consider the thought of restoring this practice. So, we’ve got a first-century New Testament practice left completely out of our faith and worship today based solely on church tradition and history.

Let’s do one more: the Lord’s Supper. The way we observe the meal today bears almost zero resemblance to the ritual as it is understood and taught and practiced in the New Testament. The very fact that we eat the cracker and sip the little swallow of juice separate from a full evening meal is enough evidence to acknowledge that we are influenced and shaped by church history and tradition. Our insistence on the use of unleavened bread is a relatively new innovation that helped split the Eastern and Western churches in the eleventh century. The early church didn’t use unleavened bread for the same reasons it didn’t use bitter herbs, lamb, and multiple cups of wine. But we demand unleavened bread today. Why? Because the Roman Church made the change about a thousand years ago.

So, let’s look at Scripture. What does the New Testament say regarding the day to eat the Lord’s Supper? According to Acts 20:7, the church in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread. This is the only reference we have in Scripture for Sunday. And it’s tricky because they wound up eating it after midnight. The Last Supper took place in the middle of the week. The church in Jerusalem did it daily (Acts 2:46) and Paul doesn’t give us a day in 1 Corinthians (11:26). We don’t have a whole lot on the day itself.

On the other hand, there’s a much more clear and consistent Scriptural testimony regarding location. The Last Supper was eaten in an “upper room.” The early church also celebrated the meal in an “upper room” (Acts 20:8).

So why do we insist on Sunday as the day to observe the Lord’s Supper but we place no guidelines at all on where the Supper can be taken? Based on Scripture alone, it’s not clear that the day is any more or less important than the location. If anything, there’s more testimony about the location than the day. Why do we dismiss any discussion about where we’re supposed to eat the Lord’s Supper as irrelevant while, at the same time, we spend a ton of time and energy searching the Scriptures to make a strong case for the Sunday timing?

“Tradition — a tradition that extends unbroken back to the second century — repeatedly attests to the importance of the day, not the location. The historic tradition supports the theological case for the importance of resurrection day and, therefore, the possibility of celebrating other significant times and seasons. Celebrating the Supper in an upper room has always been, according to this same tradition, an indifferent matter, as it rightly is for us. But despite all the vast changes in the theology and practice of communion, a Lord’s Day never passed in the first fifteen centuries without celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Whether we realize it or not, the church’s history is a decisive factor that influences our faith and practice.”

Rather than attempting to run away from church tradition, which we cannot; instead of ignoring or resisting church history and tradition, which would require we deny most of our formation influences, why not embrace the history and examine it? Why not search for the centuries of wisdom that are available in acknowledging our past: the good and the not so good, the faithful and the not so faithful?

Peace,

Allan

Nothing Not as Old as the NT

Austin Grad, Bible, Church, Stone-Campbell History No Comments »

“Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.” ~Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell, 1809

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Our Stone-Campbell Movement was motivated by the desire to unite all Christians around the Bible only. The belief was that if we put aside all human doctrines and all human creeds and traditions and focused only as the Scriptures as our model and guide, all followers of Jesus would come together in one unified body. The ideal was to “restore” the New Testament church and for all of us to be New Testament Christians. One of the unfortunate consequences of this powerful vision has been our reluctance to embrace any church history or tradition before 1809. We ignore church history. We resist it, reject it.

My brother, Dr. Keith Stanglin, wrote an insightful article for the Christian Studies theological journal a couple of years ago that outlined a couple of key consequences that have resulted from our faithful pursuit of a New Testament Church ideal. The article is titled “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” and you can read it in its entirety by clicking here. I’ll be using his article as a guide for this discussion that may take us through the remainder of this week.

The italicized statement at the top of this post is from the founding document of our Restoration Movement, Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. This is proposition five, stated right after proposition four which said only the commands and ordinances of the New Testament will be binding on the church. Just as proposition four marginalizes the Old Testament, this proposition five marginalizes all church history. As Keith writes (or am I supposed to say, “as Stanglin writes?” This is kinda weird), “According to this rule, just as we should not consult Mosaic faith or tabernacle worship in the restoration project, neither should we consult Nicene faith or its liturgy.”

OK. Clearly, there’s a lot to consider here. Let’s just take this one step, one day, at a time.

“Nothing not as old as the New Testament” is a problem.

First, let’s consider what Keith calls the problem of logic. Receiving nothing into the church that is not as old as the New Testament is a self-contradictory statement. The rule doesn’t even meet its own criterion. People say things like this all the time: “There is no such thing as absolute truth” and “You should only believe statements that can be empirically proven.” Each of those statements fails to stand up to its own requirements. The same thing is true for Campbell’s rule that has had, and continues to have, a powerful influence on our Stone-Campbell churches. The statement itself is not as old as the New Testament!

There is also the problem of definition. What does Campbell mean when he says “the New Testament”? If he means the standardized list of 27 New Testament books, the earliest we can date that is toward the end of the fourth century. So, does Campbell mean “nothing not as old as the fourth century”? No, that’s probably not what Campbell meant. He certainly meant the time period in which the New Testament books were written. He’s talking about the first century. So, does Campbell mean “nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church that was not believed or practiced in the first century?” Well, maybe. But then that gets complicated because the 27-book collection of the New Testament was not even thought of by the end of the first century. If our Bible is going to be the Bible of the first century church, then it must be the 39-books of the Old Testament. Only.

See where this takes us? The whole thing is a consistency issue. We can’t hold to Campbell’s rule, we certainly can’t impose it on our churches, if we’re going to use a 66-book canon of Scripture as our rule and guide. As Keith writes, “It is for similar reasons that we also cannot give anything more than passing consideration to slogans such as ‘No creed but Christ,’ and ‘No creed but the Bible.’ Whatever these slogans and the [statement] possess in rhetorical force they lack in coherence and meaning.”

I say all this to just lay a foundation for the discussion that will follow tomorrow and the next day or days. We’re not making any conclusions here yet. I’m certainly not disparaging Campbell’s inspiring and God-ordained vision for uniting all disciples of Jesus together as one universal body of believers. It’s not only a noble ideal, it’s the will of our crucified and risen Lord. The suggestion is this: maybe our churches should at least listen to the wisdom of the Christian believers through the ages. I’m not saying we should blindly adhere to everything that’s gone before. I’m not suggesting we ought to swallow everything that’s been believed before and obey everything that’s been practiced before. But I believe we should probably let the “church fathers and mothers, the medieval scholastics and mystics, the reformers and restorers all have a seat at the table. It means hearing the voice of the past with discernment. It means having a ‘critical reverence’ for the historic Christian tradition.”

We have traditionally ignored or flat-out rejected most church history as formative for us in any way. We typically view all church history before 1809 as corrupt men and women practicing faithless apostasy and dividing Christ’s body with scandalous squabbles over insignificant issues. As Keith observes, whether we invite them to the table or not, we are all strongly influenced and shaped by ancient church tradition and history. Whether we acknowledge it or not.

Stay tuned.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Proves That God Cares

Jesus, Psalms No Comments »

JesusHealsChildOne of the big differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament is seen in the issue of doubt. You can find all kinds of expressions of doubt and disbelief in the Hebrew Scriptures. Entire books like Habakkuk and Job and Jeremiah center on doubting God. Well over a third of the Psalms express at least a couple of lines of doubt not only in the existence of God but also on whether God gives a rip about what’s going on down here and, if he does, if he’s willing or even capable of doing anything about it.

Compare that to the New Testament which has almost none of those questions and doubt. We know the problem of pain hasn’t gone away. Many of the New Testament letters deal specifically with the issues of persecution, suffering, injustice, and death. That hasn’t changed a lick. But you just don’t find the question about whether God cares. You don’t see anything like Psalm 77 which asks, “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

Could it be that Jesus is the reason for the change?

The ones who wrote the Gospels and penned the Christian letters were all witnesses to the Christ. Anyone who wonders how God feels about suffering on this broken earth only needs to look at Jesus. The New Testament writers saw him. Up close. They saw this “exact representation” of God care for a sick woman, console a Roman soldier, raise a widow’s dead son, heal an epileptic boy, and feed thousands of hungry men and women. Jesus says, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And those disciples saw him grieving over lost people and crying over dead people and reaching out to the marginalized and powerless of society with humility and love and care. Great concern and care.

Of course, Jesus didn’t fix the whole problem of pain and suffering; he only healed a few people in a small corner of the Middle Eastern world. But he did answer the question, “Does God care?”

Peace,

Allan