Friday, April 19, 2013

The Apostle Paul as the Isaianic Servant: Paul’s Use of Isaiah 49:6 in Acts 13:47

In Acts 13:47 Paul and Barnabas cite Isaiah 49:6 as justification for their “turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46) in response to Jewish opposition to their gospel message.  This use of Isaiah 49 provides an interesting look into Luke and Paul’s understanding of the Isaianic Servant.[1]
            In looking at Acts 13:47 there are only a few minor differences from Luke’s version and the wording found in Isaiah 49:6 in the MT.[2]  Other than this Luke’s use of the Isaiah passage is fairly straightforward and consistent.
            Isaiah 49:6 is part of the second Servant Song (Isa. 49:1-6).[3]  The crucial and controversial issue in this set of Servant Songs regards the identity of the Servant.  As has often been noted this Servant seems to oscillate between an individual and a corporate group.[4]  In particular, Isaiah 49 contains this tension.  On the one hand, Isaiah 49:3 appears to equate the Servant with the nation Israel: “You are my Servant, Israel.”  On the other hand, this passage speaks of the Servant as ministering to the nation of Israel in 49:6: “It is too small a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel.” In whatever manner this Servant is to be understood, it is obvious that there is a ministry to both Israel and the nations; salvation is to come to the ends of earth (Isa. 49:6). 
            The New Testament repeatedly applies elements of the Servant Songs to Jesus.[5]  Luke, in particular, links the Isaianic Servant with Jesus in a few significant ways.  First, Luke is the only Gospel writer to explicitly link the famous passage of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 with Jesus (Luke 22:37 quoting from Isaiah 53:12).  This leads R. T. France to comment, “There is no doubt, then, that for Luke the mission of the Servant in Isaiah 53 is a blueprint for that of Jesus; the Servant is Jesus.”[6]  Second, in his narration of the episode with the Ethiopian eunuch the particular passage being read by the eunuch is Isaiah 53:7-8.  It is clear that for Luke this is a reference to Jesus (Acts 8:32-35).  Third, of even more relevance, for purposes of this discussion, is Luke’s recording of Simeon’s statement about the infant Jesus in which the use of Isaiah 49:6 is clear.  Luke 2:29-32 reads:
Now Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

All of this combines to demonstrate that Luke is clearly identifying the Servant of Isaiah with Jesus.
            In light of Luke’s understanding of the Servant as identified with Jesus it is somewhat surprising to see a reference to one of the Servant Songs (49:6) being used of Paul and Barnabas as it is in Acts 13:47.  Acts 13 is significant in that this narrates the beginning of the first missionary journey of Paul and contains Paul’s first major sermon delivered in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch.  This address is delivered to a Jewish audience and is replete with quotations and allusions to the Jewish Scriptures.  When there is a hostile response on the part of the Jews Paul and Barnabas state their intentions to “turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).  In so doing they quote Isaiah 49:6 for justification of such a move:
            For so the Lord has commanded us,
            I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles,
            that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.  (Acts 13:49)
Paul is clearly seeing himself and his ministry as aligned with the Isaianic Servant.  This understanding is layered with meaning.  The Servant was no doubt understood by many of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries in a corporate sense, namely as a renewed Israel.  Paul’s usage in response to Jewish rejection of the gospel creates a subtle irony in which Paul and Barnabas are now seen to be playing the part of faithful Israel.  Robert W. Wall aptly comments:
The word entellomai is a term of vocation (see 1:2), and Isaiah’s original sense of it, carried over to Acts, is of faithful Israel’s purpose in the world.  While Paul appeals to Isaiah to justify his mission to the Gentiles, he does so ironically since he personifies the missionary identity of repentant Israel.[7]

Paul and Barnabas are presenting themselves as the true Israel and those who reject the gospel of Jesus as outside the scope of God’s people.  This is further demonstrated by Paul and Barnabas “shaking off the dust of their feet” against the Jews of Pisidian Antioch who rejected their message (Acts 13:51).  This action is charged with significance as I. Howard Marshall notes:
It was customary for Jews to shake of the dust of a pagan town from their feet when they return to their own land, as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the impurity of sinners who did worship God.  For Jews to do this to their fellow Jews was tantamount to regarding the latter as pagan Gentiles.  The Christians were demonstrating in a particularly vigorous manner that Jews who rejected the gospel and drove out the missionaries were no longer truly part of Israel but were no better than unbelievers.[8]

Paul and Barnabas are, thus, seen to be aligning themselves with the Servant as corporately understood as faithful Israel.  Their vocation as ministers of the gospel of Jesus marks them out as the true Israel—the true Servant.
            Since the Servant imagery is understood by the early Christians to be fulfilled in Jesus, Paul and Barnabas are also aligning themselves with Jesus and his mission by their use of Isaiah 49:6. 
The early Christians saw the fulfillment of the prophecy [Isaiah 49:6] in Jesus, …but the present passage asserts that the mission of the Servant is also the task of the followers of Jesus.  Thus the task of Israel, which she failed to carry out, has passed to Jesus and then to his people as the new Israel; it is the task of bringing the light of revelation and salvation to all the peoples of the world.[9]

Paul and Barnabas see themselves as embodying the mission of Jesus Christ—the Servant.  His task of bringing light to the Gentiles has become their task.  They see themselves under divine obligation (“so the Lord has commanded us”) to fulfill this directive. 
            It is interesting at this point to ask a couple of related questions: (1) Where did Paul and Barnabas learn to read Isaiah in this way?  (2) When were they “commanded” by the Lord to bring salvation to the end of the earth?  The answer may be found in the appearance of the risen Jesus to Paul.  The importance of this event can be seen in the fact that Luke narrates this episode on three different occasions in the book of Acts.
            In Paul’s third recitation of his experience of meeting Jesus on the Damascus road Luke has Paul narrate the event with these words:
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.”  (Acts 26:14-18—emphasis added on v. 18)

In verse 18 there is a clear allusion to Isaiah 42:7 which is a reference to the work of the Servant (Isaiah 42:1).  In Isaiah 42:6 this Servant is “appointed” to the dual task of being “a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations” which is also echoed in Acts 26:16-17.  As has been recognized, both Isaiah 42 and 49 have had a profound impact upon the thinking and theologizing of Paul.[10]  What is of interest here is that it is the risen Jesus who is utilizing the language of the Isaianic Servant and applying it to Paul.  In this experience of the risen Christ Paul is “appointed” by Christ to this ministry of the Servant.  This Christophany to Paul radically reorients his theology.  For example, G. K. Beale argues that Paul’s understanding of “reconciliation” finds its genesis in this appearance of Jesus to Paul.  He writes:
This Isaiah text which speaks of the commission Yahweh gave to the Servant to restore exiled Israel is now applied by the risen Christ to Paul’s apostolic commission.  Consequently, if this part of the Acts narrative represents early Pauline tradition, it is plausible to suggest that this commission from Christ provided the foundation and spark for the development of Paul’s subsequent understanding and explanation of reconciliation as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s and the Old Testament’s restoration promises.[11]

In the same way that this functions for Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation so it may be the case that this appearance also, more generally, sets about a hermeneutical revolution for Paul.  In speaking to Paul with such evocative language with its clear allusions to the Servant of Isaiah Paul is being taught how to read the Scriptures with a new set of “Christocentric” eyes.  Both the identity of Jesus and his eschatological import are stunningly revealed to Paul.  Not only is there a radical change in perspective regarding Jesus, there is also recognition on the part of Paul of his new relationship and role in light of the risen Messiah, Jesus.  G. K. Beale helpfully articulates this idea:
It may seem unusual that Paul would apply to himself a prophecy which the early Christian community would likely have applied to Christ…The rationale for these dual identifications lies probably in the conception of corporate representation already found in the Old Testament, which may well lie behind the Pauline expression of “the Christ who speaks in me” (2 Cor. 13:3; cf. 2:14-17; 12:9, 19).  And it is this same idea of corporate representation which allows Paul in his own mind to understand how the very context of the Isaiah 49 Servant could apply to himself without distorting the way in which he thought it may have been intended originally.  Furthermore, in that he was continuing the mission of Jesus, the Servant, he could easily apply this Servant prophecy to himself.[12]

In this Damascus road experience Jesus reveals to Paul an interpretative key which will open up the Jewish Scriptures to a new orientation centered around Jesus Christ and his work unto the nations.  This is similar to what Luke records the risen Jesus doing for his original disciples after his resurrection.  In Luke 24:44-48 Jesus “opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  This teaching moment centers on seeing how all the previous Scriptures—“the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms”—are fulfilled in Jesus (cf. Luke 24:25-27).  In light of this revelation and Christ’s resurrection there is a corresponding task given to the disciples to proclaim “repentance for forgiveness…to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).  In Christopher J. H. Wright’s understanding, the disciples are taught to read and understand the Scriptures messianically and missionally.[13] This is also what Paul experiences in his encounter with the risen Lord on the way to Damascus.  The results are the same, as Wright notes:
Paul, though he was not present for the Old Testament hermeneutics lecture on the day of resurrection, clearly found that his encounter with the risen Jesus and his recognition of Jesus as Messiah and Lord radically transformed his (Paul’s) own way of reading his Scriptures.  His hermeneutic now had the same double focus.[14]

            Paul is able to apply the words regarding the Servant of Isaiah 49 to himself because he has been taught to do so by Jesus himself.  In his encounter with the risen Christ Paul comes away with both a new understanding of Jesus as the Messiah and a new role to fulfill among the Gentiles.  Paul’s transformative encounter with Jesus opens up an understanding of both the identity of the Servant of Isaiah and the identification of the eschatological time in which Paul lives—a time to go to the Gentiles and bring the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.  Furthermore, there is a renewed relationship between the individual and corporate dimensions of the Servant.  In Isaiah the corporate dimension is obviously the nation of Israel and the possibility of an individual manifestation of the Servant is merely latent.  In the New Testament the writers clearly see Jesus as the individual Servant but there is also a corresponding corporate manifestation of the Servant by Paul and others who have taken up the mission of Jesus.

     [1] The relationship between Luke and Paul’s theology is complex.  It has often been argued that Luke particularly manifests his theological commitments in the many speeches in Acts.  Sometimes it is argued that this Lukan theological perspective is not the same as Paul’s.  Without entering into the larger area of Lukan and Pauline theological consistency it should be noted that Luke’s narration of the comment by Paul citing Isaiah 49:6 is thoroughly Pauline.  As Douglas Oss states regarding Paul’s use of Isaiah as reflected in Acts: “The use of Isaiah in Paul’s speeches in Acts is noteworthy also.  It appears that Luke has preserved the Pauline tradition accurately, if the use of Isaiah in his speeches is any indication.”  Douglas A. Oss, “A Note on Paul’s Use of Isaiah,” BBR 2 (1992): 107.
     [2] The LXX, however, reads slightly different in that there are a few additions (in italics): “Behold, I have given you for a covenant of the nation, for a light to the Gentiles, so that you may be for salvation to the end of the earth.”  I. H. Marshall states: “The addition of ‘for a covenant of the nation’ (eis diatheken genous) is not found in any Hebrew version and appears to be simply a case of assimilation to Isa. 42:6.”  G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 588.
     [3] The other three Servant Songs are: Isaiah 42:1-4; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12.
     [4] John Bright, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), 150.
     [5] For details see R. T. France, “Servant of Yahweh” in Joel B. Green et al., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 744-747.
     [6] France, “Servant of Yahweh,” 746.
     [7] Robert W. Hall, The Acts of the Apostles (NIB 10; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 195.
     [8] I. Howard Marshall, Acts (TNTC 5; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1980), 231.
     [9] Marshall, Acts, 230.
     [10] Seyoon Kim, “Isaiah 42 and Paul’s Call,” Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2002), 101.
     [11] G. K. Beale, “The Old Testament Background of Reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5-7 and Its Bearing on the Literary Problem of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (ed. G. K. Beale; Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker, 1994), 246; repr. from NTS 35 (1989).
     [12] Beale, “The Old Testament Background of Reconciliation,” 230-231.
     [13] Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2006), 30.
     [14] Wright, The Mission of God, 30.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shai Linne's "Fal$e Teacher$"

Shai Linne's new song Fal$e Teacher$ is causing controversy--and that's a good thing!  Linne takes on the "prosperity gospel" and even calls out by name several proponents of this dangerous teaching.  Here is the song:

Here is a video in which Linne discusses his reasons for the video:

There has been a response to Linne by the son of one of the teachers mentioned HERE and then Linne nicely responds to this criticism HERE.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gospel of John Prayer

I'm teaching a New Testament survey class for high schoolers and we are currently going through the Gospel of John.  I crafted this prayer for us to pray as we begin our class and for us to use as we individually read through this Gospel.  I attempted to structure the prayer in a Trinitarian fashion and to use explicit language and concepts from the Gospel of John.

Gospel of John Prayer

Father, I believe you have sent your Son Jesus into
            the world to save the world;
            continue to draw me to Jesus through
                        the Gospel of John.[1]

Lord Jesus Christ, I believe you are the Good Shepherd
            who lays down your life for your sheep;
            Help me to hear your voice in
                        the Gospel of John.[2]

Holy Spirit, I believe you have been sent
            by the Father and the Son;
            Glorify Jesus and guide me into truth through
                        the Gospel of John.[3]

[1] John 3.16-17; 6.44
[2] John 10.11, 14-16
[3] John 14.26; 16.7, 13-14

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bodily Postures in the Worship Service

The following is an essay I wrote over a year ago regarding the use of our bodies in worship.  I publish it here now mainly for its scriptural data on bodily posture in worship.

Why Do We Do What We Do? –Raising Hands and Kneeling

All throughout our worship service we are doing things with our bodies.  We use our ears to hear, our tongues and mouths to sing and speak, our eyes to see, our hands to pass the bread and wine, our feet to stand, etc.  Included in this list is also the use of our legs to kneel in prayer and the use of our hands as we lift them up in a raised position to sing.  I wanted to address again why we do these things in the worship service so that we can better understand the reasons we engage in worship the way that we do.

The Body: Matter Matters!

God created the world of material things and he likes it!  We have a body created by God in which to glorify him.  We need to remember that what we do with our bodies is a reflection of our souls.  C. S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters has the senior devil Screwtape instructing the junior tempter Wormwood in the way of subverting the faith of a Christian.  Everything in the book is topsy-turvy (for example, the Enemy is God himself, as seen from the demonic perspective) but Lewis is a master at exposing the subtle movements of sin.  In discussing prayer Screwtape encourages Wormword with the following words:

One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love” and indulged “ a sense of supplication.”  That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, a clever and lazy patient can be taken in by it for quite a long time.  At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.[1]

We are not mere minds or disembodied spirits.  We are embodied souls whose bodies are meant to be the vehicles through which and in which God’s glory and kingdom is manifest.  When we bow our knees before God we are acknowledging with our whole being—body and soul—that we are in the presence of our sovereign God.  When we lift our hands our entire being—heart and body—is lifted up to God. 

What About the Heart?

Jesus very clearly taught (and he got this from the Scriptures) that it is possible to draw near to God with one’s tongue (words) but have one’s heart captive to another love.  Jesus said:

Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far away from me.”  Mark 7.6[2]

So it is possible to bow the knees and raise the hands in a worship service and yet have one’s heart a million miles away.  The heart is central.  We live out of our heart and we should watch over our heart with all diligence so as to keep an eye on its loves and interests (Proverbs 4.23).  But just because the heart is central is no reason to despise the body.  Our bodily movements—whether lips, knees, or hands—should reflect our hearts.  Our bodily movements in worship should all be aligned with our hearts.  Consider these words from Lamentations 3.41:

            We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.

This is where I draw the language that I often use in preface to the Doxology when I say, “Let us lift our heart and hands toward God in heaven as we sing.”  Notice, both heart and hands are to be lifted up.  Both together are used to seek the Lord. 

Kneeling in the Bible

Throughout the Bible we see example after example of people kneeling in the presence of God as they are in prayer.

Ezra            But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God.  (Ezra 9.5)[3]

Solomon            When Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven.  (1 Kings 8.54)

All Israel            All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and glory of the LORD upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave praise to the LORD, saying, “Truly he is good, truly his lovingkindness is everlasting.”  (2 Chronicles 7.3)

Hezekiah            Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshipped.  (2 Chronicles 29.29)

Daniel            Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.  (Daniel 6.10)

Stephen            Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”  Having said this, he fell asleep.  (Acts 7.60)

Peter            But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.”  And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.  (Acts 9.40)

Paul            For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, … (Ephesians 3.14)[4]

Jesus            And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and began to pray, …  (Luke 22.41)

When the end of all things has come there will come the time when all peoples will bow their knees before King Jesus.  Paul’s powerful words speak of this time:

For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2.9-11)[5]

In reflecting on these words from Philippians 2, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror accurately state:

In these words the biblical end of mankind is stated: the goal of the incarnation is the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.  And the end of man in this regard is public confession on bended knee.

You see, the question really is not “Shall we kneel or not in our worship of God and of His Christ?”  We shall one day all kneel.  The question is, rather, “Shall we who will kneel in the future, kneel now as well?”[6]

Kneeling is a God-ordained means of expressing our devotion and allegiance to our great God and his Son, Jesus Christ.  Kneeling expresses with our bodies the deepest longings of our heart—at least it should.  In our act of kneeling we are attempting to say, “the totality of who I am belongs to you, O God, and I am in glad subjection to you.”  So it is good and right that we would express ourselves in kneeling in our corporate worship service. 

Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.  For
 he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. 
Psalm 95.6-7a

Raising Hands in the Bible

The raising of hands before the Lord is often mentioned in Scripture.  In the above passages the raising of hands was done with kneeling (Nehemiah 8.6; Ezra 9.5; 1 Kings 8.54).  Also, Lamentations 3.41 was quoted (“We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.”) in which the raising of hands was mentioned.  The Psalms are full of the raising of hands to the Lord:

            So I will bless you as long I live; I will lift up my hands in your name.  Psalm 63.4

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted.  Psalm 77.2

My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon you every day, O LORD; I have spread out my hands to you.  Psalm 88.9

Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the LORD.  Psalm 134.2

May my prayer be counted as incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.  Psalm 141.2

I stretched out my hands to you; my soul longs for you, as a parched land.  Psalm 143.6

In the New Testament 1 Timothy 2.8 states:

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

Here there is the recognition of the common posture in prayer—the lifting of hands—with a call for holiness in action and motive.  John Calvin, in commenting on Psalm 134.2, states the matter well:

For why do men lift their hands when they pray?  Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God?

The raising of hands is not merely expressive of our heart but the action of raising our hands can help lead our heart into the appropriate responses to God.  This function is at work not only in prayer but also in the midst of song.  John Frame in his book Worship in Spirit and Truth speaks of how

[L]ifting the hands is a way of drawing toward God as the object of worship and the source of our blessing.[7]

In the act of raising our hands we are reaching out to our Father in heaven (Matthew 6.9).  We recognize and demonstrate with our very bodies that our Father is above us and we are like dependent children before him (Psalm 103.13).

Do I have to?  What if I don’t want to?

Let’s face the truth…there are times we don’t want to raise our hands or kneel before God.  What should we do then?  First, we need to be reminded of the biblical material on these bodily postures in worship.  Sometimes people think that it “feels weird” to lift their hands.  God’s word needs to be our standard of normalcy.  We saw that everyone from every place and age will kneel before Jesus someday.  This is good and “normal” to do now.

Sometimes people struggle with the idea of “having to” raise their hands or kneel even when they don’t feel like it.  “Perhaps,” they reason, “I should only do these activities if my heart is fully in it or else I’m just a hypocrite.”  Eugene Peterson has some profound thoughts in this regard:

We are invited to bless the Lord; we are commanded to bless the Lord.  And then someone says, “But I don’t feel like it.  And I won’t be a hypocrite.  I can’t bless the Lord if I don’t feel like blessing the Lord.  It wouldn’t be honest.”

The biblical response to that is, “Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD!” [Psalm 134.2]  You can lift up your hands regardless of how you feel; it is a simple motor movement.  You may not be able to command your heart, but you can command your arms.  Lift your arms in blessing, just maybe your heart will get the message and be lifted up also in praise.  We are psychosomatic beings; body and spirit are intricately interrelated.  Go through the motions of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the cue and follow along.[8]

So sometimes our heart will lead the way and we will express ourselves bodily.  Other times our hearts will lag behind and engaging our bodies in biblically prescribed ways will lift our heart to where it needs to be. 

For others the issue of not wanting to raise hands or kneel has to do with associations—raising hands seems “too charismatic” or kneeling feels “too Roman Catholic.”  In this regard Sam Storms has often mentioned that those evangelicals who hold seriously to the Bible often have an “eleventh commandment”:

            Thou shalt not do at all what others do poorly.

For various reasons these postures of raised hands and kneeling have become attached to these other traditions.  In seeking to distance ourselves from the perceived errors of these traditions we can erroneously throw out biblical practices.  That is why we stated with the biblical material on raising hands and kneeling.  If we are people committed to the Scriptures as our infallible rule of faith and practice then we must be willing to orient our practice around the word of God.  If other traditions have pursued these things in a less than ideal manner this is no excuse for us to fail to seek bring our practice into accordance with God’s word.

Form and Freedom

In our service we have implemented the corporate kneeling and the raising of hands at various spots.  When we engage the Confession of Sin we invite those who are able to kneel.  We recognize that for some there is a bodily limitation that makes it difficult to kneel (or stand back up!).  For those who cannot kneel they should feel no guilt or pressure.  God does indeed know your heart and the “bowing of heart” is what is central.  For the raising of the hands we have come to do this as an entire congregation for our singing of the Doxology after the Lord’s Table and for the second verse of the Gloria Patri to close the service.  You will also notice that some individuals raise their hands in other parts of the service.  For example, some raise their hands for the first verse of the Gloria Patri and others will raise their palms upward in a posture of “receiving” the Benediction.  Some people raise their hands in the midst of singing any of our other songs in the service.  This brings us to the issues of Form and Freedom.  By “form” we mean structure—the corporate time of raising hands.  By “freedom” we mean the freedom of the individual to raise hands as they desire.  We want to provide opportunity for both aspects—both form and freedom. 

As is often the case, there is always a tension between form and freedom.  There are those who like form—they like the corporate expression of raising hands.  For others this form seems stilted.  They feel that the raising of hands should be done only when the individual is personally moved to do so.  We value the form because it allows us to participate together in this biblical practice.  On the other hand, there are those feel that the freedom aspect isn’t quite right.  They tend to think that those who engage this way are “too individualistic.”  Sometimes a bit of judgmentalism is thrown in: “I think they’re just trying to draw attention to themselves!”  Again, we want to provide the opportunity for both form and freedom—especially in regards to the raising of hands in worship.  We would hope all would participate in the set congregational times of hand raising to our God.  We hope, as well, that we create an atmosphere of freedom so that those who wish to raise their hands as they feel led can do so in a worshipful manner.

The Sum of the Matter…

Our great God is seeking worshippers to worship him in Spirit and truth (John 4.23).  We are seeking to respond to him with our whole heart and our bodies.  The Lord has given us instruction in his Word—both by precept and example—of how to use our bodies in worshipful response to him.  Kneeling before our great God and raising our hands to our heavenly Father are good and appropriate acts of worship.  Let our focus be on him—the one to whom all our love and allegiance is due.

[1] C. S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters (Macmillian, 1976), pp. 33-34.
[2] Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 29.13.
[3] See also Nehemiah 8.6.
[4] See also Acts 20.36 (“he knelt down and prayed with them all”) and 21.5 (“After kneeling down on the beach and praying…”) where Paul kneels with various churches as he says farewell to them on his journey.
[5] Paul is very clearly here quoting a portion of Isaiah 45.23 which in its original context refers to Yahweh. 
[6] Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel (Multnomah, 1982), p. 129.  Allen and Borror’s chapter eleven (“The Body of the Believer in Worship”) is very good at showing the scriptural teaching on the issues of kneeling and raising hands in worship.
[7] John Frame Worship in Spirit and Truth (P&R, 1996), p. 131.
[8] Quoted in Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel (Multnomah, 1982), p. 132.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Strange Fire" and Responsible Criticism (2)

I published a post a couple of weeks ago about John MacArthur and his upcoming Strange Fire conference.  I expressed concern over the rhetorical and theatrical recklessness of the promotional video as well as Pastor MacArthur's book Charismatic Chaos.  The way that MacArthur argues leads one to believe that he sees absolutely nothing beneficial to the "charismatic movement."  In a follow-up post I quoted J. I. Packer from a 1984 book in which he critically interacts with the charismatic movement.  Dr. Packer wrote another essay in which he continued to interact with the charismatic movement in an even-handed manner.

In 1989 J. I. Packer wrote an article for Christianity Today (May 12, 1989) entitled "Piety on Fire" in which he analyzes the charismatic movement.  Packer is a cessationist and he has his fair share of critical concerns about the charismatic movement but he also shows himself able to recognize positive elements in the movement.  A few of Packer's thoughts are below:
Doctrinally, the renewal is in the mainstream of historic evangelical orthodoxy on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the objectivity of Christ's atonement and the historicity of his resurrection, the need of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, personal fellowship with the Father and the Son as central to the life of faith, and the divine truth of the Bible.  There is nothing eccentric about its basic teaching.  (p. 20)
Compare the following from Packer with John MacArthur's wholesale dismissal of the charismatic movement:
But even if the charismatic movement has no more to give to the church than it has given already, it is surely strange that it should ever be dismissed as not "from God"--that is, as manifesting throughout something other than God's grace, so that every element of it should be explained as merely human or actually demonic.  Yet that verdict has on occasion been voiced.  How should we respond?
Our first comment must be that such thinking is largely emotional and irrational.  The human mind has an unhappy tendency to jump from specifics we dislike to blanket condemnation of the larger reality of which the specifics are part.  Someone misbehaves once, so we tag him as a no-good forever.  We think a store cheated us over one purchase, so we resolve never to shop there again.  Our car gives trouble, so we henceforth refuse all cars of that make.  So, too, if charismatic phenomena offend our sense of social, liturgical, or theological propriety, and charismatic individual embarrass us and make us feel threatened, we are very apt to respond by abusing the whole movement and denying that there is anything of God in it all.  But how silly!  And how nasty!  This is a reaction of wounded pride and willful prejudice, and as such is bad thinking in every way. 
Our second comment must be that by biblical standards the negative verdict is impossible. This can be seen from an argument classically set out by Jonathan Edwards in the aftermath of the much-criticized Great Awakening, of which he became the prime defender.  In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Edwards reasons as follows: Any movement that (1) exalts Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, leading people to honor him as such; (2) opposes Satan's kingdom by weaning people from sin and worldliness; (3) teaches people to revere and trust the Bible as the Word of God; (4) makes people feel the urgency of eternal issues and the depth of their own lostness without Christ; and (5) stirs up in people new love of Christ and of others, must be a divine work at its heart, whatever disfigurements may appear on its surface, since these are effects that Satan and fallen humankind have no wish to induce, and in fact try to avoid.  But the Great Awakening had these distinguishing marks; therefore, it was a work of God.
That the charismatic renewal has had the same fivefold effect is beyond dispute; therefore, it too must be adjudged a work of God.  No doubt human folly breaks surface in it, as happens in all movements involving human excitement; no doubt Satan, whose nature and purpose is always to spoil any good God produces, keeps pace with God in it, engineering lunatic fanaticism within it ranks as he did in the Great Awakening.  But to diagnose human and satanic disfigurements of this contemporary work of God is altogether different from seeing it as intrinsically the fruit of psychological freakiness or satanic malice.  (p. 21--emphasis added)
Packer ends his article with these words:
The charismatic renewal has brought millions of Christians, including many clergy, to a deeper, more exuberant faith in Christ than they had before.  It has quickened thousands of congregations, invigorating their worship, making love and fellowship blossom among them, increasing their expectancy and enterprise, and giving stimulus to their evangelism. Charismatic insistence on openness to God has transformed countless lives that previously were not open to him.  Is this from God?  The question answers itself.  (p. 23)
Again, Packer shows himself to be a responsible critic of the charismatic movement in a manner that eludes John MacArthur. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Joy and Fear: Peter’s View of God the Father

The New Testament everywhere presents a multi-faceted view of God in all his perfections.  What we are prone to separate the writers of the New Testament hold together.  God is both loving and wrathful.  He is both full of mercy and ready to judge.  He is both incomparably kind and manifestly severe.  In Peter’s first epistle he also demonstrates this robust view of God as he recognizes him as the Father whose mercy brings joy and the Father who is a judge to be feared.  Reflecting on these attributes can bring balance and perspective to our approach in prayer in worship.  Failure to honor this balance as found in 1 Peter can lead to truncated and distorted views of God that adversely affect our Christian walk.
Peter begins his first epistle with thoughts of God the Father.  The phrase “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” is loaded with covenantal significance.[1]  It speaks of God’s covenantal affection upon the believers.  In verse three Peter praises “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This praise focuses upon the Father’s mercy displayed in the guarantee of future salvation which we have hope of now.[2]  In light of this the recognized response on the part of believers is that they “greatly rejoice.”[3]  The Father’s mercy has provided salvation in Jesus Christ and Peter acknowledges that even though the recipients of his letter have never physically seen the Lord Jesus they nevertheless love him and “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”[4]  Wayne Grudem speaks of this joy as “so profound as to be beyond the power of words to express” and then adds:
It thus reminds us of the value of singing and other kinds of music in worship, for music often provides a vehicle for expressing the fullness of joy in a Christian’s heart in a way that is much more effective than spoken words alone.[5]

Thus, the flow of thought is the Father giving mercy that produces joy in his people. 
            Later in this first chapter Peter again brings up the notion of God as Father.  In verses 17-19 Peter writes:
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Here the call for believers is to recognize that their Father is the one who will judge their works in an impartial manner.  In light of this reality believers are to live their lives “in fear” while they are on earth.   Schreiner helpfully comments in regards to the nature of this fear:
Abject terror certainly does not fit with the joy and boldness of the Christian life.  Reverence, however, can be watered down so that it becomes rather insipid.  Peter contemplated the final judgment, where believers will be assessed by their works and heaven and hell will be at stake…There is a kind of fear that does not contradict confidence.  A confident driver also possesses a healthy fear of an accident that prevents him from doing anything foolish.  A genuine fear of judgment hinders believers from giving in to libertinism.[6]

  The flow of thought here is that our Father is also the judge so the appropriate response is a proper fear.
            What is noteworthy is that God is portrayed as both Father and judge with corresponding responses of joy and fear.  Schreiner captures this dynamic when he writes:
What is remarkable here is that God’s tenderness and love as Father is mingled with his judgment and the fear that should mark Christians in this world.  Apparently Peter did not think that the two themes negated each other but are complementary.  The relationship we have with God is both tender and awesome.[7]

Holding these aspects of God’s revelation in balance can be difficult.  There are some who so stress the father aspects of God and its corresponding joys of intimacy that all notions of God as judge are subverted.  There is also the corresponding error in which some believers can so stress the judgment of God and his awe-inspiring holiness that all that is left emotionally to experience is fear.   The evangelical church, at times, suffers from both of these limiting perspectives and is, therefore, adversely affected in its worship and life.
            An over-emphasis on the kindness of God to the exclusion of any idea of God as judge is documented in Tanya Luhrmann’s book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.[8]  As a trained psychological anthropologist Luhrmann spent four years in and among two different Vineyard churches in an attempt to understand their notions of spirituality.  Luhrmann sees a view of God reflected in the Vineyard churches (which she takes to be representative of evangelical churches as a whole) that is distinctive and is indicative of a shift in American Christian spirituality stemming from the counterculture movements of the 1960’s.
The remarkable shift in the understanding of God and of Jesus in the new paradigm churches of modern American Christianity is the shift that the counterculture made: toward a deeply human, even vulnerable God who loves us unconditionally and wants nothing more than to be our friend, our best friend, as loving and personal and responsive as a best friend in America should be; and toward a God who is so supernaturally present, it is as if he does magic and as if our friendship with him gives us magic, too.  God retains his holy majesty, but he has become a companion, even a buddy to play with, and the most ordinary man can go to the corner church and learn how to hear him speak.  What we have seen in the last four or five decades is the democratization of God—I and thou into you and me—and the democratization of intense spiritual experience, arguably more deeply than ever before in our country’s history.[9]

Luhrmann shows how this view of God is reflected in the Vineyard churches of which she was a part.  She documents how the pastor urged people to set out a cup of coffee for God so they could talk to God.  This pastor encouraged his people to “hang out” with God, ask God for advice on small details, and to take God to task when the people thought God was out of line.[10]  This also led to women having “date night” with God.
The women would set aside the night, and they imagined it romantically: it was a “date.”  They might pick up dinner or set out a plate at the table, and they imagined their way through the evening talking to God, cuddling with God, and basking in God’s attention.[11]

This is a manifestation of a profound overemphasis on the “intimacy” of God.  This vision of God also impacts the evangelical Contemporary Christian music industry.
Rarely do you hear of his judgment; always you are aware of his love; never, ever, does a song suggest you fear his anger.  He is a person: lover, father, of course, but more remarkably, friend.  Best friend.[12]

This quest for intimacy and friendship with God to the exclusion of all strains of God’s judgment also leads to songs that “are almost sexual, with a touch so light that the suggestion could slip past.”[13]  In this vision and version of God that Luhrmann documents something has gone awry.  The perspective of Peter in which God is judge and fear is a proper component of the Christian life is gone—smothered under the quest for intimacy.
            At the other end of the spectrum are those Christians for whom God is nothing more than a judge.  There is no sense of his Fatherly pleasure.  He is a distant God in terms of love but his judgment looms large.  Such conceptions of God engender little joy.  Klaus Issler aptly comments:
Distortions in our God-image can prevent us from receiving God’s gracious love—in effect, rendering various aspects of God’s character as nonexistent.  For it is hard to assign the word love to a relationship with God when God feels like a judgmental parent who criticizes us without any display of affection, or like a legalistic police officer who makes us toe the line whether we like it or not, or like a distant relative who never seems to show up.[14]

Perhaps a good barometer of whether such a distant view of God is taking root is the presence of joy in the believer’s life.  Peter speaks of this “great rejoicing” in reference to salvation found in Christ Jesus.[15]  The sending of the Son by the Father is the supreme demonstration of the Father’s love.[16]  Reflection and meditation on this is what will sustain joy.  Even in the context of 1 Peter in which the fear of God is being urged there is more than just the mention of God as judge.  Verses 18-19 connect the thought of “conduct yourselves in fear” with “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”  As Peter Davids reminds us, “Their reverential awe before God, however, is not based simply on their recognition of judgment, but on deep gratitude and wonder at what God has done for them.”[17]  The work of Christ in shedding his blood for the sins of his people becomes a focal point of rejoicing in the love of God.  Without this cross-centered spirituality the doctrine and experience of the love of God is truncated and, perhaps, even missing.
            Believers are ever prone to extremes.  This manifests itself in our view of God and his relationship to his people.  First Peter gives us a different, more unified perspective on God.  God, according to Peter, is both a loving Father who has had profound mercy upon his people and will save them to the uttermost.  This produces deep joy in the life of his people.  This same Father is also the impartial judge and his blood bought people are exhorted to live with a wholesome fear before the Holy One.  These are not contradictory perspectives but, rather, complementary truths that should inform the worship of God’s people.  Perhaps the Psalmist captured this unified perspective best when he urged the people to, “Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.”[18]

     [1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (NAC 37; Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman, 2003), 53.
     [2] Verses 3-5.
     [3] Verse 6.
     [4] Verse 8.
     [5] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (TNTC 17; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1988), 66.
     [6] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 81.
     [7] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 82-83.
     [8] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Vintage, 2012).
     [9] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 35.
     [10] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 74.
     [11] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 80.
     [12] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 4-5.
     [13] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 5.  This erotic turn in Christian worship would not be unprecedented in the history of the church.  Leon Podles in his work The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Dallas: Spence, 1999) details how the “bridal mysticism” of the Middle Ages took on nearly explicit erotic tones in terms of its devotional literature—see pages 102-108.
     [14] Klaus Issler, Living Into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2012), 95.
     [15] 1 Peter 1:6, 8.
     [16] 1 John 4:7-8.
     [17] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (NICNT: Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), 71.
     [18] Psalm 2:11.