Category Archives: Bible

Of Aid for Immigrants and Romans 13

Yesterday, a parishioner asked Jenny and me if there was a United Methodist Organization working with the refugees and asylum seekers who are being detained and separated from their children. Indeed there is, please see the link below.

On the related issue of the interpretation of Romans 13, which has been cited to defend the current administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, I’ll just follow the lead of another pastor and point out that the man who wrote Romans 13 was executed by the state for his steadfast refusal to submit to the governing authorities when doing so was in conflict with his obedience to Christ.

Link: http://njfon.org/donate/

Why Are We Even Talking About Homosexuality?

I don’t remember who it was exactly, but in one of the first two appointments I served, a parishioner, commenting on the discussion of the issue of homosexuality at Annual Conference, asked: “The Bible is so clear homosexuality is wrong, why are we even talking about this?” It’s a question that deserves an answer. Especially in light of the fact that we have already had people leave our congregation over this issue and that a special called session of General Conference will gather to discuss and debate removing the Book of Discipline’s prohibitions on the ordination and marriage of gay and lesbian men and women in 2018.

Jenny and I are not looking to change your mind about this issue. We believe that we seldom change our minds on significant issues like this based on a discussion, a debate, or even a book study. But we do want to help those who hold to a traditional interpretation of the biblical teachings on homosexuality understand how others who claim the name of Jesus Christ can affirm gay and lesbian persons. For those who are on the other side and affirm gay and lesbian Christians, we want to help them understand how they can hold this view without merely relegating the Bible to the status of an ancient and notably dated, book to be gleaned for inspirational quotes but otherwise ignored.

With those goals in mind, We’re currently reviewing God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines. Early in his book, Matthew writes:

Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a “high view” of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV). [1]

Nonetheless, Matthew has come to the conclusion that:

Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. [2]

That’s the view we’ll be trying to explain, and in the process, we hope to answer the question: “Why are we even talking about this?” Again, we’re seeking only to promote understanding, not to change minds (see the second paragraph above). The reason we won’t be studying and discussing a book on the traditional view: we all grew up and are already familiar with the traditional view.

We’ll have more on this possible book study soon. In the meantime, please don’t go anywhere—we would miss you just as we miss those who have already left.


[1] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 2.

[2] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 3.

Abuse is Grounds for Divorce

I’ve always viewed abuse (either physical or emotional), as grounds for divorce but had difficulty succinctly explaining why. A few days ago, in a series of tweets, Rachel Held Evans shared a pithy explanation that I’ll be referencing from here on out:

First of all, Jesus’ teachings on divorce were intended to protect women from exploitation, not create new laws that would further exploit them.

Second, Jesus’ whole posture toward the law was that its purposes are thwarted when it is used to perpetuate human suffering. This is why he healed on the Sabbath. It’s why he stopped the religious leaders from stoning the woman caught in adultery.

I truly see no difference between sending a woman back to an abuser “because the Bible says so” and surrounding a woman for a stoning “because the Law says so.” And I have no doubt that Jesus would prioritize a woman’s life over a legalistic interpretation of Scripture again. — Rachel Held Evans

The only thing I would add is that the abuser is sometimes a woman and the abused is sometimes a man.


Rachel Held Evans. Twitter post, May 4, 2018, 11:56 a.m. to 12:01 p.m., http://bit.ly/2I30QH8.

A Follow Up on the Way Forward

In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).

We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.

I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.

The Gospel As Royal Summons

I recently stumbled upon a quote that ties quite nicely into my coming sermon on the Ascension:

It [the Gospel] is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedient allegiance takes is, of course, faith. — N. T. Wright

The Greek words pistis (a noun) and pisteuo (a verb), translated into English as faith and believe, would often better be translated as allegiance. This ties into the meaning of “gospel” in the time of Jesus and Paul as the announcement of the reign of a new Emperor. Understanding the word “gospel” in the way it was used in Roman times makes it clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not primarily good advice we might want to follow, or an opportunity for a wonderful religious experience, or even a proffer of salvation, but rather a proclamation of the news that Jesus Christ reigns. Understanding “gospel” this way makes it easier to grasp the nature of the required pistis and pisteuo as an allegiance that subsumes belief and trust.


N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul” in Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 278.

The nature of the gospel as news is discussed in at length in Wright, N. T. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.

The Resurrection of​ the Whole Cosmos

In yesterday’s post, titled “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” I said, “Jesus’s body was the first example of incorruptible physicality—the stuff of the new creation.” Jesus is the first, but not the last and only. As N. T. Wright puts it, in the quite biblical viewpoint of the early Christians, “God was [and still is] going to do for the whole cosmos what he [God] had done for Jesus at Easter.” [1] This is the ultimate end to which the biblical story points, this is the ultimate end for which we hope. We will be like Jesus, our resurrected bodies (and indeed all the new creation) will be made out of the same kind of incorruptible physicality that his was and is.


[1] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 93.

Scripture as a Single Story

The Breakfast Club book study is gearing up for a discussion of Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists by Hal (Henry H.) Knight. Hal has a great penchant for explaining and summarizing. Here’s a great summary of the nature and purpose of scripture:

The Bible, for all its diverse components, can be seen as a single story, beginning with creation and culminating with a new heaven and earth, telling all that God has done in creation and redemption. Scripture shows us our world from God’s perspective, which is very different from our normal way of looking at things. It tells us who we were created to be, provides a diagnosis of our problem, and shows what God is doing to bring us and our world new life. — Hal Knight


Henry H. Knight III, Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 47-48.

 

Verses of the Day: John 1:45-46

I was recently reminded of this exchange between two of Jesus’s first followers:

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” — John 1:45-46 (NRSV)

In the eyes of the powerful and wealthy ruling elites of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., all of Judea was an impoverished, troubled backwater. But even among those living in Judea, the city of Nazareth had a bad reputation.* And that was Jesus’s hometown. There is a special place in God’s heart for the lowly and despised and God is about the business of turning the world upside down.


*I don’t want to be partisan or vulgar, but I do want to be clear, back then Nazareth would have been viewed in the same way that some in our own time view Haiti and Africa.

Genesis and Evolution

I’ve long been planning to preach on the intersection of faith and science this Sunday, but I don’t plan to preach on the two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1.1-2:4 and 2:4-25. For that reason, I want to share a few points with you here:

  • Genesis tells not one but two creation stories (Genesis 1.1-2:4a and 2:4b-25).
  • Taken literally as if they were scientific accounts these two stories are in conflict.
  • Taken non-literally (as intended) they mutually reinforce the understanding of a benevolent God who created all things, a good creation, and humanity’s special place in it.
  • Therefore, while they are true and they convey profound truths about God and humanity, these accounts should not be taken literally.
  • Therefore the hypothesis/theory of evolution and the creation accounts in Genesis are not necessarily in conflict.

Verse of the Day: Matthew 7:33

I’m doing my Lent and Easter reading of the Gospels in The Kingdom New Testament, a new translation by N. T. Wright. It always amazes me how a different translation can help me see scripture with fresh eyes. I’ve included verses 31-33 for context. This is in the part of Matthew’s Gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount, so Jesus is speaking:

“So don’t worry away with your ‘What’ll we eat?’ and ‘What’ll we drink?’ and ‘What’ll we wear?’ Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all. Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well.” — Matthew 7:31-33. In The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation of the New Testament. Translated by N. T. Wright. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

4 Gospels, 89 Chapters, 90 Days

I want to invite and encourage you to join me in reading the through the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) during the upcoming seasons of Lent and Easter. There are copies of a Gospel Reading Plan available in the narthex and online at the church’s website. We invite you to pick one up and join us in this challenge. The Forty Days of Lent do not include the six Sundays that fall within the season, so there will be some slack in the reading for those who fall behind to catch up. There are only eighty-nine chapters in the Gospels, but the first chapter of Luke contains eighty chapters, so we split in two.

Link to the Plan: https://abilenefirstumc.org/downloads/

A Biblical Misunderstanding

I recently read an article on gun ownership among Christians by an evangelical pastor who quoted Luke 22:38 as an argument for limiting the number of guns a Christian should possess. In isolation, the verse would seem to support this view. It reads: “They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough'” (NRSV). The problem is that such an interpretation ignores the context. Let’s take a look at the whole passage which occurs just before Jesus is arrested and taken away by the religious authorities:

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38, NRSV).

I’m afraid that in the most plausible interpretation of this passage, Jesus is going much further than the previously mentioned pastor. In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire did not go around crucifying people willy-nilly. It was a punishment reserved for special cases, the most prominent of which was insurrection. In order for Jesus to be charged and convicted of insurrection, he or his followers would need to be armed. Two swords were not enough for an insurrection, but they were enough for trumped-up charges of insurrection. This is why Jesus said, “It is enough.” He wasn’t urging his disciples (then or now) to arm themselves.

Evidence in support of this interpretation (that Jesus did not intend for the swords to actually be used) can be found when one of the disciples actually used one to strike “the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear” (Luke 22:50, NRSV). Jesus responded by saying “No more of this!” and then healing the man.

Please don’t misunderstand or misconstrue me. There are people who need guns. Not as many as our sinful nature might incline us to think, but there are people who need guns. Clear examples would include those in law enforcement and the military. There are pastimes, like hunting, for which owning a firearm is perfectly reasonable. But the difficult, unavoidable conclusion we must reach as followers of Jesus is that there is very little (if any) room for weapons in our relationships and interactions with one another. Jesus did not overcome the Roman Empire with brute force (though he could have called down legions of angels), he overcame sin and death by going to the cross and giving his life for many.