Saturday, May 03, 2008

Paul of Tarsus notes

For Christians, Paul/Saul of Tarsus is a character of biblical proportions! He indisputably wrote 7 epistles, probably sometime between 50 and 60 CE: 1 Thessalonians; Galatians; Philippians; 1 and 2 Corinthians; Philemon and Romans. Paul's theology influenced 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians, all 3 authored around 90 or 100 CE. In addition, the chronologically later letter to the Hebrews (circa 90 CE) bears unmistakable marks of Pauline theology and Christology. However, scholars today generally do not consider the pastoral epistles traditionally attributed to him as genuine Paul. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus (possibly from as late as 125 CE) are socially very conservative, with language and content that at times directly contradicts what we find in the authentic letters. Particularly since the Reformation of the 16th century, most Christians are "Pauline" Christians at least to as great an extent they are Jesus Christians!

In their work on multicultural evangelism, Latino theologians Justo Gonzalez and Miguel De La Torre both point out Paul's name didn't "change" from Saul to Paul upon his conversion to Christianity but rather Saul was Paul and Paul was Saul - and Saul/Paul concurrently with "Saul" and "Paul" probably had at least two or three other names.

Since we're studying biblical personalities, here's a little about the apostle Paul: we know from reading Paul's undisputed letters and from the book of Acts that Paul was multicultural - Roman, Greek and Hebrew/Jewish, which made him sensitive and responsive to the differences between cultures, and also aware that the Church would take differing expressions in different places. From the epistles we know how strongly Paul ran with his convictions, never backing down and always telling his readers and his listeners about the life-changing power of the Gospel and especially about the weakness of the Cross of Calvary that is human foolishness and divine wisdom. Paul was far more theologian than biblical scholar or scriptorian, though only Romans, which essentially is his systematic theology, has much of what anyone would consider "system!" Lots of detours and many ramblings are hallmarks of his correspondence. There's some thought the author of Luke/Acts was Paul's amanuensis.

Acts 4:32-37

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 9:26-27

26When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

Acts 11:19-30

19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

27At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 15:36-41

36After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

imaging and enacting heaven on earth

A single Sunday morning worship service, preferably no later than 10:00, probably would help encourage inquiring newcomers to return and also benefit those of us who like to attend adult bible study. To get my own bias out of the way, despite my preference for musically blended worship I detest most 19th century hymnody, which is what usually happens at the traditional end of most blended worship, so unless we're having a dollop of North German baroque along with some harmonically discordant, rhythmically asymmetrical 20th-21st century music that sounds very unlike many people's idea of conventional church music, I'm cool with mostly praise music.

However, my primary concern is that we at Old Condo Shadows and in all churches offer public worship that reflects and embodies God's incarnation and Self-giving in Jesus Christ, which clearly happens whenever we celebrate a baptism or the Lord's Supper, but it also becomes possible with a carefully constructed order of worship sourced from scripture and history—including our own history here on this mesa.

As Christians, God's people in Jesus Christ, each Sunday is a day of resurrection, a time especially to remember who we are, Whose we are and Who has called us by retelling and re-enacting the meta-narratives of redemption, of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories within the context of public Lord's day worship; in these stories we find healing memory and discover hope for a free future. As we invite our neighbors and other people who don't have much church experience, we're hoping to meet and to reach them where they are and speak in a language they'll understand, which can be a precarious endeavor. But did God ever call the people of God to live in ways congruent with their local cultures? Or in a radically culturally incongruent, actually counter-cultural manner? Are we presenting inquiring newcomers with a choice, a real alternative to costly and deathly consumerism and related excesses? Are we telling and showing the world something very different from anything they've previously experienced? Do we dare imagine we can domesticate the wildness of Jesus? For sure it is about the ways our lives demonstrate faithfulness and obedience to the God Who covenants with us in Jesus, but it is equally about how together we worship the Crucified and Risen One, and it may require some explanation and interpretation, not only for so-called outsiders but also reminders for the insiders among us. It is strange; in many ways it is wholly "other than", this reality of a people (us!) who already have experienced their first death and their second birth, this reality of seemingly regular, ordinary, everyday people who follow a crucified outcast, trusting the God Whose ultimate word is resurrection from the dead.

I'm asking questions rather than offering answers, and I'll conclude by asking if our presence in our neighbors' lives and in the world beyond this corner of Paradise can be partly in our own world, partly in our neighbors', and wholly in the sovereignty of heaven? Can our Sunday worship reflect such a way of life? There are no easy, instant answers, and we'll need to anticipate a lot more changes as the months unfold.