Sanctified Defilements: Cleansing Blood

This Sunday I will be preaching from Mark 5:21-43 concerning the raising of Jairus’ dead 12 year old daughter and the healing of the unclean woman with 12 years of bleeding. Such stories are all the more striking in light of the OT and Jewish traditions regarding purity. To touch the dead (as Jesus does with the girl) and to be touched by the unclean (as Jesus is by the woman) should defile Jesus. However, these stories don’t describe such (taking for granted the obvious nature of such). Instead, they point to the restoration, cleansing, and healing that is conveyed.

While Jesus would indeed be defiled by touching the girl and being touched by the woman, the radical nature of these stories points in the opposite direction: the cleansing and wholeness being imparted from Jesus to the girl and woman. In fact, I would contend Jesus offers cleansing precisely through his self-sacrificial taking on their uncleanness.

“The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter” (1871) by Vasiliy Polenov

In light of this movement by Jesus, it makes the taking of communion (or Eucharist) all the more powerful. The Church is instructed to consume Jesus’ body and blood in the elements of bread and cup. This would be an ultimate defilement for this community grafted into Israel. And yet this very act constitutes a testimony to the cleansing, healing life of Jesus constituting this community by His Spirit bringing to bear His presence in their midst.

“In the OT the partaking of blood in any form, even blood in meat, was strictly forbidden….However, in the Eucharist, the meal that commemorates the making of the new covenant, believers partake of the bread and wine, elements that represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).  By eating these elements a believer shares in the benefits of Jesus’ death (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9:15-22).  The discourse in John 6:52-59 is amazingly radical in its vivid imagery.  Jesus boldly speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood …. The intent of these words in John is … to pronounce boldly that in partaking of these elements a believer commemorates Jesus’ death and enters into the deepest communion with his Lord.” (John E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992], 279-280)

The bearing of the unclean (his flesh and blood), by the grace of the Lord, becomes the receiving of cleansing … and the communion of saints is made saints by the Spirit of Holiness imparting the life of the cursed one hung on a tree, buried, and raised. Further, in his resurrection, Jesus did not pass through any cleansing rite upon being raised, yet shares meals with his disciples repeatedly and invites faith-confirming contact. How could Jesus be clean? It is the uncleanness of his death that cleanses and gives life in the testimony of God raising him. Jesus is declared (and even made) clean by his being raised. The very nature of his being cursed and unclean willingly has become the very thing which the Father uses to heal and make clean. In the book of Acts it is the testimony of Son and Spirit to Peter that what God has made clean should not be called unclean (Acts 10).

In Christ Jesus a new day has dawned wherein bearing uncleanness is the way to cleansing. And this is the faithfulness of our Great God and Savior! And this is the testimony of the Church in the midst of the world!

Goin' Fishin': A Brief Comment on John 21:11

Fishing in the TiberiasI was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:

St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.

Women in Ministry: The Spirit, Creation and Eschaton (with Podcast)

Sister Aimee Semple McPherson
Sister Aimee Semple McPherson of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

This post is borne out of a need to briefly share my view of women serving in ministry. I am an unabashed Egalitarian. I believe women (and men) can and must serve the Church (global and local) in any capacity that they are called to as ministers of the good news of Jesus in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This in no way sets aside, ignores, or rejects the teachings of the Scripture on the subject. I take the Scriptures with all seriousness. However, what are the markers by which we interpret Scripture are paramount for me (and what interpretive methodologies we use matter). This is not a post that discusses (or exegetes) specific texts (I’ve done some of that elsewhere), but one that is orienting for my approach to the subject in light of the over-arching orientation of Scripture.
I find three basic orienting testimonies in Scripture address this issue for myself:

  1. The Spirit testifies. This testimony is the most basic to my understanding that whatever the Spirit testifies to must be affirmed. This functions in the way that the Spirit testified for the early church concerning full Gentile inclusion in every way (Acts 15). The same Spirit that is poured out on men is poured out on women. The same Spirit that empowers for witness, the same Spirit that calls to ministry, the same Spirit that sanctifies, anoints, secures and gifts towards the full maturation of the Church until we all come into the fullness of Christ. [Just such a trajectory is proposed in J. C. Thomas, ‘Women, Pentecostals, and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5 (1994), pp. 41-56].
  2. The creation testifies. While complementarians say they appeal to creation order, they actually appeal to the order of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Genesis one and two address women as co-equals in the call to care for the earth and accomplish the purposes of God in the earth. This is the account pre-Fall and should take precedence as the “order” in which God made things precedes the “order” into which things descended in sinfulness. Redemption, thus, is oriented by creation toward new creation in the midst of fallen-ness, but does not take its first cue from fallen-ness.
  3. The eschaton testifies. While many seem to order their lives by the “now” this disregards the “then” of what God is doing to set all things to rights in the cosmos. The eschaton (or “end”) of all things points to the end of relationship structures as conceived between husband and wife (according to Jesus being “neither married nor given in marriage” Matthew 22:30). It points to the end for which we were created. This end is that for which the Church is oriented in Christ Jesus. Yet we do not simply await that end, but we begin even now to live in light of that end even as we still marry and are given in marriage. Our continuing in marriage is under the banner of Christ’s soon coming kingdom when such structures must be conformed to his intent in everything–that is, in mutual submission, and in living in wholeness towards God and world in redemption.

While I in no way anticipate that this is persuasive for those who hold alternative views, it is at least a look inside my own approach (for whatever that is worth). Related to this (and briefly discussing such things), here is a 13 minute podcast I did three years ago tackling the idea of women in ministry (along with a few other things). It never aired, so I requested permissions to post it myself here.
For a helpful exegetical reading of Paul’s writings on the subject, see Craig Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker Academic, 1992).

What Are You Doing Pastor? Growing the Church

PurposeSo what exactly is the job of a “pastor”? It would seem it is about the formation of God’s people and not about the gathering of people (God’s or otherwise). The call to serve the Church by serving a local gathering of those who call on the name of the Lord is not a call to gather crowds. It is a call to see folks transformed by the power of the Spirit into the community of God. It is to see God’s kingdom in the lives of God’s people. It is to share in the life of Jesus and to grow in our staying in step with the Spirit. It is about reconciliation, whole-ness, and holiness. It is about the making of disciples, not the growing of numbers in a service.
Preaching and teaching play their part in this. The public (and private) hearing and obedience to Scripture. Praying without ceasing. Guarding one’s life, family, and church against the wiles of the enemy by walking in mercy and holiness. I could go on, but the point is that it is about the formation (really, the transformation) of God’s people as saints who are being discipled and making disciples. It is not about numbers. It is about people…God’s people.
So what is the job (perhaps I should say “calling”) of a pastor? To be a faithful, Spirit-empowered equipper of the saints who, together with all those whom God by His Spirit gifts, serves to see the whole community of God’s people growing together in

“unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT)

Amen and amen! This is actually the only “growth” laid out for the pastor (indeed for all of the Church). Growth in Christ Jesus as Lord of all!
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Originally blogged by me at bluechippastor.org on March 25, 2013.

Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit

David Plays the Harp for Saul by RembrandtI just submitted my proposal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2016 meeting in San Dimas, California (most excellent, dudes!) which is broadly themed “Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit”.
I am hoping my proposal gets accepted as in most previous years. I’ve titled my paper (which will end up as a part of my PhD thesis) “When Prophets Play the Lyre: Saul and the Strings of the Spirit”.
Here is my summary that I submitted (which is always fun to write when NONE of the paper has been written yet 🙂 ):

A recurring notion in 1 Samuel (chapters 10, 16, 18-19) appears to highlight the relation of King Saul to the Spirit, prophesying and the playing of the lyre. Saul initially receives the Spirit of the LORD and begins to prophesy as predicted by Samuel once Saul hears the music of the prophets at Gibeah. Later, the Spirit of the LORD departs from Saul and comes upon David. With the departure of the Spirit of the LORD a “troubling spirit of God” comes upon Saul causing sudden violent outbreaks. The only relief from the troubling spirit is the music of Spirit-endowed David on the lyre. Further, the “prophets prophesying” appears to function musically throughout this literary unit including with the overcoming of Saul twice to “prophesy” when encountering a group of prophets prophesying (in the first instance explicitly with music and suggestive in the second). A literary and theological interpretation of the relevant texts is offered for discerning the role of the Spirit in the instrumentation of the prophets in 1 Samuel with several proposed implications for Pentecostal practice.

Elisha and the Double Portion Spirit

ElishaFor those interested in the topic, I have just uploaded the paper I presented at the 2014 SBL/AAR annual meeting in San Diego, CA as a special session of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. The title is “Elisha and the Double Portion Spirit: Sign of the True Son of the Prophet (2 Kgs 2-9, 13)”. It is a small portion of my exegetical work I am doing for my PhD on “A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets”.
Here is the summary:

While it is assumed among scholarship that the “double portion” which Elisha requests of Elijah refers to the portion of the eldest son (following Deuteronomistic law), it is proposed in this paper that this is theologically significant to demonstrate Elisha as the true son of Elijah as prophet of Yahweh in contrast to the other “sons of the prophets” in the Former Prophets. This motif is followed in the stories of Elisha as he fulfills the prophetic call earlier given to Elijah as Horeb, knows and does what the “sons of the prophets” cannot do themselves, and functions as a new Elijah in the paneling accounts and images. The role of Spirit endowment as verification of elder sonship is followed as a theological trajectory of the Former Prophets.

Changing Media Living Message

changesI often hear complaints (and have offered my own) about movies not being like the book and just how much better the book was by comparison. This may be true enough, but perhaps what we are latently getting at suggests we simply do not understand how changing media automatically changes the message.  I wrote the following comment on a friends blog review of the film “Noah”(you should really read his review):

“…changed media ALWAYS alters the message and its fullest (or limited) contents in some fashion. This is true of preaching (though we don’t want to admit it). This is true of lectures, Sunday School lessons, etc. It is true of translations. It is most definitely true of films. Altered media, altered message (at some level). Some are truer to intent, some less. Some downright intentionally change, some ignorantly, some faithfully offer a harmonizing understanding, but all changes alter the message in some fashion.”

Perhaps some examples of what I am talking about might be helpful with regard to the changing media of Scripture:

  • Commentaries – While I did not mention this one in my comment to my friend, it is still worth mentioning. Commentaries on Scripture alter the message by offering (it is hoped) a reading of the text for clarification. Some are more intentionally rooted within the theological traditions of the Church (the Brazos series), others offering contemporary significance (NIVAC series) as part of the explanation. But by explaining the text, the text is altered. It is not offered without comment. To comment is to change. Whether this is for the better (as in clarifying what the intent really was) or worse (changing the intent altogether) remains to be seen.
  • Sermons – Like commentaries, sermons offer an explanation of the text. To preach a text of Scripture is to alter it. Some portions of the text are given greater emphasis. Some less (or none at all). A preacher also selectively chooses only a portion of the text thus already stripping context even while the faithful preacher includes descriptions of context to attempt to locate the passage within its original context. But still…a sermon alters the message…sometimes accidentally, sometimes purposefully…but always alters. (Lectures also fit this category).
  • Translations – The oft-quoted Italian proverb/pun is fitting: “Traduttore tradittore” (“the translator is a traitor”). To translate is to alter. Some are more faithful, some less. Some offer greater conceptual faithfulness, others word-for-word faithfulness. But all sacrifice something in offering translations. (HERE is a brief explanation of three general philosophies of Bible translation)
  • Canon – To read the Scriptures as a part of the canon is to alter the reading of Scripture. The various texts and books of Scripture were not a part of a finished work, but were created independently (sometimes interdependently), but it is not as if the human writers colluded on writing one book of many different sections (though the Spirit is confessed to have superintended and inspired the whole as parts and whole). For example, to read or hear the Old Testament as a Christian is to hear the Old Testament through the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s plan for the ages. This alters the message. To join the sixty six books of the Protestant canon together is to alter the message (and likewise for the various canons of the other streams of the Church).

To be clear, what I am NOT stating is that somehow in altering the message we have automatically been unfaithful to the One who has given us this testimony of grace. The Spirit enlivens the text to bring about preaching, teaching (commentaries/lectures), translations, and canon. The retelling of the story of Jesus in preaching might be yet more faithful to the intent of our Lord in the moment of preaching than in simply reading the original language in the study.
Let me go one step further: the message of Scripture is altered when it is applied by the illumination of the Spirit to us. The words are driven home in different ways than when read. Some facets are illuminated while others remain shrouded.
And still further: the obedience of the message alters the message by not simply rote mimicry, but by faith-filled Spirit enabled listening and following. And this is the will of God for us. It is true to His intent for us in this moment, even while altering the original media form. Indeed, His word is living and active! To those with ears to hear…

Evil Spirits in the Old Testament

ImagePrepping for lectures this coming week on the books of Samuel, I returned again to an article by Robin Routledge (Academic Dean of Mattersey Hall; Author of the well-received Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach) entitled, “‘An Evil Spirit from the Lord’ — Demonic Influence or Divine Instrument?” (Ev.Q. 70.1 [Jan-Mar 1998]: 3-22). His discussion of the connections (and disjuncture) between the Testaments concerning “evil” spirits offers potential direction in the development of a biblical demonology (or perhaps a more broadly conceived pneumatology).
I find his own proposal at least more satisfactory than Hermann Gunkel’s proposal about there really only being “spirit” (whether good or “evil” being regarded as secondary) in the OT.* Though, the distinguish-ability of  רוּחַ (ruach) in the Hebrew Scriptures is certainly not always an easy task. Nor is it made more simple by the descriptive  רָעָה  (ra’ah) often rendered “evil” or “troubling” in connection with the S/spirit (1 Sam.16:14-16, 23; 18:10; 19:9; cf. Judges 9:23; 1 Kings 22:22).
I can appreciate Dr. Routledge’s proposal to read the NT “against the background of the Old” in order to potentially gain a “proper understanding of the Biblical whole” (3). Essentially, his argumentation boils down to ANE perspectives on the “divine assembly” in relation to the Israelite appropriation of such and thus allows for a multiplicity of “spirits” in the realm of the God of Israel. He extrapolates that this line of reasoning may in fact be conducive to a better understanding of the the inter-relation of Old and New Testaments on the issue of the “evil” and “unclean” spirit/s.
Here’s the Abstract on Routledge’s article:

This article considers two important questions raised by 1 Sa. 16:14, namely what does the OT understand by the term ‘evil spirit’, and, what is the relationship between such spirits and Yahweh? Although demons come to prominence in later Rabbinic writings, the OT accepts the existence of supernatural beings, good and evil and of a heavenly assembly, presided over by Yahweh, to which all such beings may have access. This suggestion, that the scope of the divine assembly is much more comprehensive than is sometimes envisaged, points to Yahweh’s control over evil spiritual beings and their instrumentality in the fulfilment of the divine purpose. The moral question this raises is given some consideration, and the consistency between Old and New Testaments is noted.

What are your thoughts on Routledge’s article? Is this helpful for a biblical theology of “spirit/s”?
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* The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul (Reprint of English translation by Roy A. Harrisville and Philip A. Quanbeck II; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2008), 5-6.