A Reformation Tour

A Reformation Tour, September 2014

Some friends asked me to lead a tour to sites of the Reformation.  I agreed but with misgivings.  It was years since I had studied the Reformation and many of the places were new to me.

Our group began in Berlin and moved west to the Luther sites, Leipzig (also famous for Bach), Wittenberg, Eisleben, Eisenach (including Wartburg Castle), Erfurt and Worms.  In other words, we visited to the most significant places of Luther’s life, education, work, trial and death.

A man of humble background Luther emerges as highly intelligent, but also deeply determined.  After being condemned as an outlaw at the Diet of Worms he was hidden in Wartburg Castle where he translated the Greek New Testament into colloquial German.  Luther saw out his days at Wittenberg as an academic, but was greatly helped by various colleagues including Philip Melanchthon.  It is evident that as a devout Catholic he did not set out to divide the church.

Luther great insight was that in his death, our Lord embraced and dealt with human wretchedness.  Luther knew this at first hand, and it was his study of Psalm 22 that showed him that the Christ who had been ‘forsaken’ had been forsaken for him.

We left Germany and visited sites associated with the French lawyer and classicist John Calvin, Strasbourg, Basel, Zurich and Geneva.  Very different in temperament from Luther, the Frenchman emerges as similarly highly intelligent and industrious.  Calvin’s roots were more socially prominent than Luther’s and the circumstances of his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism are unclear.

John Calvin methodically wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible.  It’s true to say that Calvin in the ‘father’ of commentators.  His treatment of the texts is disciplined and careful, and mercifully to the point.  He established a seminary in Geneva in which he was the Old Testament Professor.  Equally, Calvin wrote the Institutes, a compendium of Christian belief only six years after his conversion, which he continued to revise and expand throughout his life.

Apart from being a model commentator Calvin is noteworthy for his insistence of the majesty and glory of Almighty God in the Institutes.

We moved across the channel to Oxford and Cambridge where we traced the ‘masters’ of the English Reformation, as Marcus Loane called them, Bilney, Tyndale, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer.  These men had been greatly influenced by Erasmus, Luther and to a lesser extent, Calvin.  Unlike Luther and Calvin who died in their beds, the English leaders died violently, burnt alive or strangled.

Cranmer takes rightful place alongside Luther and Calvin.  His great legacy is the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of religion and the Ordinal.  Cranmer’s genius was to endorse as much of the past that was consistent with the Bible (liturgies, creeds and church government) whilst embodying the insights of the great continental reformers.  His Articles of Region are expressed briefly yet profoundly.

I asked the British tour company for local guides who were at least sympathetic with the Reformation and was very agreeably impressed with their enthusiasm and knowledge.

It was for our group a truly educational, but also spiritually uplifting experience.

I offer the following reflections about my recent revisiting of the three Reformers, Luther, Calvin and Cranmer.

First, each was a man of great intellect and piety.  As men born in the fifteen century, when scholarship was in its infancy, their achievements were remarkable.  The Bible was not available in their respective languages and there were few great scholarly shoulders to stand on.

Secondly, each of them was supported by networks of friends and supporters.  They did not work in isolation.

Thirdly, each of then benefitted by political protection: Luther by the Elector of Saxony, Calvin by the Geneva Civic Council and Cranmer by Henry VIII and Edward VI.  In those violent times it’s fair to say that without such protection their achievements would not have been possible.

Fourthly, the invention of the printing press made possible the rapid dissemination of Tyndale’s translations and the writings of Luther and Calvin.  It is difficult to imagine the speed and effectiveness of the spread of reformation thought without this revolutionary new medium.

Finally, it is true to say that each man had his faults.  Luther’s views on the Jews near the end of his life are a problem.  Calvin’s vision of a whole secular community complying with church disciple was impractical.  Cranmer wavered under pressure. (Who can blame him?)

In other words, these men were not perfect or without their blind spots.  Yet we are beneficiaries of their courage and faithfulness to God.  May we be as faithful to Christ and his Gospel in our times as these men were in theirs.

Anglicans do well to thank God for each man, but not forgetting Thomas Cranmer for his gift to us of the rich and edifying deposit in the Prayer Book, Articles and Ordinal.

 

 

Epiphany – Five Reflections from a Life Time

Epiphany

(Mere Anglicanism Conference, Charleston SC, January 2013)

 I count it a great privilege to share these thoughts with my fellow-Anglican Christians. Like the apostle Paul I do so with ‘fear and trembling’, though for a different reason.  Paul was amongst dangerous enemies; I am amongst friends.

My fear is threefold.  First, much of what I will say is in the realm of history, and history is a turn off for many.  Secondly, I want to speak personally, and that could easily sound egocentric and self-indulgent, another turn off.  Thirdly, and most worryingly, is my Aussie accent that I know is foreign to many ears.  So, please pray for me!

I am mindful of the critical times in which we live.  Yes we have the passionate campaigns of the New Atheists outside the church, but we also have the sceptics inside the church, amongst church leaders and scholars.  It would not be unfair to use the word ‘apostasy’ of some branches of the Anglican family.  The same sadly holds true in other traditions, Presbyterian and Lutheran, for example.

But I do not intend to dwell on the negatives but the positives and to do so in terms of my personal discoveries over the 55 years of my Christian journey.  ‘Discovery’ is not the right word because it puts the emphasis on me.  ‘Epiphany’, or ‘epiphanies’ would be better because these discoveries are really ‘revelations’ from God, God-given insights.  ‘Flesh and blood’ does not discover truth about God; God must reveal it.

As it happens it is, or recently was, the season of Epiphany – if you will cut me a little slack.

Nor will I speak mainly about theological issues, but historical ones.  Theology to be true depends on what happened historically.  If the Word did not actually become flesh in Bethlehem in the latter years of Herod, then the theology stated in John 1:14 is just empty words, akin to myth.  F.F. Bruce saw no incompatibility between theology and history and observed that ‘a man cannot be a good theologian unless he is a good historian’.[1]

The first epiphany happened in a class in Ancient History 101.  I was a mature age student, 29 years old.  I had not studied classical history at school, but I was now a junior professor at a seminary and my President sent me off the University to study Classical Greek and Ancient History.  My background had been in the Building industry.

Six years earlier I had been converted out of a totally unchurched background.  It was pretty dramatic, but I was wary of emotionalism and kept asking my new church friends, ‘How do we know it’s true?’ to which they replied, ‘It just is.  Just believe it’.  But the question remained, even when I spent 4 years in seminary and did well enough to become an instructor.

The epiphany happened when I suddenly realized how good were the historical sources for Jesus and the birth of Christianity.  We had been studying Alexander the Great and the Roman Caesars.  For Tiberius, the Caesar in whose time Jesus ministered, we mainly depend on Suetonius for information.  But Suetonius wrote about eighty years after Tiberius’ death, when no one was alive who could question what had been written.  Mark wrote his Gospel only 30 or so years after Jesus, when many Jesus’ contemporaries were still alive.

My first epiphany quickly connected with things I had come to know.  I knew that the 27 books of the New Testament were written by ten mostly independent authors, and were in circulation and use by the mid-90s – less than 60 years after Jesus; most of them much closer to Jesus, especially the epistles.  As well, I knew by then that these early texts had been accurately transmitted and copied from the time they were written.  I knew there are 5600 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament from the early centuries and 19,000 translations in Latin, Coptic, Arabic, and Armenian – more than 24, 000 in all.  Cross checking by Textual Critics means that the texts in our Bibles are 99% certain, and nothing doctrinally hangs on the 1%.

I cannot tell you how excited I was in that lecture room.  It was a ‘eureka’ moment.  The witness of the New Testament to Jesus more than holds its own relative to the documentation of the Caesars of those times, whose life stories are not in doubt.

Also connected with my first epiphany was a little book by A.M. Hunter, Paul and His Predecessors, which pointed out that Paul did not write the words we find in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.  That’s where he quotes that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised the third day, and appeared on 5 separate occasions to more than 500 people.  Paul was quoting what he had been taught at or soon after his conversion, that is, only about one or at most four years after Jesus.  In other words, the idea that Jesus was the Messiah, who died for sins and who was resurrected on the third day, did not evolve decades later than Jesus but was part of Christian understanding from the beginning, in the immediate aftermath of his lifespan.  Why would the earliest Christians in Jerusalem have formulated this teaching, if it wasn’t true?

By now I was hooked on history and found myself researching a post-graduate thesis on first century Jewish history.  My topic was ‘Civil Disturbances in Judea in the First Century’.  Did you know that three civil wars broke out when Herod died in 4 BC, led by Judas in Galilee, Simon in Perea and Athronges in Judea?  Each of these claimed to be a king and it took the might of the Roman army from Syria to put down these revolts.  Then there were violent Pharisees like Saddok in AD 6, a prophet like Theudas who was killed in 46 in and patriots like Menahem who marched into Jerusalem in 66.  These were formidable figures with big followings, who spanned the era of the New Testament.

So why are these men who fill the pages of Josephus forgotten today and Jesus is a household word?  It’s because history is full of people who blaze briefly like comets and are then forgotten.  But Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man who forgave sins, who healed the sick and raised the dead, who entered Jerusalem as its Messiah-king, whose teaching on love and forgiveness was profound and unheard of, and who himself was resurrected from the dead.  Without the resurrection Jesus would have been just another mistaken prophet whose death guaranteed his relegation to obscurity, like the shadowy figure of the Teacher of Righteousness, the founder of the Dead Sea Sect, whose name we do not even know.

Now in my 30s, whilst pastoring a second congregation I had the opportunity to do research for a PhD.  This was not in theology but again in Jewish history in roughly the same era as the New Testament.  Following that I became head of a University College and a professor in New Testament history within an Ancient History university department.

It was then I began my visits to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Greece, which I still continue on an annual basis and have done for twenty-five years.  I am privileged to have visited every place mentioned in the New Testament, with one important exception – Tarsus, birthplace of Paul.  That was to have been in 2011, but for the civil war in Syria.

A second epiphany – in my forties – was based on my first visit to Israel and Jordan – and confirmed many times since.  That lake – the Sea of Tiberias – its storms, its fishing, its surrounding hills is the lake of the Gospels.  The towns of the Holy Land – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Chorazim, Bethsaida, Gennesaret, Magdala, Sychar, Caesarea Philippi, the Decapolis, the borders of Tyre and Sidon, Jericho, Bethany beyond Jordan, Bethany near Jerusalem are the towns and places of the Gospels.  They have been mostly continuously settled in the years since, with place names unchanged.  The geography of Galilee and the topography and streetscape of Jerusalem cohere amazingly with the biblical text.  The entire ministry of Jesus is embedded in places we can still visit.

The context of John’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry is stated by Luke (3:1-2) – the fifteenth year of Tiberius (AD 28 or 29) when Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod Antipas tetrarch of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas high priests – link in exactly to the complex jurisdictions of the holy land after the death of Herod and Augustus’ division of Herod’s kingdom.

In Luke-Acts there are no less than sixteen texts that connect Luke’s narrative with famous named people in world history, like Sergius Paulus Proconsul of Cyprus, to take one example.  Then there are dozens of lesser figures like the centurion Cornelius in Caesarea Maritima who are no less authentic.  In other words, the geography, topography and history of the New Testament coheres with the geography and history of the era in which it is located.  This is the more impressive because such references are made in passing, matters of incidental detail, easily missed because of the weightiness of the narrative.

Luke-Acts is an amazing text covering 70 years from the birth of John the Baptist to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome and represents 25% of the volume of the New Testament.  It is widely commended by great secular historians like Mommsen, Meyer and Sherwin-White, but surprisingly spurned by many specialist Christian scholars.  Crossan’s index to his Birth of Christianity, for example, does not have a single reference to the book of Acts and declared the first thirty years of Christian history to be ‘dark decades…cloaked in silence’.  That is a convenient viewpoint if you want to write your own history of Christianity and present your own revisionist, designer theology!  Luke-Acts is critical to recovering Christian origins, the beginnings of Christianity.  Only this continuous text connects the rise of early Christianity to the impulse of Jesus, his identity, his saving death and his glorious resurrection.

As Luke tells us in his opening words, it was the original disciples of Jesus who handed over textual sources to Luke for him to write his great global history.  Who was better placed than them to do so?  The ‘we’ and ‘us’ passages in Acts 21-28 tell us that Luke was with Paul for the last five years of the narrative of Luke-Acts.  Luke was Paul’s companion and therefore well placed to write about Paul.  Who else but Paul could have given Luke the material he uses about Paul, his early life, his persecutions, his conversion, and his remarkable missions in Syria-Cilicia, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia?  Luke-Acts shows us the immediate continuity between Jesus, crucified and risen, and the first three decades of Christianity.  The apostles preached Jesus as the risen Christ and Lord, because he was!

The archaeologists’ spade as well as accidental discoveries have confirmed much of the data we encounter in the biblical texts.

•A fishing boat from this period, discovered in 1985;

•an inscription bearing the name Pontius Pilate, discovered in 1961;

•a burial chest inscribed Joseph Caiaphas, discovered in 1990;

•the Pool of Siloam, identified in 2004;

•Jacob’s well near Joseph’s tomb under the shadow of Mount Gerizim;

•a Pool near the Sheep Gate, known as Bethesda;

•the tragic remains of the crucified man, Yehohanan, discovered in 1968;

•the discovery of rolling stones to seal tombs.

All these subtly but cumulatively reinforce the sense that we are in the realm of historical and geographical reality when we read the Gospels.

So far I have shared some ‘eureka’ moments, epiphanies.

•The quality, quantity of the sources for Jesus, and their closeness to him.

•The early, oral formulation of words embedded in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 about Christ’s death for sin, his burial, his resurrection on the 3rd day, and his multiple appearances.

•The linkages from Luke-Acts into world history, pointing to Luke’s integrity.

•Based on numerous visits to Israel the amazing coherence of geography, topography, and history, supported by archaeological finds and discoveries.

Each of these has confirmed my strong confidence in the integrity of the New Testament texts in their witness to Jesus, a the Son of God, who performed inexplicable miracles, who proclaimed the kingdom of God, who was the friend of sinners, who trained his disciples for world-mission, who died on the cross as our sin-bearer, and whom God raised from the dead to give us the hope that God has triumphed over evil and will triumph over evil – and who established the church.  I have absolutely no doubts about the authenticity and historicity of the New Testament.

One thing is certain.  No mere prophet or holy rabbi could have been the impetus for the amazing movement that arose in his immediate aftermath, as reflected in the New Testament in general and Luke-Acts in particular.  As I have mentioned, there were many warlords, prophets, and charismatic rabbis in Palestine in the first century, but they are lost in the dust of time.  It is only the deity of Jesus, his gracious miracles, his profound love ethic and his resurrection form the dead that explain not merely the survival of faith in him, but the immediate explosion of that faith and its rapid dissemination around the Mediterranean world.  Jesus gave hope to a hopeless world, and – thank God – he still does.

Let me share three other epiphanies.

The third was when I was lecturing at university.  I decided to make a detailed comparison of the accounts of a miracle that each of the four Gospels narrate.  I chose the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  As I spread out the four Greek texts in parallel, I was quickly reminded that Matthew and Luke make use of Mark’s account, often word for word.  Matthew and Luke are derivative texts, based mainly on Mark.  Most scholars accept that Mark’s is the earliest of the three, and that Matthew and Luke also incorporate other sources in their idiosyncratic Gospels making them both longer than Mark’s.  John, however, does not replicate any words from the other three, except for the statistics – 5000 men, five loaves, two fishes, twelve baskets, etc.

But there are other differences.  In John they are barley loaves and pickled fish that belong to the boy, details found only in John.  And his story line is a little different:  In John Jesus welcomes the crowd but in Mark he arrives after them.  Clearly Mark did not depend on John or John on Mark.  At a secular university with mostly secular students with no church background I set an essay question about this incident as in the four gospels.  The universal opinion was that Mark and John were primary, independent sources.  That means there are two independent witnesses to this miracle.

I was reminded of ‘Momigliano’s Rule’: ‘historical research is based on the distinction between original and derivative authorities’.  Professor Momigliano of Cambridge is one of the doyens of ancient history studies.

So what we have are two core texts – Mark’s and John’s – that are independent of each other.  Each is the final, written up version of a tradition – written or oral – that went back to the event, and that separately testifies to the truth of the event, the great miracle.  This criterion is called ‘Multiple Attestation’, and it is fundamental to all historical enquiry but no less to the jury process.  One witness may inspire confidence, but two or more – if credible – make for a weighty case.  But a second witness who merely repeats a primary witness is no use at all, according to Momiglinano’s wise counsel.

There are thirty-seven separate miracles of Jesus in the four Gospels. These fall into four categories – exorcisms, nature miracles, healings and raisings up from the dead.  These are found in the independent Mark and John and in the three independent sources underlying Matthew and Luke, known as Q (common to Matthew and Luke), L (unique to Luke), and M (unique to Matthew).  The thing is that each of these miracle types in found in at least two independent sources, of which the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes is a case in point.  Based on the principle of Multiple Attestation a historian would rightly conclude that these four miracle types – exorcisms, nature miracles, healings and raisings up from the dead – actually happened at the hands of Jesus, testifying to Jesus’ unique deity.

This is a matter of history, based on the historical method.  It is not mere unsubstantiated dogma.

My next epiphany – the fourth – occurred while I was giving a talk on a university campus about the reliability of the New Testament when a questioner asked me about the Qur’an.  I had to admit that I didn’t know enough to respond.  So I set about reading the Qur’an and thinking about the question.

Let me say, I do not doubt that Muhammad was a real person, with a huge impact, and that the Qur’an reflects the oracles he believed that God spoke to him.  But when I read the text, I was struck by an absence of linkages into world history and local geography that we find in the Gospels, Acts and Letters.  There are no people like Jairus, no places like Capernaum, no references like, ‘the next day’ that tie down the narratives about Jesus to other people, real places and actual times.  What we find in the Qu’ran is mainly ‘teaching’ that is not anchored – so far as I can see – into times, places or people within the Prophet’s life span 570-632.  The earliest extant biography of the Prophet, written by Ibn Hisham 213 years after Muhammad’s death has some of these details, but not the Holy Qur’an.  In this regard the New Testament is another world.  The letters of the New Testament – even the Revelation – are full of personal, historical and geographical information.

I discovered another fascinating difference.  To my knowledge there are no external contemporary texts that shed light on the Prophet or the early years of Islam.  Early Christianity is different.  Josephus, writing mid-90s from Rome, reports that Jesus was a ‘wise man’ whose tribe still continued sixty years later.  Tacitus writing ca. 110 observes that the ‘Christians’ took their name from Christus whom Pilate executed in Judea, but whose movement did not die with its founder but spread to Rome where it became an ‘immense multitude’, and a convenient scapegoat for Nero after the great fire in 64.

Also writing about 110 was Pliny, governor of Bithynia a Black Sea province, who said that the Christians’ practice was to meet weekly to sing hymns to Christ, ‘as to a god’.  This is a striking detail that confirms the witness of the New Testament that the early Christians met, worshipped and prayed to the exalted Jesus, ‘as to a god’, as Pliny would say.  Pliny confirms the witness of the New Testament that the early Christians met to worship Jesus as Lord.

It is striking that Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny strongly dislike Christianity and the Christians.  Tacitus and Pliny describe Christianity as a spreading disease.  Tacitus said the Christians pursued ‘vile practices’ and Pliny implies that they were fanatics.

Although these writers are opposed to the Christians their accounts of the raw facts about Christian origins and practice exactly correspond with the raw facts in the New Testament.  The interpretations of Jesus and the Christians are diametrically opposed, but the facts corroborate one another. These are unbiased, even hostile witnesses, yet they confirm the accounts written from inside the movement.  This is not merely Multiple Attestation, but Multiple Hostile Attestation that neatly dovetails with the narrative of the New Testament.

So to my final epiphany, the fifth.  It occurred in the mid-90s when I was a scholar in residence in a seminary in London preparing to give a public lecture series back in Sydney.  I stumbled across a book called The Practice of History by Geoffrey Elton, a distinguished scholar of Tudor history.  There wasn’t a thing in it directly related to the New Testament.  However, Elton made a distinction between ‘evidence…intended for publication’ and incidental information produced for ‘another purpose’.

I immediately thought the Gospels and Acts belonged to the first category of ‘evidence…intended for publication’ whereas the Letters were produced ‘for another purpose’, that is, informal even trivial documents relating to the passing, sometimes mundane needs of the recipient churches.   Elton shrewdly observed that those who wrote histories – documents intentionally written for publication – were open to suspicion regarding their motives to whitewash their subjects whereas surviving trivia like invoices and laundry lists were not, and were often full of useful information about the economy of the times, for example.

I thought to myself, ‘How important therefore are the New Testament epistles.  They have not been written as chronicles or histories to convince somebody, yet they contain lots of historical and chronological information.  This is especially true of Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, Romans and Philippians.  At so many points these texts ‘written for another purpose’ – the often trivial problems in the churches, and not originally intended for wider publication – confirm the details in the intentionally written Gospels and Acts.  For me this was an important discovery and it became a chapter in a book, Jesus and the Logic of History published in 1997.

So these have been some ‘Eureka’ moments, some God-given ‘epiphanies’ I have received over the years along with connecting ideas.

Epiphany 1:  The historical source material for Jesus is very close to Jesus.  In the case of Galatians it is a mere 15 years after the crucifixion and resurrection.  Information about Tiberius, the Caesar under whom Jesus was executed is approaching a century after his death in AD 37.

Connected with this:

•The text of the New Testament is recoverable because of the many manuscripts from the early centuries – 5600 in Greek, 19000 in translations in Latin, Armenian, Coptic, etc.

•Paul did not originally write the little catechism in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that teaches Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the 3rd day and appeared to many hundreds, several of whom are named.  The Jerusalem Christians had devised that catechism in a narrow time corridor of less than three years after Jesus.  Why would they have devised that catechism unless Jesus had been raised from the dead?

Epiphany 2:  My many journeys to Israel have convinced me that the Gospels reflect the time, and place and people – the history, topography and geography of Galilee and Judea in the late 20s and early 30s of the first century.

Connected with this:

•The numerous artefacts – the boat, the Pilate inscription, the Caiaphas ossuary, the Pool of Siloam – all combine subtly to reinforce the integrity of the Gospels.

Epiphany 3: Careful study of the Gospel accounts of the Feeding of the Multitude led me to conclude that there were two independent traditions to that miracle that arose in parallel because of that miracle.  The principle of Multiple Attestation -– so vital in the work of history and of jury trials – convinced me of the historicity of the thirty seven miracles classified as four types of miracles of Jesus, pointing to his unique deity.

Epiphany 4: Study of the Qur’an made me appreciate the contrasting historical and geographical character of the New Testament.

Connected with this:

•Study of the non-Christian witnesses – Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny – point to the principle of Multiple Hostile Attestation that confirms the raw facts of the New Testament about the crucifixion, the spread of Christianity throughout the Empire, and that the early Christians worshiped Jesus ‘as a god’.

Epiphany 5: The recognition that the New Testament letters are not intentionally written history but are confirmatory of intentionally written history, especially since they predate the writing of the Gospels and Acts.  The early dating of the letters of Paul indicate that the three or so decades between Jesus and the writing of Mark were alive with missionary work and the creation of Christian congregations far and wide.

There is more, but I mustn’t indulge your patience further.  History is not for everyone!  But I am encouraged in my confidence in the witness of the New Testament to Jesus, Son of God, Lord, and Saviour.  The creeds we confess in church arise out of the New Testament and the multiplicity of its sources and the integrity of its transmission undergirds its trustworthiness.

I could not reject the historical reliability of the New Testament, even if I wanted to.

Let me conclude by referring to your mission statement:

 

Mere Anglicanism’s vision is for a reformed, renewed orthodox Anglicanism  within North America. We recognize that to achieve a restored and faithful   Anglicanism, many battles must be fought, many lessons learned. Seminaries must be re-made with faithful, godly deans and teachers.

 

Today, however, there are teachers of biblical subjects in universities and seminaries who deconstruct the texts and reconstruct them in line with their own worldviews. The duly reconstructed then reconstructed Christ is a tame individual, with views similar to the collective ‘groupthink’.  This is not evidence of the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the age.  It promotes scepticism and doubt, including among church people.

By way of example, a recent article argued that the narrative about Paul in Acts 13-28 was imaginatively reconstructed from Paul’s letters by an unknown author in the Second Century.  Those chapters did not correspond with what actually happened in Acts 13-28, but were the novelistic creation of this unknown second century author.

According to the article this author wrote Acts 13 to identify Antioch in Pisidia as ‘little Rome’, anticipating Paul’s arrival in ‘big Rome’.  This was the point of a contrived narrative that was said to have had no basis in historical truth.

I can think of several historical reasons why this article in wrong, but let me mention two.  The first is the problem of an author fifty or more years later inventing the detail in Acts 13-28, detail that based on modern archaeology is quite credible to us.  It is far more likely that Paul himself was the source of the information that Luke used, that Luke had written up while Paul was still alive, or at least had begun to.  The subtleties of Paul’s seaboard and overland travels in Acts 13-14 are consistent with what we know of the sea lanes and road system of the region, but which may not have been imaginable to an author remote in time and place from the places and events in the narratives.

The second is that Luke in no way exploits a ‘little Rome’ / ‘big Rome’ typology because the words ‘Rome’ and ‘Roman’ do not appear in Acts 13.  It is true, as we now know, that this Antioch was a Roman colony, built on the model of Rome.  Luke may or may not have known this, but either way it is not the point he was making.  Luke’s point was that at Antioch God had ordained that the gospel the Jews were rejecting should be taken to the Gentiles.  That is the point that Luke is making, and that is the point we the readers should be understanding.

Do we understand what is going on here?  First, this scholar explicitly says that Acts 13-28 is not historically true, but is a fictitious narrative.  This robs the text of the truthfulness that Luke claimed for it in his Prologue to Luke-Acts.  Secondly, by finding a Rome-to-Rome motif would make the text of merely antiquarian interest, a talking point for the scholars’ guild.  But the text is not merely an ancient relic for scholars to discuss.  It is a canonical text of sacred scripture that has a continuing missionary mandate for us today and tomorrow and until the Day of the Lord.  That mandate if for us to spread the good news about Jesus to Gentiles everywhere, but also to God’s historic people, the Jews.

How can I say this?  We do not want our ministers in training shaped by that kind of scholarship.  The vision statement calling for ‘faithful, godly deans and teachers’ is exactly right, and the key to future revival of the faith. We want Christian scholars to apply their skills to teaching and applying the Bible, not deconstructing it.

So we need to hold the line and ‘contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints’.

Paul Barnett

Epiphany 2013.

 

 



[1]Bulletin of the Johns Rylands Library 51 (1969), 294.

John Stott – a tribute

 

Tribute to John Stott (1921-2011)

God greatly used John Stott during his 90-year life.

John was uniquely gifted intellectually but also as speaker and writer.

He analysed complex matters of theology and biblical exegesis and articulated them accessibly for all.

He was effectively the father of modern day text-based expository preaching.

‘Uncle John’ – as he was affectionately called – was a humble man who lived simply, even we might say in a ‘Spartan’ way.

From his early years Stott emerged as the leader of classical evangelicalism, following in the footsteps of Calvin and Simeon.  Yet Stott was above all a biblical scholar and teacher rather than a theological dogmatician.

Stott had a marvellous voice, which God used in the simple eloquence of a truly great preacher.

Many Christians looked to Stott as a kind of successor to C.S. Lewis – in the sense that his exposition of the faith was rational, ethical, loving and creation affirming.

Two World Wars and the Depression left Christianity in a poor state in the post-World War II era, compounded by the influence of sceptical Biblical Criticism.  Amongst those God raised up in these difficult times were C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, F.F. Bruce, J.I. Packer, and John Stott.

Stott was deeply committed to the theology of the Reformation, as may be seen in his magisterial The Cross of Christ and his commentaries on Romans and Galatians.

At the same time he was deeply committed to informed ethical responses to the issues of our times.  He cared deeply about the poor and for the spiritual and material needs in the developing world.

One time he stayed with us his suitcase was full of medicines to be taken by him to Burma.

Even his love of birds was an expression of his love for God’s creation.

In other words his theology of redemption was not at the cost of his concern for the creation and the needy people of the world.  He travelled repeatedly to part of the world few would be prepared to visit.

Stott repeatedly declined preferment.  Many dioceses would have been glad to have him as their bishop.  But the world was his parish and the world was his diocese.  He divided his time between the pulpit of All Souls in London and the world at large.

In some ways his greatness was more apparent in the secular press than in the world of the Christians.  The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Time Magazine each referred glowingly to the influence of John Stott.

It is as if one of the giant redwoods of Muir Woods has fallen silently leaving a gap that no one will soon fill.

 

 

Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism

 

It is important to begin with two comments:

1)         This paper was inspired by something J.I. Packer wrote in 1995

‘Speculating in Anglican Futures’.  I have added to it, but Dr Packer must not be blamed for my additions, or the final form this brief paper has taken.

2)         I need to define ‘Anglicanism’.  You will notice that I qualify it as ‘historic’ Anglicanism.  What do I mean?  I mean the Anglican way – the way of the Church of England as defined by the three historic documents:

the Book of Common Prayer (1662); the Ordinal (for Bishops, Priests and Deacons); the 39 Articles of Religion.  We find the doctrines, beliefs and ethos of historic Anglicanism in these documents.

Let me now turn to these ten elements.

First and foremost this Anglicanism locates its final authority in matters pertaining to salvation in the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article  of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation  (Article 6).

This places final authority for faith and salvation in “Holy Scripture”.  By contrast the church is the “witness and keeper of holy writ”, but not the source of “Holy Writ”.  The articles recognise that various “rites” need to be authorised and adjudication given in matters of “controversy” and the church has “power…and authority” in such things  (Article 20).  Nonetheless, churches may err and have erred within history; they are not infallible.

So, to begin, Holy Scripture is the basis and touchstone of faith.

Thus the church must defer to the Bible in all matters relating to salvation and, indeed, in the ultimate in all matters relating to rites, ceremonies and controversies.  Thus the Anglican Church is biblical as to the basis of its authority.

At ordination the minister is given a Bible as the instrument of ministry.  The Bishop’s charge in the Ordinal, along with the questions and answers, make it abundantly clear that Christian ministry has the Bible as the basis and means of ministry.

Second, Historic Anglicanism is protestant.  Article VI states, “…whatsoever is not read therein,” that is, in the Bible, “is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith.”  The church upholds the right of the individual to read and understand the Bible for his salvation, as opposed to salvation truth mediated to him by the church.  This is not to deny the importance of the minister in teaching, explaining and applying the Bible.  Nonetheless, the hearer of the word takes the responsibility to accept, modify or reject the minister’s teaching.

Third, this church recognizes that great truths of biblical revelation have been secured in creeds and confessions at moments of high theological controversy.   Significantly, Articles I-V affirm the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, which were in dispute in the early centuries.  Thus “historic” Anglicanism is committed to views on Trinity and Christology that are catholic, that is, “according to the whole” church, as opposed to heretical or sectional teachings.  Our word “catholic” is derived from two Greek words – kath holike, meaning “according to the whole”.  That is to say, what the “whole” church has “always” believed based on the teaching of the Apostles of Christ in the New Testament.  The creeds – the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian – are important as expressions of “catholic” Christianity, to which “historic” Anglicanism has committed itself.

However, fourth, “historic” Anglicanism is reformed, articulating the great biblical insights of the reformers Luther, Calvin and Cranmer that sinners, which all people as the offspring of Adam are, are righteous before God “only for the merit of Christ the sacrifice for sin, not on account of their works or deservings” (Articles 9, 11).

Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of  comfort (Article 9).

Only two sacraments or effectual signs of grace – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are recognized, both of which were ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ, both of which take their character from the gospel.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him (Article 25).

These sacraments, however, are seen as having a significant place in this church.  Both are subject of significant liturgies, that of the Lord’s Supper reaching great heights of theology and devotion.  Their high place within Anglican order is secured by the simple instrumentality whereby the one called and sent to teach the congregation – the priest / minister – is the one who administers these effectual signs.

Fifth, this is a liturgical church.  Anglicanism employs liturgy to several ends:

•to secure regular acknowledgement from the church that sinner are saved only in Christ;

•to express the congregation’s adherence to the catholic faith in the use of the historic creeds;

•to express the need of the congregation to hear the Bible in both Testaments read systematically, giving a special place to the Psalms as articulating biblical piety;

•to provide for prayer which is carefully crafted theologically and which reflects international, national as well as local needs.

Liturgy is not used for art’s sake (that is, aesthetically), but for truth’s sake (that is, theologically), in order to retain the Bible, the catholic creeds and the reformed confessions at the centre of the church’s faith and witness.

And it uses liturgy for the sake of the laity, to protect the congregation from the whims of the minister and to provide for the voice of the congregation to be heard articulating the faith, and not just the voice of the preacher.

Cranmer recognised that the Book of Common Prayer was subject to change and alteration.  In the Preface we find these words:

So on the other side, the particular Forms of Divine worship, and the Rites and Ceremonies appointed to be used therein, being things in their own nature indifferent, and alterable, and so acknowledged; it is but reasonable, that upon weighty and          important considerations, according to the various exigency of  times and occasions, such changes and alterations should be made therein, as to those that are in place of Authority should from time to time seem either necessary or expedient.

Cranmer understood well the teaching of the Apostle Paul that the words used in church must be intelligible (1 Cor. 14:6-25).  It was for this reason he insisted on services in the common tongue and that ministers speak clearly to the congregation.

Cranmer wanted the people of the English church to know and love the Scriptures.  To that end provision was made for systematic and extensive reading of Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms.  It is to be regretted that this is today at a discount.  It’s a matter of one reading, often done badly.

Contrary to one’s impressions, the time taken by the actual liturgical content within a service is not great.  Take out the hymns, readings, sermon, and notices and there may not be more than ten minutes in e.g., a service of Morning Prayer.  In a crisply conducted service it is possible to have the liturgical content, two readings, a psalm, the creed, reasonable intercessions, four hymns and a twenty-minute sermon and be all finished in an hour.  How often I have attended a free church, by contrast, and not got to the pulpit in under an hour and had neither Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, Creed,  or meaningful intercessions beforehand.

Sixth, the Ordinal, Catechism and Occasional Services commit Anglican ministers to a ministry which is evangelistic and pastoral, expressed in terms which are biblical and theologically orthodox.  However, the evangelism envisaged is not of the “hit and run” kind independent of the continuing life of the local church.  It is settled, routine and recurring, within a parochial setting.  Some traditions operate on “believe before you belong” basis but Historic Anglicanism acknowledges the doctrine of “prevenient grace” (the grace that precedes faith) that is consistent with “belong before you believe” whereby the liturgy, the Bible the hymns, the prayers inculcate faith over a period of time.

Nonetheless, there is a significant need for the catechizing of the congregation.  This of course applies to those who have been baptized and who are being prepared for Confirmation.  But catechism is also applicable to adults so that they understand the teachings of the Bible.

Seventh,  “historic” Anglicanism is episcopal and parochial, requiring that only those who are duly recognized by the bishop to engage in preaching in the congregation and in ministering the sacraments among the people.  The role of ordaining and licensing ministers and lay people who teach in churches is placed in the hands of the bishop.  Provision is made for the deposition of “evil ministers,” which, regrettably, has been under-utilized (Art 26).  The existence of the episcopate has provided laity aggrieved with their ministers with a place of appeal, sometimes justified, sometimes not.

The hierarchical nature of Anglicanism provides a stability not found in many churches.  The bishop ordains and licenses those who meet his approval and the affirmation of the laity.  The incumbent minister is expected to be loyal to the bishop and to exercise the ministry of the word and sacrament in a humbly, godly and diligent manner.  Typically, ministers hold their licence from the bishop and cannot be unseated by the congregation, apart from exceptional circumstances.  This protection can be abused by the clergy, but usually works well.

Eighth, historically speaking, “historic” Anglicanism has been of rational ethos.  It has been prepared to engage in study and debate.  Anglican evangelism has been associated with apologetics, eschewing manipulative or unworthy methods of bringing people to Christ.  C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer and J.R.W. Stott come to mind in this regard, giving thousands in their generations and beyond a ground for hope in the intellectual and moral acceptability of the Christian faith.

Ninth, in common with other churches of the Protestant Reformation, “historic” Anglicanism has affirmed laypersons, their role in marriage and the family and their civic vocation within society.  Thus “historic Anglicanism” is affirmative of both creation and society.  It is concerned with the common good, for the “welfare of the city,” to use Jeremiah’s words and its intercessions are directed to that end.

Tenth, likewise it is a welcoming fellowship, not restrictive of membership, or exclusivist or sectarian in temper.  This provides for a broad accessibility to the church of those outside its active membership.  A steady flow has come to it from other churches, which historically had separated from it, as well as from the non-believing community.

These are elements to be appreciated and valued, as a motivation for a free and un-coercive expression of ministry, both in church on Sunday, as well as during the week.  With the passing of the years and the opportunity to experience other traditions I have come the more to value my own. In this regard, I echo and endorse the sentiment of J.I. Packer that, “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in Christendom.”[1] I commend it to us as something to be valued and appreciated and out of which we exercise our ministries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

 

Surviving and Growing in an Era of Change


Andrew Robinson’s helpful article Liturgy Schmiturgy prompts the following reflection about a lesson to be learned from early Christian history about the survival and propagation of the Christian faith.  I am thinking of the decades before and after the close of the apostolic age in circa AD 100.  The great apostolic leaders had passed on, there was considerable theological confusion due to Gnosticism and other deviant views and, furthermore, the Lord had not returned.

One interesting element in apostolic and early post-apostolic Christianity was a willingness to learn from Jewish practices.  Initially, the first Christians were Jews and the Jewish influence in the churches continued throughout the first century, although diminishingly. So Christianity grew out of the soil of Judaism, a Judaism that in previous centuries had survived the fires of persecution on the one hand and the subtle syncretistic seduction of Greek beliefs and practices on the other.  The Jews were careful to adopt activities that enabled them to survive in hostile environments, such was their commitments to their beliefs.  It was no accident that these early Christians learned from and adapted the practices of the Jews.

•Jews gathered on a fixed day (Sabbath) but so too did the Christians (Sunday).

•The core activity of the synagogue was the reading and teaching of the Scriptures, but this was likewise the basic reason for church meetings, except that to the Old Testament they added readings from the writings of the apostles.

•The Jews translated their Hebrew scriptures into Greek and the early Christians translated their texts in Latin, Syriac, Armenian, etc.

•The synagogues used liturgical forms like the Shema (‘Hear, O Israel…’) and the Benedictions and so too the churches recited their Trinitarian and Christological creeds.

•The Jews created their calendar to commemorate great feasts (e.g., Passover) but so too did the Christians develop their calendar (notably to celebrate Easter).

•Jews remembered their deliverance from Egypt in the annual Passover and Christians recalled their deliverance in the remembrance meal, the Lord’s Supper.

•Jews inducted their children into the covenant by catechetical instruction and so likewise the Christians developed their manuals for instruction prior to the Easter baptisms.

•The Jewish communities understood the need for a succession of teachers in the appointment of great rabbis to preserve the Mosaic tradition, but so too did the Christians appreciate the principle of a succession of strong and orthodox leaders.

•Synagogue rulers and elders governed the synagogues and the churches developed similar offices, though with different names.

•Synagogues exercised discipline of wayward members (often by harsh corporal punishment) and the churches suspended or expelled heretics and the immoral.

In short, in the face of forces that would destroy them the churches consciously or unconsciously looked to the practices of the synagogues as means of survival, and adapted them accordingly.

The Christians of the second century survived the ravages of persecution and moral syncretism and the destructive influences of Gnosticism and later of Arianism.  Despite the opposition they faced they developed forms of welfare assistance for the disadvantaged, including for those who were not Christians.  By these and other means they won the attention of Constantine and others and, as it is said, the rest is history.  Within two and a bit centuries the tiny Jesus movement became the faith of the Roman Empire.

Today there are groups like the Pentecostals who have grown remarkably.  Sydney Anglicans have not witnessed comparable growth but we have an important role to play in Australian Christianity.  In particular, we can provide a theological and ecclesiastical stability that will buttress and support Christianity in our nation.  An important part of that stability will be our commitment to received practices like use of Bible reading and Bible-based preaching, (contemporary) liturgy, creeds, use of church calendar and the Collects and – not least – willingness to apply constructive church discipline.

There are some who follow these practices out of a love of tradition, a tradition that is often dressed in aesthetic clothing so that these things become ends in themselves.  Evangelicals, wary of such an approach, sometimes merely reject such things as a distraction for the central task of making disciples and building them up in the faith.  As well, evangelicals in their love of the gospel place great emphasis on preaching and the preacher and pay scant attention to liturgy, sacraments, calendar or the ‘form’ of the meeting of the saints.

This may have several unwelcome consequences.  One is the ‘cult of the preacher’ with the equivalent devaluing of the congregation, the ‘church of God’.  (This diocese is deeply committed to the theology of ‘local church’)  Another is that the emphasis on the existential, the ‘now’ can leave a lesser sense of our past (‘where we have come from’) or our future (‘where we are going’).  The amazing survival of Judaism due to Jewish tenacity to their ‘traditions’ is worth pondering.  Evangelical emphasis on the ‘now’ might mean an impact ‘today’ but little or none for ‘tomorrow’.

Of course, such things as a liturgy that requires Bible reading and reminds us of the need for divine forgiveness, creeds that reinforce what we believe, a calendar expressed in special prayers to remind us of great doctrines are merely vehicles, which need always to be articulated in contemporary terms.  Yet they are very useful vehicles and in the long term better than no vehicles.

These are turbulent times but that is true to a greater or lesser degree of all historical eras. It is the nature of life.  As in every age we face a twofold challenge.  On one hand, we are to ‘make disciples’ and, on the other, we are to ‘contend for the faith’, that is, defend and preserve it.  In our passion for the first we must not disregard the second.  The lessons the early Christians learned from the Jews are worth learning again.  There are practices and structures that have served us in the past and which, as we fill them with evangelical content, will help carry forward into the future.

 

Paul Barnett

May 2011

On Not Corrupting the Lord’s Supper


1 Corinthians 11:17-34
The Corinthians’ Problem with the Lord’s Supper

Paul was provoked to write because of scandalous behaviour at what he calls ‘The Supper (or Dinner) belonging to the Lord’ (kyriakon deipnon) when the wider community of faith ‘came together’ in the city (which may not have been weekly).  This probably occurred at night since the only ‘days off’ were pagan feast days in honour of the gods.  This may be the reason the ‘meal’ is called a deipnon, an evening dinner or supper.  ’Supper’ is a rather old-fashioned word, though it’s not easy to find something more suitable.

The problem was that the wealthier members who arrived first gorged themselves at a communal meal, some to the point of being drunk, while the (literally) ‘have nots’ – poorer members and slaves – were hungry when finally they arrived (11:17-22, 33-34).  In effect, the wealthier members created their own ‘private dinner party’ from what should have been a meal for all alike, rich and poor, slaves and free.  By their actions the wealthier members created ‘schisms’ or ‘heresies’ (11:18,19) in a community that should have been united in Christ in love and care for one another.  In other words, by expressing the sharp and unjust socio-economic divisions of the wider community they ‘despised the church of God’ and they ‘humiliated’ the (literal) ‘have nots’ (11:22).

With verse 21 Paul gets to the point of his argument, as explained by the introductory ‘For.’

For
each goes before before [others]
in eating his own dinner.

Some scholars suggest that Paul is critical because a small number of wealthy members ate and drank fine food within the triclinium or dining room (that would accommodate only about ten persons) whereas the rest of the members ate inferior food separated from them in the atrium or courtyard.  Attention is drawn to a description of a meal given by a wealthy host found in Letter 2.6 of Pliny the Younger.

The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few,
and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company.
He had even put the wine into little flasks,
divided into three categories…
One lot was intended for himself and us,another for his  lesser friends …and a third lot for his and our freedmen.

Does Pliny’s account point the way to understanding Paul’s displeasure with the Corinthians, especially when understood in terms of a small triclinium for the wealthy separated from an atrium for the poor?  To be sure, there were ‘have nots’ among them (verse 22) which implies that there were also rich members. The ‘have nots’ were ‘hungry’ and, presumably, (some of) the wealthy were ‘drunk,’ so well furnished were they with wine.

This reconstruction of the situation, however, depends too much on our limited grasp of the size of houses in Corinth.  After all, there are only a few houses in the Achaian capital which have been unearthed by archaeologists.  The few excavated villas in Ephesus, however, are significantly larger than those investigated in Corinth.  In any case it is pure speculation to say that the wealthy ate in the triclinium and the poor in the atrium.  It is equally possible that all ate in an atrium (if it was, in fact, a private home; it may have been a hired hall).

A better understanding is based on critical words which appear later: ‘When you come together to eat, wait for one another’ (verse 33).  So understood the ‘sin’ of the Corinthians was that some began eating the meal ‘before’ others.  It follows that those who began before others appear to have been the wealthier members who had time not only to eat but also to drink enough to be intoxicated and those who came later were the ‘have nots’ who were hungry.  Possibly these latter were slaves as well as poorer members whose only ‘food’ on their eventual arrival was the bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  In Paul’s mind the better endowed members should have waited till others arrived and, moreover, shared their food and drink with them.  That some were ‘drunk’ while others were hungry points in this direction.

Here we see something of Paul’s passion for the poor (cf. Gal 2:10), a passion he shared with James (Jas 1:9; 2:1-7; cf. 1:10-11; 5:1; 1:27) and which he expressed elsewhere for the ‘weak’ (2 Cor 11:29).  In this both apostles were following the example of the Lord (e.g., Matt 11:28; Luke 6:20; Mark 9:42; cf. Is 11:4), and the prophets before him (e.g., Is 2:17; Jer 22:16; Amos 4:1).

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

Like Jesus and the prophets Paul was deeply offended at this injustice by powerful and wealthy members of the covenant community towards the poor and the weak among them.  Paul’s point is unaffected whether or not the Remembrance Meal is part of a wider communal meal.  It was scandalous to him that while all were ‘equal at the foot of the cross’ they were unequal at the Meal at which the Lord and his cross was to be the focus of the members’ attention.

Thus Paul must tell them what it means to belong to the ‘new covenant’ by reminding them of the ‘tradition’ he ‘delivered’ to them five years earlier when he established the church (11:23-26).  He ends by issuing a dire warning that they will be ‘condemned with the world’ if they fail to recognise that the ‘coming together’ of the church is a sacred occasion (11:27-32).  Many are ill and not a few have died recently, which Paul takes to have been the displeasure of the Lord in his judgement of them (11:30-32).

Accordingly he tells them that the Dinner of the Lord is only metaphorically a ‘dinner.’  It is a sparse ‘meal’ consisting of some broken bread and wine from a cup.  By the rich creating a ‘private dinner party’ of food and drink it is no longer the ‘meal’ Jesus intended that they eat.  So what did the Lord intend when he instituted the Remembrance Meal at the Last Supper on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot?

We find three elements in Paul’s words (11:23-26).  There is the action of Jesus repeated by the leader taking the loaf, giving thanks to God and breaking it and then taking the cup with wine and offering thanks.  There are the words of the Lord which the leader repeats over the loaf and the cup, ‘This is my body [broken] for you’; ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood.’  Then, finally, those present together eat the broken bread and drink the wine from the cup.

The Corinthians’ failure to discern that all the congregation – rich and poor – is the ‘body of Christ’ is historically the first known instance of the corruption of ‘Table of the Lord’ (1 Cor 10:21).  Other departures were to follow.  Christians need to return often to the New Testament to ensure that their beliefs and practices at the ‘Table’ are in line with those teachings.  Otherwise distortion and corruption of the Lord’s command will occur and we risk his severe censure, even his condemnation.

Jesus’ ‘Meal’ is Semitic in idiom recalling the dramatic acts of prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel which gave power to their words.  The increasingly Gentile church after apostolic times, however, misunderstood this symbolism and spoke instead in ‘realistic’ language like Ignatius’ reference to the bread and wine as the ‘medicine of immortality and the antidote to death.’  Doctrines of re-offered sacrifice by episcopally ordained priests, transubstantiation and ‘real presence’ evolved over time.  The Reformers recaptured a truer grasp of Jesus’ intention, though many Protestants – perhaps in reaction to pre-Reformation errors – tend not to have the ‘high’ view of the Remembrance Meal we find in Paul.

Our Problem with the Lord’s Supper

One current problem is that we tend to focus too much, relatively speaking, on the consuming and not enough on the watching and listening. When Jesus said, ‘Do this’ he meant all three.  Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to institute an annual Passover Meal as ‘a day of remembrance for you…throughout your generations’ recalling the redemption from Egypt (Exod 12:14).  At the Dinner of the Lord the ‘doing this,’ that is the watching, the listening and the consuming by those present call to ‘remembrance’ Jesus himself. Furthermore, by ‘doing’ all three things those present at the Dinner of the Lord ‘declare the death of the Lord until he comes’ to one another.

Many Anglicans, myself included, feel that Cranmer in his BCP service showed deep insight into the biblical teaching.  To recapture Jesus’ intention that we watch and listen as well as consume I think that the act of breaking the bread and offering thanks for the cup should be clearly visible to all and that his words now repeated should be clearly audible to all.  Otherwise all the focus is on just one aspect, the eating/drinking, which seems to me not what Jesus intended as his way for us to ‘remember’ him.  Furthermore, Paul’s teaching that the ‘doing this’ proclaims the death of the Lord till he comes remains rather lopsided without due attention to the watching and the listening.

Who presided at the Table of the Lord (in the house of Gaius? – Rom 16:23) when the whole Corinthian community of faith gathered  (1 Cor 11:18; 14:23)?  Paul gives no clue as to the identity of the leader.  It is a reasonable conjecture, however, that the most senior presbyter present repeated Jesus’ actions and spoke his words as a remembrance of him.  At the Passover Meal the father of the household took the place of leadership.  In the synagogue the place of honour was given to the most senior elder.  It is probable that the early churches followed the same general principle of ‘experience’ and moral and spiritual ‘respectability’ to secure the dignity and significance of the Dinner of the Lord.

Cranmer’s linking of administering the Lord’s Supper to those who were ‘tried and tested’ for preaching in the churches is sound and should be followed should Lay Administration  become legal.  The idea that the Remembrance Meal is only valid and effective if an episcopally ordained priest presides at the table has no basis in the teaching of the apostles.  The related priestly and sacerdotal view of the Remembrance Meal as a re-offering of the sacrifice of Christ is clearly contrary to the biblical teaching (see Hebrews 9:23-10:10).

In short, the lesson of history is that the teaching of the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writings must be closely adhered to if Dinner of the Lord is to retain the meaning and significance intended by Jesus.  Not least, we should establish our theology and practice from the Bible and not by reaction to what others do or have done.

July 1999


Remember to Survive


The churches and their people must continually seek those lost from God through giving them the word of life. At the same time, however, God’s people must think about keeping the Gospel flame alight for the coming generations. We must remember to survive.

In this short essay please don’t hear me diminishing the Lord’s mandate to make disciples. A moment’s thought will tell us that ‘missioning’ and ‘surviving’ are not hostile to each other but friends. Let us learn this from the New Testament.

Remembering and the Synagogue

The first Christians were Jews, members of synagogues. Synagogues had a fixed liturgy with a number of repeating parts, for example, the reading and exposition of the Law and the Prophets, the Shema (‘Hear, O Israel…’), doxologies , prayers and benedictions.

The Synagogue its liturgy arose during the Hellenistic age from about 300 BC when the faith and hope of the covenant people was being swamped by the insidious beliefs in the gods and heroes of the Greeks and their free-wheeling sexual practices. In much the same way our churches are being swamped by secularism, neo-gnostic new age philosophies and post-modernist individualism. The synagogue liturgy served the Jewish people well, both within Palestine (using Aramaic) but also in the far flung congregations of the Diaspora (using Greek).

Repetition and memory were critical. And so the light of Israel was kept alight among the nations.

We can learn from the tenacity of the synagogue how to survive those testing times. Our times are scarcely less testing.

Paul and the Gentile Churches of the Messiah, Jesus

When Paul established the churches of the Gentiles he departed from the synagogue practice at a number of points. Significantly Paul encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs in an extempore manner by members other than ‘officials,’ what we might call the ‘charismatic’ or ‘gift’ principle by ordinary people. These ministries included extempore prayer , prophecy , ecstatic speech and miracles of ‘faith’ including healing.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that Paul left behind altogether the liturgical elements of the synagogue, from which he had come.

Liturgical Elements echoed in Paul’s Letters

It is worth reflecting on the range of liturgical elements we find in Paul’s letters. These, of course, had been ‘christianised,’ dramatically adapted from Jewish monotheism to direct the people now to God as ‘Father,’ to his ‘Son’ our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Spirit of the living God.

So many of these liturgical fragments do we find in a typical letter of Paul that the letter itself is almost a liturgy, a replica Christian service of that time. To read a Pauline letter from beginning to end is almost to look through a window into the gathering of a Gentile church of the period.

Consider the following examples.

An Opening Prayer

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2Cor 1:2).

A Thanksgiving and Intercession

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Thess 1:2-3).

A Benediction

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2Cor 1:3-4).

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be blessed forever, knows that I am not lying (2Cor 11:31).

A Confession of Faith (at a baptism ?)

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9)

A Kerygma-Creed

the gospel of God–
the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
regarding his Son,
who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and
who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God
by his resurrection from the dead:
Jesus Christ our Lord (ROM 1:2-3).

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and
that he appeared to Peter,
and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred …
time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep
Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles…
(1 Cor 15:3-7)

A Doxology

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (ROM 11:36).

Now to him who is able to establish you…to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (ROM 16:25, 27).

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1Tim 1:17).

The Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
‘This is my body, which is for you;
do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’

(1 Cor 11:23-25)

Prayer for Peace

Finally, brothers…live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss (2Cor 13:11-12).

A ‘Christ’ Grace

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen (Phil 4:23).

A Trinitarian Grace

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2Cor 13:14).

Missioning and Surviving

The extent of these (mostly) synagogue elements from Paul’s (but also other writers’) letters should come as a surprise. It did to me when I thought about it, especially as the above examples are just a few of a far greater number.

As I understand it, then, the churches (as opposed to the synagogues) had both fixed liturgical elements but also the extempore, gift-related (‘charismatic’) elements. The former provided for stability of belief and continuity through tough times, not least since such elements were the basis for catechising and instruction. The latter, however, provided for Spirit-inspired leadership and direction.

In a sense, both elements are desirable. Where the liturgical alone is found there is often spiritual deadness, a church being wedded to the past for tradition’s sake and nothing more. On the other hand, where the ‘charismatic’ reigns individualism also reigns with its tendency to schism and the rise of dubious beliefs and practices.

The point of this short paper is to provoke reflection into the extent and character of ‘fixed’ forms in the Letters of St Paul. Furthermore, it is to encourage the use of those forms in our churches and not least a minister’s catechetical and pastoral teaching based those confessions, doxologies, creeds etc., as noted above.

Not only will such teaching help our churches survive these difficult times into the next generations, equally they will prove to be extraordinarily edifying to the people now.

Remember to Survive

Why do edifying liturgical elements help us survive ? Quite simply, it is because they are remembered through repetition. Quite clearly, too, they were cast in a memorable form. Think only of the famous Pauline ‘Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit…’

I heard recently of an elderly minister in hospital who had a great impact on those near him, despite having lost all short term memory. The Alzheimer sufferer remembered exactly the prayers he had used over the years and continued to pray them quietly in the hearing of others. He was sustained by his memory of godly truth and others nearby were inspired to believe.

In times of need it is the ‘memory verse’ or the stanza of a Isaac Watts hymn that brings us blessing and encouragement. The Christian mind is blessed by the Christian memory. And the repetition of godly words creates its own imprint on the memory.


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Orthodoxy in Liberality


Although the Bible is God’s gift to the church it is a substantial and complex collection of writings. Throughout the years of Christian history the task of establishing right belief for the people of God has proved difficult.  Great high points of theological controversy have provided opportunity for important statements of orthodoxy (literally ‘straight thought’).  The debates of the fourth century about Christ and the controversies of the sixteenth century issued, respectively, in the Nicene Creed and the Thirty Nine Articles.  These and other definitions have been repeatedly examined and affirmed in the light of the authoritative teachings of the Bible.

That definitions like these are able to be arrived at is implied by such statements as ‘I have kept the faith’ and ‘contend for the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7; Jude 3).  The contexts of such texts suggest core teachings related to God, Christ and salvation and of appropriate patterns of Christian behaviour.  Here a distinction should be made between matters of ‘faith’ and ‘order.’  ’Order’ is temporal and is about to how church life is organized.  ’Order’ is important, but it is for the here and now.  We won’t wear the tag ‘Anglican’ in the kingdom of God. But ‘faith,’ like ‘love’ and ‘hope,’ is eternal.  ’Faith’ is directed to God through his Son in the power of the Spirit.  ’The faith’ is what the church believes and confesses for salvation.

Orthodoxy for an Anglican is based on the Creeds and the Thirty Nine Articles, both of which rest on the authority of the Bible.  It affirms the reality of heaven and hell, the trinity of God and the deity and humanity of Christ.  It insists that there is but one way to salvation which not through our good works but by grace through personal trust in Jesus Christ the Son of God, who bore the penalty for our sins in his death, who was raised bodily on the third day and who will return at the end of the age.  These confessions, based on the Bible and arrived at in times of great theological debate, mark a circle within which the orthodox Christian stands.

At this time Christians are engaged in a debate comparable with those mentioned above.  It is the debate about human sexuality, in particular the question of same sex relationships for both men and women.  To my knowledge this question has never been raised with such urgency as at the present time.  The teaching of scripture is unambiguous.  Sexual relationships are to be heterosexual and they are to be strictly confined to marriage.  Though a matter of orthopraxy (‘right behaviour’) rather than orthodoxy (‘right belief’) heterosexuality lies at the heart of human personhood in the purposes of God our Creator and Sustainer.  It is, in essence, a matter of ‘the faith’ not merely of behaviour.

It is fundamental for Christians to be orthodox, to ‘keep’ and ‘contend for the faith.’ But not every topic of discussion and difference among Christians relates to this orthodoxy, ‘the faith.’  There are other matters which are touched on or inferred in the Bible, which if raised to the status of ‘the faith,’ might divide Christians in their fellowship from one another.

Here liberality is important.  Please note that I do not say ‘liberalism.’  To the contrary, liberalism is the denial of orthodoxy, in part or whole.  In matters of the faith we must have unity.  But in other teachings from the Bible which are open to differing interpretation, we need liberality.  In such matters we need to be able to agree to differ in a genuine ethos of liberality.  Otherwise we will always keep running against issues which will split and divide us.

At the present time such an issue relates to the ministry of women in mixed gender groups, whether ordained or unordained.  As a matter of order I do not think the ordination of a woman as a teaching presbyer is sanctioned by the Scriptures.  But based on the phenomenon of women prophesying, I believe women should be given the freedom to speak in church on the same occasional basis as men, who happen not to be ordained.  I may be wrong on both counts; the texts do have some measure of uncertainty.  But will I be unchurched by some for either or both of these views ?

I believe in the creation of the universe by God who is Almighty.  But because I regard Genesis 1 as couched in terms of theological poetry I do not think I am meant to believe that God created the world in six days, literally speaking.  Again I may be right or I may be wrong.  Will creationists say I am not a fellow believer? Will I ‘unchurch’ them for what they hold true ?

I believe that God takes the initiative in turning sinners to himself through the word of God, based on divine election.  Will the free-willer disenfranchise me for this?  Or will the five-point Calvinist ‘unfellowship’ me because I haven’t gone far enough?

There are other potential points of uncertainty.  Is Sunday the Christians’ Sabbath, literally replacing Saturday?  The diocesan doctrine commission, composed of good theological minds, could find no consensus after two years of discussion!  Should Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper daily, weekly, or only occasionally?  Different answers could be found from various parts of scripture on this question, as reflected, for example, in the widely differing practices of Presbyterians and Brethren.

The point is this.  Today womens’ ministry is the presenting issue.  Sooner or later we will move on to something else. Tomorrow it may be creationism and next it may be election, or the Sabbath, or the frequency of the Holy Communion, or whatever.  It will always be something! On that we can be quite certain.  Unless we have a commitment to gospel issues which are unambiguously gospel issues and a spirit of liberality in other matters about which there is genuine uncertainty we will divide and divide and divide again.  To say the obvious: if everything is a gospel issue nothing is a gospel issue.

I plead that we stop calling things ‘gospel issues’ unless they clearly are.

Great differences separated Jewish believers and Gentile believers in apostolic times. Yet Paul mounted an elaborate collection to help bridge that gap, not widen it (2 Cor 8-9).  He advised the mixed Jew-Gentile community in Rome to ‘pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’ (Rom 14:19).  Paul was a uniter not a divider.  He allowed for differences to continue in Rome and he gives this advice near the end of his magnum opus on orthodoxy!  Since differences are and will remain a fact of life we do well to listen to the great apostle.

As Sydney Anglicans we find our true unity in ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ which we articulate in the order of our denomination.  Let us be united, rock solid in that faith, in orthodoxy and let us live happily within our order.  On matters which are open to genuinely different interpretation, though we may have strong feelings, let us hold our views in a spirit of liberality.  The alternative is serial division.


Christian Community and the Gospel
Reflections in 1998 prior to Lambeth Conference
Even in the so-called ‘Christian West’ a crisis is upon us.  Whether in the United Kingdom, for example, where the Church is established, or in the United States where it is not, Christianity is in decline.  The continental shelf has tilted under the weight of secularism, affluence, multi-culturalism, political correctness and incessant sequence of clergy sex scandals.  The tide is in full ebb.  Our numerous now empty and crumbling churches are mocking reminders of an age of faith that has now passed.

However we should pause before blaming our contemporary world’s indifference to the faith once delivered to the saints as the explanation for the approaching eclipse of Christianity.  It is important to recognise that in many ways our era has come full circle back to apostolic times.  Apart from dazzling technological change there is little now that has not already been.  Western culture has swung around and back to the Graeco-Roman milieu. Those times, too, were pluralist and multi-cultural, and like ours, overarched by a form of political correctness. [1] Theirs, too, was an age of anxiety, sexually decadent, preoccupied with entertainment, plagued with alcoholism and gambling, accepting of foetus terminations and suicide.  Our deconstructionist anti-rationalism and new age mysticism find counterparts in their gnosticism, astrology and mystery cults, our environmentalism in their naturalism, our drug and alcohol dependency in their alcohol dependency, our gambling in their gambling, our abortion, euthanasia in their abortion and acceptance of suicide, our angst in their despair.

The Christian gospel did not find easy response in that culture.  Jews were despised by Gentiles.  Crucifixion was unmentionable in polite circles.  Resurrection of a man from the dead was laughable.  The proposition that God’s anointed king was a Jew who had been crucified to death, but who had been raised from the dead was regarded as plain stupid in the cultivated salons of the Graeco-Roman cities where the apostles preached their message.  Evangelism and apologetics are difficult tasks for us, but they were no less difficult for Christians of the first century.

Our societies need to be re-evangelised.  Humbly we need to return to our historical and theological roots and re-learn how to do it. This means nothing less than a radical re-reading of the New Testament.

The gospel of Christ triumphed in just such world.  We must ask what they believed and did differently from us?  Both historically and theologically we must learn from that body of literature that relates Christian origins, the New Testament.

In this paper I will focus our attention on one brief piece of that literature, the First Letter of Peter. [2] From 1 Peter let us learn three things for our edification and encouragement:

1. The readers became Christians through evangelism;
2. Their witness in the wider community was to be distinctive ;
3. Their church life was to be distinctive.

1. Christians Through Evangelism.

Dramatic change of life direction is what marks Peter’s readers.  Perhaps the most critical word in the entire letter is the pronoun, ‘you.’  His opening ‘we have been born anew,’ in which Peter refers both to him and to them, immediately becomes ‘[for] an inheritance kept in heaven for you.’  Thereafter Peter repeatedly addresses them as ‘you.’  He reminds them that Christ’s ‘sufferings and glory’ have ‘now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you…’ [3] The entire letter resonates with sense of immediacy and newness.  These readers are recently converted people.

But who brought the good news to these readers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, that is, in a region approximating modern Turkey.  ’Those who preached’ puts them at arms’ length from Peter.  Apart from some awareness of their sufferings Peter appears not to know much detail about them. He mentions no one by name among them.  It does not appear that Peter has been their evangelist.  So who might it have been?

Perhaps they were local people who, in the course of their travels, had brushed against Paul or Peter in Corinth, or against Paul in Ephesus ?  Or had Christian traders or soldiers or officials passed through, [4] preaching the gospel as they went.  More probably, however, they were evangelists from churches in adjacent regions.  We know of Paul’s ministry in several of the provinces mentioned by Peter, that is, Galatia and Asia, from the late forties until the mid-fifties. It is possible, too, that Peter had passed through the general region as he traveled from Antioch to Corinth. [5] Then, it is held, evangelists converted through the Paul, and perhaps Peter (why else would Peter be writing to these people ?), went to neighbouring regions preaching Christ, issuing in a number of conversions and the consequent creation of churches.  So the gospel would incrementally spread in that region by local extension.

This, certainly, would be consistent with what we learn elsewhere of the growth of early Christianity.  The ministry of the apostles was only part of the story.

The Spread of Early Christianity by Non-Apostles

Obviously the apostles were the major instruments in the spread of the gospel and the creation of churches.  I have argued elsewhere that initially there were two apostolates, led by Peter to Jews as from Pentecost and by Paul to Gentiles as from his conversion / call. [6] After c. A.D. 47, however, it appears there were also two other apostolates, James’ and John’s.  After the private meeting in Jerusalem in that year it seems that Peter’s and John’s missions, though directed initially to Jews, increasingly came to be directed to Gentiles in the Diaspora when Jewish doors everywhere slammed shut.   The literature of the New Testament, for the most part, arises out of the four apostolates of James, Peter, John and Paul, often written by co-workers of the great leaders (e.g., Matthew with James ?, Mark with Peter and Luke with Paul).  This literature is mission literature, written to convert outsiders or for the upbuilding of the nascent churches and their members.

Nonetheless, apostles were by no means the only instrument for evangelism.  Within a year or so of the First Easter there were believers in Damascus, whom Saul was coming to root out but who ministered to him after Christ appeared to him on the way there. [7] These were Jewish believers, very probably fugitives from Saul’s persecutions in Jerusalem.  Philip, a non-apostle, evangelised the Samaritans, the Ethiopian treasurer and all the coastal towns from Azotus to Caesarea Maritima.  This occurred after his expulsion from Jerusalem through Saul’s persecutions.  Appropriately he is called, ‘Philip the evangelist.’ [8] The Judaean town of Lydda and Joppa were probably evangelised by a non-apostle; there were already believers in those places when Peter visited them. [9] Unnamed Hellenist-Jewish disciples, scattered through Saul’s attacks, created churches up the Mediterranean coast, eventually establishing a church in the great metropolis, Antioch, by the late thirties.  None of this was the work of the apostles, who remained in Jerusalem. [10] In other words, there had been significant gospel preaching in Judaea, Samaria, Galilee, Phoenicea and Syria in the decade after the First Easter, much of it done by non-apostles.  For the most part, this work was done by unnamed evangelists, working by local extension.

The same is true of the spread of Christianity in the Lycus Valley in the fifties, a tributary of the great Maeander River and located one hundred or so miles from the eastern coast of the province of Roman Asia.  The Letter to the Colossians suggest that the evangelist was Epaphras who was from that region and who, upon his conversion by Paul, returned to evangelise his own people, establishing churches in Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea. The Acts states that, in consequence of Paul’s two year ministry in Ephesus, ‘all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.’ [11] Most probably this occurred by local extension through the ministry of men like Epaphras.

The famous letter of Pliny, governor of Bithynia to the Emperor Trajan speaks of Christians in that province as from the nineties. [12] We know of no apostle having visited that region.  Very probably the gospel was brought by evangelists from adjacent provinces.

The Christians addressed in 1 Peter had been preached to, though we do not know by whom.  In our view it was most probably by an Epaphras-type evangelist from not too distant parts.

Whatever the case the New Testament makes quite clear that there was a ministry of someone called an ‘evangelist.’ [13] Philip the Hellenist Jew become Christian was called ‘the evangelist.’  Paul encourages Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.’  The ascended Christ gave ‘evangelists’ to the church, along with apostles, prophets and pastor-teachers. [14] It appears that Euodia, Syntyche and Clement and others not named worked alongside Paul in the work of evangelism, very probably in Philippi.  People like this went out from their churches to bring the gospel to the people of that locality.

An Implicit Mandate: Local Church Evangelism

1 Peter has no explicit mandate for members of churches to engage in local church evangelism.  However, the impact of evangelism for good on these readers, so evident in this letter,  [15] must surely support the proposition of an implied encouragement to them for this ministry.  If the gospel came to them by local extension, this would imply that they, too, were to carry the torch on to the next towns and cities.

It is surely time that church leaders, denominational as well as local, began to encourage their members to do the work of local district evangelism, in the manner of Epaphras, Euodia, Syntyche and Clement.  These were not apostles.  Yet as much as the apostles, perhaps even more, they were the instruments of God in apostolic times for the conversion of others and the establishing of churches.

Fortunately we are blessed at this time with a wealth of resources and training materials to place in the hands of those who would go forth to bring the message of Christ to others.

2. Distinctive Witness in the Wider Community

The apostolic writings call for a distinctively Christian interface with the wider communities.  ’Conduct yourselves wisely with outsiders, making the most of the time,’ writes Paul to the Colossians. [16] This he amplifies by, ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer every one.’  ’Pay all of them their dues,’ he advises the Roman Christians, [17] ‘taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.’

This sense of moral distinctness from society, yet with a recognition that it is part of God’s ordering of the world derives from Jesus himself.  His people are, and are to be, the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  Their ‘good works’ are to ‘glorify’ their heavenly father. [18] His people are to ‘render to Caesar’ – that is, the payment of taxes – ‘the things that belong to Caesar.’  [19]

Peter, too, makes this point very strongly with his readers, though with a particular twist.  Not only are they to be subject to human government, whether imperial or gubernatorial, they must also submit in a distinctively Christ-like manner when treated unjustly.  Apart from the more generally persecuted for Christ’s sake, [20] Peter singles out two groups among his readers who were most vulnerable to injustice – the household slave with a cruel master and the wife of man who is an unbeliever.  The response of those at  such disadvantage is referred to by Peter as ‘good behaviour…good works’ and as ‘doing good.’  [21]

Whereas, it may be thought that Peter has in mind practical assistance to widows and orphans spoken of elsewhere, [22] the unfolding of his letter shows that he was thinking along different lines.  Peter is reflecting upon Jesus, whom he has seen, but whom his readers have not seen. [23] Peter, eye-witness of his master’s sufferings in Jerusalem [24] holds up before these distant readers the example of Jesus at Golgotha.  At that time Jesus was (1) submissive to human authority,  [25] unjust as it was in his case (2) blameless and open in his behaviour, (3) trusting of God as the just judge, and (4) forgiving and non-vindictive towards his oppressors. [26] In all of this Jesus was the ‘pattern’ or template which they were to copy, footprints left for them to tread in. [27] It is this imitation of Christ as  submissive, blameless, trusting, forgiving which Peter calls ‘good behaviour…good works…doing good’ by which they the persecuted sufferers glorify God before the eyes of those who vilify them. [28]

Slavery, though not expunged, is now an aberration, and thanks to more enlightened times in some parts of the world, there is protection for wives from their husbands.  These beneficent social changes were not anticipated in the New Testament era.  Moreover, they only apply in a small proportion of the world community.  Whether in the ‘liberated’ west or in cultures more approximate to the milieu of the apostles Christians often finds themselves in situations of grave injustice and cruelty, sometimes precisely on account their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Where justice and protection from abusive behaviour is to be found, the Christian should, of course, seek such respite.  All too often, however, there is no relief from oppression.  Either way, the witness of the Christian is informed by the manner of Jesus in the face of the injustice and cruelty which he suffered.

The potent witness of a life modelled upon Jesus, however, is generally not wordless.  [29] When called by those in authority to give account of their loyalty to Christ these believers were to speak of their ‘hope,’ that is, of their ‘living hope’ based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  [30] Their Christlike lifestyle, arises from redemption from a futile past by the death of Christ and from their hope for an endless future by his resurrection from the dead.  [31] Yet this explanation of their behaviour is to be given with ‘gentleness and reverence,’ that is, in keeping with the ‘gentleness and reverence’ of the One in whose footsteps they tread. [32]

Two things are clear from these passages.  One is that Christianity was chiefly about the people, not about the clergy.  First Peter, in common with other apostolic writings, has little to say about presbyters, pastors, deacons and other ‘official’ church people.  Clearly they are important, yet one can read whole documents from the apostles, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, for example, and find not even one reference to such ministries.  Rather, the apostles’ interest is on the ordinary believer, what he believed and how he lived in fellowship with other believers and the face he showed to the watching world.  Christianity according to the Bible is not a clerical religion.  But under historical process it has become just that, whether ‘catholic’ or ‘Protestant.’   The history of the church written by historians is the history of the clergy.  The stories and photographs in church magazines are generally about bishops and priests.  We Christians make saints and heroes out of priest and missionaries, not of the ordinary people.  But the First Letter of Peter is all about the attitudes and actions of the people.  They are the priesthood, whether in the church as gathered or out there in the world among the ‘Gentiles.’

Second, it is evident that these attitudes and actions were to be crafted by a thought-out imitation of Christ in his unjust sufferings.  The outsider, the ‘Gentile,’ is to meet Christ in the ‘good behaviour’ of the Christian, that is, in his imitatio Christi.  The typical human reaction to injustice was and is ‘pay-back,’ vengeance, with the Christian there is something else.  The Christians is to be blameless, upholding God-ordained structures of society, non-retaliating but rather commending his way to God who is the just judge.

3. The Beauty of the Church – distinctive church life


First Peter is written out of the conviction that the church, that is the church as community, rather than institution, is and is to be a thing of great beauty.  When Peter says that ‘the end of all things is at hand,’ [33] the word he uses for ‘end’ is telos, which in the context of 1 Peter means be the ‘perfection’ of God’s kingdom.[34] Now the point is that Peter goes on immediately to speak about church life in the here and now.  ’The end of all things is at hand therefore…’   The telos / perfection of the end-times is to be anticipated immediately in the prayerfulness, love, forgiveness and mutual ministry in the church.

The beauty of the church is not aesthetic.  Rather this beauty is seen in the love of God, the truth of God and the holiness of God incarnated in the lives and behaviour of the community of faith.  This beauty is deeply attractive to hungry hearts seeking for God and for meaning for otherwise meaningless lives.  Moreover, many people in the depersonalised world of mass communication, public transport, supermarket shopping and job-insecurity are searching for a sense of community, a place to belong.  The church of God when it is true to its Lord’s truth and love has magnetic power to draw outsiders into God’s kingdom.  In the experience of this writer, the church itself is God’s greatest  instrument of evangelism.

It is right that church members should take the word out to people who are on the outside of its life.  But this must be done from a church which is healthy in love, truth and holiness.  If the congregation’s own house is not in order, obedient to God’s word, various efforts at outreach are futile.

Peter has another piece of good advice about the church.   It is that, when its members meet they ‘tell forth the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ [35] Here is a clear reference to the life-changing impact of the preaching of the gospel upon them. [36] Beforehand, their lives were controlled by the passions of their former ignorance, the futile behaviour received from their parents. [37] This is the behaviour the ‘Gentiles’ continue to pursue, licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. [38] Having come to Christ, the living stone, and as living being built into a ‘house,’ as a ‘holy priesthood’ they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.  [39] These ‘sacrifices’ are the declaration of God’s actions calling them from their dark past into the light of their present redemption and hope.

How might they do this ?  Their declaration to one another will be by means of song, confession, testimony and preaching.  But not any song, confession, testimony or preaching.  The conversion of individuals and of families must be in view, not merely remote and removed doctrinal statements.

The congregation needs to be reminded that God is active in changing the life-direction of people.  If he isn’t then something is wrong.  Is it because there is no evangelism to those outside ?  Is it because the members are unprepared and untrained to give an account of the hope that is in them ? (All church members need to learn how to share their testimony and to give the main elements of the gospel).  Is it because the church is not the place of beauty the apostles say it should be ?

Where there is the telling forth of God’s praiseworthy acts in liberating and giving hope then at least two things follow.  One is that the members will be reinforced in their relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  The other is that visitors and outsiders will hear the gospel in the normal course of events during the gathering of the people.

Summary

All is ebb flow; the continental shelf has tilted.  The light of Christ is flickering and all but extinguished especially in the developed world.  Before it is too late we Christians need to go back to our historical roots and to theological basics.  We can be inspired, informed and directed by a brief epistle like First Peter, a glittering gem in the jewel box of the New Testament.

There we see the existence of vital Christian faith and dynamic church life arising out of the gospel which had come in the recent past to various Gentiles scattered across Asia Minor.  All local churches need to have a working strategy to bring the gospel to the neighbourhood and community.

Like those Christians, we need to be committed to a distinctive interface with the unbelieving community.  Our ‘good works’ will be the replication of the very witness of Jesus  among them.   The ‘Gentile’ is to meet Christ in us.  We must not shirk from testifying to the hope that is in us, that is, the confidence that death does not circumscribe and contain us.

Finally, our churches need to give expression to the perfection of the last day.  There is to a reciprocal ministry of forgiveness, hospitality and ministry.  The gatherings should echo with the praises of God for his mercy and deliverance of the people.  Let the people know that their God reigns and is alive.

Notes:

1. The Roman world was overarched by Roman ‘civic religion’ which liberally embodied local cults within a broader emperor cult, but which illiberally attacked as a ‘superstition’ the Christians’ proclamation of ‘another king’ (cf. Acts 17:7).

2. My working assumption is that 1 Peter arose out of the apostolate-mission of Peter, under his dictation or supervision and it was written sometime in the fifth to seventh decades of the first century.

3. 1 Peter 1:12.

4. By A.D. 50 there were Christians in Rome independently of the ministry of an apostle, so it appears. Most likely the gospel was planted through the work of converted Jews, whose work as traders or Roman officials brought them to the Eternal City.  Paul’s Letter to the Romans is not addressed to ‘the Church in Rome.’ Rather Christianity in Rome consisted of a series of house churches as yet not united in the one fellowship.

5. Gal 2:11; 1 Cor 9:5; cf. 1:12.

6. Gal 2:8.  See P.W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Leicester: IVP).

7. Acts 9:1,10,19.

8. Acts 8:5-13;26-40; 21:8.

9. Acts 9:32,36.

10. Acts 8:1.

11. Acts 19:10.

12. Pliny Epistle X:96.6.

13. Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5.

14. Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 4:5; Eph 4:11.

15.  See, e.g., 1:12; 1:14-18,22; 2:1-3.

16. Col 4:5.

17.  Rom 13:7.

18.  Matt 5:13-16.

19.  Mark 12:17.

20.  1 Peter 4:12-19.

21.  1 Peter 2:12,15.

22.  Cf. James 1:27; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1; 1 Tim 5:3-16.

23. 1 Peter 1:8.

24. 1 Peter 5:1.

25.   It was ‘for the Lord’s sake’ (dia ton kyrion) that the readers were to be subject to human authority (1 Peter 2:13).

26. 1 Peter 2:21-23.

27.  1 Peter 2:21.

28.  1 Peter 2:12.

29.  Except in the case of the wife of the unbeliever (1 Peter 3:1).

30.  1 Peter 3:15; 1:3, 22.

31. 1 Peter 1:13-21.

32. 1 Peter 3:15.

33.  1 Peter 4:7.

34.  Telos is used earlier in relationship with ‘the salvation of your souls’ (1:9) which will occur at ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1:7) when believers will enter into an ‘inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [them] (1:3).’

35.  1 Peter 2:10.

36.  1 Peter 1:12,23,25.

37.  1 Peter 1:14,18.

38.  1 Peter 4:3.

39.  1 Peter 2:4-5.

Take the Water and Leave the Water Pots Behind

I believe that fourth chapter of the Gospel of John is of special importance.  Whereas as in most of the Gospel ‘the Jews’ of Judaea (the leaders) reject him and in a few chapters the Galileans ‘welcome’ him, in this one chapter the despised Samaritans actually acclaim him as ‘Saviour of the world.’

There are four parts.

In the first (vs7-26) we overhear Jesus’ conversation with the ‘woman of Samaria.’  She is drawing water from Jacob’s well (which lies in the shadow of Mt Gerizim, the Samaritan cult centre).

Jacob was the third patriarch and father of twelve sons who became heads the tribes of Israel.  The deep well is fed by a spring and yields cool fresh water.  (It is still there, on the outskirts of West Bank Nablus.)   Yet it symbolises the ‘old’ that is now being replaced, along with (1) the water for purification (at Cana) that Jesus replaces with wine, and (2) the Temple (at Jerusalem) that is to be replaced by his risen body (gathered congregations).  Drink Jacob’s water, said Jesus, and you will thirst again and again.  Drink Jesus’ ‘water’ of pardon, of union with the Father and of the Spirit’s inner refreshment, and you will never thirst again.

Jesus’ incarnates God’s mercy contrary to custom and culture.  Though a man he speaks with a woman.  Though a Jew he drinks water from a Samaritan bucket.  Though upright he converses with an immoral woman who is ostracised and alone at the well in the heat of the day.

Yet, like other women we meet in the Gospels, she proves to be feisty, subtly attempting to deflect his interest in her private life.

In the end, though, she is moved with excitement and recognises the man who told her everything about herself as no mere prophet but the Messiah, the One who declared himself to be ‘I AM’ (v26).  She leaves her precious water pot in his keeping and rushes into the village to tell the people.  She has no more need for her water pot since she has now has the ‘water’ that Jesus ‘gives’.  The need of Jacob’s ‘old’ water has passed.

The symbolism is powerful but also a warning to all who hold on to outmoded formalistic religion, including Christian versions of ‘Jacob’s water.’

In the second section (vs 39-42), her heartfelt testimony to the Samaritans brings them streaming out to see Jesus.  At their urging he stayed with them two days.  How different their response to that of the ‘Jews’, those leaders in Jerusalem who repeatedly tried to kill him and who eventually do so, outraged at his claims to be ‘Son’ of his Father who ‘sent’ him.  These Samaritans do not believe merely on the say so of the woman.  They have ‘heard for themselves’ and ‘know’ that he ‘really is the Saviour of the world.’

This is why Jesus ‘must pass through Samaria’ (v4), a major detour.  This verb ‘pass through’ has missionary overtones as also when Peter ‘passes through’ Judaea, Galilee and Samaria preaching Christ (Acts 9:31).  Jesus must pass through Samaria (1) to speak to the woman of Samaria, so that (2) she will testify about Jesus to the Samaritans, so that (3) they will acclaim him as the Saviour, so that (4) the disciples will engage in reaping a harvest.

This leads naturally into the third section, Jesus’ reflection on his mission (vs 27-3a).  John has subtly woven into his narrative the theme of ‘food’.

The disciples’ search for food in the village has made possible Jesus’ private conversation with the woman.  Their return with food for him prompts his reflection that his real ‘food’ is hidden to them.  It is to ‘do the will of the Father who sent him and to finish his work.’  That ‘will’ and that ‘work’ is to bring the gospel to the Samaritans.  Jesus is nourished inwardly as he knows in advance that this despised people come to know the love of God for them.

The fourth section now touches the disciples in the impending absence of the Master (vs 34b-38).  Mindful that the Samaritans are approaching at the woman’s testimony Jesus observes that ‘the fields are white to harvest’.  This ‘harvest’ will soon be reaped as the Samaritans ‘know’ and ‘acclaim’ Jesus as Saviour.  But this is only a beginning of a worldwide harvest of every nation and people that Jesus speaks of in Revelation 14.  True disciples of Jesus continue to be engaged in that harvest.

John chapter 4 has a timely word for many who belong to worldwide Anglicanism, to those who have lost the way theologically, who do not know who they are or what their mission is.  For some there has been a slippage away from ‘Jesus’ water’, that is, from the ‘truth of the gospel.’  Some are like the woman of Samaria, back at Jacob’s well pathetically drinking the ‘old’ water that Jesus came to replace.  They need to leave their water pots to take the cup of Jesus’ ‘water’ so that, like that long-deceased woman, they have some exciting news about One who is no mere prophet or teacher, but God’s Messiah, the I AM who came among us to be the Saviour of the world.

For others, though, the situation is worse.  Many of our leaders are to identified with the cult leaders of Jerusalem who reject and oppose Jesus’ claim to Sonship.  The Apostle’s Creed has become mere metaphor and to be abandoned as to its real truth.

Unless we Anglicans and other Christians leave their ‘water pots’ behind and take the cup of Jesus’ ‘water’ Christianity will fade from the scene and soon be no more.  Let us pray for a return to the Sacred Scriptures to find, to love and to proclaim the Christ of the Bible and to offer the cup of salvation to a thirsty world.

Paul Barnett