Monday, December 31, 2012

Receiving a pastor in the name of a pastor

According to The New Interpreter’s Bible, the phrase εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου found in Matthew 10:41 is a Semitic expression that means “because one is a prophet.”  Wesley’s Notes gives a similar definition— “That is, because he is such.”

Hence the NIV translates Matthew 10:41—“Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.”

The definition of εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου from Joseph Henry Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is more expansive and thought-provoking-- “By a usage chiefly Hebraistic the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is roused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i. e. for one's rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds, etc.; thus, εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου, out of regard for . . . . the name of prophet which he bears, equivalent to because he is a prophet” (

What, I wonder, is roused in the mind by the name “pastor”?  When a congregation receives you in the name of a pastor what do you hope is being raised in their minds?  What would you like them to receive with open arms and enthusiasm?  What pastoral reward will the hospitable congregation also receive?  What would you add to Thayer’s list?

rank—ordained elder
authority—to serve the mission of the Church and lead members to do the same
interests—Wesleyan spirituality
pleasure—Koine Greek
command—planning worship, preaching and writing
excellences—finishing what I start
deeds—a book and an app
etc.—ongoing research on Greek testament and today’s means of grace especially advocacy as a work of mercy and pastoral leadership as a prudential means

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The least of these-- who are they?

The New Interpreter’s Bible offers a balanced summary of the scholarly disagreement regarding the identity of “the least of these brothers of mine” in Matthew 25: 31-46.  Are the least one “(a) the world’s needy generally or (b) specifically Christians or Christian missionaries”?

The NIB concludes that originally Jesus was speaking about the needy in general, and that later Matthew focused this universal theme to a single point— “the reception of Christian missionaries.”  In order words, both interpretations can be supported.

Reading the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned as itinerant evangelists was an unfamiliar perspective, but the reading rang true as I considered the entire parable with this interpretation in mind.  The deprivations faced by the parable’s least ones were potential hazards risked by Jesus’ preachers.  Doing for (or neglecting) one of these brothers is doing (or not) for the Heavenly Judge.  The nations who care for one of the Gospel-bearers are welcomed into the Judge’s heavenly kingdom.  The nations who neglected the least of these are punished by the Judge.

Wesley’s Notes for Matthew 25: 40 first favors the Christian specific interpretation and then posits a universal implication—“What encouragement is here to assist the household of faith But let us likewise remember to do good to all men.” 

As United Methodists, we should teach the dual-identity of the least of these rather than favoring one interpretation over the other.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Seeing God-- now or later?

The pure in heart are blessed because they will see God.

Future promise is emphasized in The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on Matthew 5:8, while a possible present realization is rejected.  This reading differs from the one found in United Methodist doctrinal standards.

According to the NIB, “‘Seeing God’ refers not to mystical vision in this world, but to the eschatological hope (1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4).”  Contrast this with Wesley’s comments in his Notes (“They shall see God - In all things here; hereafter in glory”) and in doctrinal Sermon 23--

But the great lesson which our blessed Lord inculcates here, and which he illustrates by this example, is, that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical atheism; but, with a true magnificence of thought, survey heaven and earth, and all that is therein, as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is, in a true sense, the soul of universe.

These doctrinal statements point to an ability to see God now in the material world and later in the eternal world.  This present ability is not a mystical vision; it is the vision of natural philosophy, the science of Wesley’s day.

I’m going to side with Wesley on this one.  Not the natural philosophy reading of Matthew 5:8, but rather an interpretation that is consistent with the already-but-not-yet nature of the reign of God proclaimed in Matthew, one which I hear in the Beatitudes, as well.  The pure in heart are in a fortunate, privileged position because they will see God.  They will see God face-to-face in the realm of glory, and they will discern God's Spirit at work in the world now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Your Church Conflict from a Wesleyan perspective

Three paragraphs in three doctrinal sermons from which I draw inferences and then synthesize--

Sermon 21, ¶ I.1, Inference --The Sermon on the Mount lists both the stages of Christian maturation and the principle characteristics of Christians, which means that mature Christians will continue to experience the earlier gifts (i.e., poor in spirit, mournful, meek).

Sermon 23, ¶ II.3, Inference-- Church conflicts can be a means of grace for those at the peacemaker stage.

Sermon 24, ¶ I.1, Inference-- The Christian maturation process requires community.

Synthesis-- Differences of opinion between church members are inevitable.  A church with members at the peacemaker stage of faith can draw upon the spiritual gifts of such members to settle inner-church conflicts.  Instead of avoiding conflict, church members should use it as an opportunity to put into practice the Sermon on the Mount virtues, which will (by God’s grace) help them to reach the higher stages of faith.  The possibility of reaching this state of maturation increases when individuals remain committed to a Christian community instead of abandoning it because of disagreements.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Root of Evil

"Love of money is the root of all evil," Paul warned in 1 Timothy 6:10.  In his commentary on this verse, Wesley concurred and further stated that love of money is "The parent of all manner of evils."

How surprising then to read Wesley's Notes on 2 Timothy 3:2, in which a love of self that is devoid of any love for neighbors is called the first root of evil while love of money is considered the second root.

Surprising, but not without precedent.  The fourth-century monk Evagrius also identified the love of self (τῆς φιλαυτίας) as the source from which the eight bad thoughts sprang. (The Greek word φίλαυτοι translated as "lovers of self" in 2 Tim. 3:2 is an adjective while the word used by Evagrius is a noun, hence the different endings.)

This is why my smartphone game has nine demons to exorcise rather than eight.  In order to be delivered from these temptations, the chief must be overcome first.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to let go of sin, you all

The Greek word ἀφῆτε occurs twice in the Gospel of John.  In both occurrences, Jesus is speaking to the disciples.  In John 16:32 he tells them that they will ἀφῆτε him, and in John 20:23 Jesus tells the disciples that they can ἀφῆτε sins.

In the case of John 20:23, ἀφῆτε is contrasted with κρατῆτε (note the similar endings thus creating a rhythm that strengthens the correlation of these two terms); the disciples can either ἀφῆτε or κρατῆτε sins.  Jesus is speaking to them as a group--  “You all” collectively, can send away or hold on to the sins of others.

Wesley rejected the notion that the disciples (and those who carry on their ministry) have the power to release others from sin.  In his Note for this verse he repeated his teaching that individual must personally repent and have faith in order to be forgiven. 

The power that the resurrected Christ imparts to his disciples when he breathes the Holy Spirit into them is two-fold, according to Wesley.  They now have the authority to declare the Christian terms of forgiveness, as well as the authority to expel and readmit church members in accordance with those terms.

Wesley limited his interpretation of ἀφῆτε to forgiveness; however, such a Greek to English translation overlooks the earlier use of the word in chapter 16.  Before leaving for Gethsemane, Jesus tells the disciples that they will soon abandon him and return to their homes.  He is not predicting that the disciples will forgive him.

Instead of translating ἀφῆτε as forgive, try reading John 20:23 in light of John 16:32.  In doing so, I think the later verse reads more like a comment on relations within the group of believers.  If we abandon, send away, leave alone, release our collective grip, then the faults, misdeeds, and sins of others are scattered from them (and by extension from the group of believers).  If we tighten our grip on those mistakes, transgressions, and errors, then that sin is retained within the group.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to free our church from the baggage of old grievances.  Or we can use the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to punish ourselves for past church conflicts.  (When trying to discern which way to use this gift of the Holy Spirit, please keep in mind that the choice your group makes may very well determine whether or not a new person will want to join your church.)