David

10. Beauty and Motivation

As surprising as it might sound, beauty lies at the heart of motive. Why we do what we do is a question of desire, and desire is rooted in what we think is good and beautiful.

Jonathan Edwards tackled the questions of motive, desire, and freedom in his work The Freedom of the Will. There Edwards argued that the strongest inclination is the choice one makes, and that choice is the same as the will. There is no neutral “deciding faculty” within us, independent of beauty. Whatever the mind perceives as the greatest apparent good, the heart chooses.

In Edwards’ view, the human will is not the faculty that decides, it is the decision itself. The mind knows the objects of desire, and the heart chooses, or loves what it desires as the greatest good. The greatest motive always prevails as the thing chosen. In other words, what the will chooses is precisely what it loves. This is why it is not strictly correct to speak of “choosing to love”, for one is really thereby saying “choosing to choose” or “loving so as to love”.

The will does not choose to love; the will chooses what it loves. Your chosen desires reflect what you think it best to choose. Loves can be formed and shaped, but they cannot simply be willed into being.  You always love what you think is most beautiful; or to put it differently, best.

Lying at the heart of human action is then a picture of beauty: what the good life is, what is most pleasurable valuable, reliable. Every one of us is inclined towards a vision of something we believe is good. J. K. A. Smith writes, “Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like for us to live well, and that picture then governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions.” This picture is not a set of abstract ideas, as much as it is an aesthetic idea, an affective, sensible picture of what reality is really like or should be like. This is the telos to which the human heart is inclined; it is its treasure, to which you will always find the heart inclined (Matt. 6:21).

Here is another reason why beauty and morality are intertwined. Those who are hardened sinners do not only do what is evil, they “also approve of those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:32) That is, they delight in sin. They “love darkness, because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19), and they “take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thes 2:12). For them, their sin is beautiful. Evil is aesthetically pleasing to them. Wickedness is something to be gazed at, admired, courted, pursued, coveted, memorialised, shared, and celebrated. When you love or desire what God hates, then what is ugly to God has become beautiful to you, and what is beautiful to God has become ugly to you. You have inverted good and evil, beauty and ugliness (Is. 5:20).

If what motivates you is something God condemns, you are doubly condemned: you commit acts of evil, and you do so because you treasure what God abhors. On the other hand, if your heart finds joy and delight in holiness, you will pursue those things, and find joy in them. A background vision of God’s holiness, harmony and happiness will explain what a holy man pursues and why.

9. Beauty, Ethics and Worship

Sometimes throwaway lines leave a deep impression. One of those were words written on a blog I avidly followed about fifteen years ago. The writer said, “A good man does not love ugly things”. Words like that enabled me to see a profound link and overlap between what is true, good, and beautiful.

Real beauty nourishes Christian ethics. One of the effects of true beauty is to deeply humanise our souls. In fact, the kind of judgement we use to evaluate the beauty of art or a face or a scene in nature is the same kind of judgement we use to evaluate moral matters. Such judgement employs more than one kind of evaluation; it employs comparison and contrast; it uses memory and tradition; it attempts to relate parts to the whole or individual actions to the greater good. The pursuit of real beauty teaches people the difference between selfish consumption and pursuing the pleasure of beauty for its own sake. That, in turn, helps people identify idolatries and self-love in contrast to generous, noble love.

Some churches are concerned only with truth. Without goodness and beauty, they struggle to attract and convince people who are not usually drawn to sheer dogmatism. On the other hand,  a concern for goodness without truth or beauty becomes nothing more than dead moralism. Both truth and goodness, lacking beauty, do not have the power to convince and save.

Beauty and Worship

Beyond metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, beauty is integral to Christian worship. The neglect of beauty within Christian liturgy and practice in the last century have had visible effects on Christian worship. The last one hundred years or so have been a less fruitful era for Christian expression in terms of music, poetry, literature, architecture, and the plastic arts. This lopsided emphasis on propositional truth may have contributed to a century that has seen little in music to rival Bach or Mendelssohn, little in poetry to rival George Herbert, Isaac Watts or even Christina Rossetti, little in literature to rival Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, little in painting to rival Rembrandt.

Even the seeker-friendly church-growth movement is now reconsidering its adaptation to contemporary culture in its worship, finding that its younger target-market now misses the mysterious, the ancient, and the beautiful. The significant exodus from Protestant Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in the last few decades is at least partly due to aesthetics: the perceived barrenness of beauty in the average Evangelical or low-church.

If beauty exists, and if the human being is made in God’s image, a dearth of beauty must produce both a thirst and an eventual demand.

It is important to add that the perceptive powers needed to recognise beauty are needed in worship. The arts are fundamental to both private and public worship, and without the ability to perceive the beautiful in art, there will be little sensed beauty in worship. To put it another way, lacking the ability to see beauty in general may hamper the Christian’s ability to encounter and experience God.

 

Black Voice-Matter

If you believe that black lives matter, and if you believe that non-blacks must listen to what blacks have to say about race and equality to properly understand the black experience, then you can do no better than listen to the following black voices on race, equality and economics. You should listen, even if what they say does not sound like the mainstream media.

Thomas Sowell

The Economics and Politics of Race.
Pink and Brown People
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Compassion Versus Guilt
Ethnic America: A History

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Williams

Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?

 

 

 

 

 

Shelby Steele

The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Woodson

Lessons From the Least of These: The Woodson Principles

On the Road to Economic Freedom: An Agenda for Black Progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allen West

We Can Overcome: An American Black Conservative Manifesto

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herman Cain

This Is Herman Cain!: My Journey to the White House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarence Thomas.

Punishment and Personhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the first of four lectures by Pastor Emmanuel Malone, professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The rest are here.

Doctrinal Triage for Worship

Many years ago, Al Mohler published a widely-read article on doctrinal triage, a method for evaluating the seriousness of doctrines. Kevin Bauder then pointed out that this approach was something that mainstream fundamentalists had espoused for many years, with possibly more sophistication.

I’ve thought for a while that we need something like that for the question of worship. Too often, we hear blanket statements such as “We shouldn’t divide over worship” or “worship is not something to separate over”. But this sounds rather unwarranted and simplistic, given how important worship is.  After all, we wouldn’t say those things when it comes to polity. In fact, our differing ecclesiologies are sources of truncated fellowship. I can fellowship with an evangelical Presbyterian on several levels, but we cannot fellowship in the act of planting or leading a church together. We simply lack fellowship on several questions of church order. If this is the case with orthodoxy and orthopraxy, surely it is the case with orthopathy, too.

No doubt, judging this matter is difficult, for questions of worship combine doctrinal truth, ecclesiastical practice, and questions of wisdom and the affections. But it would be worthwhile for those who already practise something of a triage doctrinally and practically to do so with worship, too. What follows is a suggested approach, using triage for questions of worship.

First-order questions of worship would be those that affect the gospel itself. A practice that denies one of the five solas, or undermines an essential of the faith is a catastrophic error, a heresy of the first order. Teaching that baptism and the Lord’s Supper bring about regeneration and atonement is an example of this. Introducing a priesthood that usurps the uniqueness of Christ’s High Priestly work, or introducing living or dead mediators that compromise His unique status as sole mediator between God and man are explicit or implicit denials of the gospel. Sacerdotalism is worship heresy.

Secondary but important doctrines of worship would be those that affect the whole approach to worship. Whether worship is regulated by Scripture or not is vital to its shape and order. Whether we can do only what God commanded, or whether we may do what He has not forbidden is a very significant question that shapes what elements of worship we will include. The understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in corporate worship affects the whole system of faith and practice in corporate worship: questions of spontaneous revelation, supernatural gifts, involuntary revival, the use of the altar call, and the understanding of how music is to be used in worship. How men and women lead or act in corporate worship is another important doctrine affecting the entire shape of corporate worship: views on male headship and female submission come to the fore in corporate worship. Understanding baptism and the Lord’s Supper as gracious sacraments or as memorial and testimonial ordinances is an important secondary doctrine, expressing our understanding of who is a disciple and member and what is occurring during those events. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty and human freedom will also shape worship significantly: concepts of what means God will use (and how effectual they are), how urgent or patient we should be in each corporate worship service, the meaning of revival and of progressive sanctification are important doctrines. They will influence our view on what the “high point” of worship is, how the music functions, what the result of preaching should be, and even whether corporate worship is primarily evangelism or discipleship. Finally, there is the important but difficult question of what the attributes of God deserve: what kind of reverence, what kind of joy, what kind of contrition correspond to the God we believe is revealed in Scripture and what forms and circumstances best communicate that. Errors in any or all of these secondary matters will not be heresies proper, but heterodox worship practices.

Tertiary worship questions will include many of the circumstances of the elements of worship that we include. These are judged by wisdom, knowledge of meaning and ordinate affection. They both flow down from our overall understanding of worship expressed in the second-order doctrines, and also flow back up to express and shape that understanding through their practical embodiment of worship practice. The particular selection of hymns and songs, the use of calendrical liturgies or free forms, the number, form, and length of the prayers and Scripture readings, the kind of preaching and type of sermon, the shape of the service, dress of the worshippers, the architecture of the building, the use of technology, the use of one cup or one loaf in the Lord’s Supper, the form of the music used, are all examples of these third-order matters. Errors, missteps or unwise choices in tertiary worship doctrines are neither heresies not heterodoxies, but possible heteropathies: examples of inordinate affection.

A few comments about this taxonomy and its application.

First, in a “worship triage”, tertiary questions are not on the same order of importance as tertiary doctrines in a doctrinal triage. That is, questions of who were the sons of God in Genesis 6 are almost diversionary in nature. Questions of what music to use and what hymns to select are not diversionary, but quite formative. Placing them in the third category does not make them unimportant, but it differentiates them from heresy and heterodoxy. Heteropathy is serious, but more difficult to judge, with more flexibility to accommodate shifting cultural meanings. Especially in the long run, heteropathy tends to eventually undermine the second-order doctrines of worship. These, in turn, can eventually even affect the gospel as embodied in ordinate worship.  As Charles Hodge put it, “Whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, it is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings. The natural expression of the feelings of true piety is the doctrines of the Bible. As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained; but should they be lost, the doctrines are either held for form sake or rejected, according to circumstance; and if the feelings again be called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course.” (This is another question altogether, but there can be instances of heteropathy that actually represent not just heterodoxy on what God deserves, but even heresy as to who God is.)

Second, fellowship and separation over worship affects us most often on the local church level, since that is the occasion for corporate worship. How another church worships is not usually a matter for separation, since we do not have to collaborate in order to worship in our individual churches. Fellowship on matters of worship is mostly a question for agreeing to covenant together as members of the same church, and particularly for leaders within the same church.

However, there are areas of targeted collaboration where differences of worship come to the fore. One is missions and church-planting. Those we send as our own representatives to plant churches that we believe are biblical should have fellowship with us on the second-order matters of worship. Agreement on the tertiary level is ideal, but not always likely.
Another is education. If we agree to collaborate to educate leaders for ministry, agreement on first and second order matters is vital. If possible, a seminary that finds much agreement among its faculty on tertiary questions will be great, since much of the application of worship is fleshed out at this level. Again, it might be ideal, but it is not likely.
A third would be conferences, when representatives of different churches congregate for mutual edification. Even though such a conference is not the gathered assembly, it will likely practise some singing, prayer, and Scripture reading and teaching. Here, the wisest approach is deference to as many consciences as possible, employing not what has the widest appeal but what will cause the least offence and encourage the most voluntary participation.

We need not separate over every differing application of worship. But neither should we imagine that worship itself is a tertiary matter. Instead, we should use the same triage we use in doctrinal matters to understand how to weigh up questions of worship and their application to fellowship and collaboration.

Live Images Are Not Living Persons

Our technologies have come a long way from when John wrote, likely using a reed-pen on a papyrus sheet, “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.” (3 Jn. 1:13-14)

In the centuries since then, we developed better forms of paper, codexes, and the printing press. Still, the delay between writing a message and receiving it was still significant. The electric telegraph of 1837 produced the first nearly instantaneous communication, followed by the telephone in 1876, radio communications in 1907. By the year 2000, the Internet had brought myriads of new forms of instant communication. Increasing Internet speeds have driven the web from being mostly text to becoming the next form of television. In the last 10 years or so we finally have what we’d watched on Star Trek all those years ago: a live, full-colour image of another person we’re talking to.

Skype, Zoom, Connect, Facetime, WhatsApp and many more have added “living” colour to our communications. It has enabled cheap international conference calls, distance education, cheaper broadcasts of live events, and a host of depraved uses, too.

The Covid-19 crisis has forced most churches to use some form of these technologies in some context: whether it was actual services, or video calls with members or leadership meetings. And it has also forced us to ask, how close are these forms of communication to the “real thing”?

Of course, the vast majority of people would agree that in-person worship is superior to “virtual” forms. Even if their reasoning is inchoate, most people still sense that, given a choice, being together in person is superior to watching screens.

The real disagreement has arisen over whether instant digital communications are a substitute (even if a temporary one) for in-person worship, or whether the very nature of worship and the nature of digital communication excludes such a possibility.

In favour of the first idea are all the similarities between in-person worship and a live image. We can see and hear one another immediately, as we would in a corporate gathering. We can listen and respond to prayer, Scripture, and preaching. We can even sing to music played through the screen. Furthermore, we experience a kind of corporateness, in that we are able to see the many faces participating in that moment. In this thinking, the presence of the simultaneous communication, and the presence of visual image captures the bulk of what worship is.

In favour of the second idea are all the differences between a live image and in-person worship. The live, colour images belie the fact that they are just that: pixels digitally reconstructed and sounds. They are two-dimensional images and electromagnetic sounds that reproduce those of the actual person. In reality, we are not “with” anyone. We are alone, or with a few at home, looking at a screen. Several others, we know, are also looking at a screen, seeing images of us. It is a seemingly magical simulation of being together, but it remains a simulation. Any act of ministry that requires more than the transfer of verbal and non-verbal information cannot be done with an image of another person: greeting one another physically, showing hospitality to one another, meeting each other’s financial or physical needs, eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper together. Many of the other ‘one another’ commands such as “exhort”, “comfort”, or “admonish” seem incomplete without the many forms of non-verbal communication that take places in one another’s presence – the arm on the shoulder, the posture, even fragrances, or sounds inaudible over a computer. For a proponent of this theory, the bulk of worship is not communication, but communion: the communion of persons with God. And yes, there is an a priori here: communion of persons requires the actual presence of those persons together.

Very likely, it is our a prioris about worship that colour our view of what live digital communications are really accomplishing. Our presuppositions are often invisible to us, but they are probably what drives a lot of this debate.

In my opinion, a Christianity that is still reeling from Enlightenment rationalism and from contemporary technopoly tends to see the faith in informational terms. Christianity becomes a set of ideas to be transmitted, and if one can see and hear what is being communicated, then worship is thought to be largely occurring. Everything can be reduced to sights and sounds: audio-visual information.

A Christianity that is trying to shake off its modernistic and post-modernistic influences sees the faith in incarnational terms. Even loving God takes place when it is embodied in loving one another (1 John 4:12, 20). The truth is embodied in persons, whom we must be with and share our lives with. Worship is not what happens “up front” where the pulpit and musicians sit. If that were the case, then we could point a camera at it, and replay that image to whomever, wherever.

Instead, worship is what we do when we gather. When the believer is no longer solitary, but assembled together with other believers in the name of Jesus, there Christ is in a particular way (Matt 18:20). The context of Matthew 18 is church discipline, and Christ’s presence there speaks of His authority behind the action of discipline, but this application does not alter the overall truth: the assembled people of God can expect the working of Christ through His Spirit in ways not available to a believer on his own.

In short, the images and sounds might be “live” (i.e. their sending and receiving is roughly simultaneous). But they are not living. Humans are living, not their letters, phones, radios, or screens, nor the sounds and sights they produce. And worship is more than communication: it is the communion of living persons with one another.

Disembodied Christianity

During the week, I read one man rage at ‘conservative Christians’ for their desire to re-open churches. He then proceeded to point out that Hebrews 10:25 does not really prove that churches need to gather in physical buildings, and that all Christians who call for re-opened churches based upon Hebrews 10:25 are abusing the text.

The irony here is rich. It’s very true that were we to build the case for the church’s physical gathering merely upon a text like Hebrews 10:25 that our case would be, at best, incomplete. (And the presence or absence of church buildings is completely beside the point).  But it is bewildering to the point of being speechless to read someone lecturing others on how to use the Bible who can read the whole Bible and not come away with the utter necessity of the physical, embodied gathering of God’s people. This is missing the forest for the trees in 4HD colour.

First, Scripture exalts the human body as good (1 Tim 4:4). God united Himself permanently with human nature (which includes the body), so that we can dwell in His presence forever and see His face. Jesus died not only to save your soul, but your body also. The Christian hope goes beyond the disembodied state to ultimate resurrection. A despising, or even denigrating, of physical life with all that goes with it is a Gnostic idea, not a Christian one. The body, which includes all our physical interactions, is not incidental to our spirituality.

To read the book of Hebrews as a kind of Platonic polemic against physicality is to miss the whole point of the book. Hebrews teaches not a dichotomy between “spiritual” and “physical” or between “visible” and “Invisible” but between partial and ultimate, shadow and fulfilmenttemporary and permanent. The furthest thing from a Hebrew’s mind would have been some kind of disparagement of the earthly, physical or embodied. If any people ever rejoiced in the goodness of creation, it was the Hebrews.

Second, one of the points of embodied living is to do what only embodied persons can do: meet in each other’s presence. This is so manifestly the case, that Scripture repeats it incessantly.

Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen. (2 Jn. 1:12-13)

 Whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. (Rom 15:24)

that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. (Rom. 15:32)

 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured more eagerly to see your face with great desire. (1Th 2:17-20)

Be diligent to come to me quickly (2Ti 4:9)

Third, many Scriptures require physical gathering. For example, “Greet one another with a holy kiss”. We don’t have to carry out the first-century cultural particulars of this command to obey it. It is easily applied in our setting as a handshake, hug, kiss or bow, depending on the culture. We can argue about exactly what this means to our culture, but it obviously means something, because all has been written for our learning. The best explanation is that we are to sincerely love one another, and greet each other affectionately when we can. This almost always requires physical presence. Many of the multiple “one another” commands are severely limited or impossible if only conducted or transmitted by some media, however live and realistic they may be. The Lord’s Supper and baptism are among the most physical and human of acts: eating, and washing (or burying). These necessitate physical gathering, and no technology could function as a permanent, or even subsidiary substitute.

What is really going in those who scorn the essential nature of physical gathering for corporate worship is likely a transhumanist revisioning of human life, combined with a longstanding mind-body dualism in evangelical circles. The secular culture is happy to abolish human nature, and Christians have for some time been unsure of whether Christianity is fully human. Yes, Christians can debate over the wisdom or propriety of churches opening and gathering sooner or later. But to debate over whether physical gathering is essential is to identify yourself as a purveyor of a different Christianity altogether.

When Christianity is reduced to mere information (which is what technology transmits) it becomes another ghostly, disembodied religion of mere abstractions. And the more Christianity becomes simply informational, the more it becomes simply unbelievable. People are not primarily converted by facts and concepts, but by truth that is taught, incarnated and embodied by example, imagination, and exposure to others and their lives.

Gladly, true Christianity is far from disembodied. The Word became flesh. We are saved not only in our souls, but in body too (1 Thes 5:23), and will one day see our Redeemer in the flesh on the earth (Job 19:25). Scripture anticipates the final and ultimate gathering with God in His presence.

The great irony then, is that those who deny the essentiality of physical gathering and accuse Christians of misreading their fundamentalist presuppositions into Hebrews 10:25 are manifestly reading their quasi-Gnostic and transhumanist views into the very same text.

No, we can’t build a case for the importance of physically gathering for corporate worship merely from Hebrews 10:25. But we don’t need to. A plain reading of all of Scripture will do.

 

Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Screens

“John, we’d love it if you and Susan would join us for a meal on Thursday evening.”

“Uh…well, Mike, thanks but…isn’t that illegal? I mean, doesn’t the lockdown prohibit that kind of social gathering?”

“Oh, no, I don’t mean that you and Susan come to our home. We’ll host you online.”

“I’m still not following. How will we have a meal online?”

“Well, we’ll prepare a meal for ourselves. You’ll prepare a meal for yourselves. We’ll then do a Zoom call and eat in front of each other!”

“We’ll…eat in front of each other…on a screen?”

“Yup. It’ll be a great time over great food!”

“Are you serious?”

***

Before the coronavirus crisis, few could have imagined this conversation. Now, a version of this dialogue is taking place, and being taken seriously by Christians. The difference is that the meal in question is the Lord’s Supper, and some believe that eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper on our own, while filming ourselves and transmitting that image to others (who are doing the same thing), constitutes a shared meal.

One of fault lines in contemporary Christianity that the coronavirus lockdown has revealed is real disagreement over what is meant by the ideas of assemble, gather, corporate worship, fellowship, and presence. Does a live, two-dimensional image of a person not function as a form of presence, assembly, or gathering?

Media ecologists have been telling us for years that media shape us not only by their content, but by their form. For decades, we’ve been consuming media on screens: laptops, cellphones, flatscreens, tablets. They have become our primary form of information, education, communication, and entertainment. Screens have colonised us. And it appears that Christianity, at least in some parts of the world, has likewise been screenified.

A knee-jerk and superficial reaction would be to say that such assertions are the age-old argument that Luddites have against technology, or fear of the new. On the contrary: our technologies are always downstream of our views of the good life. We make tools (technologies) to serve those ends we are pursuing (and often our technologies end up becoming ends in themselves). But it is our view of the good life – what we think humans are here for and what constitutes our purpose – that drives us to make technologies, and works of art, and everything else. Put simply, the debate over the use or non-use of livestreaming, Zoom, online communion, and so on, is only secondarily a discussion of technology. It is primarily a debate over what a fully human Christianity is. It is the Christian view of the body that is behind these debates: do we need to be physically present to gather, do we need to be physically present to eat together, do we need to be physically in one another’s presence to worship corporately or to be said to be assembling? And does “virtual” presence still constitute a true, human presence?

The word virtual, used to describe nearly all online interactions, illustrates the ambiguity here. On the one hand, virtual suggests something nearly approximating the real thing, or coming extremely close, as in “We’re virtually on their doorstep”, or “Scarlet is virtually the same as vermillion”. On the other hand, virtual suggests something that has not reached the end in mind, as in “You’re virtually there, but it still needs work” or “I could virtually hear them, but there was too much noise in the street.” One connotation says Almost, but not quite. Another connotation says, Already there, but imperfectly so. 

Our theology of the body shapes whether we see a word like virtual as having one connotation or the other. The same could be said for our view of words or ideas like online, digital, live, and the like. And I suggest, with fingers pointed at myself while saying it, that our use of media may well be informing our theology of the body. That is, pragmatism and praxis may be shaping our understanding more than we care to admit.

Yes, we cannot meet, but that does not alter the meaning of meet. The issue of constraint is only secondarily a concern. The primary concern is the meaning of a human meeting. A groom-to-be is under no illusions that his marriage requires his wife’s physical presence. If coronavirus has prevented the ceremony, no online exchange of vows will convince him that they have indeed become one flesh. He will be quite certain that there is no such thing as a virtual consummation of the marriage, if you will indulge the illustration. The practical constraints of the coronavirus won’t change the meaning of marriage, union or one flesh.

So, how do we proceed? While no one can read the Bible without our cultural lenses, we can read the Bible while being honest about our prejudices (our pre-judgements). This makes us more honest interpreters, and less likely to to be disingenuous about finding answers in the Bible that we were looking for all along. But the Bible is what must settle this debate.

For the present crisis, Christians need to return to a rigorously biblical anthropology (doctrine of man). That means asking and answering at least the following questions with Scriptural principles:

  • Of what importance is the body during corporate worship?
  • Does the Bible ever favour personal bodily presence over mediated communication, and why?
  • Since Scripture was written to pre-modern people, what would the biblical authors think of instant and live mediated communication? Does it fall into the category of 2 John 12 or not?
  • Does instantly mediated communication constitute what the Bible means by meet, gather, assemble, commune, fellowship? If not, why not?
  • What would be the symptoms of a disembodied Christianity?
  • What actions or technologies would contribute to a disembodied Christianity?

Answering these questions is not only helpful for the practical crisis confronting us, but for determining whether we think Christianity is fundamentally incarnational and embodied, or only accidentally so. I hope we can do so together.

 

Ten Mangled Words: Conclusion

Words are not just names. If they were, we’d have no problem swapping out one label for another. No, words are things. Yes, they are man-made things, concatenations of syllables created by human cultures, and their particular meanings have been shaped through convention and association. But they are things that have meaning in themselves, and that transmit meaning. Meaning is at the heart of worship and obedience.

When the thing in question distorts meaning, it becomes a very dangerous thing. A road-sign that points left when it should point right is a dangerous thing. A box of rat-poison labelled as jelly-beans is a dangerous thing. When words are used badly or wrongly, it is not simply a matter of some grammar that needs polishing. Mangled words are more like a loose nut in an airplane engine, like a stray flu-germ on the chef’s hands. As Mark Twain put it, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Words are the stock and trade of pastors. Pastors should care more than the average man about the meaning of words, both denotative and connotative. They should oppose the wrong use of words, as the apostles did when false teachers distorted the words “liberty” (2 Peter 2:19), “grace” (Jude 1:4) and “people of God” (Phil 3:1-3).

To be careless about words is to fail to see their importance. It is, in some cases, choosing nominalism over realism. Nominalism denies ultimate realities or fixed meanings, and sees names as just convenient labels we use to impose meanings. Realism believes God’s reality is in itself meaningful and that meaning is more or less discoverable. In God’s case, naming even preceded creating: God spoke, naming the creation, and it came to be. Meaning preceded matter. Meaning or naming preceded the existence of the thing; the name was not a mere interpretation or label after the fact. He then gave man the privilege of assigning further names to creation. In other words, man was a sub-creator with God. By naming, Adam shared the prerogative of perceiving a thing’s reality through words. There is a true correspondence, between naming and nature.

The meanings of the words tolerance, freedom, authority, authentic, relevant, culture, equality, emotion, taste, and hate are not arbitrary and purely subjective. Nor are they unimportant. These words are currently the words at the very centre of our culture, and are at the root of disputes about worship, ministry, missions, social justice, morality, economics and Christian living. To get the wrong meaning about these words will likely be to court failure or disaster in ministry. Church leaders cannot afford to live with the mangled form of these words.

Is this being “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words” (1 Tim. 6:4)? I trust not. Clarifying the correct meaning of these words is the effort of those whose primary tool is the written and spoken word. We refuse to allow these words to fall into enemy hands. As Luther said, “If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

May we earnestly contend for the true meaning of these ten words.

“Hate” – A Word Like “Atheism”

His name was Polycarp, and he was a disciple of the apostle John. He later became the pastor of the church at Smyrna. When he was very old, the vicious persecutions of Christians in Smyrna turned on him. He was arrested and told to deny Christ. He refused. He was brought into the stadium to be killed before the audience of unbelievers.

The governor looked down on him and said – “Consider your age, and be sensible. Swear and say, ‘Down with the atheists'”. Polycarp looked at the pagan audience in the stadium, and said, “Down with the atheists.” The governor said, “Swear, reproach Christ, and I will release you.” Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”

Polycarp’s dialogue with the governor requires a bit of commentary to be understood. When the governor told Polycarp to say “Down with the atheists”, he meant for Polycarp to renounce Christianity. Atheist was a pejorative term that pagans threw at Christians. To a polytheistic society awash in gods, goddesses, temples, and all their paraphernalia, Christianity seemed, at first glance, a religion of denial. They denied these gods existed, and denied the reality behind the statues and figurines. To pagans, the Christians were unbelievers, deniers of their gods. They were atheists, not in the modern sense of the term, as materialists or naturalists, but as those who refused belief in the gods.

Of course, to Christians, the real atheists were those who denied the existence of the one true and living God: the triune God of Scripture. To fail to believe in Him is to fail to believe in the only God who exists. Pagans were the true atheists. Polycarp’s response was dripping in irony. He repeated the precise words required of him, but everyone understood that he meant the opposite of what they intended him to declare. Pagans called Christians atheists. Christians denied the charge and called the pagans atheists.

Perhaps something similar is happening today with the word hate. Unbelievers are very free with the word haters. Christians, particularly those of the conservative kind, are said to be haters. Why? They do not endorse homosexual marriage. They do not recognise transgender pronouns. They do not accept Islam as a road to reconciliation with God. They hold to the Bible as God’s Word. This makes them purveyors of hate, people without tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation.

Christians would deny that charge, as we have done in this series. We would explain our understanding of love, hate, and tolerance. We would affirm that we pose no physical threat to those who differ with us, nor are we disturbers of the peace. Conversely, we might counter the slander with a question: who are the real haters? If people vandalise our businesses, make false allegations about Christians being elected into high office, pour vitriol of the most unsavoury kind upon us in print and in person, and attempt to limit the exercise of free speech among Christians, should we call these people tolerant of Christianity? Should we say they are open and affirming of our beliefs? Should we say they practice inclusivity when it comes to Christianity? No, we will say, at least among ourselves, that they appear to hate what we believe and stand for.

And there the impasse will remain. I doubt that Polycarp convinced pagans to stop calling him an atheist while they remained pagans. He understood their blinded condition and simply taught who were the true atheists and the true worshippers.

I doubt we will convince the rabid left that Christians are not haters, while they remain committed to their radical notions. Best to recognise their blinded condition, and keep teaching who truly loves, and who is practising real malice.

Perhaps one day, if you are a Christian, you will be called upon by some authority and told to say, “I renounce all bigoted, intolerant and hateful forms of speech and religion.” With Polycarp, wave your hand at the assembled unbelievers and say, “I renounce all bigoted, intolerant and hateful forms of speech and religion.”

The Crucifixion: Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?

The exact day of the week of Christ’s death has been debated for centuries. The day, while not fundamental to the gospel, is of some import, especially in countries like South Africa which celebrate Good Friday as a public holiday. Churches hold Good Friday services (were we allowed out the house!) What support is there for each of these views?

The Wednesday View

This view is almost entirely based upon Matthew 12:40, which makes mention of three nights. This leads proponents to require 72 hours from Christ’s death to His resurrection. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Saturday (Nisan 10), is betrayed on the Tuesday, and crucified Wednesday (Nisan 14). Consequently, Jesus must have risen before 6pm on Saturday, or else he ends rising up on the fourth day).

The Thursday View

This is similarly based on Matthew 12:40, stating that a Friday crucifixion has only two nights. Proponents suggest that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday (Nisan 10) the Last Supper was Wednesday night, Jesus was crucified on Thursday (Nisan 14), and the next day (Friday) was a sabbath because it was the first day of Unleavened Bread. The “day of preparation” is said to be Thursday. It is claimed that people would have been resting on the Friday, and hence Thursday became the day of preparation.

The Friday View

In this view, Christ celebrated the Supper on Thursday night. This was likely the Galilean Passover, which was celebrated a day earlier. He was tried in the early hours of Friday. He entered Jerusalem on the Monday, Nisan 10 (which had begun Sunday 6pm) and was crucified on Friday (Nisan 15, by Galilean reckoning, Nisan14 by Judean reckoning), the day of preparation. He was laid in the tomb on the same day, and was in the tomb all of the Sabbath. The women who came to the Tomb came early on the first day of the week (Sunday), the same day on which He rose.

Evidence:

The Scriptures overwhelmingly speak of Jesus being raised “on the third day” ((Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4), not the fourth. Four passages (Matt. 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) speak of Christ’s resurrection as occurring “after three days,” but this is speaking of the same time period as on “the third day” because that is the phrase uses in parallel Gospel accounts.

Several Old Testament accounts show that the Hebrews regarded a part of a day as the whole day, that is, “day and night”. For example day in Esther 4:16, Esther asks the Jews, “Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day,” and then she would go in to the king, and in 5:1 Esther went in to the king on the third day. Other examples include Genesis 42:17, 1 Kings 20:29, 2 Chronicles 10:5, 1 Samuel 30:12-13). Rabbinical sources also show this. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c A.D. 100), said “A day and night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.” (Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath ix. 3; also Babylonian Talmud: Pesahim 4a). If Jesus was in the tomb for part of Friday and part of Sunday, then the Jewish idiom would be that he was in the tomb for “three days and three nights”.

The Wednesday crucifixion requires that Jesus have ridden into Jerusalem on the Saturday, which would have been another Sabbath violation, as would the cutting down of palm branches. It has Christ rising on the fourth day, if the “third day” is also the first day of the week.

There is simply no evidence that Nisan 15 (the day after Passover) was a day on which no one worked. This is essentially a theory held only by those who hold to the Thursday crucifixion. There is no real case for a Passover Sabbath which occurred the day before the regular weekly Sabbath. The expression “the day of preparation” is universally used to mean Friday ((Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42). Mark makes this especially clear “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, (Mk. 15:42).

The great consensus of interpreters and scholars is that Jesus died on Friday. Yes, to keep the strict chronology and typology of the examination of the Passover Lamb, we probably have to accept it was really Palm Monday. Perhaps the complicated harmonising of Galilean and Judean timekeeping might allow us to keep that one, since we have no Scripture telling us exactly what day of the week was the triumphal entry. But it seems the evidence does point fairly clearly to a Friday crucifixion.