Just getting ready for game time…
Monthly Archives: February 2010
Friend, mentor and church planter Kit McDermott posted this “Manifesto of True Freedom” on his blog yesterday. It is from a retreat Kit and his wife recently led. I think it is quite powerful — I printed it out for my journal and my Bible… and am re-posting it here.
MANIFESTO OF TRUE FREEDOM
This from Mike Foster over at People of the Second Chance (POTSC) blog:
We simply don’t get it. We think we have grace all figured out. But we are wrong.
Our thoughts on grace are sub-par and screwed up. I think sometimes God may wonder what the heck are they doing down there?
We proudly pump up second, third and fourth chances around here. Maybe 70 x 7 if we get REALLY RADICAL! But God says billions upon billions. Again and again and again I forgive you…so do the same for each other.
But unfortunately our relationships are infected with the disease of incrementalism. A sprinkling of grace there…a pinch of mercy over here…partial forgiveness for that dude that screwed us. Revolution doesn’t happen through bringing the crumbs and the bits.
What the world desperately needs are grace extremists, not a community of incrementalists where our next door neighbors, co-workers, and enemies would barely notice.
And the results so far…well…they can only reflect what we truly believe. Perfectly mediocre…and lacking the supernatural.
I write this for Mike Foster. And maybe for you too. God forgive us for our smallness and timidity.
YOU IN AS A GRACE EXTREMIST? I am.
This weekend marks the celebration of Purim on the Jewish calendar. The story of Purim is found in the Book of Esther. It is a great story — but the thing I love most about it is the reminder that God will use the most unlikely ordinary people to do most unlikely extraordinary things.
Esther is a peasant Jewish girl — and yet she became the key to saving God’s people!
God has always specialized in using the least likely, disenfranchised and overlooked to achieve his goals and purposes. That is a good word of encouragement for me tonight.
So Happy Purim!
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
I have had lots of time to pray, reflect and journal this week while I have been home sick. It has been good to have some time and space to process some of what God has been doing in my heart the last few months. Sometimes I am better at engaging my mind (hermeneutics, biblical texts, etc) than my heart — or at least better at expressing my mind more than my heart.
But here is some of what God has been talking to me about lately…
– I am really looking forward to a 40-hr/wk job (hopefully 5 days a week) and not having school. I am tired of always being tired and really longing to have time outside of work/school for life — relationships and hobbies and reading and walking outside and just hanging out. When in full time ministry, it was easy to justify the crazy hours — and I was committed to helping others experience great relationships, life, etc. But even then, it wasn’t a great idea. Maybe I am getting old… or just a little beat-up by life… or maybe I am gaining a more mature perspective… but I am longing for balance, relationships and the stuff of life that doesn’t happen “on the clock”.
– If I were ever to get back into full time ministry, it would be with the above in mind. Whatever ministry I work for will need to work with 40 hours… that’s it. This is also true for restaurants or other jobs…
– I am going to have to make some practical and difficult decisions in the coming weeks/months to help bring more balance into my life. My head is not yet where my heart is, lol. Part of this is changing long patterns in my life… but it is a process that I am committed to.
– For the first time in my life, the idea of having a family holds a lot of appeal to me. To those who have known me for a while, that will come as a bit of a surprise. I have always said I have no interest in marriage, kids, etc. Again, maybe it is because I am older… or maybe it is the experience of the last 8 months… but I find my heart longing for a partner and my dreams including the idea of family. (Now don’t get too excited… this too may pass, lol).
– Again, for me, being in full time missional ministry made being single, not having a partner or kids, etc, possible. There is a lot of truth in what Paul says about the gift of singleness in ministry. But there is also a great cost. For me, the pay off of deep, significant and lasting community was enough to cover the costs of not having those things. But it turns out that community is not lasting and not as deep as I thought it was. When you take that out of the equation, the costs of singleness seem too high (for me). So these days, my heart longs for a partner to share life and ministry with (whatever that ministry looks like) and the idea of raising a family, having a real home (people, not place) and all that goes with that… these are my prayers.
– God continues to grow my heart — especially for those who suffer injustice and for those who, for whatever reason, consider themselves beyond His love. I don’t know how this will play out for me, but I can not escape the burden God has placed on my heart.
– The only metric I care about these days is relationships. My relationship with God and with others. Those are the things that will last for eternity and what I am willing to sacrificially give to.
– I like the things God has been whispering to me lately. Most are between me and him (and thus not blogged about). But His daily whisperings sustain me and bring me joy… and for that I am thankful.
So that is some of what God is speaking to me and teaching me these days. Still processing a lot of it.
Hard stuff. Good stuff. Exciting stuff.
Key Question: Does this passage say anything implicitly or explicitly about committed, loving, monogamous, covenanted same-sex relationships?
I am going to look at both Leviticus 18 and 20 together, as they are very similar, close to each other, and have the same interpretive issues as far as I can tell.
Leviticus is a tricky book for 21st century Christians, but a crucial part of the Old Testament canon and central to the Jewish Torah. While the book must be understood in its historical and theological context, there is much to learn and glean from it for us today. I am actually a big fan of Leviticus and think it is a sadly, too often overlooked, book in today’s church.
The basic context of Leviticus is a spelling out of “the law” for how Israel is supposed to live as God’s chosen nation. Israel finds itself in a situation as a young nation surrounded by enemies — many of which were engaged in moral practices that were totally antithetical to the teachings and heart of Yahweh. The most prominent of these practices was child sacrifice to the pagan God Molech.
If you want to have a solid understanding of why certain things are banned in Leviticus (and some of them are downright weird — such as boiling a calf in its mother’s milk or wearing clothes made of different types of fibers) just remember this basic formula:
God, in essence, says to Israel: whatever you see THEM doing, I want you to do otherwise!
That is how messed up the world Israel found itself had become. Whatever the Canaanites and others do, you are to do the opposite!
This is where much the “holiness code” comes from — a set of rules and laws that were designed to set Israel apart (and therefore to guarantee its cultural survival) from its neighbors. These includes dietary, liturgical, sexual and other types of rules (such as the mixed fabrics, already mentioned).
One the most important teachings of Leviticus is that “all things are spiritual” — if you thought God was only interested in a small aspect of your life, you are very wrong!
The big question for Christians reading Leviticus is which the commands still apply as binding commands on Christ-followers today? Let’s be clear… to say that certain commands are no longer binding on us is not to say that (a) they were wrong, (b) there is nothing to learn from them today, or (c) that there is not potential wisdom in them. It is just to say, they are not binding on believers today.
There are 613 explicit commandments in the Torah, many of which are in the Book of Leviticus — and the vast majority of which Christians do not follow.
To understand how theologians approach these issues, it is helpful to know the basic breakdown of Leviticus. Broadly speaking, chapters 1-16 are instructions to priests and chapters 17-27 are instructions from priests to the people of Israel. More specifically:
- Chapters 1-7 — Regulations in regard to animal sacrifices
- Chapters 8-10 — Initiation into appropriate worship rituals
- Chapters 11-15 — Purification and purity codes
- Chapter 16 — Establishment of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) practices
- Chapters 17-26 — “Holiness Code” for the people
- Chapter 27 — Establishment of vows and dedications
What the text DOES SAY about homosexuality?
Leviticus 18:22 says:
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Leviticus 20:13 says:
“‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
I think these texts clearly teach that Mosaic law prohibits homosexual intercourse/activity and that the punishment for such activity was to be the death penalty.
We could go through the rest of these chapters to highlight some of the commands we obviously don’t follow anymore, but that is unnecessary. The text tells us the purpose of this whole section of teaching and law in both Lev 18:1-3 and again in Lev 20:22-26 —
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. (Lev 18:1-3)
” ‘Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. ” ‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Lev 20:22-26)
Simply put, WHATEVER THEY DID YOU ARE TO DO THE OPPOSITE!
This teaching is unique to what God was doing in and through Israel at this time in history.
What the text DOES NOT SAY about homosexuality?
So the real question is whether these passages from Leviticus are binding on Christians today. My belief is that none of the Holiness Code is binding on Christians today. This is for several reasons:
1. Christ has fulfilled the law and we no longer live under it.
2. The Holiness Code was unique to the nation of Israel and what God was doing in and through them at the time. Just as the sacrificial system is no longer valid, the holiness code also does not still apply to us.
3. Our “holiness” today comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our baptism and our obedience to Jesus Christ.
4. The Holiness Code must be understood as a whole — either it is all binding on us today or it is not. We cannot claim certain verses as binding (such as on homosexuality) but not others (such as eating of blood) — let alone that one half of a verse (Lev 20:13a prohibiting homosexuality) is valid while the second half (Lev 20:13b – that the death penalty is appropriate for homosexuality) is not valid.
Now I don’t think most people will find this a controversial conclusion. This is pretty much the orthodox way of reading the holiness code
within the church for the past 2000 years. And most Christians I know who oppose homosexuality, so not do so based on the holiness code of Leviticus.
That said, let me respond to a couple of “objections” I would expect from a more fundamentalist response:
OBJECTION: Does this mean you think incest, bestiality, etc, are all OK?
ANSWER: No, I do not. However, I do not base that conclusion on the holiness code found in Leviticus. Some people find the “slippery slope” argument powerful; I do not because it is a fallacy. There are lots of reasons — both biblical and non-biblical — to oppose incest, bestiality, etc. I do not rely on these verses to make that case.
OBJECTION: Doesn’t the Jerusalem Counsel (Acts 15) tell us that the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus are still binding on Christians today?
ANSWER: What the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15 decided was that Gentile Christians in the 1st Century did not have be circumcised (that is, become Jewish) in order to become Christians. The counsel said that all they had to do was follow the teachings on both sexual immorality and the prohibition against eating blood. (Two major topics in the Leviticus section we are looking at). Some argue that Peter’s vision negates the dietary restrictions, but that comes in Acts 10 — so either Peter did not share that vision with those at the counsel or he was out voted. And to be clear, if you aren’t eating Kosher meat, you are eating meat with blood in it. As the church developed (and became less Jewish), they increasingly realized that the holiness code was no longer binding.
Those are my thoughts on this passage… what are yours? Questions? Observations?
A friend tweeted this morning:
GODSCOWARD: “can we unconditionally love the church as she is while we work towards what she can be?”
My quick response (remember, I am on Day #5 of being sick and not in the best mood) was:
BENDUBOW: “@GODSCOWARD – only if she does the same for me!”
Of course, as soon as you say “only if” unconditional is out. The truth is, as followers of Jesus, we should indeed “love the church unconditionally as she is while we work towards what she can be.”
And, it also true, that “the church should love its members unconditionally as they are while she works to help them be what they can be.”
Sadly, this quickly becomes an infinite regression. The church’s inability (or, more precisely, choice) to not love its members unconditionally as they are is part of the failure of the church that I think we must love through. And vice versa.
So I realize my answer is not sufficient… for it gets us no where.
But the church doesn’t get a free ride either. Because the church isn’t actually something other than us. It is us. Simply a corporate representation of us. And as such, I think it is held to a higher standard — one presumes that the corporate and collective wisdom of the whole will be stronger than that of the individual. It is amazing how often I have heard “The church decided that… that was the churches call…” etc etc — as if the church is some separate entity.
We are church. Church, outside of we, is nothing.
The failure of the church is your failure and mine.
So yes, we should love the church unconditionally… while working for it to become all it can be. But when it fails to be that, make sure we start with the mirror and not finger pointing.