Archive for category Discipleship
Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.
To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).
Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.
Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.
I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.
When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.
Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.
As Holy Week begins, I completed some reading this morning in the Gospel of John. I focused on the empty tomb pericope that features Mary Magdalene so prominently. “Magdalene” most likely ties this Mary to the town of Magdala, which was a “strongly Hellenized site . . . five kilometers northeast of Tiberias” (R. Riesner, 37–38, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Performing a search revealed that there are twelve explicit references in the New Testament to Mary Magdalene:
Gospel of Matthew (NET)
Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee . . . (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb) (Matthew 27:56, 61).
Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).
Gospel of Mark (NET)
There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed (Mark 15:47).
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).
Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons (Mark 16:9).
Gospel of Luke (NET)
. . . and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out . . . (Luke 8:2).
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).
Gospel of John (NET)
Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance (John 20:1).
Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her (John 20:18).
At times, people have confused Mary Magdalene with other women in the Gospels. In Luke 7, an unnamed woman enter’s a house where Jesus is located and anoints Jesus’ feet. In the pericope adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), Jesus forgives the sin of an unnamed woman caught in adultery.
However, Mark and Luke both inform us of Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus—he set her free from the possession of seven demons. She subsequently followed Jesus, even being one of the few present at his crucifixion and an eyewitness to his resurrection.
The Gospel of Philip
You can find out more about the history of the 1945 Nag Hammadi discovery and The Gospel of Philip here and especially here. Suffice it to say that these “other Gospels” (1) are not written by those whose names are attached to them, making them pseudepigrapha, (2) originate from the second century or later, and (3) were not received by the catholic (i.e., universal) church community not only because of their strange, sometimes unorthodox, and sometimes contra-apostolic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, but also because of their divergent perspectives on the Old Testament, creation, and anthropology. However, I would like to focus on its references to Mary Magdalene. The first mention of this Mary in The Gospel of Philip is found in context with two other Marys:
Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion.
The writing again refers to Mary Magdala as Jesus’ companion here,
Wisdom, who is called barren, is the mother of the angels.
The companion of the [savior] is Mary of Magdala. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].
The other [disciples] …said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”
The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind person and one who can see are both in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, one who can see will see the light, and the blind person will stay in darkness.”
[The brackets] typically identify places in the manuscript where the text is unknown due to some kind of injury.
From this, people have surmised from these sayings that Mary Magdalene was no mere disciple of Jesus, but that she was his wife.
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest
In 2012 in Rome, Harvard University’s Dr. Karen L. King revealed a shocking document—a fourth century papyrus fragment—claiming the matrimony of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. With Dr. King’s credentials and backing, the fragment’s reveal sent shockwaves through academia and found its way into the public square as well. The Coptic text and a transcription is available through Harvard University.
Since then, the investigative reporting of Ariel Saber of The Atlantic has exposed the full origin story of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. The title “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” is followed by the subtitle,
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
Saber’s work uncovered that the fragment is most likely a very recent forgery. Dr. Karen L. King agreed publicly following Saber’s published work. If you’re up for going further down the rabbit hole, you can find more related material via Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here and more recently here. Peter Gurry also commented on the matter in 2016 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.
The Real Mary Magdalene Please Rise
While the story of this forged fragment made for great entertainment, perhaps a positive result may surface. Maybe we’ll allow the real Mary Magdalene to surface once again. Mary’s legacy has been clouded publicly ever since Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code in 2003.
Some have wondered why Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that the apostles have no problem making mention of women who play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel—Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Lydia, Damaris, and a number of other women who are described as devout. One thought is that Mary Magdalene passed away shortly after the resurrection. This can’t be proven. We are never told anything about her age or her death.
We are told three things about this Mary that should stick with any of us who depend on the glorious salvation of Jesus. First, this Mary was set free by Jesus from the darkest kind of spiritual oppression. She was demon-possessed. Sevenfold. We learn from this Mary that Jesus is strong enough to break the bondage of the darkest sources of spiritual slavery.
Second, we find Mary following Jesus to a place where very few of his disciples dared to follow—the cross. I am truly amazed at this. Matthew, Mark, and John testify that Mary Magdalene joined a few other women at the crucifixion. Keep in mind that the other women seem to have been related to Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not. It appears that John the apostle was the only member of the twelve who dared identify himself with the Christ of the cross. While Jesus would continue his fellowship with the other ten disciples after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was “ahead of the curve” when it came to denying oneself, counting the cost, and following Jesus wherever he went.
Lastly, Mark tells us that this Mary is the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Again, how amazing. Scholars have told us over and over again, that this element of the resurrection narrative—Mary, a woman, as the first eyewitness—is a criteria of the authenticity for the Gospels’ narratives. No first century author who wanted to be convincing and who wanted their movement to catch on would propose that there first eyewitness to the most important element of their story was . . . a woman. This would have been embarrassing, as indicated by the apostles’ reaction to the testimony of the women (Luke 24:10–11). The Gospel writers were clearly concerned with what really happened, with communicating a historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, they wrote to evangelize and to make more disciples, but they were not doing so by being irresponsible or deceptive about what really happened. Additionally, I can’t help but also think that Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is a reward for her faithfulness to follow to the cross. After appearing to Mary, Jesus sent her to report to the disciples (John 20:17–18), and she proclaimed to them, “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first evangelist of the resurrection era.
This Holy Week, let’s lay to rest the Jesus-wife myth that has clouded Mary’s legacy and “resurrect” the real Mary Magdalene and her already impressive resume—a delivered, devoted, eyewitness, evangelist of Jesus Christ. Happy Holy Week.
While the World Wide Web certainly at times ushers garbage into our homes from time to time, I think we also must admit that it is an amazing resource when employed for good. Recently, I was asked to create a list of quality Bible Study Websites that may be of benefit to my students as they grow in the love and understanding for God’s word. I have provided this list below, and I would appreciate it if you would share with me any other websites that you have found helpful for Bible study. Thanks and enjoy!
Bible Study Websites
1. Bible.org is THE site for Bible study assistance. It has everything.
2. Salem Communications seems to have a number of helpful Bible study websites, such as . . .
a. http://www.biblestudytools.com has helpful tools such as concordances for word studies, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, etc.
b. http://www.godtube.com and search for the Bible Study Methods videos with Dr. Howard Hendricks.
c. http://www.jesus.org focuses on topics surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and seems to have an apologetic tone to it.
3. DesiringGod.org is another helpful website that provides sermons, articles, some Bible study guides, and much more.
4. http://www.studylight.org is full of resources too! Concordances, original language helps, Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries. It also has a decent variety of daily devotional materials.
5. http://www.blueletterbible.org is a great place to start for the person who some interest in studying the Bible in its original languages. Yes, you can do some study in the original languages even though you’ve never taken a Greek or Hebrew course! This site is designed with the beginner in mind and is very helpful for those who really want to labor in the text of the Bible.
Marc ends his previous post on “finding better feelings in other communities” with these words:
When they leave home, they realize that they can be “spiritually fulfilled” and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because…
3. They got tired of pretending:
Then he explains what he means by the weariness of pretending:
In the “best life now”, “Every day a Friday” world of evangelicals, there’s little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a stead[y] diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s great plan for your life” has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be “hap-hap-happy all the time”. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites” [brackets mine].
The idea that the Christian life is somehow a pathway to successful and prosperous living and a life in which you will be finally and fully comfortable and happy could not be further from the truth. This is a lie. A person only needs to read the Gospels and consider the life of our Lord Jesus to find that the way of Christianity is the humble path of the cross-shaped life. Resurrection only follows death. The Christian life is one that will cost you everything. It is only in this life in which we spend our lives for God that we find that he has indeed given us all things. On the other hand, the world is always searching for and never finding. And so some so-called evangelicals in an attempt to woo the world toward Christ, have forsaken the true gospel for a luxurious, false gospel. Young people who have an ounce of discernment take a glance at the Scripture and immediately pick up on the contrast that they see in the life of the Lord Jesus and his apostles as compared to some of the evangelical churches of our day. At some point, they either search for something deeper within the Christian faith, concluding that there must be more to it than this, or they “stop pretending” as Marc concludes.
Again, there is a sense in which I agree with Marc here; however, I feel like he again is missing a deeper issue. I feel that his worry is misplaced, or at least that he doesn’t say enough about what we should do. The local evangelical church’s response to this has to be twofold I think: (1) Teach and understand the doctrine of salvation that begins with the new birth, and (2) teach your church about proper ecclesiology between the young and the old, especially in the context of being a covenant member of a local church. At the heart of what real evangelicalism is, we find the doctrine of the new birth or regeneration. The thought that I as a pastor have to somehow manufacture a congregation in which there is no hypocrisy so that none of our teens get upset and “stop pretending” to be Christians is far-fetched and beyond my human ability. The answer to hypocrisy in the church as well as the answer to what happens when I see hypocrisy in the church is the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation. If a teenager has truly experienced the new birth, then he or she WILL persevere in the faith. The new birth is from the Holy Spirit (John 3) and the New Testament presentation of salvation is that the Spirit’s aim is to complete it (Romans 8:26–30). In the teen that witnesses hypocrisy in the local church, the Holy Spirit is present teaching that teen about things like we find in Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9–11. Not only this, but also the Spirit humbles the born again teen to consider his or her own hypocrisy. To go further, there is a test here for the young person, especially if they sense that they observed hypocrisy in an older saint. I recall teachings in the Pastoral Epistles that should cause pause to the young person who is quick to judge an older saint. I am not saying that what the young person observes as hypocrisy is not hypocrisy, but rather I am rather suggesting caution and humility to be practiced. Certainly, the apostle Paul calls the local churches to judge those who are within their assembly (1 Corinthians 5–6); yet the spirit with which we proceed in such a case should be one of humility, not arrogance or some threat of separation because “I’m tired of pretending.” The body of Christ is a family of sinners redeemed by grace. We eat the Lord’s Supper at a table of grace. Let’s seek to redeem and restore with humility through proper discipline and grace. For the young person to threaten and then actually walk away because he or she is “tired of pretending” reveals more about their own faith and ecclesiology than perhaps it does about their local church.
Just imagine for a moment the “I stopped pretending” young person’s response to God should he ask him or her about his or her reasoning for leaving the local community . . . “they were hypocrites, and I was tired of pretending.” I don’t think that is going to hold up well. IMO, that response will burn like wood, hay, and the like. Our young people (and all of us mind you) need a developed understanding of church membership and commitment to a local body. I’m speaking from what I see written in the Scriptures, especially as I begin a study on 1 Corinthians. Imagine being a member there! Plenty of hypocrisy-accusations to go around. Yet, the idea that leaving the local community is a valid option for any real Christian is absurd. No, the apostle along with the Corinthians sought to grow in grace and in this thing called the Church. I’m also speaking from experience. It was not long ago that there was an “exodus” of people from my very own local church, many of them probably claiming some level of discontent and some making accusations of hypocrisy as they headed off to other local churches that will surely be void of such hypocrisy (cue laughter). What I am discovering is that those who left revealed more about their poor ecclesiology and understanding of local church membership than they did about some kind of impenetrable hypocrisy that they supposed was present and that God was too weak to do anything about. Let be said and done in the local church this way, “rejoice in hope, endure suffering, persist in prayer.” Let it be said to the young person who is “tired of pretending”: Stop pretending. Be a real Christian. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and glorify God in your local assembly. Keep going. Endure. Persevere. If you do, you’ll see God work, and you’ll witness hope spring up in your midst.