Reformation Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany), posted 95 propositions he wanted to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain practices in the Catholic church—in which, at the time, they were all members—to which he objected.

Technically it wasn’t 31 October. Y’see, in 1517 Europeans were still using the Julian calendar, which was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days. That’s why they updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

Luther didn’t realize this was as big a deal as we make it out to be. It’s dramatically described as Luther, enraged as if he just found out about 95 problems in his church, nailing a defiant manifesto to the school’s Castle Church door. Really, the door was the school’s bulletin board, and Luther may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he might’ve had a teaching assistant do it.


Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. I’m gonna watch that now.

He posted his propositions (or theses, as we tend to call ’em), then sent a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he did still answer to them you know. But in January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed copies for the general public… and now they got controversial. Because instead of a controlled classroom discussion about whether these theses were true or false, now you had people in pubs throughout the Holy Roman Empire (I’m just gonna shorten it to HRE now) raging about how the bloody Church had no biblical basis for what they were up to. Now it wasn’t just an internal debate among clergy-in-training. It was everywhere.

On not giving to certain churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October

Recently the subject came up about funding one’s church… and about whether we oughta fund churches which really doesn’t need the money.

Fr’instance a megachurch. People assume bigger churches are successful, and flush with cash, so it doesn’t matter whether they give these churches any money: The churches already have money. The Roman Catholic Church is loaded with expensive buildings, priceless artwork, huge tracts of land; heck, Vatican City is a sovereign nation-state which prints money and postage stamps. Hence whenever a Catholic diocese actually does need money, most people’s first response is, “Oh come on; you guys have money.” And don’t give.

Now yes, churches with a lot of people are gonna need a lot of resources. More pastors, obviously. More support staff: More secretaries and assistants, janitors and groundskeepers, bookkeepers, security guards, IT and website personnel, counselors and life coaches, drivers and pilots… the organization can get pretty huge. Plus bigger buildings, more land, higher electric bills, and so forth. So they’re gonna need more donations.

Now when big churches have a surplus, what we should see is they fund more missionaries and community good works—like this one megachurch in my town. We see ’em legitimately, publicly contributing to the growth of God’s kingdom.

But what we tend to see, especially in prosperity-gospel churches, is better-paid pastors who drive better-model cars. Whose “outreaches” tend to consist of conferences and schools which charge for entry. Whose support staff consists of a lot of unpaid interns, or who make minimum wage with no benefits. Like this other megachurch in my town.

Everybody knows—pagans especially!—that Christians are supposed to reject materialism. That Jesus publicly made a point of rejecting materialism. So you’d think Christians, who know this too, would make a point of not sending our donations to materialistic churches.

But yeah, we’ve been conned into thinking and doing otherwise.

How do we fund our churches?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates.

We passed offering plates right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke. (Many Christians call it “special music.” It’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track. Exactly like karaoke. ’Cause it’s karaoke.) People put cash and checks in the plates. Sometimes in little envelopes, so people can’t see how little they actually give. Sometimes not, so people can.

This bugged him. In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium. If people wanted to inconspicuolusly put money or gum wrappers into it, they could. The box, he felt, was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display—which reminded him much too much of this story:

Mark 12.41-44 NRSV
1 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

That, and he didn’t like how we interrupted our services to beg for money. People should just give, he figured.

Me, I grew up hearing you funded your church by tithing: Ten percent of every paycheck belongs to Jesus, so give it to your church. Ten percent of the gross, not the net; and if you don’t cough up the dough you’ll be cursed. No, an usher wouldn’t shout, “Tithe, motherf---er!” although that’d be awesome; I didn’t say cursed at. It meant we expected this bit of Malachi to come true:

Malachi 3.8-9 NRSV
8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!

Our finances were gonna shrivel. We’d been told scary stories about people who stopped tithing, and suddenly they could no longer live within their means. Apparently if God doesn’t get his cut, he takes it out of us in other ways. Ways we won’t like. You know, like wiseguys who stage a few “accidents” till they get paid off.

Now no, I’m not accusing our pastors of trying to shake us down. They preached this because it’s what they were taught. They were told this is a biblical principle, and shown all the appropriate proof texts in Malachi and Matthew. They never bothered to investigate beyond these verses, and see whether the bible teaches more about the subject—and it does. I wrote about it.

When I investigated, I also discovered tithing—as a means of financing Christian churches—is actually a recent doctrine.

It first appeared in the United States a very short time after the year 1776. That bit of information give you any hint as to why churches suddenly began to preach about tithing?

Right you are: Because between the Edict of Milan in the year 313, and the American Revolution in 1776, churches were almost entirely funded by the state. Senates and kings paid for everything. Really, your tax dollars did. (Well, considering the United States used to be British, your tax pounds did.) They felt it was the state’s duty to do so; that if you’re truly a Christian nation, the nation sponsors the church. Right?

But then the United States quit being British. Our states all rewrote their constitutions. In them, nearly all of them included freedom of religion: The state has no official church, so citizens aren’t compelled to state any particular Christian creed… nor fund any particular Christian church.

Churches hated the idea, because now it meant they had to fund themselves. And now they do: By telling their regulars we need to tithe.

For thine is the kingdom…

by K.W. Leslie, 22 October

Matthew 6.13.

At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, in both the well-known Book of Common Prayer version and the King James Version, it ends with this line:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

It comes from the Didache, an instruction manual for new Christians written in the first century. Yep, around the same time the New Testament was written. Its version of the Lord’s Prayer includes that line, whereas the oldest copies of Matthew do not. But because a lot of ancient Christians used the Didache to instruct new Christians, a lot of ’em were taught the Didache version of the Lord’s Prayer… and that last line gradually worked its way into ancient copies of Matthew. And from there into the Vulgate, the Textus Receptus, the Lutherbibel, the Geneva Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the King James Version.

So it’s not from the bible? No it actually is from the bible. But it’s from Daniel, not Jesus. Comes from this verse:

Daniel 7.14 KWL
The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

Jesus didn’t end his prayer with “Amen,” which quickly became a Christian custom, so the authors of the Didache wanted to include it. And while they were at it, a nice worshipful closing. ’Cause the Ancient of Days is gonna grant the Son his kingdom, and authority (i.e. power), and honor (i.e. glory), forever and ever. It’s all true, so there’s nothing at all wrong with saying and praying it.

But no, Jesus didn’t tell us to say it. So it’s optional.

So if you wanna get all literalist—and a little bit legalist—fine; pray the Lord’s Prayer without the added-on line. But it’s not gonna hurt you, at all, to say it. In fact it’s a useful reminder Jesus is coming back to establish his kingdom on earth—which’ll be awesome!—and he’s gonna have authority and honor, and his kingdom is gonna last a mighty long time… and even outlast the earth itself.

And hopefully the people who prefer the Book of Common Prayer version don’t clash with the KJV fans, because the KJV only has “for ever” instead of “forever and ever.” Y’all need to make accommodations for one another, instead of demanding uniformity. We’re all saying the Lord’s Prayer here; the intent, not the translation, is what matters.

Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October
BISHOP 'bɪʃ.əp noun. A senior member of the Christian clergy. Usually in charge of multiple churches, like a district or diocese; usually empowered to appoint other clergy.
2. A chess piece. Each player gets two, and they only move diagonally; one on white squares, and one on black.
[Episcopal ə'pɪs.kə.pəl adjective.]

When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus about church leaders, one particular word he used was ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor.” The King James Version translates this word as “overseer” Ac 20.28 KJV and “bishop.” 1Pe 2.25 KJV We actually got the latter word “bishop” from epískopon; you just have to drop the -on ending and swap the epí- for bi-, and soften the k sound. Language evolves like that.

Every church has supervisors of one form or another. But not all of ’em use the word “bishop” for them; not all of ’em are comfortable with that word, ’cause they think of it as a Catholic thing. So they use other words, like “pastor” or “minister” or “overseer” or “superintendent” or “president.” Varies from church to church.

Now, some of the reason people don’t wanna use “bishop” to translate epískopon is because of what “bishop” means nowadays: A person who supervises multiple churches, or multiple campuses of a really big church. (Although some pastors just want a more important-sounding title, so they use “bishop” regardless. Watch out for those guys. But back to my point.) They figure Paul was writing about the head leader in one particular church, so to their minds epíksopon means “pastor,” and that’s how they interpret it.

And they’re right. It is equivalent to what we mean by “pastor”—the person who supervises and shepherds a flock of Christians. Like Jesus. 1Pe 2.25 But you gotta remember in the first century, churches met in homes, and frequently and necessarily multiple homes. The person supervising one group, quickly found himself supervising multiple groups. Multiple campuses of the same church. Like bishops do nowadays. And over time, when churches moved into church buildings, bishops would be in charge of the church for the whole city, but they weren’t able to be in multiple places at once to run the services. So each individual service had a presbyter (who became what we now call “priests”) run things. Again, kinda like multi-campus churches today.

But we don’t have to call the head leader a bishop. Doesn’t matter what you call them: Pastor (senior pastor, head pastor, lead pastor, teaching pastor, pastor emeritus), priest, vicar, minister, reverend, apostle, prophet, chairman, president, senior elder, chief deacon. Wherever the buck stops, that’s who Paul meant. That’s your bishop.

For the sake of churches which get nervous about that title, I’ll just say “supervisor” from here on out.

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October
PRESBYTER 'prɛz.bə.dər, 'prɛs.bə.dər noun. An elder in a Christian church.
2. The formal title of a minister or priest, in certain Christian denominations.
[Presbyteral prɛz'bə.dər.əl adjective, presbyterial prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.əl adjective, presbyterian prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.ən adjective.]

You likely know the word presbyterian because there are presbyterian churches, and a few presbyterian denominations. The word’s in their names. Y’might not know what it means: It indicates these particular churches aren’t run by the head pastor, nor run from afar by a bishop, nor are they a democracy where all the members get a vote. They’re run by a limited number of qualified mature Christians. They’re run by elders.

The New Testament word which we translate “elder” is πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, and in the Latin bible this became presbyter. So yeah, it’s a Latin word. Still means “elder.”

The ancient church was run by elders for a few centuries, but it gradually evolved into something more hierarchical: Presbyters became the priests who run the church services; bishops were the supervisors who oversaw all the churches in town; archbishops oversaw all the bishops in the province; patriarchs oversaw all the bishops in the country. Western churches got it into their heads their patriarch oversaw all the bishops in the world, including other patriarchs… and that’s one of the ways the Roman Catholic Church grew distant and distinct from the Orthodox Church, causing the universal church to officially split in 1054. But both those churches still think of presbyter and priest as the same thing—and an elder as something entirely different.

After the Protestant movement began, churches still largely ran the same way, with archbishops and bishops and priests. But once the Church of Scotland went Protestant, they started to rethink the whole church leadership idea. Top-down leadership wasn’t working for them… and not everybody in the church was spiritually mature enough to responsibly vote for things. So who should lead? Their solution, which they’re pretty sure comes from bible: Elders.

Titus 1.5-9 ESV
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

True, lots of Christians like to make a distinction between elder and overseer (Greek ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor”; KJV “bishop”) as two different titles and offices in a church. But the way Paul of Tarsus phrased it to Titus of Crete, he treated the terms as interchangeable. Elders supervise. (And there’s still a little bit of hierarchy: Titus was to appoint these elders, and supervise them. Whether you’re fine with hierarchical churches or not, every Christian answers to every other Christian, y’know.)

How presbyterian churches oughta work, is presbyters get selected from the congregation: Somebody in leadership recognizes you’re mature enough to be included in the leadership, and invites you to join in. And now you’re contributing to how the church is run. You have a say. Your voice gets heard. And the presbyters actually do run stuff.

Yeah, the church has a head pastor, because somebody needs to be the executive around there, but the pastor doesn’t run everything; the presbyters do. The pastor doesn’t do all the work—and no church’s pastor should do all the work!—but presbyters do. And the pastor doesn’t decide everything, like the church’s mission statement or policies or goals or faith statement: Presbyters do.

How presbyterian churches actually do work, varies.

Elders: The grownups in the church.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October
ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective. Of a greater or advanced age.
2. [noun] A person of greater or advanced age.
3. [noun] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility.
[Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun.]

After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which was fine, ’cause he’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.)

Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became a problem, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another two or five thousand; Ac 4.4 it’s debatable. In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus; the food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized they needed more leaders, and told the people to select their ministers based on their honesty, wisdom, and spirituality. Ac 6.3 In other words their spiritual maturity.

When Paul of Tarsus wrote to Timothy of Lystra about 20 years later, the apostle reminded the youngish bishop that spiritual maturity was still a requirement for leadership. Y’don’t just pick leaders because they’re friendly, popular, magnetic, and entertaining. (Or because they’re family!) You pick them because they’re fruity; because they’ve been letting the Holy Spirit develop their character and make ’em like Jesus. Only christlike people should lead and run Christ Jesus’s churches; nobody else is appropriate.

And arguably only people with Christ’s traits should run anything. Businesses, organizations, charities, campaigns; only they should be considered for public office. No I’m not saying only Christians should hold public offices; not only is that not constitutional, but it ignores the fact non-Christians can often be just as patient, thoughtful, gracious, kind, and self-controlled as any Christian. (More than many Christians, sometimes.) My point is the grownups need to be in charge. That’s especially true in Christ’s churches, but oughta be true everywhere.

The Christianese term for grownup is elder, which comes from the New Testament’s word πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, “elder.” It’s where we also get our Christianese word presbyterian, “elder-run,” meaning a church run by elders, instead of by voting members or solely by the head pastor. Yeah, “elder” makes it sound like the church is being run by its old people (and yeah, such churches totally exist). But when the apostles who wrote the New Testament discussed a presvýteros, they meant the longtime, devout, spiritually senior Christians. The folks they could legitimately trust to give sound advice about following Jesus. The folks we should be able to trust.

Deliver us from evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

Enoch.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 October

In seminary a fellow student told me about the worst sermon he’d ever heard. It was based on this verse:

Genesis 5.24 KJV
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

The preacher began with this verse, paused, and continued, “And lemme tell you what Enoch was not: Enoch was not faithless! Enoch was not afraid! Enoch was not weak!” And so on. The preacher listed all sorts of things Enoch presumably was not.

Based on what? Well, here’s the entirety of what the bible has on חֲנ֥וֹךְ/Khenókh, whom we know as Enoch ben Jared. (Not Enoch ben Cain; Ge 4.17 that’s a different guy.)

Genesis 5.18-24 NRSV
18 When Jared had lived one hundred sixty-two years he became the father of Enoch. 19 Jared lived after the birth of Enoch eight hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 Thus all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty-two years; and he died.
21 When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.

His name gets dropped in two genealogies. 1Ch 1.2, Lk 3.36 Jesus ben Sirach refers to him twice in his apocryphal book. Si 44.16, 49.14 NRSV Then:

Hebrews 11.5-6 NRSV
5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” Ge 5.24 For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” Si 44.16 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
 
Jude 1.14-15 NRSV
14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude refers to 1 Enoch, another apocryphal book, which claims to have Enoch’s prophecies in it. The saying “Enoch walked with God” Ge 5.24 shows Enoch and the LORD had an interactive relationship, so likely Enoch did prophesy from time to time. Still, the reason 1 Enoch isn’t in the bible—isn’t even in Orthodox and Catholic bibles—is because it’s profoundly unlikely Enoch wrote it.

Anyway. As you can see, there’s very little about Enoch in the bible altogether, which means there’s not a lot we can say Enoch was, much less was not. I mean he mighta been weak and afraid, though Hebrews makes it clear he certainly had to have had faith.

Let’s dig into the little we have.

Why are people nontheist? No, it’s not bad Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

Nontheists are people who live their lives with zero concern for God. They don’t believe he even exists, or doubt his existence enough to act as if he’s not. They won’t always call themselves atheists or agnostics, ’cause those guys tend to be antichrists and jerks: They’re not anti-religious. They’re simply not religious.

Why are people nontheist? Simple: It’s how they were raised. They had nontheist parents. Like my dad: My grandparents never outright said they didn’t believe in God, but nothing they did ever indicated any belief, and that’s what they passed along to their kids. My aunts and uncle went other routes, but Dad decided upon atheism.

Now what about people who weren’t raised nontheist? Well, Brennan Manning, a former Franciscan priest who became a popular author and public speaker, had a theory that’s become very widely accepted among Evangelical Christians.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Kevin Max reads the quote before the song “What If I Stumble?” off DC Talk’s bestselling 1995 album Jesus Freak. A lot of Evangelicals listened to that album, heard the idea, thought it brilliant, and spread it far and wide. We still claim it’s true: People become nontheist because Christians suck. So stop sucking! Quit being such jerks and love your neighbor! Be compassionate, be loving, be kind, and win people to Jesus by actually being like Jesus!

And yeah, I’ve known various ex-Christians who quit Christianity because their fellow Christians were awful to them. Like gay kids whose parents drove them away (and called it “tough love”—like they’re gonna shun the gayness out of them). Like kids who dared question their legalistic parents, and the parents decided it made ’em apostate, and the kids actually became apostate. Such ex-Christians aren’t necessarily nontheist: Many do believe in God, but they no longer identify as Christian, so they’re pagan. But they might not be pagan had they experienced God’s love through God’s supposed people.

So yeah, maybe the greatest single cause of paganism today, is Christians who don’t properly demonstrate Jesus’s love. Like all humans, pagans are looking for love and acceptance, and if they don’t get it from Christians, they’ll seek and find it elsewhere.

But nontheists?—people who don’t believe in God altogether?—meh.

I’d recommend we stop swallowing Manning and DC Talk’s idea whole, and actually talk to some nontheists. You’ll find out really quickly their objection actually isn’t Christians behaving badly. (Though it certainly doesn’t help!) They don’t believe in God because they don’t find the God-idea reasonable.