Posts

Reformation Day.

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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 scho

On not giving to certain churches.

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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. Plu

How do we fund our churches?

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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 ric

For thine is the kingdom…

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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 vers

Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

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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 “minis

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

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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

Elders: The grownups in the church.

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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 th

Deliver us from evil.

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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

Enoch.

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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 w

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

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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 t

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

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For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday… which actually turns out to be a legitimate part of the Christian calendar. No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. Christians invented Halloween. A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports. Image swiped from a mommy blog. No it sure doesn’t look like Christians’ original intent. That’s because we let the pagans take it over. By “pagans” I mean non-Christians. No I don’t mean the capital-P Pagans, the nature religions which date from the 1960s, but who claim they revived ancient pre-Christian religions. Pretty sure the ancient religions didn’t believe their gods were only symbolic archetypes of natural forces; they believed in liter