Sunday, February 10, 2019

Church Write-Up: The Call; Following Jesus; Canon

Here is this week’s Church Write-Up. I attended the LCMS church.

A. Here are some items from the pastor’s sermon. He told a lot of anecdotes, but not all of the following items are anecdotes. The theme was God’s call, and the pastor’s main text was Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus calls Peter to be a fisher of people.

—-The pastor talked about a woman who runs a half-way house for single mothers. I have heard her speak, and the church partners with her. She found that she enjoyed mothering and that she was good at mentoring single mothers. But she was not just doing running the halfway house because she enjoyed it and was good at it. She felt it was a divine calling on her life.

—-Jesus instructed Peter to go out into the deep and cast his net. That was literal, the pastor said: Jesus was asking Peter to do something that was counterintuitive to his instincts as a fisherman, since fish preferred to be closer to the shore, where the sunlight struck at that time of the day. But the pastor also saw something spiritual and metaphorical here: Jesus was inviting Peter to confront the deepest parts of himself. The pastor said that there are many things deep within himself that he does not want people to know about. They entered him years ago, sunk to the bottom, and stayed, like trash at the bottom of the ocean; at times, they can come to the surface. But God can use us, even with those deep parts. The pastor told a story about someone he knew from seminary. This student was burdened by seminary, since it was demanding: learning Hebrew and Greek and systematic theology can be daunting. The student suffered from depression and attempted to commit suicide. He was unsuccessful because cars saw him and did not run him over, but his pelvis was crushed from jumping onto the road. He was in the hospital and lived only for three weeks, but he spent that time witnessing to terminally ill people about Jesus.

—-As he did in Wednesday’s class, the pastor talked about how Peter prior to his calling knew who Jesus was, admired and respected Jesus, and was attracted to Jesus’s teachings. But Peter’s connection with Jesus was not yet personal. The pastor told a story about a professor of his who studied under a renowned New Testament professor at an east coast seminary. The NT professor lectured about the Greek and loved the stories of the Gospels, but he confessed privately that he did not believe that Jesus was his Savior.

—-Jesus called Peter to use his skill-set for the service of the Gospel. The pastor told a story about a Lutheran he knew who owned his own oil company and was a billionaire, though you would not know it talking with him, since the man simply came across as a cheerful Lutheran. The man said that he has always tried to honor God in his everyday life, whether he is at work or serving the church.

B. In the youth part of the service, the youth pastor said that we do not literally follow Jesus around, as the disciples did, but we follow Jesus when we spread forgiveness, share God’s love, and serve in Jesus’s name.

C. The Sunday School class completed a series called “Books and Readers in the Early Church: Forming the Biblical Canon.” Here are some items:

—-A question that has recurred throughout the class has been why the early church used the codex instead of scrolls, when scrolls were prominent. The answer that the teacher thinks makes the most sense is that the early church preserved and circulated Paul’s writings as a collection, and it was unfeasible to put all of that onto a scroll: that would be a very big scroll! It would be more convenient and economical to put them onto a codex and to circulate them that way. Paul was seen as the interpreter of the Old Testament, so the Old Testament was attached, and eventually the Gospels, too, were attached.

—-The teacher went through criteria that the “orthodox party” used to accept New Testament books as authoritative. In a sense, this was a bottom up process: churches were using and circulating most of the books that are in our canonical New Testament, as those were the books that God used to edify the church and to transform lives. But there were Gnostic Christian writings, and the “orthodox party” felt a need to deal with those. Gnosticism was against physicality and was elitist, thinking that only those with special knowledge could be saved, and that only a few were even capable of that special knowledge; the rest were simply doomed. Christianity, by contrast, thought that God created the physical and worked within the physical, and that Christ died to save all. Among the criteria for accepting a book as authoritative: a book must be by an apostle or someone who knew an apostle; a book must be consistent with apostolic teaching, the Gospel, as it exists in the church’s teaching and in the Old Testament (particularly Isaiah); and the book must speak in God’s style, according to God’s voice as it appears in the Old Testament. Other factors contributed to canonization, such as the costliness of producing books that encouraged the church to decide which books deserved priority, and how the state in the third century was burning Christian books and Christians needed to decide which books they were willing to die for.

—-The teacher talked about lists of New Testament books. Justin Martyr in the second century CE said that the church at services read from the Old Testament then the memoirs of the apostles, then there was the homily. Origen’s commentary on Joshua appears to refer to all of the New Testament books: four Gospels, 1-2 Peter, James, Jude, Luke-Acts, Paul’s fourteen books, and Johannine writings (Gospel, Epistles, Revelation). This is by 250 CE. Origen also alludes to books in a homily on Isaac’s wells in the Book of Genesis. By the fourth century, the Council of Nicea listed 27 books of the New Testament as canonical. There is also Athanasius’s festal letter (367 CE). The teacher said that, technically, the canon has never been closed. A person can write a book now, and, if the church concludes that God is using that book in a special way, it could be added to the canon.

—-The teacher talked about how the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible differ. He said that the Hebrew Bible ends with Ezra-Nehemiah; my understanding is that it ends with 2 Chronicles, but I remember reading in John Sailhamer’s book on the Pentateuch that the Jews end their Bible with Ezra-Nehemiah, so the teacher probably was not getting that idea from nowhere. The Septuagint ends with the prophets. Judaism ends with Ezra-Nehemiah because it is about the fulfillment of the promise that the Jews would return from exile to their land. Christianity adopted the Septuagint’s order because the prophets predict the Messiah, then we turn right to the New Testament and there is Jesus, the Messiah the prophets predicted.

—-The teacher talked some about the Apocrypha. Protestants regard the Apocrypha as edifying but they rejected it as authoritative for doctrine because the Catholics used it to support purgatory, plus they identified errors in it. Catholics nowadays treat it as secondary canon, calling it Deuterocanonical. The teacher says he doubts it is read in Catholic services. I have heard Wisdom and Ben Sira read in Catholic services, though, and I have come across Catholics who treat the Apocrypha as divinely-inspired. Yet, the teacher does make a good point: Catholics call them Deuterocanonical, for some reason.

—-The teacher attempted to define inerrancy. He says that the Bible was not dropped from heaven or written by people possessed, so it is not like what the Muslims claim about the Quran. We read Paul, and we can see his personality. The Bible, however, conveys God’s will accurately. God can use broken people and vessels to do God’s will, so God can also use texts that are imperfect, due to the absence of the original manuscripts (which are inerrant), copying errors, and different versions. I was thinking of asking him what he thought about Bart Ehrman’s conclusions. Bart Ehrman argues that orthodox Christians made slight alterations to the New Testament text to make it more consistent with orthodoxy: to eliminate any possible implication of adoptionism, or that Joseph was Jesus’s father. But time was running out, and the teacher would have to explain who Bart Ehrman is, what adoptionism is, and what Ehrman argues, before offering his critique, so I did not ask my question.

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