A write-up about church, followed by a brief book write-up:
A. Bible study today was about Romans 14. Romans 14 is about the strong and the weak believers and how the strong believers should be compassionate about where the weaker believers are. The pastor interpreted this in light of the return of Jewish Christians to Rome after their expulsion by Claudius. Jewish Christians were returning to churches where they once predominated and maybe even founded, and the churches now were run by Gentiles. Jewish Christians opposed eating improperly slaughtered meat, which had not been drained of blood, and they also refrained from pork and observed the Sabbath day. Gentile Christians lacked such scruples. Gentile Christians were to exercise tolerance and love towards the returning Jewish Christians. All of their focus was to be glorifying God: giving thanks to God and testifying to others about who God is to them. Righteousness is based, not on food laws, but on peace with God through Christ and the joy in the Holy Spirit that results from that.
The pastor was saying that such issues were adiaphora: things neither abandoned nor forbidden. The problem, though, is that the Jewish Christians believed that their scruples reflected God’s command. Or did they? The pastor talked as if they sincerely believed that God was the source of their scruples, yet he also referred, by analogy, to a woman in his past congregation who continued to use rosary beads. She was not praying to Mary, but, as an ex-Catholic who had become a Lutheran, she was holding on to a custom that had given her peace. Was that what the Jewish Christians were doing: holding on to customs that had given them spiritual nourishment, without believing that everyone was obligated to observe those customs?
The pastor also referred to I Corinthians 8, which is about meat sacrificed to idols. Corinth was a polyglot society, and various peoples brought their different gods and cults into Corinth. To financially support their temples, they sold the sacrificial meat on the market, and the meat was often cheaper than the “farmer’s market” meat. According to the pastor, both the “strong” and the “weak” acknowledged that the idol was nothing, but those who opposed eating the meat sacrificed to idols based their stance on their opposition to supporting pagan cults and their belief that such a purchase gave the idols credibility.
The pastor also brought up the issue of temptation. Churches may decide not to have dances so as to avoid tempting those who struggle sexually, or they may refrain from using only alcohol at communion so as to avoid tempting the recovering alcoholic. This brings me back to my question, though: did the “weaker” brothers sincerely believe that violating the Jewish law was a sin, not simply a matter of adiaphora? Why else would they worry about being tempted to eat pork or work on the Sabbath? Or did they recognize that such things were not sinful but that they had a difficult time moving on from them? But, against the latter possibility, Paul in Romans 14 says “to him it’s a sin.”
Another issue: according to Genesis 9 and the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15, even Gentiles are prohibited by God and the church to eat blood. So concern about animal slaughter should not just be a Jewish Christian issue but of concern to Gentile Christians as well. Or did Paul view aspects of the Acts 15 ruling as a tentative concession to Jewish sensibilities, not as a permanent law?
The pastor referred to the view that Paul’s language about “strong” and “weak” is based on Ezekiel 34, in which the strong sheep oppress the weak sheep. Paul wants the stronger Christians to be compassionate towards the weak, not oppressive.
B. Glenn Packiam. Worship and the World to Come: Exploring Christian Hope in Contemporary Worship. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.
Glenn Packiam has a doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Durham and pastors at New Life Church in Colorado
This book attempts four tasks. First, Packiam nuances the definitions of hope and worship. Second, Packiam discusses the eschatologies of N.T. Wright and J. Moltmann. Third, Packiam looks at the worship songs used by a Presbyterian and a charismatic church. What he finds is that their hope is rooted in God’s activity in the present, not the future, and he speculates that this may be because of the churches’ well-off economic status in the West. Fourth, Packiam observes that the songs still minister to people in tangible ways, which he believes is from God’s Spirit, and he attempts to account for how God can use shallow lyrics. Still, perhaps because he sees a need to tie the book together, Packiam gives a nod to contemporary worship songs that actually manifest an eschatological hope.
The nuanced delineation of hope adds a depth to the book. Packiam’s discussion of eschatology refrains from being a solely banal account of how N.T. Wright believes in a physicalist eschatology (renewed creation) but gets into how Wright believes Paul recapitulates Old Testament hopes in Jesus, differences between Wright and Moltmann on the millennium, and the question of whether God will destroy the old earth and create a new one. The analysis of the worship songs raises noteworthy observations, though Packiam perhaps could have interacted more with why the Presbyterian congregation’s songs focus a lot on the past, not just the present. The stories about why people are drawn to particular church services, and how these services minister to them, is also worth reading.
Occasionally, Packiam refers to skeptical positions: the view that hope is escapism, and the view that the positive feelings that people get from church services is psychological rather than caused by the Holy Spirit. Packiam could have interacted with these views more, but, as it is, the book is deep, insightful, and inspiring.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.