Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

A&tCL IV – the Rest of the Pentateuch

January 16, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, which deals with wine/alcohol as mentioned in Genesis.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine in one way or another as a means of understanding more clearly how Scripture addresses the role of wine and alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

Exodus only mentions wine once – 29:40.  Contextually, this chapter continues God’s details to his people for how they will worship him, and specifically this verse is part of the detail of the daily offering that will be burned by the priests on the altar.  Yayin is the Hebrew word used here, and I think that overall, the verse demonstrates again that wine is part of the lives of God’s people and so it is part of a daily offering to God.

Leviticus contains two mentions of wine, both using the Hebrew yayinLeviticus 10 is an interesting passage.  It describes the death of Aaron’s two sons, who were serving as priests and took it upon themselves to make an incense offering to God that was not required.  This seems to be a liturgical issue, where they are doing something not prescribed by God for worship.  Scripture is silent on their motivations for doing this.  While we meet Nadab and Abihu in Exodus, no comment is made about them until this incident.  Based on 10:9, perhaps God was judging them for serving in an intoxicated state.  Perhaps even with good intentions, while intoxicated they took it upon themselves to innovate in a matter of worship and were punished for it.  That’s speculation, but it would help explain why God sees it necessary to warn against drinking before entering his presence.

Note that the prohibition is not a general one, but specific.  They are not to drink either wine or other strong drink – so here is a Hebrew word with a broader semantic domain than wine – shekar (7941), which is loosely translated as any strong (alcoholic) drink.  It also has semantic links with another Hebrew word for drunkenness (shakar).  Shekar appears 23 times in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 23 is another passage dealing with appropriate sacrifices and includes wine (yayin).

Numbers has several mentions of wine.  Numbers 6:3, 20  are part of the details of the Nazirite vow, and in addition to yayin also mention shekar.  The Nazirite vow is a formal dedication of a person to a particular vow or promise, and entails an outwards manifestation of that vow in how they look (they don’t cut their hair) as well as what they do (no contact with anything that comes from the grape fine as well as other cultic requirements).  By inference, it would seem that wine is once again a typical part of people’s regular lives, and so the Nazirite vows remove the person from that day-to-day routine until the completion of their vow.

Numbers 15:5, 7 & 10 as well as Numbers 28:14 all have to do with sacrifices, and all utilize yayin.

Numbers 18:12 utilizes tirosh.  The section has to do with what the priests and their families are entitled  to from the sacrifices of God’s people, including the best of the offered oil and wine.  God’s priests are not prohibited from God’s blessing to his creation in wine.

Finally, the last book of the Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, has multiple mentions of wine utilizing yayin, tirosh, and for the first time (and only time in the Old Testament) enab.

Enab appears in Deuteronomy 32:14, which is an extended song that Moses composes, summarizing God’s history with his people thus far.  The use of enab here may be entirely poetic.  It is part of a section summarizing the great and lavish care that God provided to his people, and I don’t see any contextual reason to treat this as anything other than a synonym for yayin or tirosh.  In other words, there is no contextual reason to think that God provided his people, as summarized by Moses, with something other than wine as we know it and is referenced elsewhere.  I don’t think Moses is claiming that God only provided his people with non-alcoholic wine.

Yayin is used in Deuteronomy 14:26, 28:39, 29:6, and 32:33 and 38.  Deuteronomy 14 is interesting because here God’s people are clearly told that they can enjoy both wine and strong drink (shekar).  Once they enter the Promised Land and take possession of it and begin to live off the land, they are to set aside a portion of their annual produce in order to take it and feast on it where God directs them to – mostly likely wherever the Ark of the Covenant is currently located.  This includes grain (bread), oil, meat, and wine.  If they live far away from the designated location, they are allowed to sell what they have set aside for money, and to take that money with them to the designated place and there purchase these things to enjoy.  In other words, God is commanding his people to relax and enjoy what God has provided as a means of thanking God for what He has provided.  He specifically wants them to eat and drink in his presence and by doing so to give thanks to him for what He has provided!

Deuteronomy 28:39 is part of a section outlining the curses that God will visit upon his people if they forget their covenant and abandon his directives.  Part of that curse is that their vineyards will be devoured by worms resulting in a lack of wine.

Deuteronomy 29:6 is a summation of the experience of God’s people with God since He brought them out of Egypt.  Their condition is one of being wanderers, unable to produce anything and reliant completely on the providence of God.  He has fed them with manna and quail and water because they have not been able to grow grain, cultivate herds, or plant vineyards.  As such, they have not had wine or strong drink, but God has still watched over them and provided for them, just as their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out despite their long sojourn in the wilderness and their inability to easily produce new ones.

Deuteronomy 32:33 & 38 is from Moses’ song mentioned earlier, and is prophetically describing how God’s people will wander from him and how they will suffer.  How they will take his blessings and turn from the one who gives them.  It is a prophetic indictment against apostasy, and is not concerned specifically with wine beyond it being shorthand for part of God’s blessings to his people.

Tirosh is used in Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4, 28:51 and 33:28.  Deuteronomy 7:13 and 11: 14 are both references to how God will bless his people.  Deuteronomy 12:17 is linked with chapter 14 (and therefore 14:23) in reference to the proper use of the tithe that they are to be setting aside through the year.  Deuteronomy 18:4 is a directive to God’s people on what they are to provide for the priests through their tithes.  Deuteronomy 28:51 is a description of God’s curses to his people if (when!) they abandon his covenant, and this includes destruction of their vineyards and wine in addition to other staples of life.  Finally, Deuteronomy 33:28 is part of Moses’ final blessing on God’s people, tribe by tribe.  Specifically is part of the final, more general blessing over all of God’s people.

So the first specific Biblical warning against alcohol occurs in the context of God’s priests who are attending to their duties.   They are not to show up for service in the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) intoxicated or having recently imbibed any alcoholic drink.  That certainly sounds like wise advice!  Overall the Books of Moses are very consistent in their use of either yayin or tirosh when referencing wine, demonstrating no clear difference in meaning between these two words.

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Good Listening

January 15, 2018

Sunday Evening Happy Hour continues to grow into an eclectic gathering of people.  In addition to 20-something college graduates planning the next phase of their lives we have other people from the community.  One such category is people we know through the home school community.  Another is colleagues and work-mates of the people who have come to call Sunday nights at our house home.

A few weeks ago we had a co-worker of one of our regulars come.   She was surprised that it was mostly people younger than her, and while she seemed a bit awkward about this initially, I was able to sit with her and have an extended discussion that covered a lot of ground about her life.  And last night we had a young woman who works at the local hospital and is pursuing a career as a doctor come after many months of invitations by another of our regulars.  By the end of the night she told her friend I want to come back here every week!  She met some new people, played games around the table with the group that includes our kids, undoubtedly got drawn into some conversations, and of course marveled at the wonder that is our oldest son’s popcorn.  Mostly I hope she found a place where she didn’t need to prove anything, she could just be.

I guess I can understand the appeal.

Over the past two years we’ve also regularly had the international students who live with us participate in these events, and my family is always excited when they do.  Some of course have robust social lives of their own during their stay in our town, but others are on the quieter side and are often home on Sunday nights.  The Japanese girl who lived with us since September was a regular attender.  She got to experience American food and drinks, listened in on a wide-ranging spectrum of conversations and had the opportunity to ask questions as well as share about how things work in her country.  She also witnessed a very emotionally-charged theological discussion, and hopefully got a glimpse of how Christians try to make sense of the Bible in their lives and communities.  Coming from Japan she described herself as a nominal Buddhist, but like many young Japanese we’ve met, she really doesn’t know or understand much about Buddhism beyond the ritual level.  She goes to the temples or shrines on certain occasions, reflexively engages in motions of gratitude, but doesn’t have any real connection to the why of these things.  But as she lived with us and experienced larger community on Sundays, she at least saw that Christians her age are looking for ways to truly connect what they believe with how they live.  Not always perfectly, and certainly not always in harmony, but still searching.

But she’s no longer living with us.  And last night we had a new student with us – a 68-year old woman from Brazil.  She’s never been to the United States before.  Or Europe.  Or even anywhere outside of her home country.  She lives in a small town (8000 people if we understand her correctly) deep in the heart of the country and teaches English there.  Her accent is thick and it requires careful listening to understand her at times.

So in the swirl of people and laughter, eating and music and games, she sat on our couch with my wife, and they talked.  One of our regulars stopped me at one point and pointed.  She’s really good at that! I smiled and nodded.  She meant how my wife could sit and patiently listen and seek to understand and be understood with another person despite significant language and cultural hurdles.

Another regular told my wife later I don’t see how you can do that.  I don’t have the patience for that.  I used to, but I don’t any more.  It’s an honest statement.  While most people would like to believe that they are good listeners who are willing to take the time to successfully hear and be heard, the reality is that most  people aren’t.  It’s hard work.  It takes time.  It can be painstakingly slow progress at times.

But there is also the issue that many people come to conversation primarily for what they can say, and less so for what they might hear.  It’s not as though they have a pre-formulated agenda of topics they want to discuss (although some people definitely do that!).  But once a conversation begins to circle around a particular topic, they organize their thoughts, opinions, experiences, sift through them for the ones they think are most pertinent, and then wait for the first opportunity to insert them into the conversation.  These are not bad or rude people, but I think it’s how we’re culturally formed – particularly these days when we’re used to just shouting out our ideas at random people on bumper stickers, tweets and status updates.  We listen more selectively, and unfortunately I think more shallow-ly.  When we have time or inclination.  And even then we don’t necessarily listen (and are not necessarily required to listen based on the types of pronouncements people make), but scroll through rapidly.  Perhaps looking for something interesting that we can respond to.

These dynamics become clearer when dealing inter-culturally and through language barriers.  If the goal is to say what I want to say, such conversations rapidly lose appeal because the odds of me being able to say what I want to say and have it be understood quickly are pretty slim.  The emphasis is more heavily on the listening component because I can’t assume that I will or have heard the other person correctly.  And then I have to listen again to ensure that they’ve heard and understood me.  I have to study facial expressions and body language to help clue me in, since nobody (regardless of culture!) likes to look foolish or stupid and so we tend to nod our heads as though we understand even when we don’t.

But I think the same dynamics are often at play conversationally with people who speak the same language.  Some people like to talk.  Other people prefer to listen.  Relationship happens when these dynamics balance out, and that can take a long time – months or even years – to happen.  One of our regulars said to me the other day (after attending regularly for the past year or more) I don’t think I’ve ever really talked with you.  I don’t really know you at all.  But I’d like to.  I nodded and smiled.  They’re a talker and I’m a listener.  But given the proper time and space and motivation, our natural bents can be moderated.  Talkers can (and do want to!) listen.  And yes, listeners can (and do want to!) talk.  It might take a long time for those variations in personality to be identified and then consciously altered to accommodate the other, but they can be.  Deeper relationship can form.

But it takes patience on everyone’s part, and part of Christian community’s purpose is to be a place where patience as well as intentionality is modeled.  Where people can see when someone is really good at something, and then recognize that perhaps it’s an area they can work on in their lives, or at least praise and encourage other people in.  Listening is hard for some people.  Just like talking is very hard for me.  But together, each can learn and better appreciate the other and what they have to offer.  That’s part of the heart of Christian community, and an important witness to a world around us.

A&tCL III – Wine in Genesis

January 10, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, and is continued in this post which concludes an examination of the references to wine in the Pentateuch.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine  in order to better understand how Scripture addresses the role of alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

The first time wine is mentioned in the Bible is immediately after the Flood narrative.  Once the Flood is over and the ark has landed and disgorged the inhabitants, we are told that Noah plants a vineyard and then becomes drunk on the fruits of this vineyard.

Genesis 9 gives us this account, and the word wine appears specifically in verses 21 & 24.  In both cases it is the Hebrew word yayin, the most common Hebrew word translated as wine from the Old Testament.  While we don’t hear about wine prior to the Flood, the fact that this is part of Noah’s farming venture tells me that viticulture existed prior to the Flood.

While wine is part of this story, theologically it is not the main point.  We see that Noah drinks to excess which sets in motion a series of other events that are more directly in focus – he is naked, his son sees this, his son is disrespectful about this, and judgment ensues.  Excessive wine sets these events in motion, but I think it would be erroneous to judge this passage simply as a condemnation of wine.  Coming just after the Flood, it is the first incidence of sin we see after humanity is wiped out.  The main point is that, as God notes in 8:21, sin is still part of human nature after the Fall.  The Flood did not eliminate sin (and I would argue strongly that this was not its intent and should not be interpreted as such!).  Sin is therefore revealed to us in Noah and his son, because of drunkenness and all the problems which can result from it.

I think it a reasonable conclusion to say that this passage condemns drunkenness.  This is certainly a theme throughout Scripture and is not out of place here.  But nowhere in this passage is wine cursed or  blamed.  Some might argue that had it not been for the wine, this situation would have been avoided.  Fair enough, but if the overall point of the passage is to reveal that sin has not been eradicated, that it exists even in the most righteous of men, then again wine is the means by which this truth is revealed but is not the main point of the episode.  Wine is the means by which the sin in the heart already is revealed and made obvious to others.

Wine (yayin) is mentioned again in Genesis 14:18.  It is one of the gifts that Melchizedek gives to Abram in recognition for his service in defeating his ally’s enemies.  We are first told that the King of Sodom goes out to meet Abram, and then we are introduced to the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who is also a priest of God most high.  Theologians are quick to pick up on the sacramental elements involved in this scenario – a priest of God who offers wine and bread!  Holy Communion!  It’s hard to avoid this connection, but there are no overt Sacramental tones in this scenario.  Wine is part of the story but it would be wrong to insist that it was only a sacramental element rather than part of a larger feast.  I don’t think we can rightly claim, based on this text alone, that Abram just had a sip of wine (like at Communion).

Wine (yayin) is next present in Genesis 19 and the disturbing after-story to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Once again wine is the means by which sin occurs, this time an active, premeditated sinful action by Lot’s daughters.  Lot drinks too much, which is the condition by which sin is perpetrated.  Certainly this passage once again shows the dangers of drunkenness and losing control of one’s faculties.  But once again it seems a stretch to see this passage as specifically a condemnation of alcohol.  Rather it reveals the sinfulness of Lot’s family.  Despite the graciousness of God in sparing Lot and his family, and despite the fact that there is a small town nearby (Genesis 19:17-22), Lot’s daughters presume that only a sinful course of action will ensure their family survival.

Genesis 27 is interesting in regard to wine – not so much for the role wine plays as for the fact that it is the first time that more than one Hebrew word is used for wine in a single passage.  Yayin is used in verse 25, while tirosh is used in verses 28 & 37.  There doesn’t appear to be any differentiation of usage between these verses.  Verses 28 & 37 are in reference to Isaac’s blessing to Jacob, and verse 25 refers to what Jacob served Isaac to eat.  There certainly isn’t any negative treatment of alcohol here.  It might be argued that Jacob gets his father drunk first, in order to ensure that his ruse (stealing his older brother’s blessing) goes off without a hitch, but there’s no indication in this scene that this is the case.  Jacob makes his dad his favorite food and drink.  There’s no direct indication that he’s trying to get his dad drunk.   Moreover, Isaac includes wine as part of the blessing intended for his eldest son.  It’s a symbol of goodness, not in any way portrayed negatively.  At the very least, wine and the grapes to produce it are an expected part of life and moreover a sign of a good life.

There appears to be no linguistic difference between yayin and tirosh in this passage based on context alone.  If someone wants to argue that tirosh is intended here as non-alcoholic, unfermented grape juice, I don’t think the text supports that interpretation.  Why would Moses use two interchangeable words instead of consistently using one?  I could easily argue that this is the sign of a good writer (inspired or otherwise) – they vary their vocabulary to avoid repetition.

The last mention of wine in Genesis is in Chapter 49 as part of Jacob’s final blessings to his sons.  Verses 11 & 12 both reference wine and both utilize yayin.  I don’t see any negative connotations with wine in these verses.  In verse 12 it’s used as means of physical comparison.  It’s interesting that both of these verses have to do with Jacob’s son Judah, and are considered messianic in nature because of their discussion of the scepter, a symbol of authority and rule.   Verse 11 has been the source of much speculation and theorizing as to proper interpretation, and I’m not going to go into a study of it here.  Again, the major point is that wine is not being used in a negative way in and of itself.

That summarizes all of the occurrences I found of wine in the book of Genesis.  It shows at the very least that wine has been a part of human life from a very early time, and was considered a symbol of  prosperity and divine blessing.  It also demonstrates the dangers of drunkenness in terms of reducing our ability to control ourselves and our awareness of what is going on both around us and actually to us (and by extension, what we do to others).  This is consistent with my understanding of Scripture’s treatment of alcohol as a whole so far – a blessing from God that should not be abused.

 

 

YFA – January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
Based on:
  • Series B of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (LC-MS version)
  • Luther’s Small Catechism
  • Traditional Christian Hymns
  • Sunday– Reflect Upon Today’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10
    • What do God’s people do in the absence of ongoing visions (v.1)?
    • Why might Eli have perceived that it was the Lord speaking (v.8)?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
    • How do verses 12 & 13 contradict prevailing cultural norms today?
    • How do you seek to live out verses 19-20 in your life?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 1:43-51
    • Look up the location of Bethsaida using Google or a Bible Atlas.
    • How does Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question encourage you to witness to others (v.46)?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 139:1-10
    • Are verses 1-6 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
    • Are verses 7-10 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Sixth Commandment
    • What are other ways that adultery is sometimes translated in this verse?
    • Do these verses only apply to married people?  Why or why not?
  • Saturday – (LSB #832) Jesus Shall Reign
    • Does the hymnist have any doubt about the certainty of Jesus’ reign?
    • Is verse 5 only appropriate when Jesus returns in glory, or here and now?

 

 

Sojourn

January 5, 2018

The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium….

So begins the Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, one of the earliest Christian writings passed down to us and our first example of martyria (plural of the Latin martyrium), something having to do with the commemoration or observance or remembrance of Christians put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Merriam-Webster defines sojourn as a temporary stay.   Smyrna is not their home.  Philomelium is not their home.  It’s just a temporary stay.

What a beautiful and important reminder to God’s Church today.  To each of us personally today who follow Jesus.  We’re sojourning.  This isn’t home.  It’s a foreshadowing of home, a sneak preview of home in all of the positive aspects of home that we love or yearn for.  But we dare not mistake this place, this time, this circumstance for home.

These things will pass.  There’s more to the story.  A promise yet to be fully realized and received.  Some will only reach that fuller promise through death.  Not just the death we think about and dread and put off as long as we can, the slow death of attrition and weariness.  Some reach that promise more suddenly, more violently, and because of their trust in that promise, their refusal to let go of that, to exchange their real home for a temporary one.

Good things to remember at the start of a new year.  Amidst the remaining glitter and sparkles that the vacuum cleaner can’t seem to pick up.  As we toss out the remaining appetizers and other debris of our celebrations large and small.  As we face the sobering reality of how easy it is to make promises to ourselves (and others) but how hard it can be to keep them.

Sojourning.

A&tCL I

January 4, 2018

This is the first of what will likely be many entries, all introduced by this entry and focused on the topic of Alcohol and the Christian Life, which I will treat both individually and corporately as The Church.  I’ll use the same title for each one (A&tCL), incremented numerically so it should be easy for you to search and find the related posts.  Or you can read the next post here.

I’ve just finished combing through the entire Old Testament for references to wine as translated by 12 different English Bibles.  There are roughly different 20 Hebrew words in some way associated with wine or wine making, of which 11 seem to be pertinent to the drink itself (as opposed to machinery like a wine press, which I’m not addressing in this study) and occur in some form in the Old Testament.  There are at least 183 verses in the Old Testament that mention wine in some way.  Depending on which translation you’re using, there are roughly between 23,000 and 27,000 verses in the Old Testament.

Nearly every book of the Old Testament mentions wine.  Only the following books don’t:

  • Joshua
  • 1 Kings
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Nahum
  • Malachi

The first mention of wine is with Noah in Genesis 9.  So my first take-away is that wine is a prevalent part of Israelite/Hebrew/Jewish life, and by extension, human life.  It pre-dates the flood because Noah knows how to plant a vineyard and harvest and ferment grapes, which means he knew how to do that (likely) prior to the Flood.  The fact that it is mentioned throughout the Old Testament and spans roughly a millenia of divinely-inspired writing means that wine was a consistent part and presence of life for God’s people and therefore, by extension, just about all people.  This isn’t a judgment yet on whether that presence was good or bad, simply an acknowledgment that in some way or another it was present and being acknowledged in God’s inspired Word.

I’m using wine as the basis for this study because it is far and away (other than water) the most frequently mentioned beverage in the Bible and I believe that it is a good metric to use in determining what the Bible has to say about alcohol consumption in general.

The next stage is to examine each of the 11 Hebrew words that I’ve culled from the Old Testament books.  The goal is to understand any important differences or nuances between the words that might affect usage or reveal intent in choosing certain words for certain purposes.   Could it be that fermented/alcoholic wine is forbidden while non-alcoholic grape juice is not?  This kind of comparison of the words will hopefully enable me to pick up on this if it is the case.  I’ll be looking for patterns in the choice of words used by authors in similar situations.

I do this with no small amount of dread and trepidation.  I was required to learn Hebrew in Seminary (along with Koine Greek).  But I am by no means a Greek or Hebrew scholar.  In a decade of official ministry I can count on one hand the number of times where my knowledge of these languages has been inadequate or crucial to any particular ministerial or evangelical act or conversation, yet I carry a guilt that daily (or even annual!) study of these languages is not part of my ministry.  For the Hebrew study portion of this project, I’m referring to The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDAG) as my starting point.  I haven’t touched this book in over a decade.  It still smells and look new (if dusty).  I don’t pretend that my level of work is going to be very impressive, but I trust it will be good enough for my purpose.  I welcome (and will seek out to the best of my ability) wiser minds to weigh in on these words and their usage if it seems prudent or helpful.

I have two other resources sitting on my desk at the moment as well:

  • Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon – this appears to provide a more succinct definition of words, but doesn’t link to Strong’s Concordance numbers, which is the referent that e-Sword uses, so I likely won’t use this resource as much.  I inherited this from a retired pastor and it was the lexicon used by my seminary years prior to my time there.  I am gratified to see that his copy looks pretty new as well, despite being several decades older than mine!
  • A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament – again, very brief and not linked to Strong’s Concordance so it will be harder for me to use this because my Hebrew is so bad to begin with.  I picked this up at seminary as a companion to the BDAG and is in equally pristine condition.

Strong’s Concordance is shorthand for The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  First published in 1890 by James Strong, this has become the go-to open source for Biblical word study.  It is an index of every single word that appears in the King James Bible.  This means that it’s usefulness is limited, but it is a helpful starting place for me to get a handle on the Hebrew without having to reteach myself the language completely.  It functions as a link between my word search and the resources listed above.  It is integrated into e-Sword and I have a hard copy of it as well.

For what it’s worth, there are plenty of books I’m sure on this topic (though a brief survey of our denominational publishing house  was pretty disappointing).  But in order to try and ensure minimal theological bias (or at least a known theological bias compared to an unknown one!), I’m taking on this task.

All right.  Time to hit the book(s)!

 

Alcohol & the Christian Life

January 3, 2018

Last week I was called an alcoholic by someone who has never met me or spoken to me.  Based on circumstances of their life experiences with addiction (first and second-hand) and the fact that I drink alcohol and also serve alcohol to other people from time to time, and based on their interpretation of Scripture, they concluded that I’m likely an alcoholic and that I’m leading others (including my children) into alcoholism.

Today – at my request – I sat down and spoke with that person, as well as her daughter and mother.  I was informed initially that they agreed to the meeting only to share their perspectives and experiences with me so I would understand where they were coming from.  Fair enough.  I arrived prepared to listen to their personal experiences.  However when I arrived, I was informed that their purpose had changed, and that their intent was to convince me that alcohol is evil and an inappropriate thing to either enjoy responsibly personally or to offer responsibly to another person as part of hospitality and generosity.  Especially for a pastor, and especially if a congregation was supporting this activity in some way.   And then to demand that I agree to certain things and that the congregation I serve agree to certain things.

All of this not because anything bad has ever happened at Sunday Happy Hour.  Not because anyone who has ever visited has complained about the presence of alcohol  or the way in which I serve it.  Not because of any actual problem at all.  Simply because some of these folks are convinced alcohol is inherently evil, and some of the folks are convinced that a pastor and a church should never utilize alcohol in any sort of public ministry (other than Holy Communion, I assume) because of our larger alcohol culture.

It hasn’t been a fun week.  Hopefully your end off 2017 and start of 2018 was more enjoyable!

My denomination prides itself on refraining as much as possible from saying things definitively that Scripture itself is not definitive about, just as we strive very hard not to ignore anything that Scripture is definitive about.  We are imperfect in this to be sure.  But if you hold that all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) then you have to at least try.  So in dealing with the accusations and demands that have been made, my main concern is to go to Scripture and see what it has to say.  I don’t really care if a Happy Hour ministry is unconventional.  There are lots of unconventional approaches to ministry – ask any missionary.  Some mission approaches have elements of risk to them, but that’s not my primary concern at this point either.  Risk is not in itself sinful.  My primary concern is whether involving alcohol in a Christian function is sinful.  And to figure that out, I go not to personal experiences or popular practices or Twitter or Facebook but to the Bible to see what the Bible has to say.

And certainly on the issue of alcohol, Scripture has a lot to say.  Hundreds of verses that refer to wine in one way or another.  And we have to pay attention to all of it rather than just cherry-pick the few verses that support our position.  That’s how I’m attempting to deal with the things I’ve been called to my face as well as in other discussions that I’m not privy to.  I go to Scripture to make sure that I understand what it is saying to the best of my ability, so I can provide my congregation and family both corporately and individually with good theological guidance.  Any of you who wish to weigh in on this topic here are free to do so (including the folks directly involved with this who are likely still reading).  As long as you’re respectful, I want to hear what you have to say and I’ll post it in the comments section of the appropriate post so others can see and hear what you have to say and weigh in as well.

To start my study on this topic, I’m utilizing a basic multi-translation Bible tool called e-Sword.  I’ve been using it for years instead of paying big bucks for the more professional programs that I wouldn’t use very often.  E-Sword is available either as a downloadable program or an app (both free!).  I  think it’s a very good baseline tool for casual interaction with the original languages as well as multiple English translations.

I’m using a public domain derivation source for the Hebrew (Old Testament) verses, and the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort translations of the Greek New Testament in addition to the Septuagint (Old and New Testaments in Greek).  While these may not be the best translations, I trust that for basic word study purposes they’re serviceable.  If any of my colleagues out there have anything pertinent to share as a warning about these translations, feel free to let me know.

To start with I’m doing a basic search across multiple (12) recent and historic English translations for every occurrence of the word wine in Scripture.  I’m then going through every single verse individually to see what the original language word is that is being translated as wine.  Since different English translations sometimes translate differently (duh!), I’m getting an interesting cross-section of Hebrew words that are sometimes –  but not always – translated as wine by some, but not all, English translations.  I’m only through Isaiah but there are so far eleven different Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as wine and/or strong drink.  Some of them have only been used once or twice, but there are two that far and away have the most occurrences.  It will be interesting to see how many different Greek words are used in the New Testament!

Once I’ve done that, I’ll research each of the words, trying to determine important differentiations or nuances that govern their usage and occurrence.  That will help me when I attempt to clarify the use of the word within not just the single verse but the overall pericope or section of Scripture.  Sometimes the context is a warning.  Other times it’s a celebration.  Other times it’s a divine promise.  I want to be able to clearly lay out all the different contexts that wine and/or strong drink is referred to in Scripture.

Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to group these contexts into more general categories.  Does Scripture clearly and unambiguously prohibit wine and drink from God’s people?  If it doesn’t (which is my assumption and understanding going into this study), then what should God’s people draw from Scriptural discussions of alcohol?  If it does unambiguously prohibit God’s people from alcohol, I’ll have some major thinking to do about why my particular polity and a good chunk (if not majority) of Christian scholarship through the centuries has ignored or avoided talking about this.

Then the discussion becomes one regarding the role of God’s corporate people – The Church – with alcohol.  Is alcohol something that should be condoned in the lives of God’s people grudgingly or reluctantly, but strictly forbidden in the corporate Church?  All of which drives towards the ultimate question – is it sinful for a Church to sponsor or engage in a ministry where alcohol is served to people, even if it is being done in a prudent and careful manner?

As part of these discussions, there has also been an argument made that alcohol itself – the fermented byproducts of fruit and other organic materials – is inherently sinful in and of itself.  It isn’t part of God’s goodness in creation, but rather something the Devil has injected into the mix.  Again, what does the Bible say on this topic and how do we determine practice based on what Scripture says?

The issue of alcohol is a complicated one because, as I’ve often noted on this blog, it can be so destructive in people’s lives.  My working presumption is that rather than just avoiding the topic and practice completely, the Church can and perhaps even should model what responsible alcohol consumption looks like.  If our culture dominates the discussion about alcohol and dominates it with an insistence that it should be enjoyed to excess more often than not (legal disclaimers aside), is there a place for the Church to say not simply no, but rather not so much?   Again, my working practice has been to say yes, and Sunday Happy Hour is a place where this has and does happen.

There are certainly Christians who insist that alcohol cannot be partaken without sin, or that the odds of sin are so great that it should just be prohibited.  Some of their Biblical arguments towards this end rely on arguments that wine in Scripture isn’t wine like we think of today (fermented and alcoholic), but rather grape juice – negligibly fermented, essentially non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grape juice.  Just in my preliminary foray into the word study it’s clear that the Hebrew is able to make this distinction (but more often than not does not – or doesn’t appear to use it purposefully).  Do their arguments have linguistic merit?  Or is it an attempt to justify their theological conclusions and doctrines by reinterpreting Scripture to their liking?  Is that what I’m doing just because I enjoy cocktails?

Time will tell, but I’ll keep all of you informed as I move along the process.

 

 

Avoiding the Peace

January 2, 2018

Traditional Christian worship often includes a Rite known as the Passing of the Peace.  While it may well be that this was once observed within worship with the sharing of a holy kiss (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26) the practice these days is usually sufficed with a handshake.  Sometimes people will say The peace of the Lord as they shake someone’s hands.  It’s supposed to be a brief exchange with the people nearest you, but it can easily get out of hand in a friendly congregation, with people traversing the entire nave (church space) to say hi to all their favorite friends.

It’s beautiful, but it can be difficult for new folks because regulars aren’t going out of their way to come and say hi to them, so they’re standing there awkwardly while others are going through elaborate greetings.  It can also be very difficult for introverts, for whom large-scale social interaction can be uncomfortable.  I know this.  I’m an introvert.  I became a pastor in part so I wouldn’t have to share the peace.

Not really, but I can certainly empathize!

I believe that the ritual has a very specific purpose.  Certainly in early Christian congregations you had people from all walks of life – the rich and the poor, slaves and free, converted Jews as well as non-Jews.  Yet in Christ these divisions cease to hold the same importance that they do without him (Galatians 3:28).  It isn’t that these divisions disappear – they still exist (much to the consternation of some very idealistic Christians across two millenia!), but as a reminder to everyone that they may matter in the world but not in Christ, we share the peace.  We share the reminder that we are united in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, won by his very real suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and promised return.  What we now have in common far outweighs our differences.  It transcends them and starts to transform them as we extend forgiveness to one another.

But it’s still difficult for some.  I imagine they might appreciate this little tome.  I haven’t read it, but it was referenced in a high school buddy’s annual missive and I know there are more than a few folks out there who would probably find it very relevant to their struggles.

Happy Common Cup!

January 1, 2018

Well, Happy New Year as well.

But here’s another article from smart science folks reminding everyone what the Church has been saying for a very long time – the risk of contracting an illness from partaking in the common cup at Holy Communion is negligible.  Certainly no greater than the risk from shaking hands with and talking with sick people after the service.  Or sitting next to them during the service.

While the theological description of what the Lord’s Supper is and why we do it  is inaccurate, the rest of the article is very helpful and hopefully reassuring.  If you’re sick, don’t take the Common Cup.  Consider it common courtesy to your neighbors and a way of reassuring them.  Also, if you’re terrified and can’t think about anything else the whole time, then don’t take the Common Cup.  While I prefer the continuity of the Common Cup, I don’t argue that there is a strong theological or Biblical argument against using individual cups.  And this article is a reminder that there is no strong medical or scientific evidence to argue against using the Common Cup.

In case you’re wondering what is wrong with the description of the Lord’s Supper in the article, my denomination would alter the statement this way (I think):

  • Holy Communion does not replicate the Last Supper, it continues it.  There was only one historical last supper, and Holy Communion is not a historical reenactment of that evening.  Rather, it is the faithful response to Jesus’ instructions to “do this in remembrance of me”.
  • But it is more than mere remembrance, because Jesus told his followers – and by extension those who followed after them – that they were actually receiving his body and blood.  The bread doesn’t just represent Jesus’ sacrificed body, it contains it and is it in a fundamental way we can’t explain adequately.  Likewise the wine is not merely symbolic of Jesus’ spilled blood, but it actually is his spilled blood.  Yet at the same time the elements remain also actual bread and wine.
  • As such, when Jesus says that we participate in this for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-29), the opportunity to taste, to physically connect with the spiritual reality of our forgiveness, we actually receive what He promises – his body, his blood, and therefore forgiveness.

 

 

YFA – December 24, 2017

December 24, 2017
A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday: Reflect on today’s sermon & service
  • Monday: Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 61:1062:3
    • What is the primary reason we should praise God (v.10)?
    • Where should righteousness be sprouting up (v.11)?
  • Tuesday: Epistle Lesson – Galatians 4:4-7
    • How would you explain or interpret the fullness of time (v.4)?
    • Read Genesis 3:15.  Why does Paul emphasize Jesus’ human origins?
  • Wednesday: Gospel Lesson – Luke 2:22-40
    • How old is Simeon?
    • What is the revelation the Gentiles are to receive through Jesus (v.32)?
  • Thursday: Psalm – Psalm 111
    • What should our response to God’s wonders be (v.2)?
    • How does God’s wisdom compare to our own knowledge (v.10)?
  • Friday: Luther’s Small Catechism – Fourth Commandment
    • How does Luther extend the scope of this commandment?
    • Why might God link this commandment to the promise of long life?
  • Saturday: (LSB #366) It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
    • How might angels still be singing the good tidings today (v.1)?
    • How would you interpret or explain the ever-circling years (v.3)?