Church Write-Up: Christmas Eve 2017

For church on Christmas Eve morning, I went to the 9 A.M. service at what I call the “Word of Faith” church.  The Missouri Synod Lutheran church was having a 10 A.M. service, rather than its usual 8:30 A.M. traditional service and 11:00 A.M. contemporary service (which I often attend after going to the 9 A.M. “Word of Faith” service).  Consequently, I did not go there.  I was thinking of going to the “Pen church’s” (or so I call it) 11:30 A.M. service, but the “Word of Faith” service got out at 10 A.M., which was earlier than usual.  I do not have a car, and I was not going to walk for an hour-and-thirty-minutes in cold and snow.  Thus, I went home.

I was still hungry for another church service, so I visited the web site for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church to catch the live 10:30 A.M. service.  But I had to get Adobe Flashplayer to watch that, and I am hesitant to download that right now.  I may later.  I tried the audio service, and that came through, but I could hardly hear it, even though my volume was all the way up.

It was almost 11:00 A.M., and I was looking at my Word document that has links to live- streaming of services, just in case I am snowed or rained in and decide to have church at home.  I saw Rick Warren’s Saddleback church was there, so I tried that.  Although the Saddleback service initially struck me as too “hip,” or as trying to be “hip,” I kind of liked it.  It had a welcoming, friendly quality to it.  I especially liked how Rick said that our needs are important to the church, and he encouraged people to put their prayer requests on cards.  Those watching the service online also could fill that out online, if they so desired.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  There were common themes between the “Word of Faith” service and the Saddleback service.  First, there was the theme of distress.  At the “Word of Faith” service, we were lighting the candles, and the pastor was saying that some of us are candles that are flickering—-and we was not talking about our spiritual condition, but he probably had in mind Matthew 12:20, which applies Isaiah 43:3 to Jesus: a smoldering wick he will not quench.  The pastor also talked about how Jesus was light in the midst of the darkness.

Similarly, Rick Warren talked about how, for many of us, it has been a difficult year—-in some cases, extremely difficult.  There have been natural and human-made disasters.  He cited the overt racism that was expressed in 2017.  Yet, he noted that there have been good things happening in 2017, such as the increasing recognition that sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious problems.

Rick then discussed how, for a number of characters in the Christmas story, it was not initially a “Merry Christmas.”  Not all of the events that he discussed took place on a single day, or even on the same day, but his examples are worth considering.  Mary was troubled when the angel Gabriel appeared to her (Luke 1:26).  The shepherds were terrified when they saw the angel (Luke 2:9).  Joseph was probably hurt when he learned that Mary was pregnant, and not with his baby.  But they had joy when they looked up to heaven and focused on what God was doing.  Warren encouraged us to look up, and he shared about the tragic suicide of his son four years ago.

Another common theme was that of personal change.  At the “Word of Faith” service, we were shown on the big screen people in the church who initially had problems, but then their situation looked better.  They were initially lonely or isolated, but they found acceptance or a sense of purpose at the church.  They were depressed at first, but now they have joy.  At Saddleback, Rick said that he knew thousands of people who have been changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  They can testify that they were once one way, but now they are different, and different in a good way.

B.  This second item is actually a conglomeration of items.  They include issues that the services got me thinking about.

(1.) Rick Warren asked how we can be sure that we have met Jesus.  He said that we can be sure when we are humbler and lacking in narcissism, when we gladly worship God, and when we offer God our plans and dreams (or something to that effect, for the last one).  These are the characteristics of the people in the Christmas story after their encounter with God.

I am not devoid of pride and narcissism, since my feelings get hurt easily.  I also doubt that other Christians are devoid of pride and narcissism.  Still, I have to admit: when Christians are enamored with God, that at least has the potential to lessen their pride and narcissism, or to put it into perspective.

But I wonder something: Why do we have to prove to ourselves that we have met Jesus?  If we met him, we met him, right?  I do not have to prove that I met a person: if I met the person, I met the person.  If it needs to be proven, is that because one may have doubts about whether he or she met Jesus?  Or perhaps he or she is attempting to interpret an authentic spiritual experience that he or she has had?

(2.) Rick quoted Matthew 11:29, where Jesus encourages people to take his yoke upon them, for his yoke is easy.  Rick said that yokes were ways for two animals to share their labor, which lessened the burden of the labor for both of them.  Jesus’ point, according to Rick Warren, is that Jesus does not want us to carry our problems all by themselves.  Jesus wants to share that burden with us.

I wonder if that meaning would have made sense to Jesus’ audience at that time.  The resurrected Jesus is one who carries our burdens with us.  But the human Jesus at that time?  I doubt that Jesus’ audience would have seen him that way.  “How can this man carry my burdens?”, they would have asked.

Perhaps the passage was written for a Christian audience, implicitly encouraging them to let the risen Jesus carry their burdens.  Or could it be that even the human Jesus was offering to carry people’s burdens, on some level, by imparting teaching that could help them?

(3.)  The “Word of Faith” pastor was saying how he believed that Jesus was present in every book of the Bible.  I found some of these lists on the Internet, and some of them overlapped with what the “Word of Faith” pastor said, and some of them did not.

My historical-critical tendencies recoil somewhat from this approach: Haggai is not about Jesus restoring worship, I thought, but it is about post-exilic Jews restoring worship.  Still, I think that it is possible to preserve the historical-critical readings and the Christian ones.  Something in the Hebrew Bible can remind a Christian of what Jesus did, according to the Christian religion.  There is also typology: that one event can foreshadow another event—-in the case of Christianity, an event that has to do with Jesus.  The ancient Antiochian school of biblical interpretation was rather literalistic and historicist in its approach to the Hebrew Bible, but it was open to typology.  Typology preserves the historical-literal meanings of Old Testament passages, while allowing them to foreshadow the New Testament.  Where I have a problem is when people suppress or ignore the distinct message of a passage or book in the Hebrew Bible, so that it conforms to a Christian theme.  I-II Chronicles separates between the royal and priestly offices, for example, whereas Jesus in the New Testament unites the roles in himself (particularly in Hebrews).  One should let Chronicles be Chronicles and Hebrews be Hebrews, rather than downplaying the Chronicler’s message in an attempt to make its good kings a type of Jesus.  See my post here.

 

 

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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