Here is my Church Write-Up on last Sunday’s church activities.
A. At the LCMS church, the children’s pastor told the kids that, even though they may get in trouble at home, their parents continue to feed them. He said that God is the same way. This fit the theme of the service, which was the Fall of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sinned, yet God still loved them and continued to provide for them.
The pastor’s sermon continued in that vein. His academic and vocational experience was used as an illustration throughout the sermon. The pastor shared that he has always loved learning, and, in the late 1970’s, he decided to get a master’s in history at the University of Michigan because he felt that he did not know much about history. He wanted to go on and pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, but applicants were required to have a B+ in all of their classes to be accepted. Unfortunately, he received a B in the seminar. He said that he initially blamed everyone but himself for that. He was upset with the professor and blamed his low grade on a feud that the professor had with a professor that he liked. He was even upset with God, wondering why God would let him be accepted into the master’s program over a thousand applicants, only for him to be blocked from getting a Ph.D. He reflected that what he should have done was set aside his pride and meet with professors, asking them what the requirements for seminars are. Instead, he was proud. He had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he expected the professors at the University of Michigan to be enamored with his awesomeness. Well, he graduated from the University of Michigan with his master’s in hand. He was living with his grandfather at the time, and the two of them were a pair. The pastor was wondering what to do with his life, and his grandfather was trying to move on after the death of his wife. Eventually, the pastor accepted that he should go to seminary.
Similarly, Adam and Eve made a mistake. They were proud and wanted to be like God, knowing what God knows, so they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They blamed everyone but themselves: Adam even blamed God for giving him the woman. Adam and Eve would experience difficult times, including the reality of death, but God gave them reason for hope. Their ending was to be a new beginning.
B. The pastor started a Sunday school series on I John. From the monthly newsletter, it looks like it will last for eight weeks. He will be in Greece and Germany for the next two weeks, so another pastor will teach the class during that time, but then the pastor will return and resume the class.
I had attended the weekly Bible study, which meets on Wednesdays. (It is taking a break until the end of August.) The pastor spent a few sessions on I John, so I was afraid that the Sunday School class would cover the same ground as those sessions. Well, it did, but there were also new things that I learned.
The pastor said that John may have been a teenager when he met Jesus, for rabbis gathered students who were that age. The pastor also referred to a tradition relayed by Jerome that John died sixty-eight years after Jesus’ passion.
The pastor said that Paul gathered elders, who were pastors-in-training, at Ephesus. Paul trained them to be pastors. They would pastor in Asia Minor and train others to be pastors, so the church spread. This was how Polycarp was believed to have been taught by John. The church grew, and the older method of leadership was no longer feasible, so hierarchies in the church developed in the second century.
The pastor mentioned the view that different Johns wrote the Gospel of John, I-III John, and the Book of Revelation. He, however, believes that the apostle John wrote all of them. He referred to the view that John wrote on the island of Patmos, when he was in exile, for he was unable to be with the church at Ephesus and to communicate with it directly. John was concerned about the heresies that were becoming popular there, and elsewhere among the churches in Asia Minor. The pastor also referred to the view that John’s Gospel was written in Jerusalem between 40 and 60 C.E., as it reflects the hostility between the Christians and the Jewish Temple community.
The pastor said that there are different ideas about the sequence in which John wrote, and he discussed the possible ramifications of each position. If John wrote I-III John first, then the Gospel of John fleshes that out. If John wrote the Gospel of John first, then I John presupposes what is in the Gospel, especially John 1. If Revelation was written first, then the victory of the good guys is presupposed and what is in I John is icing on the cake. If Revelation was written last, then it was John’s last will and testament. The pastor also referred to the possibility that Revelation was written after the Domitian persecution, as a reflection on it. That would be different from saying that it was written in the heat of the persecution to comfort the Christians that God would soon end their suffering. Such a view might also fit the LCMS’s amillennialism, as it envisions Revelation as a panoramic perspective on the suffering of Christians and how that fits into God’s larger agenda.
John pastored at Ephesus. There was a legend that Ephesus was founded by Epos, the Queen of the Amazon women. The cult of Diana/Artemis was strong there. The pastor referred to a dissertation by Arnie Voight that argues that Paul in Ephesians 5 encouraged wives to submit to their husbands on account of the Amazon legend: there was a belief in Ephesus that women were superior to men because they were lifegivers and lifebearers, and Paul sought to balance that out. Incidentally, Arnie Voight has a website in which he addresses questions about the Bible and gender.
John was arguing against Docetism, the idea that Jesus only appeared human but actually was not so. The pastor said that the implication of John’s insistence that Jesus became flesh is that Christians can have complete joy here and now (I John 1:4), for God meets them in the here and now, in real places, in flesh and blood. They do not have to go to heaven before they can experience that joy.
The pastor likened the belief that Jesus’ human nature died while his divine nature did not to Docetism.
Anyway, I realize that there have been scholars who would question some of this. They would question whether there were rabbis in Jesus’ day, or argue that the hostility between Christians and non-Christian Jews in the Gospel of John reflects a post-70 reality rather rather than a pre-70 one.
The Arnie Voight dissertation reminds me of Elizabeth McCabe’s argument that what I Timothy 2:11-14 says about women is a polemic against the Isis cult. This is not to suggest that the two agree on everything when it comes to the Bible and gender, but they agree that paganism is part of the equation of what the New Testament says about women.
The pastor’s discussion about the sequence in which John wrote (assuming John wrote the Gospel, the epistles, and Revelation) reminded me of Lee Harmon’s books on Revelation and the Gospel of John. Harmon presents John as the author of both, but he thinks that the Gospel of John shows John embracing a spiritual, realized eschatology, after the failure of the literalist eschatology that appears in the Book of Revelation. The pastor, of course, would not embrace this, but the discussion about sequence reminded me of that.
C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor concluded his series on giving. The text of the sermon was Luke 12:13-21. A man asks Jesus to order his brother to divide his inheritance with him. Jesus declines to do so and warns against greed and covetousness. Jesus then tells a parable about a rich fool. A rich man has an abundant year and decides to kick back and relax. God takes the man’s soul because the man was not rich towards God. God asks to whom the man’s wealth will now belong.
The pastor made a variety of points. He defined covetousness as wanting more than we need, and assuming that getting more things will make us happy. That attitude does not make us happy. Things do not satisfy, and greed can lead to strife: it led to the division between the man and his brother, and the rich man’s sons undoubtedly fought for their father’s wealth. Greed is also an unrealistic perspective. The ground produced the crops, yet the rich man took credit for it. God responded by taking the man’s soul, which belonged to God and not the man. Rather than looking to things to make us happy, which amplifies loneliness, why not give to what God is doing? The pastor referred to three new church plants that did not exist before, thanks to the contributions of the church. He disputed the idea that “you can’t take it with you,” for you can take it with you: when you give, that has eternal consequences. The pastor was clear that how much we give is between us and God.
The pastor referred to celebrities who committed suicide in arguing that wealth does not satisfy. Some readers may get the impression that the pastor was shamelessly exploiting their deaths to raise money. I myself question whether all of those celebrities were materialistic. Robin Williams was in AA and likely tried to be on a spiritual path, but he suffered from clinical depression. The pastor’s picture of people coming together rather than fighting out of greed struck me as a bit unrealistic, perhaps because of my own struggles to like a lot of people, and my resistance to the idea of someone else gaining at my expense. Still, the pastor made a good point: rather than looking to things to make one happy, why not invest the money in something that can do good?