When I was a child in an evangelical church, there was a growing sense that the church in America was failing to cross cultural borders in the way the early church did. There was recognition that the first-century church included Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds coming together as equals in the shadow of the cross; and that the evangelical churches at the time could not claim that same unity. This was seen as an important issue, a failure of the church to properly practice and display the love of God to the world regardless of race, background, or culture. One of the things that began to happen in light of this understanding was a push for more diversity in our churches. Racial reconciliation was seen as a necessary part of the church pointing the way forward to a more powerful and effective image of the body of Christ.
To this end, I have watched for a couple decades as white churches have made strides toward integration. These were mostly had through visible invitation to community; singing the occasional worship song in Spanish or Afrikaans to show unity with Christians abroad, making a point of inviting people from other ethnic backgrounds to become members, having major denominations make apologies for former racist practices and beliefs and expressing interest in moving forward together. Some of it was just different styles of church that non-whites were interested in trying out. It seemed to be working. Formerly all-white churches across the country had more ethnic diversity in their seats, and that was that.
Then, a few years ago, it fell apart.
Ever since the case of Rodney King, conversation about the level of violence used by police in dealing with black people has occasionally broken into mainstream conversation in white America, but never really stuck and rarely became anything more than idle conversation. But tensions were rising and black people were having greater access to each others' stories and the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement finally forced the issue into the spotlight and kept it there. And I have talked to and read the words of so many people of color who watched what the evangelical churches that were trying so hard to welcome them did in response to that. And, by and large, white evangelicals dismissed the concerns, argued in defense of the police in case after case, and then voted for a presidential candidate who was being widely criticized by every race but Europeans partly (largely or entirely, in some cases) due to his statements on women and minorities.
So they left. Because what had become apparent was that they were never anything more than guests. What so many white evangelical churches had done was welcome people in who didn't look like them, but then kind of expected those people to start looking like them. White churches continued to have white leadership that talked about the desire for reconciliation but did not ask what it was that had kept people away to begin with. There were no changes to the culture of those churches, no involvement of new ideas about practical issues secondary to the gospel. Sermons would look at abortion debates and rail on and on about the value of life and the need to protect it at all costs and then turn away any discussion on black youth laying dead in the street because they felt racial discussion was divisive; or worse, they would condemn the dead and pray for protection of the shooter from the trials they faced for killing someone. I've known some who have left the faith, or at least the church, entirely; but many simply walked away from a place they came to understand they never really belonged anyway and went looking for the places that had always looked like them.
The highlighted segments in the trailer show, as "godless ideologies", speakers (some of whom are pastors themselves) calling for pastors to listen to the concerns of their black friends and congregants, to reach out to professionals for help in cases of sexual abuse or other areas they are not specifically trained to handle alone, and to take responsibility for making the changes necessary to facilitate varying forms of reconciliation. It also includes egalitarianism, which has been an issue in some circles but will not be discussed in this post. This has been met with a great deal of backlash, including some of the acceptable leaders shown in the video asking for their involvement to be removed because they feel they were misled about the nature and content of the documentary. One of the responses stated that he was asked to speak about Biblical authority and felt it inappropriate that his words were being used to attack leaders who were well within orthodoxy.
There are two things about which everyone involved, even the leaders being presented as attacking the church, seem to agree on. One is that the existing attempts at racial integration have not worked and probably can never work; the debate is about why it didn't work and what to do about it. The second is that there is nothing that should be allowed to take the place of the gospel at the heart of the church; the difference is whether or not other things have any place in the church.
You see, when someone comes along and says that we need to seek input from the people who feel hurt by the church, to find out how the church hurt them and if it can do anything to fix that, they are not necessarily saying that the church should then use that input as the fundamental basis for their activities. They can, of course, there are cases of that happening; but most often what is actually being suggested is that we learn how to apply the gospel in a way that more accurately shows the love of Christ and our unity in Him to the people around us. It is not a compromise of the gospel to ask how different people are hearing the gospel and what we can do to help them better understand it in their own lives.
It is true that we should not allow anything into our churches that contradicts the Bible. I would argue it is just as true that we should not allow ourselves to reject things that work alongside the Bible simply because they weren't born in the church. Social justice is not evil; it can become an idol, but so can everything else. I daresay our idea of a perfect church can be just as much of an idol. The desire to preserve the culture of the church, a culture that so often looks far more American than Christian, is not less of an incursion than allowing work to be done about real issues people in the community are facing.
And this is why racial integration didn't work. It's also why so many victims of abuse have left. It wasn't because the black people or the assault victims in the congregation demanded too much, it was because none of their requests or desires were considered important enough to try. We had decided that the culture of the church needed to look how we had designed it and then called any concern or idea that came from outside the white male experience as being a distraction. And any distraction was labeled an attempt to subvert the good work of the church, a "godless ideology." The white church was white to the core and made the mistake of thinking that anything black came from outside the church and had to be guarded against. We sought to bring them in so we could see they were there but never gave them the means to make it their home as well. The abused cried out for us to help them, to show the compassion of Christ on them and condemn the work of their abusers for their violence, and we told them they mattered and were important but refused to behave in any way that would show this to be true.
And now that they're leaving, we're bickering over whether or not it would be Christian of us to set our ideal experience aside and allow the changes that would make us look like the first century church we were trying to emulate in the first place. We told them their presence mattered but never allowed them to feel as though they mattered as people, let alone as siblings in Christ, as equal participants in a church that can cross cultural divides. We opened windows in our cultural walls and then cried foul when people on the other side pointed out that the wall was still there. We silenced people who had something uncomfortable to say and then condemned them for feeling invisible and unwanted around us.
It is true that we must not let the gospel, or the Bible that delivers that gospel, to be dethroned from the core of who we are. It is also true that in our treatment of people who have come to us asking for action regarding pain in their lives, we have been wrong. And we have people now standing up and calling us to repentance for our arrogance and dismissal of people who we invited in and then hurt. And if we will not at least be humble enough to ask if we were anything less than perfect, to even briefly consider the possibility that we are failing to live out the call God has placed on us, then we cannot expect God to have much patience with us.
The thing about soap is that you can add almost anything to it. There's the basic stuff, the ingredients that make it be soap, but after that it's infinitely customizable. As long as what you add doesn't interfere with the process of saponification, that is, as long as your ingredients don't prevent the soap from becoming soap, almost anything will work. Not everything that can go into soap should, or would make a desirable product, but the soap will function.
There's a lot of talk about Christian purity these days, especially if you happen to be single and/or a teenager. It's frequent enough that, when I took a break from writing to pop onto twitter while writing this article (and other things), one of the most recent tweets was another Christian discussing the prevalence of purity culture talk and proposing an article on it from a very different perspective to my own.
I guess we'll see which one gets posted first.
The thing that seems to define much of this discussion is the concept of chemical purity. See, most chemicals and elements are reactive to some degree, so keeping them pure means keeping them isolated. If you let chemicals interact, you will usually end up with a reaction that turns both substances into something that is really neither of the original parts, and neither will ever be pure again.
So much of our discussion of purity sounds like that. Purity culture means keeping oneself hidden away from anything that might possibly have some corrupting influence. Purity culture views any interaction with mess as permanently and negatively changing the person. You can never be pure again, there will always be a little bit of taint in your very being, the things you've encountered will make you something less like you and a little more like them and so we have to stay removed, isolated, untarnished. After all, so many of the most public Christian voices really are highly reactive, exploding at any exposure to that which they don't recognize as the church they've always known, so it's easy to believe that we really are just fragile little vials of goodness surrounded by a world of malicious reagent.
But I would argue that this is not the sort of purity we see in scripture. God commands the priesthood in the Old Testament to be cleansed before entering His presence, not because He is afraid of being corrupted, but because contact with the true purity of His presence would destroy them if they enter while dirty. Jesus sits down and eats with tax collectors and all sorts of sinners, and freely touches lepers. In all cases, Christ remains clean when He does so, and those He contacts go away more clean than before.
The purity of God is more like the purity of soap. Yes, there's still a chemical reaction involved, but it is one that must happen in order to make things clean. Soap is not pure because it is isolated, it is pure in such a way that it can make other things pure. This means that pumice, although just a rock, becomes both clean and a cleansing agent when put into soap. It means that soap, if left in isolation, is not made more pure; rather, it is made useless.
Christ came into the world, among other things, to make us pure. He does this by bringing us into Himself, exposing us to His presence, allowing the purity that He has to cleanse us. Like the pumice, we then become agents in His purifying work. We can trust that He has made us clean, no matter what we bring to Him with us. Some of that cleansing process may completely unravel things that we held together with gunk. Some of it may not be comfortable. But we are not pure by isolation, we are pure by interaction, and this purity is meant to be spread.
Now, there is a wisdom in considering what you add to that mix. My wife would soak lavender or other things in the oil for a while before using the oil to make soap, because it added scent to the final product. It made the end result a more desirable substance. The nature of soap is such that I could have, if I was the sort, added something nasty to some oil, like sewage or something else no one would really want. The soap would still work, it would cleanse both whatever I put in and whatever it came into contact with afterward. But no one would want to use it. It would have been a terrible decision for her business (and probably our marriage), but functionally, it would still be soap. Some of the things we choose to steep ourselves in operate the same way; they don't necessarily change the purification we're going through, but they do impact what the final result will look (and smell) like.
Where this analogy really breaks down is that God is not some blind, one-shot chemical process. He can, and will, purify anything we give over to Him. He is personal and reserves the right to fiddle with the details. He may require us to not engage with something any more, but that's handled on a personal basis. Adding something we shouldn't to the mix doesn't necessarily ensure that we will never be the result He wants, as He can cleanse even that. It is when we insist on keeping what does not match with the process He has for us, when we choose to continue pursuing our own notions rather than His plans, that we begin to stink. Even this can be cleansed if we will just stop and turn it over to Him, because the cleansing comes through interaction and not through isolation.
Christian purity culture fails because it is, fundamentally, not Christian. It does not reflect the person of Christ, it does not operate from the basis of His work in us. Listen: if you are in Christ, you are being made pure. Full stop. Your sanctification is a process, that purity is still being applied to you, and you should consider what you will do to help the final result of that process be one that is pleasing to God. But we can't sit around fretting about ruining ourselves with every little mistake. We can't allow ourselves to live as though dirty things from our past (whether done by us or to us) have irreparably corrupted us. We cannot hide away in isolation from a world that desperately needs the cleansing He can provide through us. We can trust that God will take everything, all of our experiences and issues and desires and skills, and purify them for His purposes. So instead of pushing purity culture as it now exists, let us consider pointing people to the Christ who makes all things new and trust Him to do that in and through our lives everywhere we go. Especially in the big messes we can't possibly handle on our own.
What follows was originally a paper written for my Church Administration class at Northeastern Baptist College in January 2019. It has been adapted into its present form.
Churches have a number of functions, many of which are specifically local. It is within the local context that a church baptizes believers, interacts with its community, carries out discipleship, practices communion, participates in regular corporate worship, and invests in the lives of one another. If, however, we are to understand the church as being a vehicle for the Great Commission to carry the gospel of Christ to all the world, as Baptists hold, then there needs to be some means by which the local church functions on a global stage. Now, no local church body can carry out the fullness of its mission on a global scale--people from Malaysia simply will not attend a communion service in Iowa on a regular basis--so how is the global function of the local church related to the local function?
Historically, the primary means by which the local church extends its mission to the global stage has been by sending out individuals who have a working partnership with the local church and operate in a different, frequently overseas, local context. A working partnership is more than simply sending money, however, and requires that the church actually participate in global work on a fairly regular basis. This is the basic purpose of short term mission trips: to participate in and support the work of the church outside of the immediate local context. Short term missions, however, are a fairly new phenomenon in American Christianity. Bob Garrett, then-professor of missions at Dallas Baptist University, wrote in 2008 that “In the 1960s and into the 1970s most denominational mission boards and missionary sending agencies were still sending out exclusively career personnel” and went on to explain that the rise of short term missions was not only unexpected, but actively opposed by some. As such, there is much about the practice of short term mission trips to be clarified and understood.
Operating in this manner requires a great deal of planning, and the local church must have an understanding of what it is they are trying to do by sending short term mission trips and how best to accomplish those goals. This article is intended to give an overview of some of the primary concerns that arise in planning a trip, with a particular focus on the role of the church administrator in planning, organizing, and carrying out both a church policy of short term missions and individual trips a given church may send out.
The success of a church short term mission trip depends in large part on the work of the church administrator. The fact is that mission trips require far more planning than picking a location and getting to work. Even when traveling to assist an established long term missionary, there are a wide range of variables that have to be addressed and balanced to ensure that the trip has a clear goal that can be achieved and that the work is carried out well. In A Guide to Short Term Missions, H. Leon Greene notes that “Commonly, in the spring, thoughts turn toward a summer mission trip. This is not nearly enough time to complete your preparations.” Greene’s concern is that there is so much work involved in planning an effective trip that preparations should start far earlier; he states in the same paragraph that “ideally, a member of the team should visit the site a year before the team’s departure date.” Note that planning under this model does not begin a year before the trip. After all, the person who scouts out the site has to know what site they are going to in the first place. Planning has to begin early enough to have someone ready to visit the site a year before the trip.
Over a year of planning and organizing cannot be done as the background noise of someone partially invested in the work. Such a task must be given over to someone who is committed to the operational side of the mission, who can think about long-term objectives, and who understands the facets of planning a successful trip. In a church large enough to have a dedicated church administrator, this would be part of their work, in conjunction with any missions coordinator the church may have. For any other church, however, someone needs to take on the responsibility of organizing the missions work of the church. A volunteer missions coordinator should be selected with a great deal of discretion; they are taking on a highly important role, and the church needs to know that they are committed to the work, sound in their theology and goals, and submitting to the pastor and the church.
Churches should have a missions policy. Having an established system can eliminate a host of issues that arise in mission planning. A good church mission policy should cover, at the very least, any location preferences the church may have (such as overseas, domestic, only places with missionaries the church supports, etc.), criteria for members of the trip which includes an acknowledgement that some people are called to personally participate in non-local mission and some simply are not, fundraising policies to cover the costs of trips (if not addressed elsewhere), and specific point people who are responsible for determining whether or not a given trip suggestion will be pursued by the church.
Once this policy is in place it can guide much of the process that follows. Any trip that simply does not conform to what the church is able to support will be revealed quickly before resources, including time, are spent on it. The issue of calling is a major one, however. A recognition that there is an actual calling involved in cross-cultural mission ensures that the vetting process for personnel, especially trip leaders, is focused on working under God’s design instead of just filling a trip with an impressive number of people. Mission trips will not be as effective if they do not have at their core the understanding that God wants this set of people in this place to accomplish this work. A church policy for mission trips should aim to ensure that they are built to this standard.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed before detailed planning on a trip can begin. The first really is simply determining where the trip will be and when. Nearly every resource available on planning a trip suggests going where there is an established long term missionary who has a relationship with the sending church. If a given church has existing relationships with multiple missionaries, one will have to be chosen to receive a team. Garrett notes, “Realities on the ground should play a key role in determining the specific work of the trip,” and one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to ask a number of missionaries about their needs and work that they want support on which the missionary and their community can continue after the short term team has returned home.
The reason it is advised to get trip ideas from long-term missionaries and to let them set the course of the work is that there is growing concern over how we do short term trips. The Catholic Church, for instance, published an article in 2015 in which the Mike Gable introduced his premise with the statement, “I am convinced mission offices, parishes, and schools across the United States need to stop funding and sending harmful, arrogant, and poorly trained short-term mission groups.” The reason for this blunt condemnation is what Gable refers to as a “‘heroic’ model of mission” that relies on the notion that Europeans and North Americans have “a sacrificial duty to ‘bring civilization and God’ to the so-called ‘pagans’ who supposedly needed Western culture to be fulfilled human beings.” This description of the actual effects of this mission style reverberates across denominational lines. Gable notes evidence that points to communities receiving teams agreeing to whatever idea the teams have, out of concern for offending their guests, even when the work is not beneficial to the community and may actually need to be undone as soon as the team leaves. In an interview, anthropologist Jeff Haanan argued,
I am not for the narrative that has typically driven these trips: ‘We are going because there’s this tremendous need out there that we have to meet. And there’s this burden that we have as the wealthy country to go and do something in another place.’ I support transforming this narrative so that it becomes, ‘How can we connect with what God is doing in other parts of the world? How can we learn to be good partners with Christians already in these places? How can we participate in what the church is already doing in these countries in effective ways?
The solution Gable points to is a relational one. Gable notes, “A recent study shows most U.S. mission groups prefer construction projects, while most host communities prefer building long-term relationships humbly walking together in Christ. Only after partnerships of trust and respect have matured should it be appropriate to discuss possible service and social justice projects together.” The fact is that we can talk a great deal about bringing the gospel into a new context, about learning the culture so as not to unnecessarily offend the people we minister to, about doing work that they need, but if we do not listen to them about what would be a blessing to them, none of that will matter. We must begin with a relationship, ideally through a long-term missionary or a native pastor, and respect their knowledge of the needs and gifts of the community rather than beginning with work we would like to do and then looking for someone we think can use it.
If a number of missionaries have provided ideas for teams to address, the church administrator or individual responsible for planning trips should take time to examine each, alongside the actual resources of the church, to determine which ones are feasible. A church with no young people and a lack of construction-minded members will simply not be a great benefit to a community that needs houses built. A church with a poor congregation may have difficulty raising money to support an extended stay or a project that involves a large amount of supplies.
During this stage, members of the church can be approached about prayerfully considering taking part in a trip. Those who are interested should be aided in establishing a network of supporters who will pray for the trip and the individuals from that point until the team has returned home. Looking at the gifts and calling of those who feel led to participate may be very helpful in narrowing down the options for where the team will go and what kind of work they will perform while there.
Once the works that cannot be done by the sending church or do not fit the mission of the church have been ruled out, that which remains can be investigated further. Gathering more information on the exact details about what would be needed for each possible trip, examining the urgency of each idea, and pitching these ideas to potential team members and leaders may make one option stand out as the best fit for this body at this time. It may instead result in multiple trips being planned for different times. Once the church has decided upon a specific trip to plan at this time, the next phase can begin.
Earlier, Greene was cited as calling for someone to visit the site of the trip a year in advance. This is identified because quite a lot actually has to happen during that year. In Greene’s book, he described events where going early enabled a team leader to differentiate between two possible sites in the same community and determine which one was best for the planned work, and others where early treks to the community clarified difficult travel options and ensured that the team knew how to get where they were going and how long it would take to get there. The person visiting early can take note of what supplies the team may need and their availability, as well as any local wildlife or plants that people in the team may need to be ready to encounter. It is not that those who live there cannot be trusted to know their own environment, but that someone who lives with certain conditions and handles them regularly may not think them notable enough to mention to a visitor. Everyone in my family has hit at least one deer with a car in their life, with one exception, but I have never warned someone going to my home area from Massachusetts to watch for deer on the road. It did not register to me that there are fewer deer here, and people are not as accustomed to watching for them, until people began responding with surprise to my stories about being in cars that hit deer. Having someone who comes from the same context as the church group check out the site will bring up things that people from that context need to know about the one they are entering. An early trip also initiates an ongoing conversation between the team leader and anyone already on the ground, which helps deepen the relationship between the team and the community and provide updates on changing situations in the community.
That year gives the team members, who have already been building a team of people to pray for them, time to begin raising any necessary funds. It gives them time to get passports if needed, to request time off work, to make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up at the location where the team will meet for their journey. It gives the church time to arrange transportation, buy tickets, and secure housing at lower costs. According to Forbes, the best time to buy plane tickets, for example, varies by season but usually falls into the window of two to three months in advance. Having solid plans nine to ten months before buying plane tickets gives the church ample time to know exactly who needs those tickets.
During this year, if the team is traveling out of the country, it is also important to have team members visit their doctors and make any necessary arrangements for vaccinations, prescriptions, or other medical concerns specific to the location. If the team will be arriving in the summer and the scout visited the summer before, they can give the team detailed information about some of the concerns they noticed thriving at that time, such as mosquito populations or water conditions.
This needs to be a year of prayer, of active work in planning details, and of getting the church excited for the mission. The church is sending this team--the church needs to be on board with what the team is doing. Taking the time during that year to introduce the community, the need, and the vision for this specific trip ensures that the church has time to think over what is being planned and get excited to participate in it. It gives people who would be interested but had not previously expressed interest the chance to get involved. It also provides an opportunity to raise money from the church itself. In discussing fundraising in general, Dave Wilkinson noted that donors need
...the chance to give realistically and prayerfully. This includes advance notice before the offering is received. It means hearing how this special offering fits into the giving scheme of the whole year and what other special offerings are anticipated. For contributors, pacing is important, as is knowing what ministries they will have opportunity to support, so they can give to those closest to their hearts.
One other issue that needs to be addressed during this year is training. The team needs the opportunity to learn what will be expected of them during the trip, how to do the work, and how to interact with the culture. They will have a short amount of time to make an impact while on site, and cannot spend all of it figuring out how to start the work. The relationship with someone on site helps immensely here, as they can focus these efforts on specific conditions relevant to the site.
There should be no more questions or foreseeable issues to handle a few weeks before the trip. Surprises will arise, as they always do, during the final weeks of preparation and the trip itself; but a well-planned trip should minimize these as much as possible by having details mapped out, team members trained, and supplies gathered or on site. By this point, the team should be able to focus entirely on prayer, personal down time, building relationships, and doing what they are being sent to do. The church and any others that have been supporting the work should be encouraged to continue praying for the success of the trip and the glory of God revealed to everyone involved. While on site, the team should operate under the guidance of the team leader who is working alongside, or even under, the team’s primary contact in the community. When the team returns, they should be invited to tell the story of what happened to the gathered church and other supporters.
One important thing to keep in mind after a trip is that the relationship does not end when the plane lands. The team should be encouraged to continue contact with anyone they built relationship with while on site, the church should continue to cultivate a relationship with long-term missionaries and/or native pastors in the community, and that community should hold a standing option as somewhere that future teams can visit. Part of building relationships is not abandoning those relationships as soon as the immediate work is over. If short term mission trips are going to aid in the mission of the church to reach a global stage, they must open the door for the church to continue thinking and operating on a global level.
As Haanan noted, “the whole trip should be an experience of learning, growing, and serving God. Listening and learning from people, about people, about places, about what God is doing--this is God's mission, and it should be ours as well.” Everything that happens before, during, and after the trip should serve this broader purpose and bring it home to the sending church.
Today, I delivered the third and final sermon as part of my final for Homiletics. This was probably my weakest of the three, partly because I picked a passage that really needed more time than I had available to give it. I marked it as abridged not because I've removed anything from the presentation, but because I hope to expand on it and then revisit this text in a longer sermon in a church environment some time.
The assignment was for a twenty minute sermon, and I was asked to try to use as few notes as possible. As such, it ended up being shorter because I was trying hard to avoid going over. Passage is Jude 20-25, and touches on some of the same issues as I addressed in my General Epistles series.
The second sermon delivered as part of my Homiletics final was a 10-minute sermon. My text is Malachi 3:7-11, reading from t he NASB.
After all, the Christ Paul is seeking to imitate will color everything about our own attempts to wrestle with his words. I fear we tend to forget this because, so often, Paul is seen primarily as a theologian, a man who wrote treatises that we must dissect and systematically piece back together, a collection of important doctrines written for our education. But this is not the Paul of Acts, or even of his epistles. The Paul we have recorded in the Bible is a missionary and pastor, concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of those he meets and pointing them to Christ. Even his most detailed doctrinal passages are not written to seminary students but to struggling believers that he is attempting to help and guide. He is feeding sheep, not arguing from an armchair, and that which he feeds those sheep is always Christ. Everything he says goes back to the Christ who has given him the call to ministry, the Christ who appeared to him on the road outside of Damascus, the Christ who showed him all he must suffer while he sat blind in a stranger's home.
There is a surprising lack of material on Paul's understanding of Christ, considering this is the very foundation upon which everything else we have of him is built. In seeking resources for this, I found only two books that spilled any ink on Paul's understanding of Christ, and one was citing the other. If there are journal articles that handle this matter in any detail, they were lost in hundreds of pages of results that seemed to exclusively contain more doctrinal arguments than anything. Paul urges strangers to encounter Christ, he tells his readers to look to Christ in all they do, he strives to live a life that can be rightly said to be Christ living through him. If we treat Paul as a theologian writing doctrine in a vacuum, we will get a lot of very good theology, but we will miss the point of what Paul was trying to communicate. In all things, Paul is writing about Christ.
“Pauline Christianity forms the heritage of western Christianity to this day, and therefore it is all the more important to understand as fully as possible Paul’s conception of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 96.
Some notes on content before we begin. This post places Hebrews outside the corpus of Pauline writings. There is no statement about authorship being made by this. The origins of this post come from a New Testament survey class that centered on Acts and the Pauline epistles that did not include Hebrews; the decision was somewhat made for me. That being said, I probably could have included Hebrews if I really wanted, but I don't think attempting to would have had much benefit. While much is said of Christ in Hebrews that may have been useful, the attempts to explain its inclusion when there is no consensus of authorship would surely occupy more space than this topic can really spare for it. This may be influenced by my own opinion that Paul did not write Hebrews, but that seems like a matter for another post entirely.
Also, while I identified a host of passages about the work of Christ and His current status in regards to the present age, this post will focus entirely on the actual nature of Christ, whether eternal or incarnational. I am hoping to cover the other passages over the course of summer break, and now that I think about it I'd like to do a similar study as this with other Bible authors. May God grant me time on this Earth to write everything I want to write about this.
The initial limiting factor for my research into this project was that, whatever Paul may be directly talking about in a passage, the passage must say something specific about Christ in the process. As it turns out, calling Jesus Lord or Christ is saying something important about who He is, but I had to trim away any passage where that was the only thing that was being said about Him because it was nearly impossible to sift through everything with that pile mixed in. Except the passage above, which I kept just so Philemon wouldn't go ignored if I'm honest.
The fact is, Paul almost never says the name of Jesus without appending a title, either Lord or Christ in our translations. This is the most fundamental truth of who Jesus is as far as Paul is concerned: he is God, and every mention of Him is apparently lacking if it does not in some way acknowledge that fact. This is, in fact, the first thing he learns about Jesus during his conversion; in Acts 9:5, Paul recognizes that whoever is speaking to him is certainly the Lord, but asks for further identification. When he receives the answer that this Lord is none other than Jesus, he immediately obeys Him. This fact will inform everything else Paul ever says or does concerning Jesus. Clarifying what it means for Jesus to be Lord, then, will tell us a great deal about everything else.
“What is perhaps even more noteworthy, however, is that there are a number of passages where Paul appears to apply Old Testament passages referring to the Lord to the figure of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 101.
While this would be best addressed in length elsewhere, Paul also consistently takes the Jewish idea of the Day of the Lord and ties it to the return of Christ; he even goes so far in Philippians to refer to this as the Day of Christ (1:6, 10, 2:16). Not only is Christ to be given the title of Lord, but the ultimate victory of God is understood through the lens of being the ultimate victory of Christ.
The God of Israel was never like the gods of the surrounding lands. There was no image of Him, no statues decorating their landscapes and homes bearing the face of divinity. They were, in fact, forbidden from even attempting to display Him. Nevertheless, this was a God who sought a relationship with His people, maintaining access at His temple and carrying on conversation with and through prophets. Moses, seeking a deeper relationship, asked to see God, only to be informed that to see His face would kill the man; he was allowed to see, at most, the divine back.
It emphasizes, however, how deeply relational this God is. It was not enough to show His people only a temple, or a mercy seat, or a fleeting glimpse of His back. He had to walk with us, dine with us, cry with us. The God that Paul knows in Christ is driven to reveal Himself to us as much as possible, ultimately promising to dwell with us forever.
“In that sense images of Christ are for Paul also in some ways images of God.”
Son of God
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
This is no light language, either. A lot of the terminology Paul uses for Jesus play into positions of authority across the full spectrum of time. Whether this is about preeminence or calling Him firstborn or heir of God (Romans 8:16-17, 29; Colossians 1:18; etc.), describing Him as the head/husband of the church and all things (Ephesians 1:19-23, 4:15; Romans 12:4-5; etc.), or the supreme judge and ruler at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; etc.), Paul regularly views Christ as bearing the full authority of God.
But the work the Father had for the Son was not to take place entirely on a throne in Heaven.
Jesus was the fulfillment of a great number of promises, and two of them relate to His ancestry. The first is that He was to be a descendant of Abraham, which Paul identifies as true of Him (Romans 9:3-5, Galatians 3:16). The other is that He was the son of David that would sit forever on the throne (Acts 13:22-23, Romans 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:8). His specific family is noted in Galatians 1:19, where He is stated as the brother of James.
The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
“In summarizing this passage, we can see that several of the Pauline christological images are maintained. He uses the composite name, Christ Jesus, to describe both earthly and exalted status and events, with the figure moving between them. Although he is seen to be in the appearance of God, and equal with him in some way, Jesus Christ also is subordinate to him, being obedient to the point of death and consequently being exalted by him to a position of preeminence in the universe.”
The other two sermons will also be uploaded after they are delivered over the span of the next week or so. And in the meantime, keep an eye out for my final project in New Testament II, a survey of Paul's description of Christ!
A Survey of Causes and Consequences, with Particular Focus on the Role of Baptists Throughout
If Irish Baptists are readily ignored in Ireland, they are even more so for those outside of the island. Few books of Baptist history discuss Ireland, and those that do generally give it very little space. In its treatment of Greater Britain, H. C. Vedder’s Short History of the Baptists gives one paragraph to Ireland and two to Alexander Carson, a prominent leader in Irish Baptist life. In summarizing the paragraph on Ireland, Vedder simply states that “comment is almost needless. Baptist churches have ever found Ireland an uncongenial soil”. This is hardly surprising, given the nature of their arrival to the island.
In fact, the two most influential events in Irish Baptist history are arguably the conquest by Oliver Cromwell’s army and the Ulster Revival of 1859, and Baptists themselves, while reasonably associated with both, played very little public role in either. The concern of this post will be the latter, but it cannot be fully divorced from the former. The context of the Ulster Revival can be traced through three sources: the general tone of Baptist life in Ireland as established by Baptist arrival and initial struggles, the Prayer Meeting Revival in America of 1857-1858, and the immediate environment in which the Ulster Revival occurred. With this understanding in place, consideration can be given to the revival itself and its results, which are still felt today.
Early Irish Baptists
Vedder notes that “There is no reason to suppose that the church antedates the conquest of Ireland by Cromwell in 1649, and in fact our earliest knowledge of such a church is 1653” . Baptists certainly came over with Cromwell’s army, with John Owen preaching to the troops in England before their departure and then travelling to Ireland with them. Cromwell and his associates would paint much of what they did in Ireland as a judgment for atrocities they believed to have occurred in the northern region of Ireland, Ulster, less than a decade earlier. Owen’s own sermon urged the soldiers “to avenge the deaths of Ulster Protestants that had occurred during the rising of 1641” .
Cromwell and his army established a name for themselves by a great massacre in Drogheda, which Cromwell
Owen did not remain in Ireland, but “when [he] returned from Ireland, pleading for missionaries to be sent to the island, Patient was chosen by Parliament as one of six ministers to be sent to Dublin” . Thomas Patient had already served under William Kiffen in London and signed the London Confession of 1644. Patient helped form the Irish Baptist church in Waterford, one of very few from that period still operating today, before being given the preaching position at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. While there, “he was responsible for erecting the first Baptist Meeting House in Ireland, in Swift’s Alley, Dublin” . This is the church Vedder refers to as beginning in 1653.
The Baptists in Ireland had been strongly associated with Cromwell’s army, and Baptist churches on the island were still largely composed of soldiers and their families. When Charles II restored the throne in 1660, much of that army returned to England, leaving their churches largely empty. The remaining Baptists were caught in a vice between the crown and the Irish, both hating them for affiliation with Cromwell. In fact, “the Baptist cause is described as having ‘lingered rather than lived’” through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries .
A Revival of Prayer
A week later, twenty attended the prayer meeting, and attendance was nearing forty when the third meeting came together on October 7. With excitement building, it was decided that the meetings would occur every day, beginning immediately. As the building began to fill, other nearby churches and open spaces opened their doors for the growing prayer meeting movement. As of February 1858, “not less than one hundred and fifty meetings for prayer in this city and Brooklyn were held daily,” and that same month saw the first related prayer meetings begin in Philadelphia .
Almost immediately after, other meetings sprang up in cities as far abroad as Boston, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago. Accounts began to arise about boats travelling to New York being swept up in the activity before making land. In Samuel Prime’s 1859 account of the prayer meetings, an entire chapter is devoted to the work done through Mariner’s Church in Manhattan to minister to sailors that carried word of their conversion overseas, and “ from there it spread to Canada, the British Isles, Scandinavia, parts of modern Germany, Geneva and other parts of Europe, as well as settler communities in Australia, southern Africa and India” .
An Island in Crisis
The Baptists in Ireland fared little better, if at all, than the Catholic majority during the potato blight that struck in 1842. The population was devastated, to the point that
The Baptist churches of Ireland worked hard to provide for the needs of their neighbors, but between their own suffering and the loss of large numbers of adherents, they were quickly falling into a deficit. As the blight ended, more troubles struck Ireland, these coming in the form of higher taxes owed to Britain. William Ewart Gladstone, then chancellor of the exchequer in England, explained a new fiscal policy for Ireland in 1853 that included a higher spirit duty and an income tax that was expected to be temporary and only affect the wealthy. Instead, “the net result was that Irish taxation rose by some £2,000,000 a year, at a time when the only hope for the national economy was the investment of more private capital” . Everyone in Ireland suffered to some degree under the plan.
Meanwhile, Ulster was in a war over the political influence of religion. The Roman Catholic Church was dealing with an internal struggle over the concept of ultramontanism, a strong system of belief in the power of the Catholic hierarchy. Ultimately, the ultramontanists would win that battle with acceptance of the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. The ultramontanist movement was gaining strength in Catholic Ireland and the Presbyterians, fearful of losing political power to the Roman pontiff, “were appalled by government concessions to popery and in 1854 the General Assembly formed a Committee on Popery to monitor the progress of Catholicism in public life and arrange lectures on anti-Catholic themes” .
The Presbyterians themselves were recovering from an internal battle, where
The new movement the Presbyterians hoped for would be sober and respectable. It would produce great fruit with little fuss. What they saw happening in America in 1858 sounded like an answer to their very specific prayer; however, “revivals seldom conform to the sober desires of religious professionals. The revival of 1859 was no different and unleashed forces that challenged the status quo and caused considerable unease and controversy” .
The Ulster Revival of 1859
Conversions began to occur at Tannybrake and Kells, and one soul saved was a man named Samuel Campbell. Campbell returned home to Ahoghill, where he led his mother and siblings to the Lord. The last of his family to follow Campbell to faith was his brother, who in March 1859 was so stricken with the weight of his sin that he nearly collapsed upon hearing the gospel, and spent many days in dire spirits until he finally came to Christ. This would be considered the first of many manifestations that would accompany the revival that was beginning.
As conversions were starting to draw attention in Connor and Ahoghill, word reached Ireland of the work happening in America. Inspired by the Prayer Meeting Revival, R. H. Carson, son of Alexander Carson and pastor of Tobermore Baptist church, decided on “the formation of a prayer meeting on a Friday evening and this proved to be a fruitful meeting, as a fortnight after its commencement, there were conversions. From March 1859 to March 1860, ninety-two souls were added to the church” . This merged with the revival sparked in Connor as, by this time, “the Heavenly Fire was leaping in all directions through Antrim, Down, Derry, Tyrone, and indeed throughout all Ulster. From Ahoghill the revival spread until, in May 1859, it began to manifest itself in Ballymena” .
Opponents to the Revival saw a vastly different story unfolding. Their concern largely focused on stories about manifestations that “occurred in a variety of geographical locations and took different forms including stigmata, ‘convulsions, cries, uncontrollable weeping or trembling, temporary blindness or deafness, trances, dreams and visions’, though prostrations were the most common” . These are generally considered to have been relatively rare occurrences that were exaggerated by the press, but they were undeniably a factor in the Ulster Revival despite having no presence in America or the initial waves in Connor. This concern was raised during a June 1859 meeting, in which “the Presbytery of Belfast was positive towards the revival but wary of the manifestations. Professor J. G. Murphy expressed his disapproval and stated his preference for ‘the silent workings of the spirit of God, as likely to be more lasting’. Gibson likewise stated that he ‘had no sympathy with those extravagances’ and recommended a cautious approach” .
William McIlwaine, in studying the event and Presbyterian history, came to the conclusion that the manifestations and chaotic nature of some conversions held more in common with the Six Mile River Revival than previous Presbyterians had claimed. He and Isaac Nelson were also concerned about American revivalism in general, and wrote extensively on the subject in Ulster papers. Their major point of concern was that “the revivalist religion of the American Churches led to moral prevarication that permitted slaveholders to remain church members” . They held that, if revival was not sufficient to make the church address and mourn its nation’s most glaring sin, then it was not changing hearts. Ultimately, however, McIlwaine and Nelson remained in the minority, and the effects of the Revival went on without them.
Consequences of the Revival
The Revival also had very little impact on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. While some accounts mentioned Catholics converting during the Revival, “it is clear that the revival made little impact upon the Catholic population in Ulster, none at all in southern Ireland and there was little or no effort made by the Protestant Churches to evangelise Catholics” . The Presbyterian church did not gain the political power over the Catholic church that it had been seeking, but did solidify its position as part of an Ulster-Scots identity. That identity would go on to fuel unionist rhetoric when the rest of Ireland sought independence from England, and heavily influenced the politics of the new Northern Ireland when the island was eventually split in two.
The wave of revival did not stop in Ulster. Scotland and Wales saw revivals in that same period, and
The success of the Revival was largely measured by the experiences of those in it, with doctrine becoming a secondary issue. Supporters of the Revival pointed to individual piety, a clear moment of conversion, and social factors such as temperance as evidence of the work of God. The concern about personal piety and experience started a shift in Presbyterian thought, where “theologians increasingly saw religious experience as the essence of Christian faith and placed it at the centre of their inquiries, characterising the Bible as a record of the developing spiritual experience of humanity rather than as a manual of doctrine” . The battles fought within Presbyterianism at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which solidified a more concrete conservative nature to the denomination, came under a new assault as “the use of the language of experience...allowed some opinion-formers within the Presbyterian Church to adopt higher criticism and to be accused of promulgating so-called modernist theology. Those sympathetic to modernism could separate the text of Scripture from the spiritual experience to which it gave witness while the laity could retain their pietistic spirituality” .
Baptists did not seem to fall into this same error at the time, but once the idea was in place, it would arise again; the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that split almost every major Protestant denomination in the early twentieth century can be largely traced back to the debates within Presbyterianism in the years after 1859. Both Northern Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention would end up having this same fight in the twentieth century, with the fundamentalists breaking away in the north to form the Conservative Baptists of America while modernists were driven out of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Irish had been increasing their attempts to control their own land in the wake of the potato blight, when it was shown (in the most charitable wording possible) that the British concern for the island was insufficient to the needs of its people. Having entered the revival period with little outside help and growing problems, the Irish Baptists came through the 1860s with a growing body and a renewed vigor for the work ahead. It was enough of a head start that, with 29 churches, “the Baptist Union of Ireland was formed in 1895 and links with the Baptist Union of Great Britain were severed” . While political independence would happen for the Irish later, the Baptists of the island had achieved some measure of religious self-determination.
Baptists played a significant role in the Ulster Revival of 1859 and benefited greatly from it, even if they are hidden in the shadow of the Presbyterian work. What had been a struggling body of believers barely holding on to its place in Ireland had come to stand on its own feet. The place they carved out for themselves is still growing, although slowly.
One woman presenting Christ to a young man in County Antrim, and one man sitting down to pray with the doors open for others to join in New York City, were used by God to change the character of Christianity in Ulster and the greater United Kingdom. This seed was not too small to see a revival--perhaps the Baptist churches of Ireland are not too small a seed to see an even greater movement of God today.
At the core of this issue is the question of what the church is. If the church is basically a regional expression, a sort of divine government over a parcel of land, then it should make sense that people be incorporated into it based on their place of birth, as citizens of both a physical and a spiritual nation. However, there is no trace of this idea in scripture. If Paul could say to the church in Corinth, “now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it,” then the church must be defined by its relationship to Christ (1 Cor 12:27 NASB). That is, in order for the church to be Christ’s body, the church must be in Christ - and no one is in Christ who has not been redeemed by him. If the church are specifically those who have become “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” then there can be no one in the church who are not yet dead to sin, and only those who have been made alive in Christ can be members of it (Rom 6:11 NASB).
So the Baptist holds that the defining trait of the church is that it is the body of Christ, or more specifically, the gathering of those who are in Christ into one body. This doctrine naturally flows into all others by which the Baptist can be recognized. If the body of those in Christ gathered is the body of Christ, then the local church is able to stand as the body of Christ. The local church is independent, not reliant on a larger body whether religious or secular for authority to operate as Christ’s body, and has for itself Christ as its head (cf. Col 1:18). This frees the local church not only from the structures of a larger religious body but also from the dictates of any mortal government. The local church is an expression of the fullness of the body of Christ just as Christ, though finite in His body, was able to express the fullness of the infinite God while walking the Earth. This enables the local church to carry out the full mission of Christ’s body in the world without borrowing authority from a larger structure, including ordaining, releasing, and holding accountable their own leadership; while leaving the local church free to partner with other local churches as equals.
If the church is composed of those who are in Christ, then the mark of entry into the body must be given only to those who are in Christ. The idea that baptism is the mark of entrance into the church is not specific to Baptists - most, if not all, denominations would agree with that claim. The different ideas on when baptism should be applied are based not on the function of baptism, but are fundamentally built on differing ideas of what the church is and therefore who receives entry. As stated above, a view of the church that equates entry with physical citizenship must baptize immediately, as the child is understood to be in the church at the time of birth. A belief that the church is the gathering of those in Christ’s body, however, demands that baptism be withheld until a person is actually in Christ’s body.
This also informs the difference between those bodies who believe that baptism has any ability to save or impute grace onto the baptized, and the Baptist who believes it to be only a sign. If baptism is applied after one is already in Christ, then the baptism itself cannot hold any power to place one into the body. It cannot change one’s nature into that which it already is. In fact, all ordinances of the church must be symbolic. If a person can only be in the church by already being in Christ and redeemed by Him, then no practice of those already in the church will have the power to bring people into it. Baptism cannot redeem because it is applied to the already redeemed, and the same goes for the taking of bread and wine in communion. The body and blood of Christ have no need to be physically present in the bread and wine because the body gathered is the physical manifestation of the body of Christ already. Christ is present in a special way whenever and wherever His people are gathered, they do not need to invoke Him into presence through another medium (cf. Matt 18:20).
When one is asked to define the distinction Baptists and Baptist-like bodies have with all other groups of Christians, the answer must begin with the doctrine of the believer’s church. All other things that define the Baptists as a specific and unique movement are born from this doctrine. However, the need to grasp this distinction goes beyond simply defining Baptists to those who are not Baptists. Keeping this understanding in mind also enables the local church to hold itself, its members, and its leadership accountable to its effects. The local church, as the body of Christ, must be working on the mission Christ has given it. The church must be vigilant that it recognizes those who are in Christ and refrains from giving undue authority to those who are not, whether they are attending church services or sitting in positions of political power. In order to faithfully carry out the identity Baptists have, the individual Baptist must know what that identity is- and it begins by grasping the doctrine of the believer’s church.
A few years ago, I was explaining to a relative why my Baptist church was working with a Lutheran church on a shared project, a winter homeless shelter. His argument was that, because they baptize infants, Baptists can't work with them and pretend we're sharing the same gospel. I pointed out that we are, in fact, sharing the same gospel, and what we disagree on are largely secondary or tertiary issues. What I told him as the culmination of that is that I certainly think baptizing infants is wrong, and will gladly (and repeatedly have) discuss and/or debate that point while sitting with other believers in a context that permits that. However, with so few churches in my area that preach the gospel and preach it well, and so few people attending those churches and living out the gospel that they hear, it is only reasonable that we may have to team up across denominational lines to do outreach and we can't jeopardize that outreach by arguing about pedobaptism when a nonbeliever is walking by. Frankly, as much as I may disagree with Lutherans about certain things, I would rather see someone come to Christ and then grow in that walk while attending a Lutheran church than drive them away from the gospel entirely because I demanded that they come to my Baptist church regardless of their opinion of it.
He responded by accusing me of acting like every opinion is correct. He literally stated his belief that I would allow a pedobaptist to come into my church and preach from the pulpit about baptism. Now, I have some good friends who are pedobaptists, and I think we all understand without offense that we would never allow each other to do that. But he had no capacity for distinguishing between primary and secondary issues in theology.
Last week I had a run-in with someone online who was misrepresenting basically anything that wasn't Calvinism, and when I noted that they were failing to show grace for the fact that people with valid and growing walks with Christ can end up with differing views on this matter, and we need to respect the way that they got there from scripture, I was again accused of saying everyone was right. I very much wasn't. I had, in fact, already said that I don't believe Calvinism is right.
The reason I tell these stories is because something like it comes up pretty often. I think that we, as Christians at large, need to have a serious discussion about what it is we agree on, what it is we disagree on, and how much that really affects our relationship. Because the fact is, I don't believe that Heaven will be full of only non-Calvinist Baptists. And for the most part, Presbyterians don't think I'm out over my credobaptism and differing view on total depravity. There seems to be this weird thing happening where we recognize that the body of Christ in the world is larger than our own camp, but we can't allow that to impact how we actually treat each other.
Listen. When I say that there is reason that devout Christians reading the same scriptures with the same earnest heart for God come to completely different answers about atonement theory or the extent of depravity or how we baptize or how we view communion/Eucharist or what the rapture is or if there even is a rapture or when it would happen, I am not saying all of those answers are right. I do, in fact, have a very strong stance on most of them. I am saying that God apparently doesn't view those differences as worthy of casting either group of people out. What I'm saying is that it is arrogance to believe that the only reason for a person to disagree with you is because they haven't studied it as hard as you have. I used to get that a lot, when I was in these arguments more, people telling me I would change my mind if I spent as many years studying it as they have, without any acknowledgement that I had been studying it for more years than they'd been alive. It wasn't time or earnestness or redemption that set us apart.
If you believe that God accepts, grows, and uses an Anglican like C.S. Lewis, a Catholic like Augustine, a Baptist like Charles Spurgeon, a Presbyterian like Tim Keller, and a Lutheran to rival Luther himself, then you believe that there is something universal to all of them that allows them to sit at God's table along with you. There are things we have to secure and never compromise on--there's a reason I didn't include any Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses in the list above, after all*--and that is good, even necessary, to do. There is room for us to debate and discuss and really, honestly, truly disagree about other issues, and that is good if done respectfully and with grace and understanding that it is basically an in-house discussion. But we are so eager to tear each other down, turn perfectly workable secondary issues into demeaning jokes, and it benefits no one. Hear me, brothers: if we will be known by how we love one another, then we should be willing to at least listen to one another.
In this season where we celebrate God's offer of peace and good will toward men, let us seriously ask ourselves if our treatment of other Christians showcases peace and good will. And if not, let us repent and go to God and seek His heart for our fellow adopted children of the King.
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Gospel Of John
The Good Place