Tuesday, September 27, 2022

What Should We Think About Death?

The British Humanist Association would like to tell us what we should think about death.

The plummy tones of comedian Stephen Fry introduce the concept, but you really can’t enjoy it in its full glory without the cartoon visuals. This link should maximize your viewing experience:

“One thing we can be sure of is that we will die. Everybody will.”

Tell us something we don’t know, Stephen.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Anonymous Asks (216)

“Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying?”

The first eleven verses of Acts 5 tell the story of Ananias and Sapphira, two married professing Christians in the early days of the first church in Jerusalem. As we find out at the end of the previous chapter, these early Christians were in the habit of sharing “all things in common” in the sense that they sold excess possessions and properties and gave the proceeds to God by laying them at the feet of the apostles, who ensured they were distributed to believers in need.

The Part and the Whole

Ananias and Sapphira conspired to enhance their good name among the believers by pretending to do the same. They sold a piece of property, kept back part of the proceeds of sale, and brought the rest to the apostles, representing it as the whole amount. All of this may be inferred from Peter’s rebuke of Ananias: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Challenged independently of one another, Ananias and Sapphira stuck to their lie and were stricken in some miraculous way. The text says they fell down and breathed their last.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Room for the Remnant

Make room for an Israelite remnant.

I would urge you to do this as you read and think through the scriptures, whether for your own benefit or in planning to teach others.

Allowing for the possibility of a remnant will provide a key to the understanding of prophecy, which occupies such a large part of the Bible. Without doing it, you may fall for Replacement Theology, which teaches no future role for Israel in God’s plans, transferring to the church all references to a bright future for that nation, and leaving all Jews to experience only those parts of scripture that speak of divine displeasure with Israel’s past and her present condition of unbelief.

Precious promises to a believing remnant within that nation are thus understood as finding their fulfilment in the church.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (4)

YHWH instituted the year of Jubilee in Israel for several reasons. One was to ensure that ownership of Israelite land outside the cities never changed hands, because the land belonged to God. If the rich were allowed to coerce the poor into permanently selling their inheritance to pay off debt, ancient Israel would quickly have descended into the abyss of present-day global economics, where the most affluent 10% of the population own 76% of the world’s wealth.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Bury or Burn?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance have a piece up on the subject of cremation vs. burial in which they list all the verses from scripture they can find which they think may be on point, though many of these are merely historical observations and not terribly relevant to the argument either way.

Understandably, they come to no clear conclusion.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Burning Down the House

No, I’m not going to break into the Talking Heads’ 1983 pop hit.

I’m tempted, but I’m not going to. You really don’t want to hear me do that.

But nothing raises the temperature in a local congregation faster than any suggestion we change the music. Countless battles have been fought, and whole congregations have divided over that sort of thing.

That’s really a pity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Harmonizing the Five Thousand

Yesterday we looked at the only miracle found in all four gospels: the feeding of the 5,000. We noted that the synoptic gospel accounts have many common elements, though each writer has tailored his version of the story to fit his overall purposes in writing about the life of the Lord Jesus.

For example, Matthew emphasizes the relationship between the Lord and John the Baptist, only just executed by Herod: “When Jesus heard this [that John had been executed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place.” Mark and Luke emphasize the Lord’s care for his disciples, who had just had their first taste of successful solo ministry: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while,” he invites them.

We often make choices with multiple purposes in view. The Lord Jesus was no exception.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Comparing the Synoptics

It is established beyond any reasonable doubt that the synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — show evidence of agreement that cannot be completely explained by the fact that they are all thought to have been written within a few years of each other by men who were members of the same religious community and had shared experiences to relate. I am neither a Greek nor a Hebrew scholar, but I can certainly read what the experts have written on the subject and note their positions on the likelihood of a common source document (or documents) for the three synoptics.

My full-time secular job has made me reasonably competent at doing document comparisons in Microsoft Word, so I thought it might be fun to take one of the few accounts common to all the gospels, and compare each gospel to each of the others to see how much of the writing shows indications of common source material.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Anonymous Asks (215)

“Can I stop tithing temporarily while paying off a debt?”

Tithing is a command first codified in the Law of Moses, though the concept of giving a tenth of everything you receive existed prior to the giving of the law. But Christians are not under law. At best, giving a tenth to God may be viewed as a guideline. What the Lord expected from Israel in times past serves as a useful starting point for Christian giving, though giving a tenth certainly does not exhaust the believer’s opportunity to serve the Lord by way of financial generosity.

It’s probably better not to think of it as “tithing” at all, but rather as an expression of our love for God.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Right Kind of Fear

In the scriptures the word “fear” may be used to describe the reaction a person might be expected to have in response to at least three different situations.

If surrounded by enemies fear would be equal to terror. David said, “Fear is on every side ... they scheme to take away my life.” On the other hand Moses commanded respect to be shown to parents by saying, “Every one of you shall fear* his mother and his father”, and Jeremiah was advocating reverence as being rightfully due to the Lord when he exclaimed, “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? There is none like you, O Lord.”

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (3)

A pun is a figure of speech in which similar words or different senses of the same word are associated. In English the intent is usually humorous, though effects vary. My father would drop the occasional pun in his thirties and forties, but abandoned that sort of humor as he aged, recognizing that it didn’t play as well in Canada as in his native England. (We also had a friend who punned so frequently it became excruciating; you never wanted to give him an excuse to get started.)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The “No Harm” Argument

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

You’re all familiar with this one. It’s a defense for something traditionally considered immoral that usually begins with a variant of “if two consenting adults want to …”

We could call it a “no harm” argument. It’s the idea that if nobody’s demonstrably hurt, nothing wrong happened. But even the New York Times recently poked holes in it.

Tom: Immanuel Can, is it possible to have a sin without a resulting injury?

Immanuel Can: The short answer? No, I don’t think it is.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

(Re)Making Music

I’ve heard it said that the quickest way to split a congregation is to change the hymnbook or repaint the walls.

Well, I have no feel for interior decorating, so that second one’s not going to be a problem for me. But like most people, I have more definite tastes when it comes to music. Some of the songs that my local church sings, I love; others, I confess, make me cringe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (25)

The White House recently announced a debt relief program for lower income students who are having difficulty repaying government loans taken to obtain their college degrees. Qualifying debtors may be forgiven up to $20,000 in unpaid student loans, and undergraduates may have their monthly loan repayments cut in half. Higher income college graduates will not qualify for debt relief.

I was surprised to find many Christians opposed to this move.