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Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Important Lesson from Dr. Crew

This is why Louie Crew is the the Much Beloved Godfather of God's Rainbow Tribe.

"Still brilliant after all these years."

A Way Forward and a Huge Missed Opportunity

By Louie Crew

A relatively small group of Christians has shocked the world by welcoming persons whose manner of life offends most Christians . Christian leaders confront those who have promulgated the innovation. They require the innovators to give an account of their actions.

At the end of their confrontation, the Christian leaders issue a muddled report, the details of which most people will never remember. They offer a few harsh recommendations which few will hold definitive or binding, but the result is to open the door , albeit ever so niggardly, to those previously excluded.

I speak of the Council of Jerusalem, reported in Acts 15. I speak also of the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans, September 2007, reported on by the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The first gathering dealt with whether to accept gentiles and not force them to be circumcised.

The second gathering dealt with whether homosexual persons can be accepted, blessed and if elected, consecrated as bishops.

Acts 15 is far more readable than the report of the Joint Standing Committee :

* Acts 15 reports its conclusions in 35 sentences (923 words), an average of 26.5 words long.
* The Joint Standing Committee reports its conclusions in 274 sentences (10,359 words), an average of 37.8 words long.

* Only 2% of the words in Acts 15 are 10+ characters long.
* 8% of the words are 10+ characters long in the report of the Joint Standing Committee

* Acts 15 facilitates its reading with some mark of punctuation for an average of every 8 words.
* The Joint Standing Committee report has punctuation for an average of only every 12 words.

[Note: I have used the NRSV in these calculations. Click here to access the report of the Joint Standing Committee ]

The original audience for Acts 15 could not have been very large. There were not very many Christians in the first century. Of course there is the larger audience who have read Acts 15 over the nearly 2,000 years since.

However, I doubt that 1% of its readers now living can recall from un-refreshed memory the three conditions that the Council required.

They really were not important. What was important is that the circumcision party yielded. Had it not, Christianity would have remained a tiny Jewish sect. Requiring circumcision of male converts was certainly not an effective form of evangelism.

The intended audience of the Joint Standing Committee’s report is the Anglican Consultative Council to whom they report. If their dense prose makes it possible for the Anglican Communion to move beyond the current debilitating sexuality debate, the Committee will have performed a major service to the world’s second largest Christian body. News genuinely good may again be spoken.

But the Joint Standing Committee and the Episcopal House of Bishops missed a major opportunity. Over 100 journalists were registered at the meeting in New Orleans, and thousands more were following it from afar.

There is not enough money in the advertising budgets of all 38 provinces in the Communion to buy the time that the press gave freely to cover this occasion, and yet those two august groups spoke no clear and welcoming word to the world, whose attention they so rarely command.

How refreshing it would have been had the Committee reported: “We conclude that God still is no respecter of persons, that God loves absolutely everybody. All are welcome in the Anglican Communion!”

It remains the job of every Christian not only to proclaim that good news, but also to live it. In Christ there is no gay or straight, bond or free, male or female…. In Christ we are all one. Our assignment is to love the world, not condemn it, even as God, for Christ’s sake, loves us.


Hiram said...

It was not their "manner of life" that the Hebrew Christians found distressing; it was their ethnic background and the fact that up until that time, all gentiles who joined the people of God underwent conversion to Judaism. The question before the Council was, "Do the gentiles who believe in Jesus as Messiah need to convert to Judaism (including circumcision for the males) and to follow the dietary and other ceremonial laws or not?"

The Council decided that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross fulfilled all that the sacrifices of the Law of Moses had pointed to. They also recalled that Jesus had declared all foods to be "clean" (Mark 7:19 & 20).

The four restrictions given by the Council (Acts 15:29) were restrictions that God expected all humankind to observe. Three restrictions were dietary -- no food offered to idols, no blood (probably an injunction against drinking blood), no eating of meat from animals killed by strangling. The fourth restriction was not dietary: no sexual immorality, that is, no sexual activity outside marriage. And of course the only form of marriage they would have recognized was a marriage of a man and a woman. The contents of the Epistles suggest that, while the first three restriction underwent some modification, the fourth never did.

Bill said...

Hiram writes: “The contents of the Epistles suggest that, while the first three restriction(s) underwent some modification, the fourth never did.”

That’s a pretty strong statement considering no original documents exist. What we know of the early writings, whether we are talking about epistles or gospel sources, is that we don’t have copies of copies. We don’t even have copies of copies of copies of copies. What we have is the product of scribes many, many times removed from the original. We also know from research that scribes tended to make unintentional copy errors along with intentionally re-writing text when they disagreed with the document they were copying from.

Many of the early Christian leaders are on record of complaining bitterly as to the state of copied materials and the textual errors they contained. Any statement alluding to actual content is not supported by the historical evidence.

The Council of Jerusalem is thought to have been held in approximately 50 C.E. when Paul and Barnabas left Antioch and went back to Jerusalem to talk to the Apostles and elders. This is reported in Acts 15.
The Date of Composition of ACTS:
“The date of the completion of Acts is therefore dependent on the date of St. Paul's Roman captivity. Writers are quite concordant in placing the date of Paul's coming to Rome in the year 62; hence the year 64 is the most probable date for the Acts.”

There are more objections against the Authenticity then there are arguments for authenticity. (Source Catholic Encyclopedia).

Hiram said...

If the original article can cite Acts as a basis for making decisions, then I can cite Acts, and make my own arguments based on how the text reads.

If we cannot trust the Bible to have been written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and preserved with integrity by his power, then all we have a bunch of interesting ideas and speculations -- some quite beautiful, others less so. But none worth building your life on.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hiram said, "If we cannot trust the Bible to have been written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and preserved with integrity by his power, then all we have a bunch of interesting ideas and speculations -- some quite beautiful, others less so. But none worth building your life on."

Well, Hiram, that's a value statement that is ultimately left to the individual to make, isn't it? I mean, in the same way you have.

Besides, isn't faith, by definition, speculation? It's just that my speculation may be arrived at differently from yours.

When we begin to put limits and conditions on the value of the faith of individual persons, we set ourselves up to be charged, and rightly so, with spiritual arrogance.

It tends to be a weakness of the fundamental evanglicalism of the Right.

On the other hand, the spiritual pragmatism of the liberal Left can lead to a sort of "flabby theology."

The Good News is that God's love is abundant and blind to our rigidity or fuzziness.

Amazing Grace, indeed!

johnieb said...

Nor does "fornication" mean "sex outside marriage"; my little Webster's says "voluntary sexual intercourse, generally forbidden by law." nor "immoral sex".

Not an especially good effort, so far.

Bill said...

Arguing against the fundamentalist perspective is something I choose not to make a habit of doing. I can’t begin to imagine what Galileo went through when he was made to renounce all his beliefs and writings supporting the Copernican theory. Of course he was being threatened with being burned as a heretic by the Inquisition of Rome in 1633 and I’m only being asked to use reason and the findings of Biblical scholars to point to the fact that with hundreds of translations and variations on text, it becomes quite impossible to point to one and say, “aha”, that is the correct one and all others are wrong.
For me, it is enough to say “Christ has risen”. I don’t need to point to a particular scripture and say it was a man in white at the tomb, or there was an angel at the tomb, or there were two angels at the tomb, or Mary was alone or with another, or she was afraid and didn’t tell anybody, or she went and told Peter and then came back with him, or that Peter wasn’t there but had run on back to Galilee. Take your pick, they are all written in one Gospel or another. For me, the only thing that matters, is that Christ has risen. Everything else is a multiple choice test for the literalist.

Hiram said...

Bill, there is a science called textual criticism, whose work it is to examine ancient texts and to seek to come as close as possible to the original text as possible. One factor textual critics look at is the gap between the time of original document and the earliest copy. Textual critics also look at the number of copies we have now.

The New Testament has over 10,000 copies in Greek and Latin, from a book or two to entire Testaments. The earliest complete MS of a the NT is from the early 300's; since the NT was completed about 100 or so, there is only a 250 year gap between the originals and the earliest copy. There are fragment of the NT that are datable to within the first century AD. Other ancient manuscripts have a gap of 1,000 or more years between the time of composition, and far fewer copies -- yet they are used as historical records.

In those thousands of copies, there are variations, but over 95% of the texts are in agreement. Most of the variations are trifling, and of those variations that make the meaning unclear, none occurs in a passage foundational to a creedal assertion.

Yes, the four Gospels do each have their own viewpoint, and there are some variances between accounts of several events. I have yet to find a flat contradiction in any of the Gospels, and I have been reading the Bible regularly for decades.

Elizabeth, yes, it is a step of faith to trust Jesus and to place one's trust in the Scriptures. I think, however, that calling such faith "speculation" is not accurate. My time on earth is limited and I do not want to live it in a dream world. In my teens and early twenties, I examined the Christian faith in the light of reason - did it make sense? Did it have a correspondence to live as I both experienced and observed it? Why did others accept it, or reject it?

I came to believe that historic Christianity is a rational faith, with good reasons to accept it. Not that anyone can fully comprehend the teachings of the Bible nor know Jesus inside out -- He is far too large for that. But the historic teachings have both an internal consistency and a correspondence to life.

If you take the Gospels as at least reasonably accurate accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, you can examine his life and what he said. It is clear that he offered wise and powerful advice for living in good relationships with others. But he also taught about himself, and what he said about himself (especially in light of what the Jews thought about God and what they expected in a Messiah) shows that he was claiming to be divine. He also taught about God, and about God's Word. He believed the Scriptures to be reliable and accurate.

And if he did, so will I. I am not smarter or more enlightened than Jesus.