Should errant Christian leaders be restored?

While I am taking a break from my series on Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, my near neighbour (at least from a global perspective, but we have never met) Sam Norton has started a series on a related topic: Does the priest have to be pure? In this he talks about the Donatists, whom I discussed here nearly two years ago. Sam gives an excellent explanation of why they were wrong to teach that the ministry of a Christian leader is invalidated by their personal sin.

This doesn’t mean that the sins of Christian leaders should simply be ignored. Unrepentant sinners like Michael Reid certainly should not be allowed to continue in ministry. But it does mean that those who fall should be allowed to repent and be restored, the process which was at least starting with Todd Bentley (but I haven’t kept up with that story) – and which the Donatists did not allow with the original traditores in late Roman times.

But this argument against the Donatists has its limitations in that it is not really applicable when a Christian leader not only falls into sin but also teaches that that sin is in fact right. This, arguably, is what many of the practising homosexuals in Anglican and other churches are doing: they are not only sinning (at least according to traditional biblical standards) but also teaching that what they are doing is right. But the argument against Donatism doesn’t mean that these people should be accepted, because unlike the traditores they are unrepentant.

Indeed the same can be said corporately of The Episcopal Church, which has this week demonstrated its lack of repentance over the Gene Robinson affair, as well as its contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, by approving the consecration of another practising homosexual bishop. This is a direct challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which will renew the tensions which have brought it close to falling apart. But this teaching in effect approved by TEC is also rife in the Church of England.

I am now looking forward to the continuation of Sam Norton’s series. He promises to answer the question “what do we do when the priest isn’t pure?” In a comment I challenged him also to consider what happens when the priest is not “holding fast to the truth of the faith”. I hope he also applies these principles to the current situation in the church and the Communion in which he is a priest.

PS: I will not allow any comments here concerning Todd Bentley, unless they include significant and verifiable new information about him.

Drop the dying double-u's

I am pleased to tell you that, because of an upgrade by my hosting company, you can now optionally drop the www and access this blog with the shorter URL of http://gentlewisdom.org.uk/. This address will be automatically forwarded to http://www.gentlewisdom.org.uk/. You can change your bookmarks if you want to, but you don’t need to.

Over a year after the departure of another infamous W it is high time that these redundant three w’s are completely retired from Internet addresses. But they haven’t yet gone completely from mine.

N.T. Wright on synergism as a bogey word

James Spinti quotes N.T. Wright, in his 2009 book Justification (not sure why it is listed as “Not Yet Published” at this Eisenbrauns page which he links to), including the following parenthesis:

(what damage to genuine pastoral theology has been done by making a bogey-word out of the Pauline term synergism, “working together with God”)

I don’t know if Wright has explained this in more depth. But he is right that “synergism” is a term and concept used by the Apostle Paul.

In fact Paul uses sunergos “co-worker” twelve times and sunergeo “work together” three times, and there are respectively one and two other New Testament occurrences of these words. Some of these refer to human co-workers. But in 1 Corinthians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 6:1 and 2 Thessalonians 3:2 a human is a sunergos of God. And even more startlingly, in Romans 8:28, also in the textually doubtful Mark 16:20, we apparently read that God works together (sunergeo) with humans. Compare also Philippians 2:12-13, where the same concept is expressed in different terms.

Now when Paul and Mark write of this working together, they are not referring to salvation. So they are not teaching the doctrine of “synergism” disparaged at the Calvinistic site Theopedia as

the view that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual. This is the view of salvation found in Arminianism and its theological predecessor Semi-Pelagianism.

(This is by the way a misunderstanding of Arminianism, which does not in general teach that human works have any part in salvation.)

I’m not sure why Wright singles out “pastoral theology”. But certainly “synergism” is being used as a bogey word among Calvinists. And I can only agree that this kind of usage is theologically damaging by the way it is commonly misunderstood as denying the responsibility of Christians, already saved, to do works together with God as he calls us to.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 2

In part 1 of this series I looked at the various occurrences of words for “authority” in the New Testament, primarily exousia and exestin. I only began to consider their significance for wider biblical teaching. In this post I am continuing that process.

As I noted, exestin is commonly used in the gospels and in Acts of an activity which is permitted, by religious or secular law. This also seems to be the sense in which the noun derived from this verb, exousia, is sometimes used in those books. For example, Saul of Tarsus was given exousia, permission or the right, to arrest Jewish believers in Jesus (Acts 9:14, 26:10,12). And the opponents of Jesus asked him who gave him the exousia, permission or the right, to do what he was doing (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:28; Luke 20:2).

This use of exousia and exestin leads naturally into the usage, mainly in 1 Corinthians, concerning the rights of Christians. Paul appears to be teaching that God has given to those in Christ permission, or the right, to do anything they want – but that doesn’t mean that they should do what is unhelpful. To put it another way, we are no longer bound by a whole lot of “Thou shalt not” laws, but we are expected to behave in ways which build up others and glorify God. Understood in this way this exousia is at the heart of Paul’s gospel message.

This kind of exousia is hierarchical in a sense, in that it derives ultimately from God and is mediated through the people and institutions called authorities, exousia in the plural. But it is not a hierarchy of command on the military model, but the opposite – a hierarchy of giving up the right to command by granting permission and rights.

In the New Testament we also see another kind of exousia, authority, that of people who are recognised as having authority in themselves. This is what, according to John Richardson, John Goldingay calls Authority B, distinct from Authority A which is conferred by a hierarchy. This Authority B is what the crowds in Galilee saw in Jesus (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). But these are the only clear cases in the New Testament of exousia being used of this kind of authority, and related words are never used in this sense. Whereas there clearly is a sense in which some believers are recognised as charismatically empowered to teach and lead, the exousia word group is never used of this. Whenever exousia is attributed to believers, it is given to them by the Lord and so of the hierarchical type.

Indeed most commonly when exousia is attributed to Jesus it is something he has inherently or as the gift of God the Father. This is the basis of his authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6,8; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), to drive out evil spirits (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36), to judge (John 5:27), and to die and rise again (John 10:18). It is not humans, or evil forces, who gave him the authority referred to in the famous Great Commission passage: “All authority [exousia] in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18, TNIV; cf. John 17:2).

But here we must avoid any misunderstanding by noting that this Christian authority is never over other people. It is interesting to analyse the phrases used with exousia which might mean this. Most frequently exousia is specified by an infinitive of an activity, suggesting a basically dynamic concept, permission or right to do something, not the static concept of authority over something or someone. But in some cases a prepositional phrase is used, and there is a wide variation:

With genitive alone:

  • Matthew 10:1 and Mark 6:7: Jesus’ disciples are given exousia “of” evil spirits.
  • John 17:2: Jesus has exousia “of” all flesh.
  • Romans 9:21: the potter has exousia “of” the clay.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:4: a husband and a wife exousiazo “of” one another’s bodies.

With epi + genitive:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:10: a woman has exousia “on” or over her head.
  • Revelation 2:26: believers receive exousia “on” the nations.
  • Revelation 11:6: the two witnesses have exousia “on” the waters.
  • Revelation 14:18: an angel has exousia “on” the fire.

With epi + accusative:

  • Luke 9:1: Jesus’ disciples have exousia “on” evil spirits.
  • Revelation 6:8: death has exousia “on” a quarter of the earth.
  • Revelation 13:7: the beast receives exousia “on” everyone.
  • Revelation 22:14: the blessed have exousia “on” the tree of life.

With peri + genitive:

  • 1 Corinthians 7:37: a man has exousia “about” his desire.

With epano + genitive:

  • Luke 19:17: the faithful servant is given exousia “over” ten cities.

Similarly a variety of prepositions are used with exousia:

en + dative:

  • Acts 5:4: Ananias’ property was “in” his exousia.

hupo + accusative

  • Matthew 8:9 and Luke 7:8: the officer is “under” exousia, secular authority.

ek + genitive:

  • Luke 23:7: Jesus is “from” Herod’s exousia (perhaps here meaning the territory Herod ruled).

Finally we have the only place in the whole New Testament (with the possible exception of Revelation 2:26, a clear allusion to Psalm 2:8 – a careful read of 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 will show that these are not exceptions) where it is said that any one human has exousia over any other one:

kata + genitive:

  • John 19:11: Jesus recognises that Pilate has secular exousia “against” him.

So what of the authority given to believers in Jesus? This post is already too long, so I will go on to that in the next part.

Continued and concluded in part 3.

Dialogue and Respect

Michael Barber of The Sacred Page, a Roman Catholic, in a thoughtful post about abortion regrets how on controversial issues

people have given up talking to each other in favor of talking at each other.

He closes the post with the following quotation which describes a better way,

the kind of charitable, intelligent conversation the Second Vatican Council called for:

Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.(10) God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.(11)

The teaching of Christ even requires that we forgive injuries,(12) and extends the law of love to include every enemy, according to the command of the New Law: “You have heard that it was said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you (Matt. 5:43-44).

–Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 28.

If Catholics and Christians seriously took these words to heart and put winning friends over simply winning debates in the abstract, the world would be in a much better place.

Indeed! I don’t endorse the male-centred language. But this is the kind of dialogue we need to see among Christians, and between Christians and others, here on the blogosphere and more widely in the world around us.

The last bastion of complementarianism collapses!

I was astonished this morning. At my church the last bastion of complementarianism, of separate roles for men and women has collapsed. No, we haven’t appointed a woman pastor yet – although we probably have a 50/50 chance of getting one next time round. It’s something far more radical, perhaps even unique. We have appointed a MAN to be in charge of the flowers in church!

I’m sure my friend James, who grows flowers as a hobby, will do an excellent job.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 1

Sorry for the break in blogging. I have been working hard, and then there were technical problems with my site last night. Here we go again…

The issue of New Testament teaching on authority and rights has come up in a number of places recently. In my post Complementarianism is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian I pointed out how central a non-Christian concept of authority is to complementarian thinking. A couple of weeks ago John Richardson compared two different kinds of authority, and how they relate to Anglican ministry. And Dave Faulkner, while discussing the question Is Internet Access A Human Right?, suggested that there was something fundamentally non-Christian in the concept of human rights, a position with which I disagreed in a comment.

The biblical material on this subject centres on two word groups, exousia and authentein. In discussions over the latter, which occurs only once in the Bible (1 Timothy 2:12), huge amounts of virtual ink have been spilled on various blogs. I have little to add here except to say that I don’t think anyone has bettered the KJV rendering “usurp authority”. But exousia and related words are much more common, and commonly misunderstood, and so deserve a closer study. I restrict my study to usage in the New Testament largely because that is what I can do easily with the tools I have at hand.

The noun exousia, generally translated “authority” or “power”, occurs just over 100 times in the New Testament. At least in its form it is derived from the impersonal verb exestin, often rendered “it is permitted” or “it is lawful”, which is found 32 times in the New Testament, either in this present tense form or as the neuter participle exon. Also found are the derived verbs exousiazo, four times, and katexousiazo, twice.

It makes sense to start with the basic form, exestin. This is found most commonly in the gospels, in discussions between Jesus and his opponents over what is permitted under Jewish law (Matthew 12:2,4,10,12, 14:4, 19:3, 22:17, 27:6; Mark 2:24,26, 3:4, 6:18, 10:2, 12:14; Luke 6:2,4,9, 14:3, 20:22; John 5:10). Occasionally it is used for what is permitted by the Roman authorities, either by their general law (John 18:31; Acts 16:21, 22:25) or in a particular case (Acts 21:37). This same concept is conveyed by the noun exousia when it is used in these same discussions (Matthew 21:23,23,24,27, 28:18; Mark 11:28,28,29,33; Luke 20:2,2,8): Jesus’ enemies wanted to know what permission he had to do what he was doing.

However, the rendering of exestin as “it is lawful” is misleading, as this was not a legal term, but a general one concerning permission. This becomes clear in a few other cases (Matthew 20:15; Acts 2:9; 2 Corinthians 12:4) where it is refers to what is allowed or right in a more general sense.

This leaves only the occurrences of exestin in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, twice in each verse. These need to be understood in the light of what exousia and exousiazo mean in the same letter, where they occur nine times (7:37, 8:9, 9:4,5,6,12,12,18, 11:10) and three times (6:12, 7:4,4) respectively. All of this is in the course of an extended discussion about the freedom that Christians have but also how they should use these freedoms in a responsible way. Within this context exousia seems to mean something like “right”, and indeed the whole passage is reminiscent of contemporary discussions about human rights. It seems to have a similar meaning in a few other places (Acts 5:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 22:14).

In 1 Corinthians the derived verb exousiazo must mean something like “have rights over”.

One possible exception is exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10. This has sometimes been understood as “a sign of authority”, on no good exegetical basis, but in the context of the letter and the usage of exousia in it the meaning must be something like that the woman has the right to choose her own hairstyle.

Exousia does have a quite different use in the context of secular authority, where it refers not to permission obtained but to the right to give permission to others or withhold it. The word is used in this sense nine times (Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8, 20:20, 23:7; John 19:10,10,11; Revelation 17:12,13) as a general abstract noun, and six times (Luke 12:11; Romans 13:1,1,2,3, Titus 3:1) personified, and mostly plural, referring to people having this kind of authority. Three times (Acts 9:14, 26:10,12) exousia is used of the authority given to Saul of Tarsus by the Jewish religious authorities.

The personified use of exousia, mostly in the plural, is also found referring to spiritual beings possessing authority, eight times (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21, 3:10, 6:12, Colossians 1:16, 2:10,15; 1 Peter 3:22).

Four times in Revelation (6:8, 9:3,10,19) exousia refers to the power of messengers of evil to cause harm. Twice in the same book (14:18, 18:1) it refers to the authority of an angel.

The verbs katexousiazo (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42) and exousiazo (Luke 22:25) are used of wrong human exercise of authority.

Many of the remaining occurrences of exousia refer to the authority of Jesus: in his teaching (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32); to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6,8; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24); to drive out evil spirits (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36); and more generally (Matthew 28:18; John 5:27, 10:18,18, 17:2; Revelation 12:10). Some occurrences refer to the authority of God the Father (Luke 12:5; Acts 1:7; Rom 9:21 (in a parable); Jude 25; Revelation 16:9).

There are a few cases of exousia attributed to or claimed by forces of evil (Luke 4:6, 22:53; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 13:2,4,5,7,12, 20:6).

Then the word is sometimes used for the authority of believers in a general sense (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7, 13:34 (in a parable); Luke 9:1, 10:19, 19:17 (in a parable); John 1:12; Acts 8:19; Revelation 2:26, 11:6,6).

And then we are left with just two places where exousia is used to refer to the authority which one Christian, in this case an apostle, has over other Christians (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10). Nowhere at all are any of these words used to refer to any kind of authority of a husband over his wife – except in the perfectly symmetrical 1 Corinthians 7:4. But if you listen to some Christians talking about the authority of Christian leaders and Christian husbands, you would think that this was a major theme of the Bible. Hasn’t something got a bit out of proportion here?

So we need to look more closely at what these words actually mean in the Christian context – but I will leave that for a further post.

Continued in part 2 and concluded in part 3.

The end of the world postponed until 2013?

In September 2008 I reported on the panic that was gripping the world that the whole universe might come to an end the following day, when the Large Hadron Collider was switched on. Of course nothing much happened that day, except that the LHC was eventually switched on – and then rather quickly switched off again because of a fault. In fact in 2008 they never really got round to colliding any particles.

By November 2009 the LHC was up and running again, and colliding particles. Indeed in that month it succeeded in breaking the record for the most energetic particle collisions ever done – but only by a rather small margin, 1.18 trillion electron volts compared with a previous record of 0.98 trillion. This year they are hoping to increase the power gradually to seven trillion.

But it seems the world has a reprieve of four or five years, from the original switch on date, before it is in real danger – that is if there is anything real about this alleged danger. The BBC reports today that the LHC will be run at half power, a maximum of seven trillion electron volts, until late 2011 – and then shut down for up to a year, for safety improvements before it can be run up to its full power of 14 trillion. That means that the earliest it will be used at full power is late 2012, and more likely not until 2013. As the real predicted danger, of black holes and strange forms of matter being formed, comes at that 14 trillion electron volt level, it seems that we can sleep in peace for a few more years.

Or can we? The LHC may not be coming in full power until 2013, but perhaps Jesus will come first…

Vengeance is not ours

David Ker of Lingamish has challenged me to respond to his post What to do with the vengeance of the Old Testament? Skip it. So I will try to do so, although I don’t find this easy.

David is writing partly in response to his earlier post The Bible is not the Gospel. In that post he made a good point against the kind of Old Testament based preaching which he often comes across in Africa. Of course he is right that in Christian churches the dominant message presented should be one of grace and forgiveness, not of law and condemnation. And in general it is easier to preach grace and forgiveness from the New Testament.

But that does not justify David’s rather too negative views of the Old Testament, according to which “Everything in the OT is either a warning or a shadow”. There are in the Old Testament good positive principles and examples for us as Christians. The problem is sometimes in discerning what is profitable for us in this way, and what should be considered profitable only as an example of how not to behave.

In the light of this I return to David’s follow-up post, in which he looks particularly at the Old Testament passages which seem to promote vengeance. How should we relate to those?

First, we need to understand clearly what the passages are teaching. As Henry Neufeld points out in a post yesterday, the Old Testament teaching about “an eye for an eye”

was intended not to mandate revenge, but to limit it. Modern Christians understand it as some sort of command to mass mayhem, and are thankful that Jesus overruled it.

But the intention was precisely to limit the kind of “mass mayhem” which we are seeing in central Nigeria, on which Ruth Gledhill reports, where thousands have been killed horrifically in an escalating series of religious clashes. In the latest massacres the perpetrators are Muslims and the victims mostly Christians, but this is in response to earlier atrocities allegedly committed by professing Christians. I wonder what sort of teaching on revenge is given in their churches.

Then we also have to remember what kind of literature we are reading. David looks at Psalms 63 and 137 in which vengeance is mentioned. But the psalms are the response of fallible human beings to God, and should not be misunderstood as teaching from God. They are included in our “inspired” Bible not as propositional revelation prescribing human behaviour but as authentic examples in poetry of how real people poured out their hearts to God.

Not all of the Old Testament teaching on killing others can be dismissed so easily. There are places where God clearly commands mass killing, most notably the mandated massacre of the Canaanites after the conquest under Joshua. This post would be too long if I went into this issue in depth. So I will simply note that this killing was not a matter of revenge, but was commanded by God as a judgment on the Canaanites’ sin and because it was necessary for his wider purposes.

So what is the Old Testament teaching about revenge? David needs to remember that that is the source of the two quotations on the subject which Paul uses in Romans 12:19-21:

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.

The LORD speaking in Deuteronomy 32:35 (TNIV)

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Proverbs 25:21-22 (TNIV)

Complementarianism is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian

I have had a busy few days, so no time to write anything new. But there is something which I wrote, in a comment on my recent post asking whether women will ever be equal, which I think deserves to be upgraded to a post. Here is what I wrote:

To me the whole of complementarianism, as I see it, is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian because it is predicated on a concept of authority which is completely opposed to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. I don’t mean to say that all complementarians are anti-Christian, but I do say that their thinking has been taken captive by an anti-Christian worldly philosophy of authority, which has its roots more in Machiavelli and Nietzsche than in Jesus.

If these words sound strong, contrast what some complementarians have to say about the authority given to husbands and pastors with the concept of Christian authority I have put forward in my previous posts on this subject. See the contrast made especially plain here. The following is an example of the complementarian position, as put forward by Bruce Ware quoted here:

It is God-like to submit to rightful authority with joy and gladness as it is God-like to exert wise and beneficial rightful authority.

But where does the Bible say anything about humans exerting this kind of authority, which is indeed God’s prerogative?