This month: 193 - All Things New
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Jesus said,
16 “‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.'” – Matt 9:16-17

Each one of us has a way of thinking that is comfortable to us…it is comfortable to us because we have spent time forming our views in a way that makes the most sense. Our conceptualization of reality (schemas or paradigms) form a wineskin and the wine that fits best in that wineskin, that stretches it the least, is the wine that has fermented in it since the day it was new.

We need to treasure that wine and wineskin. Appreciate it. Honor it.

But it isn’t everything.

Eventually new wine comes along. Will we so cling to the old wineskin (as honored and cherished as it was) that we are unable to receive or accept the new? That is where a lot of people get stuck. So much has been invested in the old wineskin that they have a difficult time hanging it up for a new one and new wine…to begin the familiar process and experience of fermentation all over again.

Maybe your church upbringing had a deep respect and regard for the scriptures but a less than robust view of the Holy Spirit…maybe what fermented in your learning the word brought you to a deeper understanding of the Spirit in your studies.

Jesus brings new wine…and to pour it in our typical ways of conceptualizing reality just won’t work…our conceptions and methods will burst under the pressure of the fermentation that must take place of these new ideas…these new challenging teachings…we must hang up the old and embrace the new. If you feel your soul bursting at the seems…maybe it is because Jesus is challenging your wineskin!

That doesn’t mean all is lost from the past or that the previous wineskin had no purpose. It doesn’t mean it isn’t to be remembered well and honored! It just means the old methods brought us and prepared us for the new while still being insufficient in and of themselves to get us all the way home.

When we read the gospels we are receiving new wine. Are we ready to receive it? Are we willing to give it time to ferment? Will we recognize the cracks that form from that process within our old methods? If we are then we can receive and enjoy the new wine and all that Jesus has to offer.

I made a friend a couple of years ago. Before I knew it she became a Jesus follower and, within the past year, has already read the entire Bible and is starting it again. She is kind, good, and passionate about her walk. She loves others well and does what she can to serve. She loves her Bible classes and is soaking up all she can. She’s a new Christian not yet jaded by the inconsistency of religious affairs. I admire and love her. In many ways, I’m even a bit envious of where she is in this beautiful adventure. 

While talking with her recently she mentioned where her son worships. And then with a hint of trepidation, admitted that her son was going to a church but it wasn’t the right one. 

One of the worst parts of many faith traditions, in some areas, is maintaining a monopoly on all things Christian. It’s a haughty attitude that has solved the mystery of God and aligned the Holy Spirit into a decent and orderly file folder. This belief is not Biblical. It is a false dichotomy perpetrated by those who consider themselves the religious elite.

I grew up in a tribe where religious books were written and given to friends and families informing  them of how wrong they were on Spiritual matters. I was told, as a child, that it would be better to marry an atheist than someone of another religious tribe. As an adult, I was once sent a ninety question doctrinal questionnaire while being invited to be a part of a project. The leadership, wanting to nail down exactly where every participant stood on every single possible issue was entrenched in fear. I declined. I was taught early on that my church was the only right religious group. I was never taught about my faith heritage (mine was the Restoration Movement). Was it because my teachers honestly didn’t know or did they keep quiet out of fear to maintain a status quo? Was it about ignorance or innocence? Or maybe power, fear, and greed? That’s just a few, of many questions, I’m working through as I try to untangle my relationship with church.

God has not left us to figure this out on our own. Scripture shows how to respond to those who do church differently. When the disciples, full of self-righteousness, came to Jesus hoping he would condemn those who weren’t following exactly as they were, John states, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark‬ ‭9:38-40‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Read that last line again. The one we follow. The one with the words of truth and eternal life. The one who started this mission of bringing his Kingdom to Earth said, “If they’re not against us, they’re for us.” 

If Jesus is for unity without uniformity, why aren’t we? Is our arrogance so blinding that we can’t hear the words of the one we follow?

What if the churches within a community worked together to advance the Kingdom of God?

What if we repented and asked forgiveness from those we have chastised and guilted for being a part of other faith traditions?

What if we worked to tear down our walls and built bigger tables? 

What if we cared more about being right in the way we love and forgive than the way others do church?

What if we asked why others believe differently, listen to their story, and accept the fact that all of us have our own traditions shaped by those who have come before us? And we’re all, even with our faults, just trying to love Jesus.

If having to be right is hurting your relationships, do like John and take it to Jesus. 

by Duncan Campbell, MA


1924 Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell was immortalized in the classic movie
“Chariots of Fire,” in which his character says, “God made me for a purpose. God made me
fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I am keenly aware of this feeling because even though
I’ve been an athlete all my life, I was only ever elite at one sport.


Tetherball.

When I was six years old in first grade I was introduced to this magical game at recess
at Bayles elementary in Dallas, Texas, circa 1982. In those days all the grades had recess at the
same time, and I found myself across the tetherball pitch from a third grader named Courtney.
He smoked me. I didn’t last 10 seconds. But I learned. And I watched. And I played some
more. And the last day of first grade I won my first match. I floated home. When second grade
started I could not wait to get out to recess to try my new tactics and strategies. I won about
half the games I played. But I had learned the strengths and weaknesses of every single player
on the playground. When 3rd grade rolled around, I was ready. I didn’t lose a single match the
entire year, or indeed ever again. I beat all the third and fourth graders. I beat all the fifth and
sixth graders. I beat teachers. I beat coaches. 178-0. Had Simone Biles, or Michael Phelps, or
Bo Jackson had been there, I would’ve waxed them too. I could not be stopped. I was a
dynasty.


In fourth grade, tragedy: I moved to a new school who had a tetherball pole but only a
few people played it, and it wasn’t popular. They found the tetherball only because I asked, and
it had to be inflated. I was crushed. In fifth grade, I moved again, this time to a school which
did not even have a tetherball pole. I had to explain the game to a teacher. “That sounds nice,”
she said.


I was undone.


And so at the age of 10, I retired. I haven’t played since.


And thinking about the silliness of that story and the massive tongue-in-cheek with
which I tell it, I thought about this: What if Monet had decided to become an accountant?
Michael Jordan majored in Cultural Geography. What if he’d become an ethnic cartographer
instead (is that even a thing?)? And what if Frank Lloyd Wright opted for professional career in
chess? What if J.K. Rowling had said, ‘nah, that’s a dumb idea. I need a real job.’ They may
well have become good, or even great at their alt-universe endeavors, but I think we can all
agree the world would be poorer for it. There would be no Water Lillies, no iconic Dunk-in-
Flight pose, no Lumos, no Guggenheim. We would say it would be an awful waste for someone
so talented to do something other than the thing at which they’re so gifted, not least because
it’s inspiring for the rest of us to watch/hear/read/experience. When we see someone so greatly
skilled at something doing it at the highest level, we think ‘it’s so obvious they were made to do
that!’

Now, were they really conceived in the mind of God to become the greatest ________
ever? Perhaps. Was it a product of culture and circumstance, which themselves werearchitected by God? Perhaps. But what about those of us who are not Monet, Jordan, Rowling,
and Wright? What were we made for? And once we find it, if we find it…will it inspire anyone?
For that we turn to Isaiah 43, for therein lies what I believe to be the answer to life’s oldest
questions. And it’s not nearly as cryptic as you might expect.


Let’s get a running start into Isaiah: he is one of Israel’s major prophets, and his ministry
was to the southern kingdom in the eighth century BC, roughly 739 to 700. Much ink has been
spilled over the authorship of the book that bears Isaiah’s name, owing mostly to the distinctive
break in style between chapters 39 and 40. Now, this is not an article on the provenance and
authorship of Isaiah, but it bears mentioning. The crux of the discussion is that chapters 40-55
seems to be written after the exile, some 114 years later, whereas chapters 1 through 39 seem
to be written before it. Couple that with Cyrus king of Persia mentioned by name in 45:1 and
there arises an argument that the book was edited post-exile rather than composed totally by
Isaiah in the 8th century BC.


There are at least two problems with this argument. First, it completely eliminates
predictive prophecy and God’s ability to deliver it through his servants. And while it is true that
predictive prophecy only comprises a very small portion of biblical prophetic ministry as a
whole, to dismiss on the grounds that it is too specific seems to overstate the case. Who is to
say that God couldn’t give Isaiah a vision of what a post-exilic YHWH community would look
and feel like? Indeed, isn’t that was Jesus came precisely to do? In fact, Isaiah is quoted in the
New Testament 55 times, second-most after Psalms (68 times), and therein is the second
problem with the multiple authorship theory of Isaiah. Jesus quotes from both Isaiah 29:13 and
Isaiah 42:1-4 and attributes both to the prophet Isaiah. And I think we can take Jesus’s word at
face value.


Now all of that background to serve this point: Isaiah 40-55 is constructed as making a
case for God’s people to come home. Their time has been served, their guilt and sin atoned.
These chapters are filled are words of comfort, restoration, and salve for the weary souls of
those who’ve been away in far country for a long, long time. Through the words of Isaiah
starting in chapter 40, God gives his people a prophetic eschatological vision of what it looks
like to live in a world where God is king. Why? Because God needed to remind his people who
they were and why they were made before they would understand and embrace their mission
to world to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6). A message, I might add, that is just as salient,
relevant and needed today as it was then.


God starts chapter 43 with four verses of reminding Israel of her identity:
1
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
4
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Isaiah 43:1-4 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The affirmation coming from the mouth of God here is as tender as it is stunning.
Summoned by name? Precious and honored? Because he loves them? Wow. The price of this
identity is very steep: other nations. But they are worth it, says God. He continues in vs. 5-6
with his plans to call his children from afar, then reiterates just who that is:


7
“…everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”


And here we have purpose of life Number One. We were created for God’s glory. We
were created, formed, and made for the explicit purpose of glorifying God. Now, that glorifying
may take place with our overt service, character, and words giving God credit and praise.
Those surely bring God glory in the strictest sense. But it may also be with with our gifts,
talents, abilities, and aptitudes, as the use of three “create” words in this one verse with
respect to humans seems to imply. We were all made different from each other, and we were all
made by God, so it seems right to say that God is glorified in how we use our different gifts.
When we paint our Waterlilies, pour in our 63 points in a playoff game, design our Falling Water,
and receive our Hogwarts letter, we bear the image of our creative God. And it need not be
artistic. Leading a company well requires vision. Successful military tactics, strategy, and
execution require discipline and precision. Surely these are demonstrable attributes of God as
well. The difference is that when we use our gifts for ourselves, they are just talents, but when
we use our gifts to bless, protect, and inspire others, God is glorified. Indeed this is a very big
way in which we love others as Jesus loved us, as he commanded us to.


A few verses later we read this:


10
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.


You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Isaiah 43:10-12 (NIV, emphasis mine)
Here God serves up purpose of life Number Two. We were chosen to be witnesses so
that we may know God and believe God and understand that he is who he says he is. Seeing
the work of God, either his direct work or via someone else, is somehow designed to bring us
into intimate relationship with him; that’s the “know” here. It’s from the same root as when
Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived. It’s not knowledge of facts about, it’s the knowing in
the deepest way one can know another. We were made witnesses to his work specifically for
this purpose of knowing him. And when we do, we understand. What is that understanding?
Take a look at the verbs in verse 12. This is a God who reveals and saves and proclaims vis-à-
vis other foreign gods, which are actually no gods at all. He is God. Alone. Period.


The third purpose of life comes a few verses later in vv. 18 ff, very apropos for January,
is it not?


18
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
Isaiah 43:18-21 (NIV, emphasis mine)


Bingo, purpose of life Number Three. We were made to praise him. And the meaning of
this word has the assumption of music baked into it. And this may be worship songs with God-
centered lyrics, but it need not only be. The music itself can be praise of a different sort, the
same way a brilliantly made watch reflects the genius of the watchmaker, so 1 Chron. 23:5
(ESV), “4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that I
have made for praise.” The antecedent of “that” is “instruments,” not “praise.” Now
prophesying, i.e., speaking a word from the Lord must be done in intelligible language, which
precludes instruments by themselves. We read as much in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. But
that’s not the purpose for which Isaiah 43:21 claims we were made. We were made to praise.
Those among us who are apt musicians can well attest that something intangible and
wonderful—and I would argue divine—happens when the notes become music. Music is
audible math in time. That’s the surgical way to describe it. But it also is art you can hear.
We’ve all been places when a piece of music gives us chills and anchors us to a memory so
vividly we can recall it any time we hear the piece. Something that powerful must surely point
to someone that powerful.

To glorify, to know, and to praise, with God as the object of all three. These are why we
are here; these are why we were made, formed, and fashioned. When feelings arise that
something just seems ‘off,’ when we are out of kilter, off step, and not on our game, I would
argue it is because we are not living and leaning into these very purposes. So in 2022, may we
use our God-endowed talents, abilities, gifts, and aptitudes to their highest level for the sake of
his glory by loving others with them. May we see him so at work that it arouses and inspires a
deeper relationship with God wherein we understand he is who he says he is. And may the
songs hearts and lips praise him, for he is worthy. In short, may we love our neighbors as
ourselves and may we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and so feel his
pleasure.

I really find most of the Lenten posts on social media from people in our tribe to be trite.  Really quite sophomoric.  Acting like they’ve discovered something new, using unused words in our circles like “Liturgy” or they are somehow now supremely profound because they want to give up coffee, chocolate, or Facebook for Lent…, SMH.  

Yet, they are onto something.  Our people are looking for something more.  

Ash Wednesday is in March this year, I already looked it up.  Why?  Every year I look forward to Lent, but not because of liturgical or spiritual reasons.  I’m a sucker for a good Catholic Fish fry!  The last couple of years have been hard with Covid, and I’m hoping this Lenten season the restrictions will not be necessary, life will get “back to normal,” and I can visit at least one of our quality local Catholic fish fries.

Fish fries aren’t my only connection to the Roman Catholic church.  My mother had me baptized as an infant in her childhood church.  She was part of the real deal growing up, Mass was in Latin.  She attended parochial school for her entire school career, she and her older sister attended high school at Sacred Heart which was an all-girls’ school, their brother attended high school across the road at the boys’ Benedictine.  BTW: Shortly after I graduated from Harding I enjoyed the blessing of baptizing my mother into Christ.  Sometimes life comes full circle.  

I also enjoy any Catholic service I have the opportunity to attend, sadly it’s typically funerals since I preach on Sundays.  The same can be said of me for a good Greek Orthodox service.  If you’ve never attended either, you are missing out.  Both services have brought tears to my eyes.  

I love the Greek Icons, the Catholic statues and the 12 stations of the Cross surrounding the walls of their Sanctuary.  Judge me all you want but I love the beauty of their architecture, the pomp & pageantry, I enjoy the unity and syncretism of people chanting the Lord’s prayer in unison, and I love-love the smell of the incense wafting throughout the sanctuary.  For the most part, I do not want all of it where I preach, but I truly wish our people who still have pews would add kneeling-benches to their pews. And above all, I really do love the fish fries the most.

As much as I do love a good fish fry, I’m not at all being sacrilegious or iconoclastic here, I have a deep love for those traditions and great respect for the people who practice their faith within, no matter how much I might disagree with some of the theology attached to Catholicism.  This is not an attack on the Catholic faith, neither is it a defense or promotion of it, it is though, a sounding of an alarm of sorts for our leaders who are asleep behind the wheel.

Our leaders need to wake up.  We have a generation of young to middle aged who are searching for a more sensory/experiential worship experience.  They are leaving the old “guard, guide and direct us” no crosses on the wall, primitive houses of worship in search of something that feels more tangible, more sensory.  And, they are following the lead of some of the most influential voices in Protestant and Evangelical circles.  

For example, are you familiar with Scot McKnight?  If not, you should be. I have several of his books in my library. He’s a prolific author and Seminary professor and he has spoken at many church of Christ lectureships and seminars — I would think it is safe to say he has been very influential in Restoration Movement churches.  I mention this influential believer to point out his own exodus from mainline evangelicalism, he’s now ordained in the Anglican church.  Also more recently there’s Beth Moore, another influential writer and speaker, has left the Baptist church and she now attends an Anglican church in Texas.

Personally, I love Dallas Willard’s intellect and insight, but when it comes to authors and writers, throughout the years my soul has been nurtured more by CS Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and Brennan Manning than anyone else, especially Manning!  There’s no denying the powerhouses of faith from Catholicism.  Where would any of us be without Augustine, Aquanis, or Thomas a’ Kempis?    

The reality is, our services are boring and too cerebral and we are about to find out the price of defending a sterile auditorium.  If you think raising hands or using instruments in the worship service or having women participate in worship was a big deal, I predict over the next decade (or even sooner) we will lose 20-30% of our flock to houses of worship where the people have a greater sensory experience.  In other words, if we do not help this generation to engage, they will disengage.  

I know a few people who’ve I been very close to in churches of Christ who have left the auditorium in search of the sanctuary.  Some have left because their spouses were Catholic and it was easier on their family dynamics to switch over, others left searching for something more holistic than the church of Christ has to offer.

Most of our younger people do not care about theology as much as they care about how to practice and express their faith.  Sensory filled experiences and deep theological based doctrines are not at odds, this isn’t an “either or” situation, unless our leaders make it one. 

Our churches need to stop penalizing forward thinkers who are creative and who can show the rest there is more to Sunday morning than listening to a sermon or passing an offering plate.  We are the Body of Christ, and the sacred body has more than just our ears & eyes to engage us in worship.  

Craig Cottongim

craigcottongim@gmail.com

Jesus heard that they had thrown [the man born blind] out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

~ John 9:35-39

What was, before you,
Was formless and void
My eyes were unable to see
Until you came
And just your touch
Has healed me
And how I treasure the
Living memory
That the first thing
My newly-healed eyes saw
Was your lovely face

One of the most beloved hymns of all Christian history is “Amazing Grace.” It speaks of the transformation of personality from unsaved to saved, from blindness to sight. The humility and gratitude of the man born blind has much to teach us. When he recognized the face of the One who had healed him, he responded with worship. So, we too, must respond to the one who gave us spiritual life and sight.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

~ John 10:7-10

You are the high-banked threshold
Over which I stepped
Into such light, such light
You are the door
That stands open, open to the
Inside of multiplied marvels
Your presence populates this place, for
You are the many of opposing mirrors
Reflecting back and again
Like air, you pervade each moment
You are the opening
You are the interior
You are
My world

When Jesus spoke of Himself as a gate for sheep, the image was that of a shepherd who would at night stretch his own body across the opening of a sheepfold to keep predators away. Thus, he became a human barricade of protection. But just as Jesus is a gate of closure against enemies, He is also an open door of passageway to heaven. In John 1:51, He predicted a time when He himself, like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, would be the thoroughfare on which angels (the ministering servants for those who believe) would ascend and descend between heaven and earth.

Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books) and recently won an award for one of the best books of 2021 from Rooted Ministry.  The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which some of these these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains three websites: Latayne.com, mapmyfaith.org , and  Representationalresearch.com.

By Kent Blake

Recently I endorsed a television series, The Chosen, as a superlative in Christian media in 2021. In the book category I highly recommend God’s Woman Revisited: Pocket Edition by Gary Burke. This book has an interesting story and take on women’s roles in the church.

The book flew under the radar for the past two years because the publisher is not well known for producing religious books. Without marketing, it took a couple of years of word-of-mouth before people began to know of its existence. Lately it received endorsements by respected publications such as Restoration Quarterly, which echoes influential Christians like Dr. Philip Slate, who writes in the Foreword:

“Jack P. Lewis was approached by ‘a talented student, who was occupying a pulpit in size far in advance of others of his years’ and who asked him a question about the Holy Spirit. When Jack gave him his answer, the student responded, “Is that the position our brothers have always taken?” Jack’s typically condensed reply was, “I have never seen ‘What our brothers have always taught as the way to solve biblical questions.’” He held that one should go to scripture and handle it correctly in the effort to answer biblical questions. It is in this vein that Gary Burke has brought together many years of painstaking exegesis to produce this work on women and the church.”

Burke’s interpretation on women’s roles falls into a space which has no label. He is neither complementarian nor egalitarian, and he refuses to use either word in his books, believing they often obscure rather than illuminate the issue. Though I haven’t lived within 1000 miles of him for 15 years, he is still a beautiful enigma…

He is a conservative at heart who affirms the authority of scripture and has a master’s in biblical languages from ACU, (major professors were Everett Ferguson, Abe Malherbe, and J. W. Roberts) and a Ph.D. from Iowa in Christian Origins. He follows the text wherever it leads, which in this case is into the teeth of our traditional views on women.

Burke has been an elder, campus minister, church planter, and university professor. He worked for twenty years in hospital administration, where he honed his skills in process and meeting facilitation. That last sentence seems random, but it is quite relevant. More later.

In terms of interpreting scripture, his mantra is first understand what the text says, keeping assumptions to a minimum. Then you are in a good place to begin walking into texts which on the surface appear to be much easier than they really are to interpret. Matt Dabbs read the book and reviewed it early on for Wineskins and remarked that Burke’s guidelines alone on how to interpret the scripture are worth the price of the book.

The premise Burke sets forth, as a result of a 20-plus year study of the topic, is we have done poorly as a fellowship interpreting the passages, from Genesis to I Timothy, that deal with women’s roles in the church and the overall issue of male authority.

That is a bold claim. That is not to say Burke believes he has a watertight case, but he believes it is a much stronger case than the one we currently defend.

While there are many who are clamoring for change in our practice, Burke makes clear the only acceptable reason to change begins and ends with scripture. It has zero to do with conforming to culture.

The last couple of years Burke has been speaking to a number of elders, elderships, and congregations on this issue, and this is where his facilitation skills along with his Biblical knowledge meld in this moment.

What Burke has found is that while elders are committed to lead their congregations where the scriptures take them, when they get into the women’s roles topic they are conflicted.

Their deep desire to follow scripture wherever it leads conflicts with another paramount goal of “stability” and “safety.” When the perceived consequences of making a change are significant, leaders may overlook what they have to gain and focus like a laser on what they have to lose.

What do we have to gain?

The approval of God is more than enough to compensate for all we have to lose. But in the short-term, change may cause problems like these:

  • We’ll have to admit our interpretations are not infallible. For many in our fellowship this will constitute a genuine existential crisis. In some minds it means we cease to exist as the only true church. (Hopefully, we’ll become satisfied with just being the church.)
  • We’ll re-introduce ourselves to some scriptures which take effort to interpret but which we have considered easy to understand. It means asking, “What does the text actually say as opposed to what we assume it means?” This would be good for the long-term future of the church.

In the long run it can solve these problems:

  • You can’t quantify the power and spiritual energy we realize when we hear women of God speak from their hearts and pray. Our congregations may grow again.
  • If scripture does permit a greater role for women than we currently allow, it removes a growing objection our children and the world have toward our fellowship.
  • If we are following scripture, we are more likely to be a part of the church which Jesus said the gates of Hades can’t destroy.

Finally

Within the past eight months readers who believe this book deserves a wider reading have contributed $12,000 to help in its marketing. This is something worth being a part of and I will send Gary Burke enough money for 50 books (including shipping) for Wineskins readers who are interested in this topic. Just email him and ask for a copy. Reach him at gary@garytburke.com. If you like it, let someone know.

[NOTE: There have already been 50 books given away and we will up that to 100! Thank you for your interest.
If you are blessed by reading it, please tell a friend!]

I have been talking as if Burke only has one book on this subject, but he has two. The book I am offering is the shorter Pocket Edition. This version is still 156 substantial pages and mirrors chapter by chapter the original God’s Woman Revisited, minus the 500 footnotes and 22-page bibliography.

Trust me, the Pocket Edition will be all you can manage for starters. Later, if you want the larger reference version order either book on Amazon. Both books were written essentially at the same time. The Pocket Edition is an abridged version of the original. The Pocket Edition is also good for adult Bible classes, since it contains discussion questions after each chapter.

If you would like to read more from Gary, you can visit his website – garytburke.com.

In November Disney+ released Get Back, a look into the recording sessions that produced The Beatles’s album Let it Be. Director Peter Jackson obtained the 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio that was recorded for the1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. That original documentary was 80 minutes; Jackson’s Get Back goes for 468 minutes. The original debuted to mixed reviews; this one is a masterpiece. This is not a documentary of talking heads and the Ken Burns effect on old pictures. Instead, Jackson has cut and pasted the original 1969 footage into an omniscient, third-person view of a day in the life (ahem) of the world’s most famous musicians. I loved it. I couldn’t help but take away some observations about leadership while watching the most prolific artists of their generation. Here’s a few:

With a Little Help From My Friends. The Beatles constantly play the music of others. In their sessions they show an interest in Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry. We could imagine these guys having a pretty insular experience, since for the past decade they were musically untouchable. Not so. George Harrison admits that he cannot play guitar as well as Eric Clapton. Lennon and McCartney admire the work and marketing of the Rolling Stones. It’s hard to play our own music if we aren’t in awe of the music of others. Yet leaders do this all the time. I know church leaders who rarely attend a workshop or other church to get ideas. Some elders never ask other elders for help or advice. Some preachers struggle to find the good in sermons they didn’t preach. Some leaders never bother to call a friend in human resources to ask about a hiring matter or an acquaintance in finance to ask about a budget issue. We need to get out. We need to see what others do. We need to ask good questions, listen, and learn.

With Love From Me To You. I heard the Lennon/McCartney dynamic soured toward the end. Maybe. But it’s not apparent in Get Back. Sure, it’s strange that Yoko Ono awkwardly inserts herself into scenes as if she’s the fifth member of the Fab Four. But Lennon and McCartney’s relationship seems solid during the recording sessions. Sometimes when they riff, they lock into each other’s eyes and just laugh; genius respecting genius. We can all be a bit cynical, and we are drawn into apocalyptic tales that show the worst in others. Remember the Fyre Festival? Or the political scandals? Or celebrity divorces? Or the pastor’s downfall? People love watching the meltdown. Get Back invites us into the mutual admiration between the songwriting savants. Our love for our coworkers and partners in the Gospel is more valuable than what we gain by publicly airing our differences. I suppose some artistic geniuses and church leaders can temporarily flourish while being openly hostile (like Mark Driscoll) But most of us aren’t geniuses and most of us cannot lead when such dysfunction rules our hearts. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I’ve Got a Feeling.  In graduate school, Evertt Huffard would repeatedly remind us that “Ministry flows from burden.” His point was that we devote our energy to the things about which we feel most passionate. In Get Back, McCartney clearly feels the most burden to produce the album. The other three are there, but not in the way that he is. He takes the lead on most of the songs (like “Get Back” and “Let It Be”), while also spending the most time grinding at the piano to tweak the music. At a moment when the others seem content to move on to their own individual careers, McCartney is the one who thinks the Fab Four have one more album left in them. He keeps pushing. This is probably where many church leaders find themselves. God distributes gifts to everyone in the church; the same is not true for burden. Some people care more. There are seasons in our ministry when we need to push others and there are seasons when we need to give them room to breathe. It’s been a delicate balance during the pandemic to discern which season we are in. Do people need to be hugged or prodded? Are we providing necessary space or are we enabling bad habits? The person who thinks about these things all day is the Paul McCartney for the church, the one who just can’t imagine this project failing.

This documentary was the perfect encouragement to leaders who find themselves grinding in an office by themselves. It’s a reminder of craft and discipline. But it says even more about working with teams and leading communities. God’s work through us often happens to us first.

Bob Turner is the Senior Minister at White Station Church of Christ-Iglesia de Cristo in Memphis, Tennessee.

January is a good time to look back over the last year at some superlatives in Christian media.

My first surprise this year was a television series, The Chosen, and my second surprise is a book, God’s Woman Revisited, by an unknown, yet eminently qualified theological author with an unusual perspective from scripture. Today I will discuss The Chosen and mention the book in a few weeks.

This year The Chosen concluded its second season. I missed seeing it last year. They make eight episodes a year. I watched all 16 episodes, twice. (And I never watch a movie twice, other than Christmas Vacation.) The target audience is Christians, some of whom found the series an effective way to reach outsiders.

 I am not going to bury the lead: I don’t think I have ever seen anything outside of scripture that comes as close to giving such a realistic window into the world of Jesus.

Jonathan Roumie plays Jesus. And you are right, you have never heard of him. The writers have been extremely careful, prayerful I’d guess, about the words they put in his mouth. His demeanor, questions and answers are simple yet profound. Some responses are directly out of scripture, so that is easy. But most of what he says are everyday conversations not recorded in scripture. You listen to his words, reflect, and think, “I hadn’t thought about it that way — but that’s good”.

Many Christians, I included, are skeptical as they watch the first couple of episodes. For the same reason I don’t like historical fiction. I don’t want to confuse what might have happened with what did happen. So, my mind works overtime parsing every detail. After about three episodes I relaxed. The producers had won my trust.

My degree was in TV production and I worked for a television production company. The problem one has when producing a TV show about the life of Christ based on scripture is there is not enough background information (in scripture) required for the setup which is necessary for the mandatory payoff. The written word doesn’t have this challenge quite so severely.

Because we often don’t have in-depth backstories in scripture, scriptwriters must make it up out of thin air. Producers at that point have two guiding principles, make the backstory reasonably plausible and remind the audience that this is a television show. It is not the Bible. Dallas Jenkins, the producer and director has done both.

The Chosen actually held two surprises of equal proportion. First, to Marshall McLuhan, the message was not the medium. The message completely transcended the medium.

My second surprise is how few Christians I know have seen this program. I asked in a class I taught at church who had seen it and less than 15% said they had. I have recommended it to numerous friends. When I asked later if they had seen it, almost everyone said “no.”

The Chosen is not on commercial television. The producers wisely wanted to maintain editorial control. It can be streamed from the website, www.thechosen.tv/app, or cast to your TV, ordered on CD, and you might access it through Peacock or other sources.

 It may take a little effort to access but it is more than worth it.

Come and see.

When I was a teenager I got into wearing Christian/scripture themed shirts. I was (am) a nerd. You already knew that. One of my favorites had 2 Cor 5:17 on it, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” I loved the idea of God making me new. It was very personal. What I didn’t understand at the time was the context of what Paul was saying in those verses. What Paul was actually saying has a lot bigger ramifications and implications than I knew at the time.

Paul had laid out what made me/us new creation and what was the resulting actions we are called to take to live out that reality. There is far more to Paul’s point than some idea of just me and God doing our thing! It has everything to do with how we see and treat others, starting with Jesus.

Check out all the connecting words and pronouns that tie the surrounding and following verses together in what Paul is arguing for,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

2 Cor 5:14-19

You might want to go back and read it again.

The idea that we no longer regard people from a worldly point of view is because of Christ dying for all so that all might live for him. Because of that we now view people from a new perspective rather than a worldly one. Not only had we formerly viewed other people in a worldly way, we had even viewed Christ in this manner. The fact that we used to do that, even of Christ, and do so no longer is evidence that we are new creation.

What also demonstrates our new creation status is our new mission that grows directly out of how we view people. Because we are new creation we have a new ministry…the “all this” points back to our new perspective on Christ and people as well as our new status as new creation people. “All this is from God…” This new creation existence that springs out of a new view of Christ and others leads us directly to a ministry of reconciliation where we help others through those same changes in their view of others which leads to them also being “new creation” so that the old (way of view people and of being) can go away and the new arrive in their lives!

Verses have context and you can see just how rich the message of scripture becomes when read as the whole argument than Paul is actually making rather than reading the Bible as a series of zingers or gotcha quotes!

In recent days the powers that be in Churches of Christ have lamented “apostasy” from preachers, congregations, and “colleges” that do not toe the unwritten creedal line. The irony is deep because historically it has been claimed that God’s church does not own any colleges therefore did not have a creedal position on anything. But to my main points.

Way back in 1933, G. C. Brewer published a review in the Gospel Advocate of a, then, controversial book by K. C. Moser, called The Way of Salvation. He praised,

the author’s independence of all denominational views or brotherhood ideas, or what the ‘fathers’ taught, or of what has been ‘our doctrine” as “the most encouraging think that I have seen in print among the disciples of Christ in this decade.”

Well the powers – in this so-called non-denomination – do not seem to like it if we actually practice the Restoration Plea instead of just using it as a rhetorical hammer against others. But restoration is not a position on anything rather it is a posture of seeking continually the truth and will of God knowing we have never quite grasped either. We doubt ourselves not God or God’s truth. We journey towards the goal but confess with Paul we have not quite attained it (Philippians 3.12-14). With this in mind I have six areas that I pray for myself, for Churches of Christ, and for all God’s people where ever they may be.

First. I pray for a genuine Spiritual revolution among the principalities and powers in Churches of Christ. As Barton Stone stated many years ago “we would that preachers pray more and dispute less.” Is the Bible merely a weapon to defeat other stragglers on the Way? Is Scripture merely an echo chamber that confirms all of our already cherished points of view? Or is the written word more akin to a sacrament that pulls us into deeper discipleship of denying ourselves and taking up the cross to follow Jesus, daily? Discipleship that issues in genuine love for justice and mercy for all is what Spiritual revolution is all about.

Second. I pray we in Churches of Christ realize that Restoration is not simply a doctrinal destination. Restoration is a journey, or process, through which we finally see God’s will done on Earth as it is in heaven. Restoration is not about restoring some non-existent pristine first century but living God’s new creation in the power of the Spirit in the here and now. Restoration finds its fulfillment in God’s Kingdom swallowing up all human kingdoms. The church bears witness to the kingdom in its life on earth as we wait for the goal. Restoration does not terminate upon the first century church in all its dysfunction but in God’s renewal of all things.

Third. I pray for a “restoration” of the non-sectarian attitude that G. C. Brewer celebrated in K. C. Moser. I, personally, am quite tired of the only response the principalities and powers can offer to a different position is that I have given up on the authority of Scripture. The statement is absurd on the face of it.

J. N. Armstrong, founding President of Harding University was adamant on this matter. Restoration depends on openness to God’s truth breaking in on our previously held understandings. He wrote,

“There is a great need to stress the importance of maintaining freedom of speech in the kingdom of God. Intolerance is dangerous to the future growth of the church . . . All progress of truth – scientific truth, political truth, or religious truth – all truth – has always depended on free speech and progressive teachers who were not afraid to teach their honest convictions.”

Doctrine, and faithfulness, is not determined by what “we,” “you” or “I” have ever believed was, or is, the truth. A position is not rejected because we do not like the implications of it. A position is not rejected simply because we already know the “truth.” It is the height of arrogance to simply declare a position in error because “it has left the truth.”

Truth is determined by exegesis of the biblical text not by tradition, grandparents, moms or dads, preachers or even the powers that be. The founders of the Stone Campbell Movement fearlessly used every tool they could get their hands on to engage the biblical text “to see if it was so.” I treasure that spirit. Restudy does not imply judgement upon anyone in the past. It simply means we actually practice Restoration as a way of life rather than seeing it as rhetorical flare.

Fourth. I pray for the day we actually believe 2 Timothy 3.15-16. Some of the powers, at least in practice, think the crucial words of this text apply only (primarily) to the New Testament. Paul does not say “the New Testament is inspired and is useful for DOCTRINE.” The context is clear that the Hebrew Bible is under consideration (those are the only Scriptures Timothy could have known from his “childhood” (3.15). No, Paul says that the Scriptures – a technical term used by the Rabbis – for what is commonly termed the Old Testament (Paul and no “NT Christian” ever heard of the so called “Old Testament” much less a “New Testament” by which is meant books). Paul says the first 39 books of the Bible are “inspired and good for DOCTRINE.” It is rare to find a Church of Christ elder or preacher that actually believes this. They do not believe it – not because of what it says – but because it would throw a huge monkey wrench in their ability to declare people unfaithful and nonbelievers.

Reaffirming the Pauline doctrine that the Old Testament is actually, inherently, authoritative does not solve all problems but it does call us to go back to the text in the tradition of Stone and Campbell. There may be two Testaments but they tell

  • the same Story,
  • about the same People,
  • the same Hope,
  • in the same Promise,
  • with the same Mission,
  • with the same God.

    The New Testament documents see themselves as dependent upon the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures and it is rare to find a New Testament text that is not molded by those Scriptures. Even if preachers do not suddenly go on a year long preaching spree from the First Testament (though that is not a bad idea), they can show how the NT connects to the grand narrative of the Bible.

Fifth. I pray that we have the devotion to the undivided nature of God’s family (as a sign of God’s renewed creation) that Paul, James and Luke clearly had. Division is tantamount to heresy in Scripture and the early Way. The old paradigm of division at the drop of a hat that prevailed among Churches of Christ from the 1910s thru the 2000s and is still prominent with the powers is just wrong. I do not say this because I do not believe in the authority of the Scriptures. I say that precisely because I do believe in the truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures more than the authority of the powers. Each congregation was not a carbon copy of the other in the first century. We cannot read Acts and not know that there was serious diversity among the NT churches. The apostolic church in Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee did not “practice” things the same way Gentile churches did (especially Pauline ones). This is clearly evident in numerous places in the text that we simply filter out because these texts are an inconvenient truth. I have said before, and I will say it again, Acts 15, Acts 21.17-27, Acts 24.11-18, etc, were nightmare texts for mid-20th century Firm Foundation readers. Many simply did not even know the texts were there (especially Acts 21, I have learned this in personal conversation with many people, I never heard of them growing up). But here you have two apostles who go the “extra mile,” as they say, to affirm each other as brothers in the Lord. Paul did not castigate and disfellowship James. James did not disfellowship Paul. And Luke did not disfellowship either. Both were right if we believe the actual words of the Spirit guided letter to the gentile believers (not Jewish ones) in Acts 15.6-29.

J. N. Armstrong’s question to W. E. Brightwell is apropos. “Could you, my brother, maintain fellowship with a man who offered animal sacrifices? Could you maintain fellowship with a church that did the same?”

But that is exactly what James, Paul and Luke do. This is what the Jerusalem church does. I have never forgotten that question. Why is it that Paul’s example is Acts 20.7 is “binding” but both Paul’s and James’s example is thrown out the window in Acts 21.17-27 and 24.11-18 (some even dare to claim they sinned and the whole Jerusalem church is wrong).

How I pray the folks at the Open Forum and the folks at ACU could join hands like Luke proudly says apostles James and Paul did. And note that they did worship together even with ceremonial washings, bloody animal sacrifices, incense and instruments.

Sixth. I pray God’s people are so grasped by the kingdom of God we are thrust into commitment to justice, righteousness, faithfulness and mercy (stuff Jesus declares to be the most important, Mt. 23.23). This extends from our first prayer commitment above. I pray that Churches of Christ would understand that as a beacon of the new creation we are by definition anti-racists. We are the voice of the widow, the parents to the orphans, the defender of the aliens among us. I pray that the Gospel of Reconciliation digs deep into our collective and individual psyche and crucifies any vestige of anything that keeps of from being on the forefront of the message of justice for those who have been declared to be less than (at times by those claiming to be God’s people). I pray we are a refuge for those scarred by divorce. Churches of Christ have often been pro-law and pro-order but ironically anti-justice and anti-righteousness in our witness to the world around. I pray for God’s mercy. I pray that we recognize that we completely miss God’s will without a commitment to racial justice and the goal of God’s restoration movement in the Spirit indwelled church.

These are six realities that I earnestly pray for regarding all God’s people.

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