I Want To Believe

August 27, 2008

I want to believe.

I want to believe the promises the Chinese government made.  I want to believe that the Beijing Church of Christ, sanctioned by the Chinese government as an opportunity for foreigners to worship during the Olympics, will be allowed to continue once the Olympics are gone.  I want to believe that the government will lift restrictions on church attendance now that the Olympics are over; during the games, only those with overseas passports were allowed to attend worship services.  I want to believe that the Chinese government – the same government that sent two septuagenarian widows to a “re-education camp” for the crime of applying for a permit to protest in one of the “free speech zones” established for the Olympics – will allow the seed of the gospel sown in their country during the last two weeks to bear fruit.

I want to believe.

I want to believe that the people of God aren’t afraid even of the harshest governmental oppression.  I want to believe that we will not abandon 1.3 billion souls – 10% of all the human beings who have ever lived on Earth – because a totalitarian bureaucrat tells us to go away.  I want to believe that no amount of pressure – government, political, economic, social, or otherwise – will silence God’s people in our spreading of the gospel.

I want to believe.

But that’s the beauty of God’s providence.  Even when what I want to believe bears little to no resemblance to reality, God is not hindered from enacting His will.  No one will ever know how far and how wide the seed of the gospel sown during two weeks in Beijing will spread.  And no amount of government interference can hinder the spread of the Christianity.

In fact, it might help.

The New Testament pattern is that when God’s people rely on Him for strength, protection, and encouragement they would otherwise receive from society and government, Christianity prospers.  Only when safety and security come from somewhere else – money, government, you name it – are Christians effectively silenced.

I want to believe that the Chinese government will see the error of its ways and finally keep a promise, for once.  But for the sake of the cause of Christ, I kind of hope they don’t.


On The Origin of the Suzerain-Vassal Covenant

August 21, 2008

Here’s a question for the readers.  Both of you.

Does God ever take a human invention and adapt it for His purpose?

Here’s why I ask.

Last night I tried to teach something about the similarities between the Old Testament covenant and similar covenants employed in the Ancient Near East.  The parallels, it seemed to me, were pretty clear.  What was controversial was the assertion I made that this form of covenant predates Sinai.

Now to be sure, what I did say I said badly.  I’m sure of that, or else the controversy could probably have been averted.  That said, I’m convinced of the premise.  Rather than inventing something new for His people, God took a form of law they were already familiar with and adapted it to suit His purpose.

The standard Suzerain-vassal covenant is older than Moses.  The archaeology indicates that even Abraham would have recognized one on sight.  In fact, God uses a Suzerain-vassal ritual to seal His covenant with Abram in Genesis 14.  The glowing torch passing through the pieces of animal would have been a familiar ritual to Abram.  He knew that meant God was saying, “May I be like this animal if I break my promise.”

The conrtoversy swirled around the question of why would God need to use a human invention to get this point across.  The simple answer is that He didn’t need to.  God could have used any method, ritual, form, or anything else that He wanted to if He so chose.  I do not question what God needed to do, or even what God could do.  The question is what God actually did.  And the evidence indicates that the Israelites knew what a Suzerain-vassal covenant was and what it meant before they arrived at Sinai.  The evidence also indicates that the covenant delivered on Sinai fits this standard form quite neatly.

What’s noteworthy is that while this might be the first time God employed a human invention (I can’t think of any others offhand), it wouldn’t be the last. 

Consider the synagogue.  There is no mention of that or anything even resembling it in the entire Old Testament.  The first evidence of synagogues being formed was in Babylon during the captivity.  During that time, Jewish worship shifted from a series of Temple-centered rituals to a community event, marked by Bible reading, singing, and prayer.

Again, nowhere in the Old Testament is this kind of worship prescribed or even authorized.  Yet, when the New Testament church worships, they follow the synagogue pattern almost to the letter.  In fact, I would argue that the apostles intentionally abandoned the trappings of the temple for the communalism of the synagogue.  The spirit of the synagogue and the worship it provides is closer to the Christian theology of restoration than anything that happened in the temple.  The temple was about keeping people out.  The synagogue was about bringing people together.

But who invented it?  If God did, He didn’t tell anybody.  More likely, ex-pat Jews got I the habit of gathering on the Sabbath day during the captivity.  They reflected on the Law, prayed, strengthened one another, and (probably) ate together.  Five hundred years later, virtually every Jew everywhere was a member of a synagogue.  And rather than invent something completely different simply for the sake of being different, God used something everybody was already familiar with and adapted it to suit the unique situation of the church.

Are there other examples?  Or am I way off base here?

Who Am I?

August 15, 2008

According to the Rhiso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator, I am a 5-1-6.  What that means in Myers-Briggs terms I’m not sure, but here’s what they said.

At my best, I am a visionary, pioneering paradigm-breaker.  I am stable, self-reliant, and courageous.  I am realistic and noble, making wise decisions.

At my worst, I am eccentric, nihilistic, and isolated.  I can be self-doubting, suspicious, resentful and impatient.

The personality type least like me was the 2.  These folks are unselfish, alturistic, love unconditionally, and are friendly and generous.  On the other hand, they can also be sentimental, flattering, and do things for others in order to be needed.

In other words, my personality is all wrong for my occupation.

So there.


Edited to add:  I would ask about the personality types of people who read my blog, even if only for curiosity sake.  But it appears my personality is such that I probably wouldn’t care anyway.  As they say, we report you decide.

Back From Vacation

August 6, 2008

Well, I’m back.  Vacation was uneventful, which is to say exactly what I needed.  The prophets study starts tonight.  I’ll post my notes as I develop them.