Archive for August, 2004

Reading too much in to the question

Reading too much in to the question


Today, the president of the college asked the faculty and staff a question that always seems to bantered around evangelical churches. It went something like “Does the structure of the institution impede the work of the Holy Spirit?” It was interesting to watch as people responded to his question. The president didn’t say much but people were already reading in to his question. Some were asking “Is he saying that the Spirit doesn’t work through our structure?”

As people responded we lost their focus. It quickly became a discussion about how the Spirit uses structure. Many people were affirming the effectiveness of what we already do. The question wasn’t about the effectiveness of what we already do, which is assumed. The question was about whether our rigid structure impedes the work of God’s Spirit in specific situations. The question is a difficult one for a room full of rational thinkers. I must admit that as a someone who cultivates the mystic aspects of the Christian life I was already on what I thought was the president’s train and had left the station. I’m not sure if my response was any more focussed at the time.

One of the things about blogging I’ve been frustrated with is the tendency for readers to respond to something far more extreme than the author said. Our bias for or against something colours our interpretation. Yesterday I saw another example of how that can happen with face to face communication. It doesn’t really seem to make a difference if people are well educated biblical scholars.

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MarcVandersluys.ca: New Fusion Publisher!

Vandersluys.ca: New PrairieFusion Publisher!


Looks like Marc is up and running with his new blog! 

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Very bad day

Very bad day


I just went through the worst day I’ve encounted in a long long time.  Please pray for me as I’ve been overwhelmed with a bunch of stuff.  None of it a really big deal by itself.  I’ll be ok, it just sucks right now.

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My comfort with the emerging church

My comfort with the emerging church


I am not totally comfortable with everything the emerging church. I’m not totally comfortable with everything at the college I work or it denomination either. I like that people in the emerging church circles are taking in to consideration some pretty important trends. The church is dying in western English speaking countries. The culture has changed and has revealed the inherent weaknesses of the church’s compromise with modernity. We need to find adequate cultural forms to authentically communicate the gospel in this culture.

This process has occurred before. The reformers emerged from Roman Catholics. The Anabaptists emerged from reformers. The Methodists emerged from the Anglicans. If the EC gets to the point where they form their own denomination it will be silly. I don’t think it will happen . I hope it doesn’t. I believe the EC is more like the charismatic movement or the seeker movement where you can be part of the new thing without leaving a specific theological tradition.

There is some stuff on the theological end of things that really bothers me. There are a lot of people trying to rethink the church and the gospel without going back to scripture or the tradition of the church. In my mind this is a recipe for disaster. In some circles the EC is just another incarnation of the seeker sensitive movement. They want to change the church and the message of the church so it attracts more people. The whole concept of the gospel being a stumbling block is missing from this.

Consider Pauls take on following Christ in his letter to the Phillipians.

3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 3:10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

The message of the gospel is not join up because it is fun, you’ll have great benefits and discover the wonder of Christ. It is more like joining a despised spiritual underground revolution. You will be persecuted. It will cost you your life, you will suffer for it, but you will know God and experience life changing power. I don’t think I can define the gospel in a paragraph but there is an element of suffering and hardship that is missing.

The gospel is my primary concern and there are people in the EC movement that are similarly concerned. TheHeresy, for which this blog is named has nothing to do postmodern thinking or emerging church theology. Some years ago it became my name for the gospel, I believed that the church was so saturated with a pseudo-spiritual, legalistic and yet toothless gospel that the real message of Christ would seem so different people would consider it heresy.

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Words or Power: What fuels the church?

In Paul’s time Corinth was caught between the values and methods of Greek society and the Kingdom of God. The Corinthians had begun their Christian journey with Paul inspired by a demonstration of the Spirit and divine power. After Paul’s departure they incorporated wisdom and methods received from itinerant teachers and philosophers known as Sophists. This led to a number of misunderstandings about leadership, the gospel, knowledge and wisdom. This in turn created a climate of boasting, division, quarrels and strife. At the heart of these conflicting systems is the source of influence and change. On one side we have human wisdom and rhetorical power, on the other we have Spirit imparted wisdom and divine power.

Initially the church Corinth responded wholeheartedly to Paul’s presentation of the gospel. Not long after he left old Greco-Roman values reemerged in the Corinthian church. We know the values of the Corinthians were Greek. Their esteem for rhetoric, disdain for Paul’s manual labour, love of knowledge and love of wisdom reflect the Hellenistic culture. We know from II Corinthians that they came under the influence of self-proclaimed apostles whose methods reflect the Greek philosophers known as Sophists.

In contrast to Greek values, Paul’s world was “in Christ”. His life was so profoundly impacted by the revelation of Jesus Christ that it radically altered his life as well as his theology. Paul was originally schooled in Hebrew tradition while growing up a Roman citizen in Tarsus. He was acutely aware of the values of both systems and rejected all that he knew “for the excellency of knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8).

There are startling similarities between the values of the evangelical world and those of Greek philosophy. We regard influence and persuasion as the markers of true leadership. We create levels of rank, status, prestige and authoritarian structures to reinforce them. We hold to the therapy of reason (Strom 155). We rely on human authority rather than divine power. Much of the confusion and impotence in the church today can be explained by our adoption of some elements of Greek philosophy.

In Paul’s mind, the Kingdom of God had a tremendous influence on people. Miraculous signs and wonders were some of the things that authenticated a carrier of the gospel. Even more important than miracles were transformed lives. Paul believed any leader in God’s Kingdom will lead people in to a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ. People become letters written on human hearts (2Cor 3:1-3). This leads Paul to point out to the Corinthians that “The kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power” (1Cor 4:20).

Simply put, the Corinthians had a big misconception about how God’s kingdom operates. God’s reign is not evidenced through mere words or idle talk. The change Christ came to accomplish on earth cannot be implemented by the church with mere words empowered by the tools of rhetoric.

This has profound implications for the discernment of leaders and churches in our time. How do we look in the light of Paul’s criteria? In our churches and ministries is God’s divine influence a tangible reality? Do we rely on God’s power or our own ability to persuade? Are we divided by petty jealousies locked into a never ending cycle of self-promotion to elevate our status and prestige?

I believe as Mark Strom asserts in his book Reframing Paul that we are children of two very different parents (Strom 155).

Paul’s view of the kingdom of God

In the first 4 chapters of Paul’s first letter to Corinth, Paul challenges the Corinthians to give up Greco-Roman values for Kingdom values. To better understand this, it is necessary to have a cursory understanding of what Paul means when he is talking about kingdom. Unlike Christ, Paul doesn’t talk a lot about the kingdom of God. He only mentions it once in the first 4 chapters but he does speak more about being “in Christ”. I don’t believe the terms are interchangeable, but there is some overlap.

It would be difficult to piece together a systematic Pauline theology of the Kingdom of God. As with Jesus, there is a sense the Kingdom exists now but is also not yet. Romans 14:17, Colossians 1:13, Colossians 4:11 as well as 1Corinthains 4:20 indicate that the Kingdom of God exists now. Paul believed he was in it, and it consists of certain things and not others. The kingdom is also inherited (1Cor 6:9-10, 1Cor 15:50, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5). Inheritance comes in the future (Eph 1:14). The kingdom is passed on to the Father at the end (1Cor 15:24). Christ followers were transferred from the dominion of darkness to Kingdom of God (Col 1:13). Christ followers work for the kingdom (Col 4:11). They are also called to the kingdom (1Thes 2:12). God makes us worthy to enter the kingdom of God (2Thess 1:5). God saves his followers for the heavenly kingdom (2Tim 4:18).

It is safe to assume that for Paul the kingdom in some way represents God’s domain or reign on earth. People are transferred into that domain from another through the power of Christ’s death which made us worthy to enter. We work towards the promotion of the kingdom. The kingdom has different values from that of human societies and cultures. Because the kingdom is invisible, there are certain things that demonstrate the reign of God and others that do not.

Who was Paul dealing with in Corinth?

The general contention is that Paul was dealing with the influence of the Sophists. Paul addresses the distinctive values and methods of the Sophistic tradition throughout the first 4 chapters of 1Corinthians. Three distinctive trademarks of the Sophists are apparent as Paul critiques the Corinthian view of status, imitation and boasting (Winter Philo and Paul, 180). In addition there are extra-biblical sources that tell us that Sophists were very active in Corinth at that time.

The Corinthians adopted the Sophists’ idea of discipleship as well as their values. Sophists held in high esteem those who were notable, rich, in leadership, healthy, robust, powerful, and affluent (Winter Philo and Paul, 193). These are exactly the values Paul challenges in chapter 1 verse 26 in saying that God has chosen to use the weak, shamed, despised and lowly to carry his message and in doing so shame the wise.

Sophists often boasted about themselves. They would often proclaim how wise, powerful and noble they were. These are exactly the 3 terms Paul uses in 1Cor 1:26 (Winter Phil and Paul, 190). Sophists seemed to have one goal in mind, doxa, the glorification of themselves (Witherington 101).

In 1Cor 2:1-5, Paul’s initial entry to Corinth contrasted the style of rhetoric the Sophists were fluent in. Rhetorical arguments are built on ethos (character), pathos (appeal to emotion), and apodexis (a clear proof). In any communication, all these elements will exist. Paul points out that when he presented the gospel, these three elements were very weak. There was nothing in who he was, what he said, or how he said it that would have convinced the Corinthians. He reminds the Corinthians that he came weak and trembling with fear (with no ethos or pathos) and without superior speech (no apodexis) (Winter Philo and Paul, 158).

Dio Chrysostom visited Corinth in AD 89-96 and noted the activity of the disciples of the Sophists (Winter After Paul, 32). Other scholars such as H.A.W. Meyer and E.A. Judge conclude that the “debater of this age” found in 1Cor 1:20 must refer to Sophists (Winter Philo and Paul, 188-9).

There is no other group of influential teachers that we know of in Corinth that corresponds more to the values and methods of the Sophists.

Who are these Sophists?

Sophists were itinerant speakers, debaters and teachers with their own brand of philosophy called Sophism. Sophists get their name from the Greek word for wisdom Sophia (Bradshaw). They were intellectual descendants of the Pre-socratic philosophers. Sophists moved from the theory of natural science to more practical affairs of human life (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC).

Sophism emerged in the 5th century BC as a group of philosophers who were paid to use rhetoric. Using their intelligence, they made a living off of teaching and speaking (Marder). They were the first ones to ever charge for instruction in the liberal arts. (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC). Eventually their fees became very high (Bradshaw).

Each Sophist may have had a specialized area of excellence. It could be in things as mundane as carpentry or poetry (Bradshaw). Regardless of their specialized area, they were best at public speaking. They turned persuasion in to an art form (Bradshaw).




Although the Sophists taught just about everything in the arts and sciences, they were best known as teachers of rhetoric, especially the rhetoric of law and politics, the means to power and upward mobility (Marder).

They were itinerant teachers. Sophism wasn’t a formally organized school, but a trend among individuals (Bradshaw). They eventually gained a reputation for deceiving people with hollow arguments that would confuse their opponents (Engle).

Sophists were known for teaching people how to win an argument regardless if the position they held was the stronger one. They believed in the power of rhetoric. In contrast to modern rational epistemology, they were decidedly anti-foundational. With today’s labels, they would be regarded as more postmodern than modern. For the Sophist, language was a poor tool to communicate meaning, because words were mere symbols of reality influenced by the bias of individual perception.

Protagoras was the first well known Sophist and we would label him a relativist. He lived from 490 to 420 BC. His most famous idea was “man is the measure of all things” (Bradshaw). Protagoras believed that one can only truly know things in their own mind. Therefore no one can make a definitively true statement about anything outside his or her own mind. Truth is merely what it appears to be to the perceiver. This thinking eventually evolves into a self serving pragmatism. If a given course of action works and it is advantageous, then one should do it regardless of the moral consequences. Despite the seemingly logical progression of these ideas, Protagoras objected to the license people took when following his principles (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC).

Sophistic thought moved from Protagoras’ relativism to Georgias’ Skepticism. Georgias said “Nothing exists, if something does exist, we cannot know it, if we to know it we cannot teach it to others” (The Philosophy of the Sophists). This logic is essentially the same as the antifoundational logic of today. There is no such thing as absolute truth. If there is absolute truth, we wouldn’t be able to know it and we certainly wouldn’t able to communicate it.

If nothing truly exists, then the only thing that truly matters in life is the use of words. The use of words was a means to influence: Georgias affirmed that all things can appear true and just, if oratorical power is capable of revealing things as true and just, beyond every pretension of reality of content” (The Philosophy of the Sophists). For Georgias, language wasn’t useful for conveying truth, but a tool for persuading and manipulating others (Bradshaw). Power is not rooted in reality, it is rooted in influence. Both Protagoras and Georgias are often cited as the forerunners of pragmatism (Bradshaw).




The Sophists saw man himself as a product of nature, but society and civilization as artificial human products. On one hand, man is a natural creature subject to certain laws of nature which he cannot help but obey. On the other hand, he lives in a society, the rules and structure of which have no roots in nature and are based only on custom. The distinction here apparent is one between nature (physis) and custom or convention (nomos) (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC).

One of the great controversies in early Sophism was whether the distinctions in society like Greek and Barbarian or slave and free were the result of nature or custom (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC). Some felt as though all human beings were similar in nature and all distinctions should be erased. Others thought that the societal custom held back the animal nature of man and thus was a necessity (Philosophical Background of the Fifth Century BC).

All people were not considered equal in Sophist thought. Some people were strong and some people were weak. The strong were to lead and the weak were to follow (The Philosophy of the Sophists).

The democratic culture of Athens gave rise to Sophistry. Citizens of democratic cities could achieve a higher level of status in society by getting elected in civic politics. Persuasion and influence were valuable commodities in a society where one could elevate themself by gaining a following. The Sophists molded people in such a way that maximized their ability to improve their personal status in society (The Philosophy of the Sophists) and become effective citizens (Kemerling).

The word disciple comes to us from Greek culture. The students of Sophists were called disciples. Disciples were learners that would pattern their lives after their teachers. Imitation was a major part the discipleship process. This imitation moved beyond the use of rhetoric to the casual affairs of daily life like dressing and speaking (Winter After Paul, 33). Wealthy parents sought out Sophists to train and educate their sons (Winter After Paul, 35). Any good parent would want to see their children succeed in this world, and the Sophists provided the kind of education that would maximize leadership potential. There was no shortage of Sophists and they competed fiercely for new students (Winter After Paul, 36).

Sophism had some prominent critics. Plato didn’t like the Sophists. He thought that the Sophists were selling their minds for the sake of financial gain. His disdain for this group of philosophers has carried forward to this day.

Debate and argument were favorite tools of Sophists. In order to prove their worth to potential clients or students, they would debate with other Sophists in public. Sophists were so well known for raucous debate the Greek word for strife was used to describe their arguments (Winter After Paul, 38). They would stop at nothing to order to gain influence over other people. Even bodily presence was important. Some would remove all the hair from their body to appear godlike (Winter After Paul, 34).

They were thought of highly as educators until people began to question what the Sophists were teaching. The practice of Sophism declined until disappearing entirely in the 2nd century AD (Marder).

The Conflict of Values

The antifoundational world view of Sophist leads naturally to Protagoras’ relativism or Georgias’ skepticism. If everything is relative to human perception or nothing is truly real, what can we latch onto. Influence is the only currency of value in this world view. Influence was gained and wielded through the power of words. Eloquence combined with body language, appearance, and status formed a potent mixture designed to persuade. Through influence, a citizen in a democracy could elevate their status in society. This status would enable anyone to indulge in any pleasure they saw fit.

Paul did not believe that Christians should rely on the power of words. He relied on the power of God. He did not address the anti-foundational worldview of the Sophists with Plato’s foundationalism. He did not point the Corinthians to the absolute truth found in the Old Testament. He said that the most valuable currency in God’s kingdom is the supernatural influence of God. In Christ we are rich, gain knowledge and are provided every spiritual gift.

The first four chapters of Corinthians outline the conflict between the values of Sophists and Greco-Roman culture with those of Paul and the kingdom of God. These points of divergence are:


Knowledge

Wisdom

Leadership

Persuasion and rhetoric

Status

Faith foundations

Leaders

To explore each of these areas I will follow the text in the first 4 chapters of Paul’s first letter to Corinth and illustrate the contrast between values.

Status achieved through knowledge (1:5-9)

It is common for Paul to begin his letters with a few words of thanksgiving and encouragement. In 1Cor 1:5-9 he wastes no time in addressing the Sophistic perception of inferiority and status (Winter Phil and Paul, 183).




For you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you—so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1Cor 1:5-9).

Sophists believed that through wealth, wisdom, power, and knowledge, one’s status could be raised above others. This created a culture of competition and rivalry. In this culture, most of the Corinthians would have been found on the lower rungs of the status ladder. Paul challenges these values by pointing out that God is the one that has that has enriched them. Paul specifically mentions speech and knowledge as two of the areas in which God has supplied. The word translated speech, logos, could have meant eloquence in this context (Bruce 31). God’s supply doesn’t enrich us to elevate our status in the world, but our enrichment comes in Christ.

 

Division is the main problem in Corinth (1:10-17)

Paul also wastes no time in identifying the main problem in Corinth. Factions have developed in the congregation. Each faction identified a Christian leader and then identified themselves with that leader. This has caused a significant amount of problems in the congregation.




I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose (1Cor 1:10).

A rhetorical analysis of this epistle reveals that verse 1:10 is the main thesis for the letter (Witherington 76). The rest of the letter addresses the theme of division. Continuing in this analysis, the first and important issue is the Corinthians view of wisdom and eloquence (Horsley 46).

Following rhetorical form, verses 11-17 are a statement of the facts concerning the issue. These are offered before the proofs are presented (Witherington 98).




For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless (1Cor 1:11-17).

Alignment with leaders

The Corinthians aligned themselves with different Christian leaders. The way in which the Corinthians adopted certain Christian leaders mirrors the disciples of the Sophists (Witherington 75). Usually there was more than one Sophist in a city like Corinth. They would compete in public debate in order to prove their worthiness and attract more disciples. Would-be disciples allied themselves with a Sophist and declared themselves members of their camp.




When the sophist Aristides arrived in Smyrna, the response was overwhelming. He boasted that people came out to meet him even before he came to the city gates, and proudly recalled that “the most distinguished young men offered themselves [as students]” (Winter Philo and Paul, 172).

The young men who were educated by Sophists were known as disciples and were sometimes described as ‘zealots’ because of their extreme loyalty (Winter After Paul, 32). Disciples of Sophists were insanely devoted to their teachers. These disciples could be found in a fierce debate with the students of other teachers in public forums. They would walk, talk, act, and dress just like their teacher. These disciples sought to imitate their teachers in every facet of their lives. This created a culture of competition among the Sophists and their disciples. This rivalry would express itself in raucous debate. The same word Paul uses to describe what is going on in Corinth. It is clear that the Corinthians were acting like the people around them (Fee 121-123).

Apollos may have been an unwitting catalyst to the problem of division in Corinth. Paul describes himself as the planter and Apollos the watered in Chapter 3, so we can safely assume Apollos came after Paul. In Acts 18:24, Apollos is described as “eloquent” in which could mean he was well versed in the use of rhetoric (Witherington 130). His methodology may have reinforced or reignited a wide scope of cultural values and assumptions (Witherington 86).

Later, Paul admonishes the Corinthians not to exceed what is written. It is possible that the Corinthians received Sophistic leaders to deepen their wisdom. This caused a syncretism of Greek thought and Christian doctrine.

The Corinthians’ self appointment into different camps of Christian leaders reflects an immature understanding of leadership in Christ. In Christ we are all connected to Christ who is our leader. We are made one in Christ through his death and resurrection. Division is often a product of people trying to use human wisdom and influence to achieve higher levels of status for themselves.

Apparently some Corinthians may have linked baptism with personal discipleship. No is sure why Corinthians’ made this link or what this was all about. The confusion surrounding baptism may have been caused by misunderstanding of something Apollos taught. Apollos was rebaptized at one point because he had experienced John’s baptism but had yet to be baptized into Christ. Regardless of significance of who baptized who, it seems to have added to the problem of factions in Corinth.

Paul is adamant that he didn’t come to baptize, and that baptism was in the name of Christ. He tried to realign the focus of the disciple from the baptizer to the name of the person they are baptized in. Paul’s words in verse 13 “Is Christ divided” is another attempt to bring the Corinthian focus off of themselves and their human idols.

Gospel and Rhetoric 1:18-20

According to Paul, it would be futile to rely predominately on human persuasion to enlighten people concerning spiritual truth. God decided well beforehand that humanity would never be able to discover Him through their thoughts. The only way around this is to preach the gospel and expect God to make a divine intervention. If we choose the route of human persuasion, we throw a wrench into the whole process.

Paul declares that he did not come to make his own disciples but to bring the message of Christ (1Cor 1:17). He chose not to rely on eloquent speech or rhetoric to convince the Corinthians of his message. If he did, then his confidence would have been in his own words, and in his own power to bring people to Christ.




For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?” (1Cor 1:18-20).

The message of Christ should not make sense to those God has yet to enlighten. This is illustrated in Jesus’ discussion with Matthew. Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” and to that Peter replied, “You are the Christ” Jesus then said “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonahl! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mat 16:17). Only the power of God can awaken people to the spiritual reality of the cross.

Another option in interpreting this section is to say that Paul decided not to use emotional manipulation. This line of thinking would conclude that honest forms of rhetoric would have been acceptable and people would come to accept the gospel message based on its content. I don’t believe this view properly takes into account Paul’s point about God’s desire to destroy the wisdom of the wise. There is something about the gospel, if presented properly, that should be difficult for the natural person to accept. When bringing the gospel to the lost, it is imperative that there is a reliance on the Holy Spirit.

The caveats of preaching the gospel illustrate the necessity to rely on the power of God and not the tools of human persuasion.

 

The futility of human wisdom

Humanity has always tried to find God through thinking. This endeavor has been futile. Eventually human wisdom leads people to serve their own selfish desires. Humanity becomes preoccupied with philosophies and systems of thought that seem profound and give a false sense of wisdom. When God’s wisdom is presented to those who follow these systems, it seems silly, irrelevant, or improbable.

Most Sophists were agnostic or atheistic but came to regard the concept of nature and subsequent natural law as the ordering influence on the world. For some, the line between the concept of God and the concept of nature was blurred. Wisdom was the tool used to determine or explore the issues of nature, custom, and life. It was thought that the divinity of things could be known through wisdom.




For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1Cor 1:21).

The gospel message didn’t suit the worldview of its first century hearers. There was nothing in the gospel message that would make a Greek person stand up and take notice. There is no discussion of nature or custom. It was sourced in a little known religion based in the armpit of the Roman Empire. It completely ignored the discussion of reality, and it didn’t offer any practical help in elevating one’s status in the world. How could the demise of a man sentenced to death on a cross help anyone attain a higher level of status in the world? The gospel would have seemed incredibly irrelevant to the average Greek.

The key in the whole discussion is not cultural relevance. It doesn’t matter how culturally relevant you or your message are because no amount of repackaging can over come overcome the spiritual blindness of the human condition (2Cor 4:4). With our human minds, we cannot comprehend the deep wisdom of God that is found in Christ:




For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1Cor 1:22-25).

For those in Christ, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. God has enabled some people to see the deep wisdom in what appears be foolishness (2Cor 3:16). The spiritual blindness is removed.

The power of human wisdom leads people into futility. Those in Christ walk in divine wisdom and power which enables them to know God.

Status in Christ (1:26-31)
The Corinthians once pursued status in a world where most of them were looked down upon. Paul tried to convince them that the pursuit wisdom is futile because God has chosen to empower them, the undervalued people of the world:




“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are” (1Cor 1:26-28).

The Sophists held certain things in life in high esteem. Being wise, powerful and well born were the marks of virtuous person (Winter Philo and Paul, 193). Paul directly challenges each of these. God has chosen the foolish, the weak and the lowly to shame the advantaged. Clearly God has a very different value system and has a heart for disadvantaged in this world.

The value system of the Sophists is futile because it is built on human wisdom. The pursuit of status will bring a certain level of success in this world but it is useless in God’s eyes. Influence and status may bring wealth and fame. It may provide opportunity to indulge in the desires of the flesh. It will never satisfy the deep inner needs of the human condition. These needs are life, Godly wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption:




so that no one can boast in his presence. He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1Cor 1:29-31).

Paul pushes the Corinthians to adopt kingdom values instead of Christianizing Greek values. They transferred their ideas about leadership, status, and influence from a civic context to a church context this resulted in disunity and strife. The values are incompatible.

In Christ, God’s power supplies our needs in a way that human wisdom and influence cannot. Why pursue the markers of success in a value system that is antithetical to God’s? In this system, the Corinthians were already disadvantaged. Not many of them were considered wise, strong or well born. They may have felt like they were accomplishing something jostling for power and influence in the church. Unfortunately it would have seemed silly to those from the outside.

One of the most common tactics the Sophists used to prove their virtue was boasting. If one could speak eloquently about his or her own worthiness it provided an opportunity to elevate one’s status in society. Another common form of boasting would be to boast about the camp they are in. Sophists’ disciples would boast about the superiority of their teacher. This boasting resulted in public strife and sometimes even physical violence. The Corinthians seemed to have continued on the tradition of boasting about themselves and the leader they had aligned themselves with.

If no one came to know God through wisdom, and God is no respecter of rank or class, who then would have the right to boast of themselves? If Christ is our wisdom how we claim to be better than one another?

The use of human persuasion and boasting yields results. It can give people what they value but it has some nasty side effects. It will trick us into pursuing success in a system that holds to values which starkly contrast God’s. Instead, we are called to receive the power of God in Christ which supplies all that we need.

Faith in the power of God (1Cor 2:1-5)

In the first five verses of chapter two, Paul illustrates the contrast between human persuasion and the power of God. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the circumstances surrounding their conversion. Paul did not employ the rhetorical tools they would have been familiar with. There was very little about the messenger or message what would have swayed the Corinthians. They came to understand the truth because God testified to the truth through a demonstration of His divine power:





And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you accept Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1Cor 2:1-5).

Paul uses their common history as an object lesson. Everything about the situation contrasts the typical entry of a Sophist into a city. It’s a natural progression from his admonition about boasting in Chapter 1 verse 21. He aims to demonstrate how God worked through a weak vessel and he implies that even he has no right to boast.

Paul demonstrates the theology he expounded on earlier in the letter. The word of the cross is foolishness. In this case, the messenger appeared weak. Despite these things, dramatic things happened.

For the Corinthians, power came from influence and authority. Paul’s admission of weakness would have negatively influenced the Corinthians view of his authority (Witherington 143). The Corinthians strongly linked strength to authority.

In the Corinthians eyes there was nothing about Paul or his message that would have normally persuaded them. In order to persuade someone, the debater has to have a convincing ethos, pathos and apodexis.

 

Ethos: The character of the speaker

Pathos: Ability to speak to the emotions of the hearer

Apodexis: A clear and convincing proof

If any one of these elements were missing, it would have been glaringly obvious and would have garnered much criticism (Winter After Paul, 35). Paul reminds the Corinthians that each of these rhetorical elements were weak when he first came (Witherington 125).

Paul’s Ethos: “I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling”

Paul’s Pathos: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”

Paul’s Apodexis: “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom”

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica closely mirrors what happened in Corinth. We see how Paul came with a simple message. In his letter to Thessalonians we see a different perspective on situation. Paul expands upon some his values and motivation behind his preaching the gospel:




For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you: It has not proven to be purposeless. But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition. For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness— nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, (1Thes 2:1-6).

 

In many ways Paul fleshes out his strategy which doesn’t seem to have changed much from Corinth to Thessalonica:

Faithfully preach the gospel entrusted to you

Go in with pure motives

Be honest

Don’t use flattery

Aim to please God not people

Don’t seek to profit financially from people

Don’t look for glory from the people you are with or the people elsewhere

Did Paul completely swear off the use of rhetorical form, the standard methodology for public speaking? I don’t think so. Different speakers had different ethics and methods in their oratory (Witherington 124). Some tried to communicate clearly reasoning honestly and opening with their hearers. Others used any means necessary to win the debate regardless if the position was weak or strong. These kinds of debates would appeal primarily to the emotions of the hearer. Shallow forms of rhetoric are dishonest and are certainly unworthy of use.

The key isn’t what form you use, but that there is an inherent reliance on the power of God. This is done by preaching the gospel as it is.

1Corinthians is written in a rhetorical style. This is enough evidence in itself to suggest Paul hadn’t sworn off the normal conventions of communication in his day. I believe he saw a distinction between using eloquence to persuade and communicating in an honest and effective manner. It appears that Apollos was well versed in rhetoric. There is no mention of Paul having an issue with this (Witherington 130).

It may be difficult to come up with a formula that would determine whether a certain technique would empty the gospel message of its power. I believe that Paul would be just as concerned with the motives behind preaching as with the methodology. The picture we get from the letter to Thessalonica indicates that Paul highly valued pure motives.

What the speaker aims to accomplish is a determining factor in whether God demonstrate himself in Spirit and in power. The Sophists taught about truth but often their real agenda was personal glory. Preaching the gospel should be free from the taint of selfish ambition. Paul’s words “For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor 2:2) seem to indicate that Paul did no boasting himself. If he wanted to promote himself he likely would have.

The faith of the speaker was likely a component factor. Paul had faith in the power of God, and not in his own ability to persuade. This gave him the courage to go into Corinth. For the gospel message to be endowed with power, it should be spoken by a messenger who has faith in that power.

Paul preached a simple message. He kept the conversation to Christ and him crucified. This was an act of faith. It is another example of how Paul relied on divine intervention instead of his own ability. By limiting what he talked about, he intentionally handicapped his personal ability to persuade the Corinthians.

In verse 5 Paul brings things to the heart of Christianity. Those who follow Christ should come to faith in the power of God, not in human wisdom.

For the average Greek, wisdom combined with rank and status were the things you could put your hope into. They brought tangible gain. Elevated status brought more wealth and prestige. It allowed one to indulge in all the pleasures available to human kind. It meant influence and power. With human wisdom, there are tangible results you can bank on.

Faith that rests on the power of God is a completely different animal. The power of God is not human power. It can not be harnessed. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be incorporated in to a life plan. It certainly will not guarantee any tangible gain. The influence it brings is God’s influence. One cannot adopt it and use it for personal gain.

I believe that Paul was very careful using the phrase “power of God” rather than just God. Greek culture was not unlike our own in which we have God defined in many different ways. Paul is clearly establishing that those in Christ are called to depend on the divine influence of God, not just the idea of God or the forgiveness of or the theology of God. Following Christ is far deeper and far more life changing than a dead religion of words and rituals.

The Sophists recognized the flaws of human interpretation. The Sophists correctly taught that perception is influenced by the language, customs, history and bias of the perceiver. In a world where truth is clouded because of inherent flaws of communication and human interpretation, how can anyone know truth? What stands as the immovable absolute in a relative world? It is not the words of people, for even words from God by themselves will be misinterpreted. But the direct intervention of God in a personal and revelatory way has a way of delivering truth like no other. God’s way of imparting truth sidesteps the flaws inherent in human perception.

In a world where eloquence and rhetoric can make a weak argument seem strong only the revelation of God’s Spirit and power can go unchallenged.

Paul reminded the Corinthians to consider their own journey of faith. It wasn’t anything they did or anything that Paul did that brought them to faith in Christ. It was an act of God that broke through the hazy cloud of human perception. God demonstrated himself unmistakably. God’s method of imparting truth is far more effective than the human search for wisdom. Why go back to human wisdom, when divine wisdom and knowledge is available to all who are in Christ?

Paul contrasted human wisdom with the power of God by reminding the Corinthians what happened when he first came. His presence and his message would have been worthless and futile if it weren’t for the intervention of God. Paul demonstrated how simple trust in God yields great spiritual fruit.

Spiritual Wisdom (1Cor 2:6-16)

In the rest of chapter 2 Paul answers some unspoken questions. Is there any room for wisdom? What is God’s wisdom? What is the difference between God’s wisdom and human wisdom?




Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ (1Cor 2:6-16)

God’s wisdom exists but it has been hidden from humanity. God has revealed this wisdom to some and it gets imparted from one person to another. This wisdom is taught to those who have reached maturity in Christ. This wisdom is taught by words, but discerned by the Spirit. This conveniently deals with the relativistic objection that words are incapable of conveying divine truth.

God’s wisdom is revealed and imparted by the power of the Holy Spirit. Human intuition alone cannot know the thoughts of God because only the Spirit of God knows these things. Therefore it is impossible for humans to understand God without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This is a clear implication that that divine truth should not be communicated using the tools of rhetoric and persuasion (Bruce 40).

Deep wisdom is not restricted to the specialist but is given to spiritual people who discern all things yet are “understood” by no one. Other translations render the same word “judged”. I believe Paul is saying the wise in the Christian community do not put themselves up for evaluation so they can gather a following or gain prestige or status. Followers don’t size up which leader they wish to choose to follow as if Christian leadership were a competition.

In this section, Paul illustrates another contrast between Sophistic values and kingdom values. In one view, wisdom is found through learning and in particular, learning from a very expensive specialist using rhetorical power. In another view, people are still involved but wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Paul challenges Corinthians values (1Cor 3:1-4)

Paul calls the Corinthians on their erroneous thinking. They are behaving like ordinary people, like those in secular world they left behind, like anyone else in Corinth (Winter After Paul, 40). In doing this they have fostered division, jealousy and strife:




So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like ordinary people? For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not typical people (1Cor 3:1-4)?

There is something profoundly different from the way God’s kingdom works and the way the culture around us operates.

Leadership (1Cor 3:5-15)

For Paul, leadership is not the ability to influence others in order to elevate oneself to a higher level of status. God’s leaders are servants. God’s servants are called to be faithful and to work together as fellow servants in building up Christ’s body. Considering one’s own status and the pursuit of merit is futile. God alone will judge the worthiness of each leader’s work according to the lasting change he or she brought about in the lives of others.




What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are united, but each will receive his reward according to his work (1Cor 3:5-8).

One of the main goals of those trained to be Sophists is leadership. City government and other public institutions elected their leaders. Leadership offered status and prestige. Paul told the Corinthians that the leaders they began to align themselves with were nothing but servants. Servants that don’t count for anything because it is the power of God that causes growth!

Many people crossing over from one religion or philosophy to another would expect that the rules surrounding leadership wouldn’t change. The Corinthians seem to be no exception. However in God’s kingdom, leadership is completely different. Leadership is not a means to an end. It is not a ladder of success. If anything it is a let down, a drop in the rung of status and prestige. It is servanthood.

What is Paul? What is Apollos? They are just servants and fellow workers. On the ladder of status and prestige, Christian leadership counts for nothing.

In verse 1Cor 3:9, Paul goes on to declare that he and the other apostles are an equal level as the Corinthians. Both workers and those being built up are on equal footing. Everyone in this scenario belongs to God. Disciples do not belong to their teachers.

The master measuring stick for success is not elevated levels of status or prestige, but the lives that have been built up. It isn’t the accomplishments or the character of the leader that reflects of success. It is the character of the people they serve. The reward the leader receives is not a tangible temporal one but one granted by God in the end:




“We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1Cor 3:9-15).

The contrast between the gold, silver and precious stones and wood, hay and straw is their ability to withstand fire. In what concrete way can we describe the difference? Later on in Paul’s life he wrote that all people were enslaved to sin and it was only submission to the work of the cross that brought about real lasting freedom. Assuming Paul believed this when he wrote to the Corinthians, we must conclude that “fire proof” work must be life change empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with Paul’s point “God gives the growth” even though people are involved in the process.

Paul finishes this theme with another radical notion. He tells the Corinthians that everything belongs to them. This seems to be addressing part of the division. In 1Cor 3:4 we see that the factions in Corinth were doing more than declaring their allegiance, they were saying that they belonged to Paul or Apollos (Winter Philo and Paul, 173). This is typical of the Sophist’s disciples.

Servant leadership is only accomplished by relying on the power of God. If we depend on human wisdom, then we must elevate our status to increase the level of influence we have over people. The desire for status leads to boasting and ultimately division. By counting ourselves as nothing but fellow workers and acting in faith that God causes growth real permanent change will happen.

Discerning Leaders

In Chapter 4 we see Paul reiterating the apostles’ position in the body of Christ. The Corinthians had judged Paul based on his skills as an orator (Witherington 137), probably in comparison to Apollos. Paul’s lack of presence and eloquence was deliberate. He intentionally did what the Corinthians did not expect (Witherington 137). Paul responds to Corinthian criticism be declaring that apostles are just servants and stewards of the mysteries of God. The metaphor of the steward is somewhat lost in translation. A steward in this case was a slave who ran the affairs of an estate or house (Witherington 138). This metaphor places the leaders at an equal level of status as everyone else. We are all slaves with one master:




People should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will1 bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? Already you are satisfied! Already you are rich! You have become kings without us! I wish you had become kings so that we could reign with you! For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored! To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads. We do hard work, toiling with our own hands. When we are verbally abused, we respond with a blessing, when persecuted, we endure, when people lie about us, we answer in a friendly manner. We are the world’s dirt and scum, even now.

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children. For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1Cor 4:1-15).

In an almost taunting rant, Paul proclaims that he really doesn’t care what they think of Him. He isn’t even concerned about himself. He tells them not to judge him because it doesn’t matter what they think of him. He is not interested in elevating his status in their eyes. In the end, God is the one who examines the hidden motives of people and whether they are worthy of glory or shame.

Again we see the contrast between human wisdom and God’s power. It is impossible for human wisdom to correctly discern the worth of leader. This is true in examining one’s self as well as others. Worth is determined by a number of factors. The two he mentions are the hidden things that people do as well as the motives they have for doing such things. It is improbable that anyone could really understand if someone is truly worthy of praise. The power of God can, but he has decided to do this when the Lord returns. God becomes the ultimate, the only and the final authority on status (Witherington 140).

In 4:7 Paul questions the Corinthians:




“For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive. But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1Cor 4:7)

The wisdom of humanity is learned. The works of the power of God are received. Paul is challenging the Corinthians on their boasting and their arrogance. They did nothing to earn the level of status and prestige that have assumed for themselves. Paul appeals them to find anyone who truly thinks they are superior. If they did nothing to get what they have, as individuals and as a church, what right to they have to think higher of themselves?

Later Paul says “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1). As long as we base our self worth on what we know, we will continually find ourselves struggling with our own pride and arrogance. As long as we ally ourselves with the divine intervention of God and recognize it has such our self assessments will be less tainted by pride.

From verse 8 to 13 Paul continues in this vein. He contrasts the life and the strivings of the Corinthians to those of himself and his fellow apostles. The Corinthians value strength, wealth, wisdom, honor and status. The apostles are weak, poor, and foolish, without honor and status. Even though the apostles are the opposite of what the Corinthians value, they bless when reviled, endure when persecuted, conciliate when slandered, and have become the scum of the earth. It should seem readily apparent that there is something inside the apostles that is enabling them to persevere in the face of humiliating circumstances and criticism. Despite the fact that they seem so weak and foolish, they are able to endure. This is another contrast between human wisdom and the power of God.

Paul’s admission of his own suffering and labours sharply contrasted the values of that day. Manual labour was considered demeaning, especially for a teacher or educator (Witherington 144).

Paul is now about to come to the close of his first big issue in the letter: the terrible folly of pursuing human wisdom and influence through rhetoric. He makes what seems to be a snide remark about the people that have taught them.

In verse 4:15 Paul says “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers…”

The word translated tutors has no real English equivalent as it refers to the common practice among wealthy families. They had a slave boy watch over their son.(Witherington,147) This slave boy was less of a tutor and more of guardian under the bidding of the parents. Accordingly the slave boy would follow the son around everywhere including school to make sure the son did nothing out of line. It could be that Paul is throwing an insult at the Sophists by comparing them to these slave boy guardians which would have been regarded a huge annoyance.

Before Paul moves on to addressing other vital issues in Corinth, he seems to sum up his first major point in addressing the Corinthian division.




“Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power”

(1Cor 4:18-21).

At first glance, this statement seems more of a warning to these arrogant people. I believe it is more. This is Paul’s first mention of the word kingdom in this letter. This opens the context of the content to a very broad spectrum just as it is in verse 4 when Paul reminds the Corinthians how they are enriched “in Him”. Following the rhetorical division of the letter, it is in the last paragraph of the first argument.

The kingdom of God is not demonstrated by words, it is demonstrated by divine power. It’s not about wisdom. It isn’t about influence. It isn’t about all the things that wisdom and influence can bring about, like status and prestige. The kingdom of God is demonstrated by tangible evidence of God’s divine power working in and through a minister of Christ.

The first 4 chapters of this book are a contrast between true wisdom, leadership and evaluation and the false wisdom, leadership and evaluation of Corinthians (Witherington 148).

The evangelical church is a child of two parents. On one side, many have come to faith in Christ and rely on Him and his divine power. On the other, we have adopted and employed the use of human persuasion to bolster the status and prestige of ourselves and our ministries.

Faith and the gospel

Throughout each aspect of the Christian life there must be the intangible, uncontrollable divine influence of God. Our unity as the body of Christ comes from relying on the knowledge and wisdom that we find in Christ. Our gospel message must be free from manipulation and other human “enhancements”. In Christ we find our wisdom and power. Faith must go beyond the conviction that certain principles are true in to reliance on the divine power of God. The wisdom and knowledge passed in discipleship must be sourced by the Holy Spirit and discerned about the Holy Spirit. Leaders in God’s kingdom are servants who have forsaken the quest for status in society. It is God that examines and judges those who seek to serve Him.

Following Christ goes beyond intellectual assent to an assortment of principles pulled from the Bible. In our day, faith has been redefined to mean a mere belief, an acceptance of certain theology or membership in a church. We speak of the power of prayer and have campaigns proclaiming Christ’s “power to change” (Power to Change) but we rely on that power very little. Our lives and organizations have been reduced to their component parts, separated and analyzed. In many circles, the Christian life has become a formula, a set of biblical principles to be employed to elevate one’s spiritual status. We have very little faith in the power of God because we can’t write Him in to the formula.

George Barna challenges the church by giving us strong statistical evidence that those in the church behave much the same way as people outside the church (Barna). If the average Christian is no different can we be sure we haven’t emptied the gospel of its power? Jesus’ words “a good tree bears good fruit” should be ominous to us (Mat 7:17). If we aren’t bearing good fruit are we a good tree?

The adoption of modern rationalism by fundamentalist evangelicals was a clear surrender of biblical faith. The object of faith shifted from a personal, relational, life changing God to a narrow rational interpretation of the biblical text. In other words, many evangelicals have faith in the words of people and not in the power of God. The liberals arrive at the same destination by a different route.

Today the church must stop altering their theology so that it fits better with their experience. Jesus has called us to be salt and light. These two metaphors demonstrate that the church, regardless of size or circumstances, must have a greater influence on society than society has on it. Darkness doesn’t overpower light. Darkness is the absence of light. Salt without saltiness is useless. Like salt, if the church doesn’t preserve or flavour the world it is useless. If according to Paul the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and a decreasing amount of people are experiencing life changing salvatio

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New Church plant on the way!?

New church plant on the way!?


Yesterday I met with some friends and we talked about a church plant in Saskatoon.  Don’t have much for details.  It will grow to be bigger than a house church.  It will be missional.  We are still waiting for a go ahead from some folks.  We find out soon!  I’ll keep you posted.

As many of you will remember I was planning a house church plant this time last year.  It only lasted until the new year.  Some lessons I learned about that experience.  Some of these items were things I think we did wrong and some were things that we did right.

A church needs leaders. 
Don’t get in to heated theological battles with church members on your blog
Never be afraid to face conflict head on with consideration and sensitivity.
Eating together is a great way to put people at ease
Instant Messaging can be a good way to connect with people
It is very possible to worship without music
Give the church a name or it becomes “so and so’s church”
Liberals are way smarter than NDPers 🙂
Unity against the establishment is a pretty poor basis for a church
If you want to be missional, you have to do it from the start

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The college has broadband!

The college has broadband!


This week the college finally hooked up to broadband.  We are using LincSat and DirecWay equipment.  It is a two-way satellite system that provides some pretty impressive download pseeds.  I’ve downloaded files at over 1.3 Mbps which is pretty comparable to residential dsl or cable.  The only down side is the latency.  Because all that data has to travel through the air to a satellite and back it makes for about a 1/2 second pause on every request.  It doesn’t seem snappy like dsl or cable but it provides us a consistent connection.  It makes it much nicer for downloading larger files.  I wish we set this up a year ago. 

I don’t like the equipment setup.  I had expected some basic firewall/router options that would be easier to configure.  No such luck.  There isn’t much I can configure on this thing.  I ended up putting our old firewall in behind it just so I can maintain  more control. 

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Women in Ministry Leadership Study Conference

Women in Ministry Leadership Study Conference


My friend Doug Heidebrecht will be leading a conference sponsored by my denomination (Mennonite Brethren) on the role of women in church leadership.  If you are interested in hearing a pretty good scholar tackle some of the tough biblical verses on women in church leadership you should come check it out.  The conference itself is geared towards people in the denomination but I’m sure anyone interested in learning about this important issue is welcome.  At this point the denomination only has one restriction on women.  They are restricted from the role of senior pastor.  The study conference is intended to examine the biblical texts and the interpretive approach of our denomination. 

All those who are interested in the topic that aren’t part of the denomination let me know.  The event will be held at West Portal Church in Saskatoon, Sask.  The cost is $12 advance, $15 at the door and it includes lunch.

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Do we make things too complicated?

Do we make things too complicated?


On the camping trip I really connected with Dave and Mike.  It was another experience which I could sit back and say, “yeah, THAT was church”.  As I think back to many of the powerful life changing times I’ve encountered there are some common threads.

  • People were real and vulnerable
  • We took the time to listen and care for each other
  • We carefully considered the words of scripture, prominent authors, and the still small voice of God
  • We were together because we wanted to be
  • We pray

Any church structure that allows this to happen with minimum hassle will work. 

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I'm trying to blog, I really am

I’m trying to blog, I really am


I’ve had a hard time articulating my thoughts.  It feels like my life is in flux and just a little bit out of control.  I think I’ll feel better once I clear up a handful of loose ends that have been dominating my mind.  I wish my vacation wasn’t over.

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