The Nicodemus Objection

Over on Facebook, Pastor Rick wrote:

…if there was continuity in the constituting [of] God’s covenant people, Jesus would never have told Nicodemus that he must be born again. How dare Jesus be so pietistic as to tell a respected “covenant” member that he needs to be born again.

He echoes a question I once asked: why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision?

Someone pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

James Jordan puts it this way:

Nicodemus is brilliant. He says to Jesus, “You jest, surely. How many times have we been born again? the Flood, Sinai, Elijah, Cyrus. But it has never taken. You would have to back into mother’s womb and start over.”

“Yep,” says Jesus. “And watch me do it.”

Sure enough, Nicodemus is there when Jesus is buried back into mother’s womb. I’m certain Nicodemus knew Jesus would rise again, born anew from the soil. Maybe the disciples had doubts, but Nicodemus knew.

In union with Jesus’ resurrection we are all born anew from mother’s womb.

He also points out that John describes the tomb as a virgin:

19.41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

(Genesis 24.16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known.)

Put this together with Luke’s record of Jesus vs. Sadducees on resurrection where he says that one becomes a son of God by being a son of the resurrection, and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 about the “birth pangs” of death being unable to stop Jesus, the use of Psalm 2 (“today I have begotten you”) in the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus in Acts, the title “firstborn of the death,” Romans all over the place….

And then there is this from Biblical Horizons.

And this essay from Jordan’s “Trees and Thorns,” chapter 10.

Then Yahweh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
Continue reading “The Nicodemus Objection”

I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

Wright on Rome

Over at Christianity Today there is an article on Protestants who defect to Rome. Bishop N.T. Wright is quoted in the article, but his full quote is not provided. Here is his full quote:

a. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.

b. ‘Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological’? If you gave me that list and said ‘Where in the Christian world would you find that?’ I could easily and truthfully answer: (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie  Smith’s new book, and you’ll see; (ii) in much of the best of the  charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies; (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ; (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

c. Trent said both much more and much less than this. Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology; transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices; communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them; and eschatological?? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world. Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get  something actually done. In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer,  at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the  root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary  claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational,  communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical. The best RCs I know (some  of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would  strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they  have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one  side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…

d. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed  a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd. It reminds  me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take  Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in  his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of  other options. To say ‘wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome’ is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair.  Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick  from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

e. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen. Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.
Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and  some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying ‘you guys were right after all’ just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .

Aside from what may be an implicit endorsement of women’s ordination in there, that’s pretty good stuff! I particularly like his rejection of Mariolatry in Rome. Perhaps Rowan Williams should listen to Bishop Wright more.

Sacramental Faith

Writing in 1982, James Jordan gets to the heart of the difference between a catholic, Biblical approach to the sacraments and what the rest of “evangelicalism” has become:

…the sacraments are seen the same way: men are to make a decision, then be admitted to baptism (the Baptist view) or to the Eucharist (the Lutheran and Calvinistic view). The Bible, however, indicates that faith is presuppositional. The child is to be taught to believe from the beginning. It is not his initial decision which evidences his faith, but rather his perseverance to the end. He participates in the sacrament, in both its forms, from the beginning. The sacrament of God’s grace is not something he must attain by making a decision, walking an aisle, memorizing a catechism, or going through a rite of confirmation; but rather the sacrament of eating dinner with Jesus at His House is the presupposition of the child’s growth in grace.

Romanism and Orthodoxy

Steven Wedgeworth’s lectures on the subject are now available here. The subjects are:

“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”
“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”

Calvary Chapel Weirdness

A few weeks ago I listened in to the Calvary Chapel Network on the radio as I was driving around. Despite disagreeing with them on many things, I usually enjoy listening to them practice verse by verse exposition of the Bible. But on this day I heard a couple of weird things that tell me that maybe it’s been a long time since I paid attention to their preachers and what they think.

First, I heard a guy saying that being vegetarian would be the best diet for us. The context was talking about God’s law and how God wants the best for us. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, he reasoned that vegetarianism would be the highest form of diet for a Christian. I think he was basing this on Adam’s diet before the Fall or something. He wasn’t saying that you have to be vegetarian, but that it would be the best possible state if you could handle it. I found this bizarre and assumed the guy was in California somewhere.

Next, I heard another preacher say that he believes that when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit” they were born again. I find that to be wrong for a couple reasons:
[1] The Bible does not teach this.
[2] Entrance into the covenant people of God (Israel) was via circumcision. Of course I wouldn’t expect a Calvary Chapel guy to really agree with this, because they don’t baptize infants and have no good framework with which to understand circumcision.

This got me to thinking about circumcision and “getting in” to the Old Testament Church. Why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision? Someone helpfully pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

See this post for more on the topic.