26 January 2012

I've Moved

Digitally, at least. I'm over at WordPress now because they seem to have a more robust feature set that should make my blogging life a bit easier. I've ported over everything here, but what is here will stay here until....its not here anymore.

Anyway, As You Go is now at cpmoellering.wordpress.com

Grace & peace.

19 January 2012


“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven."
(Matthew 23:9)

Anyone who has discussed the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Orthodox churches for about 30 seconds or more, with (or as) a low church protestant, has had this verse come up in conversation. These aforementioned traditions often refer to their priests as “father,” of course. To do so, is obviously a violation of Jesus’ clear teaching in the verse, right?

Well, if that’s the case, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Stephen, Paul, James and even Jesus himself violated this “clear teaching.” Let us back up, take a deep breath, and actually look at what the New Testament tells us about the use of the title “father.”

First, let’s expand the passage we’re looking at from a single verse to the opening paragraph of Matthew 23:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12 ESV)

Verse 12 seems to me to be the obvious “key verse” of this paragraph. Jesus is speaking against the pride of the scribes and Pharisees. In the midst of this teaching, he mentions three titles; “rabbi”, “father” and “instructor”.

Let’s look at these three words in a bit of detail. The first, “rabbi,” is a straight transliteration of the Greek, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew. Literally translated, it means “my great one.” It was often used for the founder or leader of a rabbinical school in Jesus’ day.1

Rabbi then, much like today, was a title for a Jewish religious teacher. The office of rabbi originated in the inter-testamental period as those who sought to teach and codify the Torah for the Jewish people. As this group became more formalized, it also became more exclusive, ritualized and hierarchical. Less learned rabbis were to stand when a more learned rabbi would enter the room, for example.

The second term, “father,” is our English translation of the Greek πατήρ (pater). It is used over 400 times in the New Testament. A majority of these usages are in reference to God, but about 150 are not referring to our heavenly Father. We will return to look at these momentarily.

Also worth noting, it is not that the biblical authors were without another option. The term γενναο (gennao) is used in Matthew’s genealogy and means “begeter” or “biological father.”

The third term, “instructor,” (καθηγητής) occurs only here in the New Testament. It stands in contrast to the more commonly used term for teacher, which appears about 50 times. I was unable to find any real analysis of this term.

So, back to “father.” In the Gospels, the word is used in/of:

· Referring to the 5th commandment.2
· Teaching on marriage (a man shall leave his father and mother…)3
· Earthly fathers4
· David5
· Ancestors6
· Abraham7
· Jacob.8

In Acts it is used repeatedly as a term to refer to ancestors.9 Of more interest, is Acts 7:2 where Stephen uses it as an honorific title. “And Stephen said: ‘Brothers and fathers, hear me…’” Paul used it in the same manner in chapter 22. “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” (Acts 22:1).

In Paul’s writings, we see him using it of Abraham10, the patriarchs11, ancestors12, in teaching on marriage13 and referring to the 5th commandment14. Most interestingly, for our discussion here, is his use of father in 1 Corinthians 4:14-16.

“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

This is the most “glaring” verse that seems to “contradict” Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23:9. Is Paul doing that which Jesus said not to do? Another interesting note is I couldn’t find any commentaries that took issue with Paul’s use of “father” in this fashion.15

Let us consider a few other verses in Paul’s epistles before we seek to synthesize an answer to our quandary.

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:3-9)

Paul is addressing the same issue in 1 Corinthians that Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23—pride and division. The Pharisees’ pride in their position and in their various schools was unhealthy. The Corinthians divisions and squabbles over which “pastor” was the one they “followed” also brought grief to Paul. Paul addressed the issue by calling attention to the common source of grace and the Gospel: Jesus. Paul emphasized that they were “all on the same team.”

Jesus (and the Apostles) freely used the term “father” in numerous ways. But, God is not jealous of conduits, only competition. What I mean is, referring to “father Abraham,” as the scripture does, is not a “violation” of Matthew 23:9. Obviously, Abraham is the father of the Jews, and by spiritual extension, of all who believe in God. Because Abraham is in our "faith lineage," it is appropriate to refer to him as father Abraham.

Paul can call himself the spiritual "father" of the Corinthians because that is what he is. He was the one used to point them to the Heavenly Father. He was the one used of God to instruct and lead them. In that local manifestation of the church, that “family,” he was the head. In the same way that in a biological family, the father is the head. He is still subservient to God. There is no competition. The human father is entrusted with responsibility for his family, and to God for the same.

So it is with a priest. We are given authority from God to teach the word of God and to shepherd his flock. We are held accountable for doing so. To refer to us as “father” is merely one, of many terms, that are appropriate pictures of this relationship. It should be obvious that any term can be a source of pride and clung to in an unhealthy way.

It has been said that, “Anyone who seeks an office in the church is not worthy of it.” There is some kernel of truth to that. If we look to the position because it is a position, we are motivated by pride and a desire for “power.” If we accept a position because it is where God has placed us, we are in a better position to serve. (Though not free of the dangers of pride and power!)

I dare say, that we are in more danger of violating these scriptural teachings by the way we cling to various teachers today. How often do we identify with _______ (name your best-selling author/teacher/pastor) instead of with Christ? How often do we cling to our spiritual tradition as though it were the main thing?

Our distinctions are not insignificant. I do not want to suggest that. I am not advocating for “big tent Christianity” where we lower the bar to such a degree that everyone who does not explicitly deny God is “in.” However, our distinctions should always be secondary. Whether I am Catholic or Protestant. Whether I am clergy or lay. Our pursuit should be of God, not of our own labels.

I look at the labels of the pastoral office the same way I look at my rank in the military. My military rank means that those of lower rank are required to render a salute when we pass each other out of doors. Honestly, it would be easier for all concerned if this were not the case. I am obliged to return each salute.

I do not take offense when a Soldier fails to salute me. It is not a personal affront to me because I try to keep my rank in proper perspective. I do feel a bit of sorrow when I am not afforded the prescribed courtesy, not on account of my pride, but on account of the lack of pride, discipline, or respect exhibited by the other Soldier. It is more telling of the state of his attitude than of the state of my position.

A similar comparison can be made in relation to clerical titles. Father, pastor, reverend…the variety is greater than within the military example. If you choose to address me with one of those, it shows me that you have respect for the office that I fill. It shows me that you have an understanding of the traditions of the church. Rightly received by me, it is a reminder of the responsibility that I have accepted for the nurture and care of you in the Lord.

Call me father all you want. I need the reminder, not that you are a child “under” me, but that I am called to emulate the Father of us both.

1 Some commentators contend that there was a three-fold “level” of the term, “rab,” “rabbi” and “rabboni.” From a linguistic standpoint, this seems doubtful, especially since we do see the later applied to Jesus in John 20:16, though it is explained by John as being the Aramaic version of “rabbi.”
2 Matthew 5:4-6, 19:19, Mark 7:10, 10:19, Luke 18:20
3 Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7
4 Most common usage after referring to God by this term.
5 Mark 11:10, Luke 1:32
6 Luke 1:55, 1:72, 6:23, 11:47, John 4:20, 6:31, 6:49, 58, 72
7 Luke 1:73, 3:8, 16:24, John 8:39, 53
8 John 4:12
9 As a substitutionary term for ancestors is the most common use in Acts.
10 Romans 4:16
11 Romans 9:5, 15:8
12 Romans 11:28, 1 Corinthians 10:1
13 Ephesians 5:31
14 Ephesians 6:2
15 Nor did it show up on any Internet discussion site that was taking issue with Catholic priests being referred to as father.

13 December 2011

Guest Writer: G.K. Chesterton

I have quite literally fallen in love with G.K. Chesterton as a writer this year. His keenness of insight and turn of phrase are fantastic. He was one of the great minds of the early 20th century and arguably deserves a place next to C.S. Lewis as one of the great gifts of England to the last century.

I read this short piece, from his collection of essays, All Things Considered, this morning and thought it fantastic. It is not particularly theological, and yet, as with all things Chesterton I have discovered, his faith is woven well into it. Enjoy.

The Fallacy of Success

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover, the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation--how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.

It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, the weakest go to the wall." That is the kind of thing the book would say, and very useful it would be, no doubt, if read out in a low and tense voice to a young man just about to take the high jump. Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run--"In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game. You must have grit and snap and go in to win. The days of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any game where two are playing if one does not win the other will." It is all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of the game. Beyond the rules of the game it is all a question either of talent or dishonesty; and I will undertake to provide either one or the other--which, it is not for me to say.

Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example. There is an article called "The Instinct that Makes People Rich." It is decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich; the only "instinct" I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as "the sin of avarice." That, however, is beside the present point. I wish to quote the following exquisite paragraphs as a piece of typical advice as to how to succeed. It is so practical; it leaves so little doubt about what should be our next step--"The name of Vanderbilt is synonymous with wealth gained by modern enterprise. 'Cornelius,' the founder of the family, was the first of the great American magnates of commerce. He started as the son of a poor farmer; he ended as a millionaire twenty times over."

"He had the money-making instinct. He seized his opportunities, the opportunities that were given by the application of the steam-engine to ocean traffic, and by the birth of railway locomotion in the wealthy but undeveloped United States of America, and consequently he amassed an immense fortune.

"Now it is, of course, obvious that we cannot all follow exactly in the footsteps of this great railway monarch. The precise opportunities that fell to him do not occur to us. Circumstances have changed. But, although this is so, still, in our own sphere and in our own circumstances, we can follow his general methods; we can seize those opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance of attaining riches."

In such strange utterances we see quite clearly what is really at the bottom of all these articles and books. It is not mere business; it is not even mere cynicism. It is mysticism; the horrible mysticism of money. The writer of that passage did not really have the remotest notion of how Vanderbilt made his money, or of how anybody else is to make his. He does, indeed, conclude his remarks by advocating some scheme; but it has nothing in the world to do with Vanderbilt. He merely wished to prostrate himself before the mystery of a millionaire. For when we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility. Thus, for instance, when a man is in love with a woman he takes special pleasure in the fact that a woman is unreasonable. Thus, again, the very pious poet, celebrating his Creator, takes pleasure in saying that God moves in a mysterious way. Now, the writer of the paragraph which I have quoted does not seem to have had anything to do with a god, and I should not think (judging by his extreme unpracticality) that he had ever been really in love with a woman. But the thing he does worship--Vanderbilt--he treats in exactly this mystical manner. He really revels in the fact his deity Vanderbilt is keeping a secret from him. And it fills his soul with a sort of transport of cunning, an ecstasy of priestcraft, that he should pretend to be telling to the multitude that terrible secret which he does not know.

Speaking about the instinct that makes people rich, the same writer remarks---

"In olden days its existence was fully understood. The Greeks enshrined it in the story of Midas, of the 'Golden Touch.' Here was a man who turned everything he laid his hands upon into gold. His life was a progress amidst riches. Out of everything that came in his way he created the precious metal. 'A foolish legend,' said the wiseacres of the Victorian age. 'A truth,' say we of to-day. We all know of such men. We are ever meeting or reading about such persons who turn everything they touch into gold. Success dogs their very footsteps. Their life's pathway leads unerringly upwards. They cannot fail."

Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did. His path did not lead unerringly upward. He starved because whenever he touched a biscuit or a ham sandwich it turned to gold. That was the whole point of the story, though the writer has to suppress it delicately, writing so near to a portrait of Lord Rothschild. The old fables of mankind are, indeed, unfathomably wise; but we must not have them expurgated in the interests of Mr. Vanderbilt. We must not have King Midas represented as an example of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had the ears of an ass. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons) he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold; but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter and whisper of the reeds.

At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?

06 December 2011

Gluttony, the Forgotten Sin

Gary Thomas, one of my favorite authors, addresses a topic that has been bouncing around in my head for a while now in his blog. You can read his post here.

The issue being, the church tends to have its hobby-horse sins that it loves to "be against." However, gluttony is not one of them. Yet, there is a serious problem with it in our society and our churches. It is an issue of self-control and self-discipline.

The four times a quick searched pulled up "glutton" it is always paired with "drunkard." I've heard many more sermons on the latter than the former. (Deut 21:20, Prov 23:21, Matt 11:19, Luke 7:34)

05 December 2011

Servant, Continued.

This is calling out some great stuff.

Counter to Galli's Article Here's a quote:
But increasingly, this is not the mission of the church today. In a post-Christendom context, the metaphor of pastor as healer, chaplain, or curer of souls is inadequate to the task and literally killing the church. 
When did the mission change? I've seen new translations of the scriptures, I haven't seen many "updates." I heartily disagree with the second statement as well. In my early ministry in the church, I would have done much better had I been trained as and focused on being a healer, chaplain, or curer of souls" than living in my fantasies of being a leader. I never received much ire from having or not having a vision statement or a good organizational chart. There are a couple of "pastoral calls" I failed to make that I still regret to this day.

Almost 5 years ago Gordon MacDonald wrote this piece that I just found (linked in the above article.) This is insightful and it bears reading and re-reading.

And of course, internetmonk is picking up on it all as well here.

Want some quick, unscientific biblical basis for all this "service instead of leadership" stuff? A quick search of the ESV reveals the following hits "servant": 504, "leader": 23. Makes one wonder where we've gotten all this "leadership" material in the last 30 years, doesn't it?

Consider the words of Paul:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ESV emphasis added)

And again in Ephesians:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.(Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV)

Notice that the word leader does not appear in either passage. However there are some very pastoral qualities that Paul emphasizes.

This is a discussion that is long overdue. I pray that it will bear fruit in people's lives, not just static on the internet.

04 December 2011


A couple of days ago, Mark Galli posted this over at Christianity Today. Since then, at least 3 of my friends have linked to it and its been commented on here. They both bear reading. I've been saying this for a couple of years myself.

Leadership is an idol in the contemporary church.

I can't put it any clearer than that. It's not about building our own little kingdoms. It is about being servants in the Kingdom of God. It is not about seeking our glory, but God's glory. If we'd put down the latest "leadership"tome and pick up the New Testament, we would see that.

12 November 2011

Decline and Fall

Techno Mass in Swedish Lutheran Church

It is so predictable, I hesitate to comment on it. But this article encapsulates it, inadvertently, but concisely, toward the middle.
Over the past 10 years, membership in Sweden's Lutheran church has fallen 13 percent and attendance at regular Sunday services plunged 50 percent to 4.6 million visits last year, worrying the clergy.

The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.

In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.

Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress.

You will note, "progressive." Is a key word. "Happening or developing gradually or in stages." "A group favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas." These are two of the definitions my dictionary gives, and they are using it in these senses. "Progress" is defined as "movement toward a destination." Well, they certainly are making progress....are they going anyplace worth going?, that is the important question that no one seems to be asking.

Let me fill in the rest of the sequence of events on how this happens.
  • We want to be "smart" like all the other academics at the university.
  • We start accepting ideas of "higher textual criticism" and other theological innovations.
  • Because of this, we make the subtle (at first) shift from allowing scripture to be our judge to being the judge of scripture.
  • Once we're the judge, we start to question (condem) the parts we don't like.
  • Once we start editing, truth becomes subjective and we become the source of all authority.
  • Once we lose hold on the revealed truth, we have become just like the world. (Now we are just like most of the people at the university).
  • Once we are just like the world, there is nothing to attract anyone to us, because we are just like everywhere else.
  • Then we have start turning to the ways of the world--flash and sensationalism--to attract people to us.
All of this is progress. The same way there was "progress" in Israel and Judah in the Old Testament. Way to be biblical! I suppose as long as we are ignoring great chunks of scripture, we can assume God's reaction won't be the same this time....