Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Harding and Lipscomb -- joint photograph of the co-founders of the Nashville Bible School Posted by Picasa

New Book Annoucement

Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding is the title of a new release by Leafwood Press, a division of ACU Press. It is due out in May 2006.

Bobby Valentine and John Mark Hicks are the authors.

"Many assume that Churches of Christ views 1930-1960 were those of the major forefathers such as James A. Harding and David Lipscomb. We must therefore read this book, for as the result of the authors' detailed scrutiny of the writings of Lipscomb and Harding, we are soon disabused of our unwarranted illusions. These two forefathers were not simply polemicists. They were spiritual giants who heralded living in the face of the coming again of the Lord, trusting him for all of life's needs, walking in the Spirit, prayer, Scripture reading, peace keeping and more. The authors do an excellent job of elaborating on how Scripture and contemporary scholarship sustain the commitments of Lipscomb and Harding and challenge our own life before God and in his church."

Thomas H. Olbricht
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion, Pepperdine University.

Can we say anything good about 1906?

This book recovers a piece of forgotten history from 1906. Some of the finest examples of kingdom living to be found among Churches of Christ are found in the midst of that heartbreaking year of division. The “best” of Churches of Christ in 1906 is represented by the life, thought and practice of David Lipscomb (1831-1917) and James A. Harding (1848-1922), despite the fact that Lipscomb and Harding participated in the conditions which resulted in division.

Their kingdom theology and spirituality, we believe, provides the contemporary church with a way forward into the future. If Churches of Christ—and other parts of the Stone-Campbell Movement as well—would re-appropriate their kingdom themes and practices, we believe the church would more fully participate in the emerging kingdom of God which will one day fill the earth with divine righteousness.

Below is the Table of Contents.


1. Introducing a Spiritual Legacy: Foreigners at Home

Part A. Kingdom Dynamics: Divine Action

2. Shadows of the Second Coming: “Thy Kingdom Come”

3. God Still Works: Trusting God’s Providence

4. Holy Spirit: God’s Redemptive Presence in the World

Part B. Kingdom Spirituality: Four Means of Grace

5. Listening to God: Reading Scripture

6. Releasing the Oppressed: Fellowship as a Means of Grace

7. Communing with God: The Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Table

8. Crying for the Kingdom: The Privilege of Prayer

Part C. Kingdom Life: Free to Serve

9. The Prince of Peace: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom

10. No Creed But Christ: Freedom to Think and Speak

11. No More Shadows: Towards Cosmic Liberation


12. The Road Not Traveled: Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Zwingli Statue in Zurich Posted by Picasa

Sword Talk

Two swords are enough. Really? Not!

This enigmatic statement by Jesus in Luke 22:38 has created some stir in the history of Christian thought. Some have even allegorized it to mean that Christians carry two swords—the word of God (Scripture) and the state weaponry (real swords). I’m reminded of the statue of Zwingli in Zurich holding a Bible and a sword. As a result Jesus’ “it is enough” comment has been used to sanction not only self-defense but just war.

To read the text that way is to miss the point as widely as the disciples themselves did, and we are at least in a better narratival position to understand it than they were. After all, in the next few hours when a disciple draws his dagger and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus rebukes the disciples by redemptively healing the servant. The narrative rejects the use of the sword. The story of Jesus in the Garden returns good for evil and rejects returning evil for evil, which—of course—is consonant with Jesus’ own message in his ministry (cf. Luke 6:27). Jesus practices what he preaches. Amazing stuff, huh?

So, how are two swords “enough”? Enough for what? To defeat those who are coming to arrest Jesus? Jesus refused their use. Enough for the advancement of the kingdom against Rome? Hardly. But the disciples apparently thought it was for either self-defense or for the prosecution of the kingdom since when they saw the threat that Judas brought into the garden they asked, “Should we strike with our swords?” With perhaps some frustration in his voice, Jesus retorted “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51.)

Maybe we are going the wrong direction here. Maybe Jesus did not intend to say that “we have enough swords.” Or, if he did, perhaps there is a strong tinge of sarcasm here or perhaps frustration. Maybe Jesus means something like “Enough of that; no more sword talk” (The Message). Maybe Jesus intends the same meaning that Yahweh had when he said to Moses, “That is enough,” the matter is closed…discussion over (Deut. 3:26).

I feel like that with my teenagers sometimes. As we become more involved in a discussion they miss my meaning or they don’t have the maturity or experience to catch the point. And so I say something like, “discussion over…this is fruitless…let’s move on.”

So, perhaps Jesus was not really talking about swords at all. Perhaps he was using the “sword” to make a larger point. When the disciples took the exhortation to sell their cloaks and buy swords literally, Jesus says, “Enough of that; you guys don’t get it, do you?”

Jesus was contrasting the hospitality of their Galilean ministry with the hostility of their present circumstances. While in Galilee they could depend on the warm reception of the villages, here in Judea—indeed, in the next few moments—the disciples will encounter hostility. The situation has changed. Whereas before they needed neither purse nor sandals, now they need a sword instead of a cloak (a necessity for staying warm at night). The urgency of the contrast is startling. They will need a sword more than they need warmth. The point is not that the disciples need to literally secure a sword, but they need to realize the charged and changed atmosphere in which they now move.

They need to prepare themselves for a trial. Satan is about to test them, just as he is about to test Jesus himself. They should get ready to face the hostility. But Jesus does not mean to literally face it with a sword or a purse or a bag, but to prepare their hearts, to steady their faith and get ready for the trial they are all about to endure. Danger is in the air—secure a sword, be prepared for battle. But not a battle that wields a literal sword, but one that engages the Satanic influences that filled the air that night.

When the disciples took the reference to the “sword” literally, Jesus ends the discussion—perhaps a bit frustrated similar to his experience on the boat in Galilee which Mark narrates (a case where they took “yeast” literally to Jesus’ utter amazement, cf. Mark 8:14-21). One can almost hear Jesus again saying, “Do you still not understand?” as he leads his disciples to the garden where they will be tested…and fail.

Jesus is not interested in swords. He rejects the use of the sword. The one who lives by the sword dies by the sword. Jesus is interested in preparing his disciples for their test, their trial. They fail, but Jesus nevertheless prays for them, pursues them, and expects to again sit at table with them in his kingdom. They fail, but Jesus is gracious. They take up the sword, but Jesus forgives them. They flee, but Jesus still wants them. They ultimately return and Jesus accepts them and gives them a place at his table—not just a place, but a throne at the table. They are royalty at the king’s table.

We, too, misunderstand, and even use the sword. And, no doubt, Jesus is frustrated with us. But he continues to pray for us, pursue us and invite us to his table.

But only if we could learn that we don’t need any swords. When will we learn? Two swords are too many in Jesus’ kingdom.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Table Talk

Text: Luke 22:24-38

Kingdom talk enveloped the last supper Jesus ate with his disciples. It was Passover time. Kingdom expectations were in the air. Jewish sensibilities were heightened during the Passover as they anticipated the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Jesus had predicted that by the time of the next Passover the kingdom would have already come. In that atmosphere the discussion at the table was no doubt lively and boisterous. Indeed, the disciples debated who among them would be considered the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom.

But there was another dimension to that table. The atmosphere was also ominous and foreboding. Jesus knew that hostility to him had reached a climax—the blade was hot and ready to strike. Judas had betrayed him and that night Jesus would face his enemies in the garden and at the house of the high priest. Jesus would be tried, but so would the disciples. Even at the table they debated who the betrayer might be.

There were two discussions at that table—one about the kingdom and one about betrayal…and both pointed to the failure of the disciples to grasp and embrace the mission of Jesus.

Judas had already had his trial, and he failed. His end would not involve redemption. He opted out of the mission of Jesus. But the rest of the disciples would also be tried that night. They would face temptation, like the temptation of Jesus in the garden itself. And they would desert their teacher. Where Jesus called them to lose their lives in his mission so that they might save them, they chose to preserve their lives by denying him.

Jesus’ table talk accentuates three failures on the part of the disciples. They failed to grasp the servant character of the kingdom of Jesus. They failed the test of discipleship—to follow Jesus into suffering. They failed to grasp the nonviolent nature of Jesus’ mission.

The kingdom table is about service. When the disciples argued about who was the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus rebuked their ambitious desires. They had failed to grasp the nature of Jesus’ own regal leadership. Unlike pagan benefactors who use wealth and power to secure their own interests and dominate others, Jesus sacrifices his own body and blood for the sake of others. Even though he is the host of this table, he nevertheless serves it. His kingdom table embodies self-emptying, self-sacrifice and self-abasement. He does not exploit power or status for his own self-interests, but for the sake of others.

The kingdom table is about following Jesus into suffering for the sake of the world. This is the trial that the disciples would face that very night. Satan determined, with divine permission, to test their loyalty and commitment to discipleship (“you” is plural). Will they suffer with Jesus or will they save their own lives? Satan would find out, and Jesus knew the answer. So, Jesus prays that the disciples, Peter in particular, would find the faith to renew their commitment and strengthen each other. They will fail, but Jesus hopes for their future and envelops them with grace.

The kingdom table is about encountering hostility with non-violence. Unlike previous instructions in his ministry, here Jesus counsels his disciples to take bags and clothes with them. The situation has changed. Instead of the popular ministry of healing and preaching in Galilee, now in Judea—in the temple precincts—the ministry of Jesus encounters violent hostility. Now Jesus counsels buying swords. And the disciples inform him that they have two daggers. “It is enough,” Jesus says. Would two daggers be enough for self-defense? No, it is enough because Jesus has no intention of using the daggers in his kingdom mission. Indeed, he later rebukes Peter when he responds violently with one of those daggers and Jesus warns that those who live by the sword die by the sword. “It is enough” does not mean that they have sufficient weaponry but rather more like “enough of this discussion…you disciples still don’t understand.” The Son of Man must be numbered with the transgressors; he will defeat evil through suffering rather than through violence. Jesus will not return evil for evil. He will overcome evil with good.

We sit at this same table every Sunday. When eat the Lord’s Supper we sit at his kingdom table. This table calls us to service, discipleship and non-violence.

This is Luke’s story—it is the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom comes among us in the person of Jesus as one who serves others, suffers for others and loves his enemies rather than returning evil for evil.

As disciples of Jesus who eat at his table this is our story as well. To sit at the table of Jesus is to embrace his story and to follow him. In our journey through Luke, we have followed Jesus into the water, and followed him into the wilderness. We have followed him to tables with sinners and prostitutes. We have followed him in ministry to the disenfranchised (widows), outsiders (tax collectors), lepers (even a Samaritan one), and outcasts (the poor). We have sat with him at a Passover table, and now we are called to follow him to the cross.

And the question is now ours. As we sit at table with Jesus today, are we willing to follow the one who serves others instead of his own ambitions? Are we willing to follow Jesus to a cross? Are we willing to love our enemies? Or, are we more like the disciples at that Passover table than we might like to admit?

Despite our failures—despite the failures of the disciples—Jesus invites us to his table. He even anticipates our failures but yet graciously invites us back. Jesus even today prays for his disciples as the great high priest, and today we draw on his strength to embrace his kingdom mission and follow him. Today we sit at table with Jesus and encourage each other to continue the mission of Jesus, even if it costs us our ambitions, wealth, power and lives.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Traitor at the Table

Text: Luke 22:1-23

The betrayer sat at the table with Jesus and Jesus knew who the betrayer was. He was one of the Twelve, one of the chosen. He had cast out demons and proclaimed the coming of the kingdom. Jesus had prayed over that choice and yet Satan entered Judas’ heart and Satan won the battle.

The leaders of Israel—the powers that ruled its religion and temple—wanted to entrap Jesus so that he would lose his popularity among the people. But they had been unsuccessful. They wanted to kill him but were unable to seize him in a way that would not create a disturbance or even riot. They wanted to avoid Roman intervention, and the Romans were on heightened alert during Passover time.

And Judas provided the opportunity. He knew where Jesus spent his nights. He knew where Jesus might be taken in secret away from the public crowds that hung on his every word in the temple. So Judas arranges Jesus’ arrest and then goes to sit at table with him. Judas and Jesus eat the Passover together that night.

The table that night must have been quite a festive occasion. Oh, I know that we usually think of the Passover as a solemn, almost morbid, event, and especially the last Passover Jesus has with his disciples. It was, after all, the night on which he was betrayed and the night he announced his coming death. But Jesus also announced something wondrous that night.

The Passover was a celebratory festival which anticipated the coming reign of God as well as remembering Israel’s past deliverance from bondage. It remembered good news in the past and anticipated future good news. It was hopeful for the future as it celebrated the past. The Passover was a time of great rejoicing and excitement that brought Israel to the edge of their seat.

I believe its festive character pervaded the table that night. Indeed, Jesus’ announced good news at the beginning of the meal. At the moment, seemingly, when the host was to rehearse the meaning of the Passover (the haggadah) at the second cup of wine, Jesus announces the coming of the kingdom of God. Not that unusual except that he declares that the next time he and his disciples eat the Passover together it will be in the kingdom of God.

The disciples must have been astounded by such a statement. No doubt they have been wondering when the kingdom would come, and now they know it will come within the next year—according to their measurement of Jesus’ words. Next year, at the next Passover, they will be eating with the Master in the kingdom of God! (More than likely this generated the subsequent discussion about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.)

No doubt they sang the little hallel (e.g., Psalm 113) with great gusto at that moment. “Praise the Lord…The Lord is exalted above all the nations…He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…Praise the Lord.”

Judas heard this too and no doubt sang Psalm 113 with the rest of the disciples sitting at that table. I wonder what he was thinking. I wonder if he doubted his earlier arrangement. Had he acted too soon? Or, would his act precipitate the coming kingdom? I don’t know; no one does. But he was at the table, eating with Jesus and still intending to complete the betryal.

Then, as the main meal begins, Jesus gives a new meaning to this last supper. The “supper” (eating the lamb) begins with the breaking of the bread. But with this bread Jesus reinterprets the meal. Hereafter, the Passover will be eaten in his memory. In the future, the disciples will remember Jesus. The sacrificial meal will honor his sacrifice as he gives his body for humanity. Jesus himself, rather than the lamb, will be the sacrifice. Jesus is the lamb!

Judas is still at the table. He eats the bread, and he eats the roasted lamb. The bread is for him too—the body of Jesus is given for Judas too.

Having eaten the lamb (“supper”), Jesus takes the cup which is now either the third or fourth cup of wine at the Passover meal. But the wine is no longer about Israel’s past redemption, but it is about Jesus’ own sacrifice. It is his blood and it inaugurates a new covenant. The new covenant (reminding us of Jeremiah 31) is about forgiveness, but it is also about the law written in our heart. The blood cleanses but it also makes new—and a new relationship is enacted between God and his people.

And Judas is at the table. His hand is on the same table with Jesus. He drinks the cup—the blood is poured out for him too.

But Judas is the betrayer, though he sits at the table as one of the disciples. He sings the Psalms of redemption (e.g., Psalms 114-118). He sings “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” He eats the bread and drinks the cup; and he sings the songs. He listens to the Master…but his heart is in another place. He has a different agenda.

Sound familiar? To what extent are we all Judas today as we sit at this table with Jesus? Do we eat and drink with divided hearts? Do we sing the songs and hear the word only to dismiss their meaning for the sake of our own agendas? To what extent do we eat and drink with our own agenda instead of in covenant with Jesus?

Table time is covenant time. It is when we renew our pledge to God and God renews his pledge to us. It is a time of communion, but also rededication. It is a time to again choose whom we will serve. It is a time of covenant renewal—God renewing his covenant with us (“this is my body given for you” and “this is my blood poured out for you”) as we renew covenant with him.

But even in this moment of talk about betrayal there is hope. Yes, the Son of Man will die, but he is the Son of Man. He is the eschatological human who breaks in from the future to declare the coming kingdom of God. The Son of Man dies but the kingdom will come!

Yes, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Yes, the lamb is sacrificed for the sins of the world. But Jesus will eat and drink again with his disciples when the kingdom of God comes. Death is not the end. The grave is not the final stop. Though he suffers, the Son of Man will enter glory and the kingdom will come. The joy of the kingdom will conquer death, and Sunday will transform Friday. On Sunday, Jesus ate with his disciples again, and even now the living Christ, the eschatological Son of Man, eats with his disciples. But let us be vigilant lest we ourselves are Judas at that table. Let us eat in faith and hope and commitment.