What work do your hands do?

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“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
Establish thou the work of our hands;
establish thou the work of our hands.”

Those three lines are the opening sentences of the Midday Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer.

We use our hands for all sorts of tasks, in fact, pretty much all of them from putting on glasses, brushing our teeth, feeding ourselves, driving, performing wage earning work, building a house, reading a book… our hands are essential to our existence.

Our hands can also be used for evil purposes: they can be used to commit violence, write hate, masturbate, type search terms into google to get a “hit of porn” or indeed, we can simply fail to use our hands for a good (someone needs help but we simply refrain from helping).

Yes, Lord, “establish thou the work of our hands”. Often those of us who study theology can be guilty of “thinking” too much and not “doing” enough with our knowledge. The epistle of James, I think in part, is a warning against this very thing. We have to do something with our faith.

The Anglican liturgy of Confession and Absolution is beautiful because it recognizes this two-fold nature of “done and not done”. It reads in part:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

James tells us to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” because doing so would be to deceive ourselves (James 1:22). What does it mean to be one and not the other? James says “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (1:23-35)

Lots of people hear, lots of people believe – even the demons! (2:19), but we are called to be a people of action, punctuated by periods of withdrawal for recharging.

Are you allowing God to “establish thou the work of YOUR hands”? What does he want you to do, what does he not want you to do with your hands?

Remember, Christ taught us to Love the Lord with all your “heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27), so this necessarily implies using the body he gave us. If you hold onto any gnostic notion of the physical body being bad, banish it now and get about the work of the Lord.

Lord, Jesus Christ, I call upon your mercy and grace to help me know where and when you direct my hands to perform your work of love.

Totus tuus

Do Liberal Christians hate Scripture?

Christian liberal

But here’s the thing: Liberal Christians love the Bible. No, seriously. We love the Bible. We just refuse to treat it as though it is a set of timeless golden tablets that says all that needs to be said once and for all about everything of importance. (It doesn’t say anything, for instance, about why the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years.)

Read the rest here.

I personally refuse to accept the label of Liberal or Conservative simply because I have views accepted and denounced by both sides, and I don’t think that makes me incoherent. Sometimes we try too hard to make everything fit in a nice systematic package.

Practical Marcionism


How many books compose Sacred Scripture? If you’re Catholic, there are 73. If you’re a typical protestant there are 66. If you’re Orthodox… it gets complicated (but most have more than 73).

If there is a weakness I’ve noticed within the Anabaptist community, it’s that we practically speaking reduce the canon even further (this is true of many Christians as well). Here’s what I think the typical canon really looks like:

  • Genesis 1-3
  • Exodus 1-20
  • Some combination of the Gospels (though probably not all 4)
  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Romans
  • A little of Paul
  • James is in there, but we’re pretty sure it’s apocryphal
  • Revelation (but we don’t know what it means)

What’s my point? We don’t read our Bibles. We think we know them, but it’s not because we read them.

Anabaptists are particularly vulnerable because we are so intensely Christo-centric. We view the Sermon on the Mount as a canon within the canon, a guiding star, the hermeneutical key to understanding the rest of scripture. The problem this creates is we tend not to stray too far from writings directly related to Jesus. In particular, as a result, we’re weak when it comes to understanding the Old Testament.

This is practical Marcionism, the early church heresy that among other things, rejected the Hebrew Scriptures. If you don’t read them, you may as well not have them. Marcion has 11 books in his canon (some of which were edited by him).

We really need to work on this. I’ve heard a very well known anabaptist pastor state that if all we had was certain NT books, we’d do pretty well at following Christ. I know what he meant to get across by saying that, but it’s borderline Marcionism. We need better answers and tools to deal with the Old Testament. A common refrain I’ve heard is this: “Whatever the Old Testament is, it’s basically the story of what doesn’t work.” This is simply inexcusable, unhelpful, and subordinates the OT to the rest of Scripture.

Don’t be lazy pastors and as for the rest of you, read your Bibles. Get into the Old Testament. Yes, it’s messy and scary and it can be hard to find Christ, but read it anyway and take it to community. Let the Spirit guide you as your discover God in every line of scripture.

Scripture interpretation belongs in the Church

Bible study baby

He who does not have the Spirit and presumes to find it in Scripture, looks for light and find darkness… – Hans Denck, 16th century Anabaptist 

Christianity Today has reported on recent survey results about how frequent Scripture reading leads to Christian taking more liberal positions (as well affirming conservative ones). Fellow MennoNerd Ryan Robinson has blogged about it over here. CT reports the following observations (emphasis mine):

Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader. It increases opposition to abortion as well as homosexual marriage and unions. It boosts a belief that science helps reveal God’s glory. It diminishes hopes that science will eventually solve humanity’s problems. But unlike some other religious practices, reading the Bible more often has some liberalizing effects—or at least makes the reader more prone to agree with liberals on certain issues. This is true even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, and religious measures (like which religious tradition one affiliates with, and one’s views of biblical literalism).

The part of the article that I am most concerned about is contained in this sentence: “Comparatively very little research has looked into what happens when one actually reads the Bible, especially when one reads it independently outside the church.

And also this paragraph:

Why does this happen? One possible explanation is that readers tend to have expectations of a text prior to reading it. Given the Bible’s prominence in our society, it’s little wonder that many people think they know what’s in it before they open it up. But once they start reading it on their own, they are bound to be surprised by something, and this surprising new content is then integrated and grafted on to the familiar. Beliefs do change with the addition of new information.

Ok, so what’s my problem? While I am certainly one to promote frequent reading of the Holy Scriptures, I am concerned that a) we think we can truly eliminate any external bias from such reading, and b) that we should do that outside the context of  the church.

During the time of the Reformation Martin Luther touted the idea that people should read and interpret the Bible on their own, but quickly found that this was unwise because of all the varied interpretations people were coming up with. They eventually located the qualification for interpretation with theologians. The idea of reading the Bible on your own outside of the church has sometimes been called “Me and My Bible” or “Solo Scriptura” and this is a dangerous distortion of the reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

The biggest strength of the Anabaptist movement has been it’s emphasis on community and in this context of understanding Scripture, using that community as a filter for discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit which resides in each believer.

C.A. Snyder writes that “[Anabaptists] believed that the best interpreters of Scripture were those who had received the Holy Spirit. This meant, they said, that an illiterate peasant who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit is a better interpreter of God’s Word than a learned theologian who lacks the Spirit.”

Hans Hut, a 16th Century Anabaptist said “God’s commandment does not consist in the letter, but in the power which the Spirit gives.”

As Snyder points out, it would perhaps be more correct to label the Anabaptist view as “Scripture and Spirit together” rather than “Scripture Alone”. I’d be shocked if more reformed pastors and theologians would disagree with this these days, even if they won’t state it exactly in the same way.

But how to keep individual “Spirit-led interpretations” in check? As with most things in the Anabaptist world, the answer is “Community”.  Snyder writes “One very early Anabaptist document recommends that the brothers and sisters read Scripture together, and then ‘the one to whom God has given understanding shall explain it.’ This process of congregational discernment provided one way of placing some controls on the interpretations of Scripture and prophecy”.

Menno Simons eventually attached the need to measure all spiritual claims against the life and words of Jesus Christ himself: “By the Spirit, Word, actions and example of Christ, all must be judged until the Last Judgement.

In summation, the Anabaptist position of interpreting Sacred Scripture is to understand that “God’s will is revealed in Scripture, interpreted by all believers through the power of the Holy Spirit, discerned in community, and tested by the measure of Christ.”

So, back to the survey: I don’t care what the specific conclusions of the survey were, in fact I would support the views that it says frequent Scripture reading leads one too. I am concerned however when it seems to promote the idea of “Solo Scriptura”, this is a very dangerous notion that seems alien to Scripture itself. Consider the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This wasn’t just a demonstration of hospitality on the part of the Eunich, it was a very real demonstration that we should not and can not interpret Scripture on our own. And if the community of the people of God is the church, then we should read it outside the confines of the church. Yes, read it on your own, but then bring your observations and your questions to the church for discernment and discussion. If your church does not allow for that and isn’t open to changing, what can I say, find another church (whether it be within your current denomination or not).

So, as interesting as these survey results are, they come with a warning: keep the interpretation of Scripture where it belongs, in the church. It wasn’t written for you, it was written for us.

Sources: From Anabaptist Seed, C.A. Snyder

The Last 11 Sins in Scripture


This  traditional Christian symbol, known as the Chi-Rho, also includes the Alpha and Omega.

Of all the words that are either translated as “sin” in Scripture, there are 10 in Hebrew (Old Testament) and 11 in Greek (New Testament).

I wanted to do a short word study on the various uses of sin in the New Testament. I’ll try to follow up with the Hebrew variants at some point.

New Testament
I first list the Greek word as a transliteration, the english translation, and some examples Scriptures (but not necessarily all)

hamartia – sin: sin, sinful, sinning, guilt. Mt 12:1, 3:6, 9:5, 9:6, 12:31; Acts 3:19, 5:31, Romans 3:9

hamartano – to sin: sin, sinful, sinned, offence, committing. Mt 18:15, 18:21, Lk 15:18, 1 Cor 6:18, 7:36, Heb 3:17

skandalizo – to cause to sin (similar to english scandal): fall, falls, offence, offended, stumble, keep you from falling away, sin. Mt 5:29, 5:30, 18:9, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2

hamartema – sin: sins. Mk 3:28, 29, Romans 3:25, 1 Cor 6:18

hamartolos – sinner: sinful, sinner, sinners. Mk 8:38, Lk 5:8, 24:7, Romans 7:13

skandalon – cause for stumbling: offence, sin, hinderance, stumbling, obstacles, block, cause, temptation, temptations. Mt 13:41, 18:7, Lk 17:1.

peri+amartia – about; sin: about/concerning, guilt, sin, sinful, sinning. Heb 10:6, 10:8, 13:11.

proamartano – to sin beforehand: sinned. 2 Cor 12:21, 13:2

epithymia – desire: passions, lust, lusts, covet, covetousness, earnestly, longed, desire, desires. 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16

anamartetos – without sin: sin. John 8:7

agnoema – sin committed in ignorance: unintentional. Heb 9:7

Clearly there is some overlap between the different forms, but too really drill deeply, we’d have to look into a Greek dictionary. I’ll go through them slowly in the coming weeks. But take this list and visit some of the verses mentioned. Can you see the difference it might make to understand the underlying word used?

They threw down the stones…


One of the wonderful things about film is that we get to see things that we might otherwise miss from just reading the book. This is a bit of backwards thinking because we often think the book is better. When we’re talking about films that attempt to interpret Scared Scripture, we need to be careful of course to realize that the film is not inspired or infallible, but we can still glean interesting insights.

When watching The Passion of the Christ I noticed something in a way that I hadn’t before. In the story typically titled The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:2-11), we are told that Jesus saves the woman from stoning by forcing the members of the crowd to reflect on their own sinfulness. In the movie you see the crowd throw their stones to the ground, one by one – following the scriptures declaration that they left eldest to youngest.

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I saw things from their side, from the side of the accusers. Jesus said in v.9 “But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

Jesus was in the middle of teaching when the scribes and Pharisees approached him with the woman (generally believed to be Mary Magdalene) and started questioning Jesus. It is not entirely clear how many were ready to join in the stoning; was it just the scribes and Pharisees or did the crowd He was teaching join in, or did they just looked on wondering which side would prevail.

They went away
when they faced the challenge posed by Jesus’ words – and perhaps whatever he was writing in the sand – they immediately responded to His teaching and left. There was no debate, no argument, they just threw down their rocks and left. They knew they were beat, they knew they had heard the truth and had no comeback, no way of countering what Jesus has said to them. Here’s the important detail: this required that they recognized in themselves their own sinfulness.

This is no small detail. We’re not talking about ordinary everyday Jews here. These are the scribes and Pharisee’s, some of the most educated people around. They knew Sacred Scripture backwards and forwards. They lived the Torah and endlessly debated what it meant and how best to live it out and they ferosciously policed others behaviours.

One by one
this realization did not perhaps strike them all at once. In a patriarchal culture like Judaism, they would have looked to the leader of the pack to make the first move.

beginning with the older ones
and so they looked to the older one’s, the elders, to make the first move. The older one’s who had been studying the Law longer than anyone and should know of a loophole if there was one. If these guys don’t know how to counter the words of Jesus, the younger one’s certainly couldn’t. Even if the younger one’s could, it’s doubtful they would have challenged the authority of the older ones. 

and Jesus was left alone
When all the crowd had left, Jesus was left alone with the woman. He affirmed her of His love for her and admonished her to “sin no more”.

The lesson for me… (and maybe you)
We often hear the Pharisee’s and scribes portrayed as arrogant, self important people and indeed they were that. At their hearts though they loved God. The problem is that they got wrapped up in their own status and their own righteousness (Luke 18:11-12) and they got lost in the details and minutia of the law (John 5:39).

The lesson for us: the hypocrites in the church think they love God and that has to be our starting point. Rebuking them for their attitude but acknowledging what it is they are looking for. At one point they were genuinely searching for God and somehow stalled and got stuck in some unholy rut. It is our role to hold them accountable in the true love of Christ, while acknowledging our own sinfulness.

Sacred Scripture assures us that not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). In eschatological terms, in contrast to the number of professing Christian today, Jesus will be left alone in the Kingdom of God.  Calling on His name is not a magic formula or an incantation, there has to be true desire for God and true repentance for sins behind it. Matthew 7:21 concludes saying that “only the one who does the will of my Father  who is in heaven [will enter the Kingdom].

The Pharisee’s were not doing the will of the Father, but the sad thing, is that they earnestly thought they were. They were zealous and passionate (think: Saul/St. Paul) for the Lord, but lost their way. Never take your salvation for granted. Even if you hold to “once save always saved”, arrogance is not a good sign. Pray continuously that you might be reminded of the Opus Dei – the work of God – and that you might be strengthened to persevere until His return.

Roots of Justice Bible Study


International Justice Mission has created a five-week group study exploring the biblical foundation of God’s call to a justice lifestyle. IJM does amazing work in rescuing people out of modern day slavery. I’m excited about this series and look forward to reviewing it. I hope to start a Roots of Justice study group soon if I like what I read.

Check it out here. There are 6 downloadable videos and a PDF discussion guide.

Irenaeus on the need for a careful Hermeneutic (actually, tradition, but…)


I’m reading through a book of conversion stories from one Christian tradition to another, and came across this beautiful reference to Irenaeus’s Against Heresies.

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.1

Wilbur Ellsworth (a protestant minister turned Orthodox priest) explains, “[Irenaeus] likened Scripture to a great mosaic whose many pieces form the portrait of a handsome king. He imagines the pieces of that mosaic being packaged for transporting. Upon arrival the various tiles need to be put into their proper order and relationship to one another in accordance with the artist’s intention. In his story, the lack of the master plan produces a picture not of the king but of a dog!”2

Now, Irenaeus and Ellsworth are defending the use of Tradition as the key hermeneutic in the interpretation of Holy Scripture (a concept not entirely foreign to anabaptists – but more on that later), but regardless, it is a great way to understand the need and purpose of a careful hermeneutic.

1 AGAINST HERESIES, Irenaeus, Book I, Chapter VIII., How the Valentinians Pervert the Scriptures to Support Their Own Pious Opinions.
2 Journey’s of Faith, Plummer, Robert L., pp. 69-70

What is the Gospel?

I love how Frank Viola gets to the point on this question and reframes things. This is beautifully done.

In His preaching and teaching, Jesus consistently pointed to Himself. Read the four gospels carefully sometime and count the number of times that Jesus speaks about Himself. You will have no doubts that His message—His gospel—was Himself. Paul, Peter, John, et al. preached the same gospel as did Jesus. Their message was also Christ.

Read the whole article on Frank’s blog. (HT to Ryan for re-posting this first on Google+)