2.04.2015

Christianicus: The Lost Book

Did you know that some researchers claim that there is a missing book from the early days of the Christian movement? It's called Christianicus. This book, which was supposed to be contained in the holy canon, was somehow ousted by a group of progressive radicals. They claimed that the laws, regulations, and restrictions in Christianicus were too contrary to the recorded teachings of Jesus. They claimed that there was too much similarity between Christianicus and Leviticus of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Unfortunately, this small progressive movement was out-voiced by the larger, more powerful fundamentalist group. Most early churches wanted Christianicus included in the canon. After all, it held all the rules and regulations for an orderly worship, specifying who can perform which tasks at which time and place. It laid out the plan of salvation in nice, clean steps that anyone can follow and obey. It also, according to tradition, included strict warnings that anyone who strayed from the patterns and teachings found within this document would have their names blotted out of the Book of Life.

So what happened to Christianicus? As the time for official canonization drew closer, the smaller freedom movement began to gain a lot of traction. When the documents were voted Christianicus missed the cutoff by a slim margin of votes. The document lost popularity, and eventually all known copies were lost to history.
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And you must know that the above story is completely made up.

Seriously. I just spent about 10 minutes fabricating those paragraphs. There is nothing historical or factual about anything you just read.

But it sounds credible, right?

I read through Leviticus recently. The entire time I was reading it I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to have a document like this for Christians. Wouldn't it be great to have all the rules and regulations spelled out completely for us? Wouldn't it be nice not to have the perpetual "worship wars"? Wouldn't we rather know exactly what to do, whom should do it, and when, and where?

The fact it, we don't have anything close to that.

Some well-intentioned men have throughout the centuries attempted to reconstruct the fabled Book of Christianicus by piecing together snippets of Paul, Jesus, Luke, and John (usually in that order). They search and study until one day - Eureka! - I've found THE pattern of worship! or THE pattern of salvation! It was here all along in plain sight. Anyone who reads these fourteen verses (pulled from different books and different contexts) can clearly see and understand this plan. It's not rocket science!

No, it's not rocket science. But it is bad exegesis.

The problem is we WANT a Leviticus for Christians. Some of us NEED a Leviticus for Christians. We have to know that we are right on every little detail, especially in regards to our Sunday morning gatherings. We have such a strong desire to get things right that we apply a phrase from Leviticus to just about everything Paul might say: "This statute is a command forever, throughout all the generations."

Paul never said that. Paul never came close to making such claims. Paul never attempted to lay out the demands of the new covenant between God and his people - which is essentially what the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are. Only Jesus did that. He said, "This is the cup of the new covenant - my blood which is poured out for you."

The thing about a covenant is that each party is expected to uphold their end of the deal. God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt and promised to care for them, prosper them, and lead them into the promised land. What was Israel's part of the covenant? Read the last half of Exodus all the way to Deuteronomy. They had approximately 613 commands to keep.

Jesus made a new covenant. He would shed his blood on the cross, die for our sins, be resurrected, and grant us the same resurrection and eternal life with God. So what's our end of the deal? "A new command I give you - love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus fulfilled Israel's end of the covenant. He kept the human side of the Law perfectly. The old covenant has been fulfilled. The new covenant, the lasting, eternal covenant only demands one thing on our end - LOVE.

God tried giving the people of Israel a Leviticus. It didn't work so well. He DIDN'T give us a Christianicus. It wouldn't work well, either. So let's stop trying to recreate a document that never existed in the first place.

Love God. Love each other. That should keep us busy enough.

1.29.2015

Things I Missed: CSI Israel

There's a bizarre, troubling story found in Leviticus 10. It goes something like this:

The newly formed nation of Israel has exited Egypt in epic fashion thanks to their God, YHWH. God leads them down to the the same mountain on which he first appeared to Moses - Mount Sinai. The tribes of Israel are encamped around the base of the mountain while God gives the constitution, the bill of rights, and the basic laws of the land to Moses and Aaron. God goes into incredible detail of how the Tabernacle was to be built, where to place the furniture inside the Tabernacle, how the priests are supposed to dress, how the animals are to be killed and sacrificed. It's riveting material that just keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Finally in chapter 10 of Leviticus there is a shift from Law to Narrative. Everything is ready to go. The Tabernacle has been set up, the furniture arranged, the priests purified - Lights, Camera, Action!

Well, first things first - Lights. Nadab and Abihu, the eldest sons of Aaron, kick things off by lighting the altar of incense. And that's when things go downhill quickly. It's the first official act of the priesthood in the Tabernacle and - boom! - they are struck dead. It's disastrous. Tragic. Shock. Dismay. Mouths hanging open. Eyes wide and unblinking.

Did that really just happen?

God fills them in on a little key piece of advice: "Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored."

Turns out that Nadab and Abihu had grabbed the wrong incense or lit the fire incorrectly or...something. It simply says that the offered "strange fire" that wasn't "authorized" by God.

...And that's why we can't have instruments in worship today.

Seriously.

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard this story given in order to defend the use of a cappella style singing in worship. Instruments aren't "authorized" just like the fire/incense these guys burned was not "authorized." If God had wanted instruments, he would have "authorized" them.

I think we may have missed the point.

We may not be given the specifics of what they did or why it upset God so much, but it had more to do with their attitude and their regard for that which is holy than it did their own personal preferences. It's not like they thought to themselves - You know, I think this incense smells WAY better. Let's just use this. No one uses that old one anymore.

No. The thing I never noticed about this story before was what God commanded immediately afterward:

"You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come."

They made a choice beforehand to get drunk before performing their priestly duties. They didn't take their responsibilities seriously enough. They were not of sober mind and body when they approached a holy God. It's as if God is thinking - I can't believe I have to make this a command. It should go without saying. Don't drink on the job!

We understand this. We don't want police officers, fire fighters, ambulance drivers, teachers, doctors, electricians, etc., drinking while on the clock. Why? Because we can't be trusted when we're drinking.

The point is not that drinking is a sin. The point is holiness, reverence, and taking our responsibilities before God seriously. God made this command for his priests so that they wouldn't lose their senses. He wanted them to be able to perform their tasks to the best of their ability. And his didn't want them to become discredited among the people.

Who's going to listen to a drunkard about the things of God?

Who's going to listen to the class clown about religion?

Who's going to be won over by a bunch of people who don't take their faith seriously in the first place?

So when we investigate this crime scene, we find that it was the blood-alcohol level that got these two into trouble long before they offered that "strange fire." It was their own indifference and indiscretion that got them killed.

1.26.2015

Things I Missed: Forgetting Joseph

One thing I've always wondered is how the Hebrews got themselves enslaved in Egypt. Everything seemed to be going so well for them there, but then suddenly -BOOM- 400 Years a Slave. What happened? Where was God? Why did he allow his people to become slaves in a foreign land?

As you finish reading Genesis and begin the book of Exodus, there are two passages that I think make an interesting side by side comparison:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaacand Jacob.” And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (Genesis 50:24-25)

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. (Exodus 1:6-8)

I had never noticed that before. Before Joseph died he basically made the rest of his family promise not to stay in Egypt but to follow God's lead back to Canaan. He reassured them that God would help them and guide them and bring them back home.

The problem was that Egypt was home to his sons and grandsons. Canaan was never home for Ephraim or Manasseh. All they knew was Egypt - and Egypt was the place to be. It was the most powerful Empire in the world. It was wealthy and prosperous - largely thanks to Joseph himself. They lived in comfort and luxury. It was a great place to raise a family or start a business.

The Israelites were growing in strength and numbers. They had every physical blessing they could desire. This must be the will of God, right?

Maybe for a time. But the noise of comfort and power tends to drown out the voice of God. Calling Abraham out of his city to move his wife and servants across the country was one thing. Trying to get the attention of an entire nation living in luxury became all but impossible.

So the generations came and went until the memory of Joseph and his God no longer remained. The Hebrews forgot about "the promised land," and the Pharaohs forgot about that guy named Joseph who saved their nation decades ago.

They forgot their God. They forgot their heritage. Then suddenly they lost their freedom. When all you have is wealth and power, what happens when those things are taken away?

Could the nation of Israel have avoided so many decades of slavery if they had remained faithful to God and followed his lead back to the land of their forefathers?

And what about us? Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Are our ears dulled so much by the comfort and luxury around us that we can't even hear God calling us away from our own inevitable destruction and into a better life he has prepared for us?

Jesus' words at the end of his life sound very similar to Joseph's last words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Egypt was not Israel's home. God had something better in mind.

This world is not the disciple's home. God has something better in mind.

Don't forget.