1 Timothy

Basic Ecclesiology 3: Who’s In?

One of the thornier question in ecclesiology is the question of boundaries: who gets included and who gets excluded?  If you’re reading this hoping that I will conclusively resolve the issue in a “basic ecclesiology” series, you will be disappointed.

No, the starting point for my discussion of inclusion and exclusion is the apostle Paul’s advice to a younger minister of Christ, Timothy.  After reminding him of the salvation available in Jesus, Paul continued (2 Timothy 2:14-19):

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God.  Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy.  Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders.  As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says.  There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.

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“The God of All Comfort”

This post is not actually about 2 Corinthians 1, from which the title phrase is taken, but rather about 1 Peter, which I was reading recently.

Peter is writing to Christians scattered throughout what is today Turkey to encourage them because “is necessary for a little while now that you be grieved by various afflictions” (1:6), whose faith was being tested (1:7).  He praises their faith and counsels reverence for God and holiness in life.  He describes their relationship to God with some amazing language which bears repeating: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so that you may declare the excellent qualities of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light, you who once were ‘not a people’ but now are God’s people, who had ‘not received mercy’ but now have received mercy” (2:9-10).

And he simply assumes that Christians will be hated and will suffer because they are Christian: (more…)

Fighting Truth Decay

This is, at long last, an answer to a question posted by a commentator (I’m sorry to say over a month ago): “[H]ow do you see Christ as having made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages (if you see Him as having done so at all)?”  Subsequent discussion revealed that he did not mean merely since Christ’s ascension to heaven.  So this post attempts to address the question in general, but first (as a humanities scholar is apt to do), I need to clarify the issue.

Clarifying the Problem

What does it mean to “guarantee the preservation of Truth”?  In what ways is Truth not preserved?  Truth is not an organic mass which begins to decompose in the summer heat, changing color and attracting flies.  Nor is truth a substance that can be diluted or transmuted.  Truth is a property of certain beliefs, and the “preservation of Truth” is the preservation of true beliefs in the minds of people.  A true belief may fail to be preserved in the minds of people either by failing to pass it on to new people, so that the true belief may be said to end (in a sense) with the death of the last person who believes it, or by being rejected in favor of alternate (and false) beliefs.  Since no sound argument can refute a true belief, if we were fully rational beings, no true belief would ever be rejected for a false belief.  And if we were immortal and perfectly rational beings, truth would be in no danger.  But in fact, we are both mortal, so beliefs need to be passed on, and sinful, so that we often prefer convenient falsehoods to inconvenient truths.  And thus true beliefs need to be preserved.  The transfer of true beliefs to other people is a variety of revelation, the means by which those other people come to believe this truth.  The question of how sinful people are checked from simply chucking out whatever truth they don’t like is a question of redemption.  In both processes, God’s message of salvation is at stake, and therefore this is an important question. (more…)

Salvation Through Childbirth

Among the odder verses of the letters of Paul is 1 Tim 2:15, which many people interpret as saying that women will be saved, in some sense, through childbirth.  This is an interpretation which strikes many Protestants as oddly in tension with salvation by grace, and it seems especially odd to Christian women who, for a variety of reasons, are not likely to give birth (such as nuns, single women, and infertile women).  Here are a few common Bible versions of the verse, taken from a range of different families of Bible translations:

  • NIV: But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
  • NASB: But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
  • RSV: Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
  • NLT: But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
  • Douay-Rheims 1899 American: Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.

On the other hand, reading it through again today in Greek, I noticed something I hadn’t previously: the first verb is singular (“she will be saved”) while the latter is plural (“they continue”).  Here are a few versions that preserve the swap: (more…)

The Argument from (Dis-)Similarity

Will the real Church please stand up?  Go to a phone directory of any moderately sized settlement and see if the listings for “churches” don’t rapidly get bewildering.  Indeed, such an exercise is often an education into varieties of Christianity we didn’t know existed!  How should those who worship Christ sort through this denominational chaos?

One method frequently suggested by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Disciples of Christ (along with a few Baptists, on occasion) is to look at the evidence for early Christianity and see which contemporary denomination is most similar to the churches of the apostles and their successors.  This is the argument from similarity.  I recently read a blog post making this argument against Protestants of all stripes, and a commentator here pressed me to consider the same line of reasoning.  It was not the first time.  I have heard this argument made in favor of multiple different branches of contemporary Christianity.  I like to imagine the question by asking which church would look most familiar to the apostle Peter or any of the other earliest Christians, if he were sent on a time-travel expedition from AD 60 to the present.  I prefer someone else to Jesus for this exercise because Jesus is the God who knows the hearts, and this is usually posed as a question about external appearances. (more…)