Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Idioms and Generational Curses

Recently, I was asked a question by an Asia-Pacific missionary whom I met while lecturing for University of the Nations. Occasionally I get questions like this through missionary contacts who encounter ideas, notions, theologies and interpretations that seem suspect. In general, I am of the opinion that good theology is also practical theology and not merely ivory tower. This is one of those occasions, and the question concerned a teaching based on Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18 and Deuteronomy 5:9, loosely called “generational curses”. The idea is that since God “punishes the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation”, the sins of a person carry with it a curse that extends to grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Such curses must be broken through repentance for the past sin and the power of prayer—almost to the level of exorcism—before a person can escape the penalty of punishment for something done by one's ancestors. In societies that already are rife with superstition, such a theology can play into an unhealthy worldview that already embraces various levels of magic in the collision between the unseen world with the visible world.

My response to this question is that I'm not on the side of the generational curse interpretation of these passages. I think it may be a classic misinterpretation of a Hebrew idiom. Here's why I think so. In the first place, Hebrew idioms often use numbers in non-mathematical ways (e.g., "for three sins, even for four" and "six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination" and "there are three things too wonderful for me, yes, four which I don't know", etc.). The passages cited may very well also be non-mathematical comparative idioms, which is to say, they intend to show the vast difference between God's punishment of sin and his great mercy toward faltering humans. The "punishing sin to the third and fourth generation" stands in contrast to the "showing mercy to thousands of generations". In other words, these are statements about God's character, and his character is such that his capacity for mercy far outweighs his punishment for sin. Expressed differently, but with the same essential intent, are the words of the Psalmists, "His anger lasts only a moment", but "his mercy endures forever." Hence, I doubt that these passages intend to teach that punishment for sin is passed down mathematically and generationally. At least one thing seems clear: there is no clear and unambiguous teaching in the Bible about such a thing as a generational curse. Certainly the apostles never voiced anything resembling such a thing, and so far as I am aware, it is entirely absent in the post-apostolic church and the Ante-Nicene fathers.

What for me is the clincher is the fact that the Israelites around the time of the exile had also taken these ancient statements in the Torah to refer literal, mathematical formulae. Hence, they had coined a proverb, "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Eze. 18:2; Je. 31:29). By this proverb, they intended to respond to Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's predictions of exile by saying, "It's not our fault. It's our parents' fault or our ancestors' fault if something happens, not ours." Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel say that this idea is fundamentally wrong. Jeremiah says, "Everyone shall die for his own sin," and Ezekiel says plainly that no one will die because of his ancestors' sins. Rather, if a person dies, it will be because of his own sins. If a parent sins, but the child turns away from the parents' sins, he will not suffer punishment for someone else's guilt.

In principle, then, the teaching of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it seems to me, precludes the idea of the generational curse, at least as it was rehearsed by my missionary friend. Now, I will readily concede that some sins have implications that may extend to succeeding family members. For instance, a pregnant mother who uses cocaine will endanger her child. An alcoholic father's abuse of his children will leave scars that are deep and visceral. Both need healing. Nonetheless, these are not generational curses, at least as some of the faith-healers describe it. They are simply the consequences of reckless judgments that have affected others.

In the end, I do not subscribe to the generational curse theory, and my assessment is not very positive of healing ministries that are based on this notion. I'm sure many of the so-called healers are sincere, but I think they are sincerely mistaken.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

David Bernard and Positive Biblical Criticism

I recently downloaded a copy of the doctoral dissertation of David K. Bernard—the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International—entitled "Monotheistic Discourse and Deification of Jesus in Early Christianity as Exemplified in 2 Corinthians 3:16-4:6." Rev. Bernard has been awarded the Ph.D from the University of South Africa. Having accomplished this incredible feat of endurance myself, I want to offer my congratulations to Dr. Bernard and the growing number of UPCI scholars who have obtained or are seeking doctoral degrees.

You can download a copy of this dissertation by clicking here.

I am now in the process of working through this 282-page document. This work offers a close reading of II Corinthians 3:16-4:6—a passage that I long thought held potential for Oneness Pentecostal interpretation, but one that has largely eluded Oneness scholars to date.

I was surprised by Dr. Bernard's use of rhetorical criticism in the title of this work and as one of the main hermeneutical tools used in his reflections on this passage. Rhetorical criticism focuses on how biblical writers used the figures of speech and rules of composition common to the culture of their day for effective spoken and written communication—and especially persuasion.

Concerning rhetorical criticism in biblical study, evangelical scholar Ben Witherington states: "I'm interested in the question of how ancient Greco-Roman rhetoric helps us to understand the New Testament, and whether or not the writers of the New Testament used such a methodology. As a historian, the first question is, "Did the writers of the New Testament use rhetoric?" Did they use this kind of methodology to persuade people about Jesus Christ? For me the answer is clear enough: yes, to one degree or another. Some writers in the New Testament use it minimally, but others are really quite seasoned practitioners of Greco-Roman rhetoric in the way they present their material, ranging from Paul to the author of Hebrews to Luke and various others."

While I have spoken with Rev. Bernard a few times over the years, I have had only one substantial conversation with him. He had just been hired as a theology instructor and Dean of Students (I believe I recall this correctly) at Jackson College of Ministries at the time when I was leaving this institution. (My departure—as many of you know and as is documented in Thomas Fudge's Heretics and Politics—was under a cloud of suspicion. I, along with several of my faculty colleagues, had introduced a new world of academic biblical scholarship to JCM students as well as stressing the Wesleyan and Reformation roots of the Pentecostal tradition.)

In our conversation, which occurred in the JCM library, Rev. Bernard and I discussed several books in the JCM collection—all of which had been purchased at my suggestion. Our conversation eventually turned toward biblical criticism—in this specific case, redaction criticism of the synoptic gospels. Redaction criticism investigates the editorial role that the biblical writers played in assembling, structuring, combining, and elucidating source materials as they constructed the books which are now recognized in the Jewish and Christian canon of sacred scripture.

Norman Perrin in "What is Redaction Criticism?" states, "The prime requisite for redaction criticism is the ability to trace the form and content of material used by the author concerned or in some way to determine the nature and extent of his activity in collecting and creating, as well as in arranging, editing, and composing."

I argued that various forms of biblical and literary criticism were neutral tools that could greatly benefit conservative evangelical scholars. I stressed that the threat to biblical authority did not lie in these methods, but in the presuppositions of their users. Liberal Protestant scholars with a low view of biblical inspiration would certainly confirm their views when employing these tools. But the same thing is true for conservative evangelical scholars who hold a high view of biblical inspiration. There is no reason to believe that when a conservative scholar employs these tools that he will necessarily reach liberal conclusions.

To demonstrate my point, I raised the issue of editorial differences in the parallel gospel passages about Jesus' confrontation with a ruler of the synagogue. (We often wrongly identify this man as the "rich young ruler." These passages speak of his wealth, but not of his age. Luke designates that he was a "ruler," a respected leader in the synagogue.) I pointed out the obviously different theological emphases and implications in the ways that Matthew and Mark frame the initial question asked by the ruler to Jesus.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:16-17 NIV)

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-except God alone.  (Mark 10:17-18 NIV)

The key difference is the way the word "good" is used in the two passages. In Mark, "good" has a Christological emphasis—he addresses Jesus as "good master" and Jesus replies that there is none good but God, at least hinting at the issue of Jesus' divinity. In Matthew, the emphasis is on human moral behavior. Here "good" modifies "works" or "deeds"—the ruler asks what "good deed" does he need to do and Jesus replies that only God is good, apparently arguing that only God is capable of truly good works.

I pointed out that these parallel presentations of the same event have very different theological meanings and that this difference is best explained by the editorial activity of the gospel writers—each stressing his own theological goals—when committing this oral memory of Jesus to the written page. I also stressed that the editorial contribution of each evangelist in no way undermines the authority of the gospel message. Rather it demonstrates the multi-dimensional ways that the early Christians "remembered" the words and stories of Jesus and applied them in a variety of situations in their own lives.

Sadly, my willingness to entertain such questions and to use critical tools to deal with them must have confirmed the suspicions of the weakness of my commitment to biblical authority in the mind of Rev. Bernard. The conversation ended with him unconvinced and the cloud of doubt still firmly ensconced above my head.

So it was a bit more than surprising to see Rev. Bernard, in writing his doctoral dissertation, taking essentially the same position regarding the positive possibilities of biblical and literary critical methodologies in the hands of evangelical scholars that I took all those years ago. The tools of literary analysis, it turns out, are neutral after all and can be used with Bible-affirming results by scholars who hold a high view of biblical authority.

Admittedly, both Dr. Bernard and I were very young when this conversation took place in the early 1980s. But it seems to me that I arrived at the conclusion that literary-critical methods are valid tools for conservative biblical interpretation a few decades before Dr. Bernard embraced it.

Maybe someday—hopefully—the cloud of suspicion that has followed me for all these years will dissipate as my JCM affirmations become less heretical and more mainstream within Oneness Pentecostal scholarship.

But I am not going to hold my breath.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Early Christian Worship: Part 4

                The earliest direct descriptions of a Christian worship service, paradoxically enough, come to us from early writings external to the New Testament. Probably the earliest of these descriptions is from the Didache, a compendium of various instructions by an unknown Christian from about AD 100. Teachings about the general order of Christian worship are as follows:

And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord: ‘In every place and at every time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.’

Several noteworthy features are to be found in this short description. First, as we already have seen, Christian worship was on Sunday, “the Lord’s own day”. Central to this worship was the celebration of the Eucharist, which is described by the language of sacrifice. In fact, the writer in the Didache connects Paul’s language of “the Lord’s table” (1 Co. 10:21) with the Old Testament prophet’s language of “the Lord’s table” (Mal. 1:7). He seems to suggest that the prediction by Malachi that this sacrifice was to be “among the nations” has its consummate fulfillment in the Christian Eucharist celebrated by Gentile Christians! Following Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount about reconciliation with one’s fellow prior to approaching the altar of God (Mt. 5:23-24), he urges Christians to reconciliation prior to the Eucharistic meal in order for their sacrifice to be “pure”, the very thing urged by Malachi. Further, the Christian meal should be preceded by “first confessing your transgressions”, in keeping with Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians (1 Co. 11:28-32).

Though not described in the context of a worship service, the compiler of the Didache also offers additional instructions concerning baptism, the Eucharist and itinerant apostles and prophets. Baptism, in agreement with Matthew 28:19, is to be conducted “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. It is to be in “living (= running) water”, language that draws both from Jewish tradition, in which mikva’ot were to be constructed so as to provide running water, and Christian tradition, where Jesus used a pun when he spoke of “living water” (Jn. 4:10). Water other than running water was acceptable for baptism if necessary, and baptism by pouring was acceptable if immersion was not convenient. A day or two of fasting was recommended for the baptismal candidate.

The celebration of the Eucharist is attended with two liturgical prayers, one for the cup and the other for the bread (and curiously, the order of cup first and then bread is reversed from Paul’s order in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). They are:

We give you thanks, O our Father, for your holy vine of your son David, which you made known unto us through your Son Jesus; yours is the glory forever and ever.

We give you thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known unto us through your Son Jesus; yours is the glory forever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever and ever.

Once again, a collage of both Old and New Testament passages converge in these prayers, ranging from the pedigree of David to Jesus’ claims, “I am the true vine” (Jn. 15:1, 5). The repeating phrase, “Yours is the glory forever and ever”, is typical of several New Testament doxologies, while the reference to the gathering of the broken bread scattered upon the mountains is an oblique reference to the feeding of the 5000, when Jesus commanded his apostles to gather up the fragments (Mt. 14:20//Mk. 6:43//Lk. 9:17//Jn. 6:12-13). It is hardly to be doubted that the miracle of feeding the 5000 was firmly connected in the teachings of Jesus to eating the “bread from heaven” (Jn. 6:26-59). That Jesus commanded his apostles to “gather the pieces that are left over…[that] nothing be wasted” seems to symbolize the apostolic mission to the nations of the world. Here also, for the first time, is a requirement that the Eucharist is reserved for those who have been previously baptized. This description of the Eucharist, while it is couched in the language of sacrifice, clearly is marked in the Didache as “spiritual food and drink”, just as Paul similarly spoke of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Co. 10:3-4). Even the ancient Israelites in the desert had received communion of a sort, for the rock from which the water gushed was a type of Christ.

After the celebration of the Eucharist, yet another liturgical prayer is offered:

We give thee thanks, Holy Father, for your holy name, which you have made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which you made known unto us through your Son, Jesus; yours is the glory forever and ever. You, Almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake, and gave food and drink unto men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to you; but you bestowed upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through your Son. Before all things we give you thanks that you are powerful; yours is the glory forever and ever. Remember, Lord, your church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in your love; and gather it together from the four winds—even the church which has been sanctified—into your kingdom which you have prepared for it; for yours is the power and the glory forever and ever. May grace come and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen!

Clearly, the major temple motif of the Old Testament—a dwellingplace for the holy name of God—has been fulfilled in a spiritual way in the community of Christian believers, who now have received God’s name tabernacled in their hearts. The liturgical responses of Hosanna, Maranatha and Amen round off the prayer.

Finally, the instructions regarding itinerant apostles and prophets regulated their length of stay and any requests for money. Such traveling Christians must not stay more than two or three days, and any requests for money were signs of a false prophet. Itinerants deserved food, but they must not take advantage of their position. They clearly were given the freedom to speak in the name of the Lord, but there were controls set in place to test their authenticity as well.

                Another very early description of Christian worship from nearly the same time as the Didache appears in a letter from Pliny, the Governor of Bithynia, to Trajan, the Roman Emperor (ca. AD 108-112). The value of this description is partly because it was composed by an outsider. Pliny was concerned about his method of prosecuting Christians, whose religion was not legal (now that Christians were distinguished from Jews). His province along the south coast of the Black Sea had been exposed to the Christian message at least since the composition of 1 Peter in the New Testament (cf. 1 Pe. 1:1). He wrote to Emperor Trajan, explaining his methods of interrogation, torture and execution, to which the emperor replied that his course of action was proper. However, Trajan also set forth that Christians were not to be sought out, but only prosecuted if they were formally accused—and anonymous charges were not to be entertained. In this correspondence, Pliny offered a brief description of Christian worship:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath (sacramentum) not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honor it; after which it was their custom to separate and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

                Once again, several features are prominent in this description. First, Christians met on a fixed day, probably Sunday. Because Sunday was an ordinary work day, they were compelled to meet in the pre-dawn darkness. The early morning service contained both hymn-singing and sacred commitment. The hymns were directed to Christ, recognizing him as divine. Possibly the sacramentum was a baptismal vow or possibly the Eucharist itself, or perhaps it simply refers to prayers in general. Later, possibly that same evening after their day’s work was completed, they assembled again, this time more clearly to celebrate the Eucharist. From this suggestion, some have suggested that the morning worship was a “service of the Word”, while the evening service was a “service of communion”.

                A few decades later (ca. AD 155), Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist, offered two contributions concerning Christian worship. The first describes a baptismal service followed by the Eucharist. Here, after the baptism, the newly baptized convert joins the assembly of worshippers, where prayer is offered and commitments are made to be “keepers of the commandments”. After the prayers, the kiss of peace is exchanged by congregational members, and the leader presents to the congregation the elements of the communion service.

There is then brought up to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at his hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying, “Amen.” This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

In explaining the communion, Justin says the food is called Eucharistia (= the Eucharist, the thanksgiving), and only baptized believers are allowed to participate. The bread and wine signify the flesh and blood of Jesus following the explanation of the Lord at the last supper, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”. Justin’s second description of worship is similar in kind:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying, “Amen”; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who assists the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [Saturday]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun [Sunday], having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

As with other post-apostolic references, the day of worship is Sunday. Prominent in the service are the readings of Scripture, where the writings of the apostles are listed alongside the writings from the Old Testament. The fact that the Scriptural readings are “as long as time permits” may be an intentional contrast with St. Paul’s restrictions on spontaneous gifts of prophecy or tongues. Paul restricts these two gifts to “two, or at the most, three” times in a given worship service (1 Co. 14:27, 29). Scripture, however, clearly takes precedence. The leader bases his exhortation on the Scriptural passages read, and the sermon is followed by communion. In both Justin’s descriptions, elements of the communion are carried by the deacons to brothers and sisters who were not able to attend. The service concludes with an offertory where gifts are given for the support of the poor or others in need. While the office of deacon is familiar from the New Testament, the title of “president” seems unusual. Perhaps this refers to the bishop or elder or pastor, since he presides over the communion.

                Various other fragments pertaining to early Christian worship are scattered throughout the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, but those given above are among the most complete. Altogether, the surviving accounts describe the major components of Christian worship to be Scripture reading, preaching, singing, praying, the Eucharist and giving.

Early Christian Worship: Part 3

               The concepts of sacred time and sacred space, central to Old Testament worship, were carried over into Christian worship, yet with considerable development beyond what was practiced in the Second Temple Period. In the first place, as with Jewish worship, Christians worshipped weekly. While in the earliest period they also may have attended the synagogue on Saturday, rather quickly they developed worship times on Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Ac. 20:7; 1 Co. 16:1-2; Rv. 1:10). Following the pattern of the synagogue, Christians developed worshipping communities throughout the world rather than depending upon a single site, such as, the Jerusalem temple.

                It is often assumed that Christians abandoned the Sabbath almost immediately, but this is hardly the case. As we already have seen, participation in the synagogue continued until around the turn of the century. Still, Christians also worshipped on Sunday in a service that was uniquely their own. Several religious and social factors affected this “first day of the week”. In the first place, all four gospels agree that it was the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1). Sunday also was the day the Spirit descended at Pentecost (Ac. 2:1). Only because Christians were perceived by the Romans to be a sect of Judaism did they have the liberty to meet as often as weekly. Pagan worship was largely the activity of individuals who did not worship together in a formal, community service, except on annual festivals in honor of a deified emperor. In any case, Rome did not permit regular meetings of voluntary associations more than once per month in the effort to control seditious groups. The Jews, because their religion was legally recognized by Rome, were granted an exception. Christians, so long as they were perceived as a sect of Judaism, benefited by this exception. Still, the fact that they met in private homes rather than in a temple with a statue might raise suspicions, and Paul warned the Corinthians about expected decorum during Christian worship in deference to the empire’s “messengers”, the scouts who sniffed out seditious meetings and reported on them to the authorities (1 Co. 11:10). Further, Sunday was not a day of rest in Rome, but a normal workday. Hence, unlike for the Sabbath, Christians could only meet at awkward hours, either very early or very late. At Troas, Paul attended a service of Christian worship that lasted virtually all night long (Ac. 20:7, 11). Early in the 2nd century (about AD 112), Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan says the Christian habit was to meet “on a certain fixed day before it was light”.

Other references from about the same period substantiate that Christian worship was regularly on Sunday. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) writes, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place…” An even earlier work, the Didache (ca. AD 100), says, “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks…” Ignatius (died ca. AD 110), similarly, speaks of Christians as “no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him…” Since the early 2nd century, almost all Christians have gathered for worship on Sunday.

                As to places for worship, the early Christians made use of a variety of venues. Already we have seen that in Jerusalem they gathered in the temple precincts, while in various parts of the world they attended the synagogues. What became even more common was the use of homes. Christians accommodated the social structure of the Greco-Roman oikonomia (household community) to worship settings. Such communities were large, socially cohesive units comprised of a number of families, usually under the authority of the senior male of the principal family. Often, such communities shared in common employment, either agriculture or mercantile enterprises, and lived on the same estate. The household consisted of families, friends, clients, free persons and slaves. The conversion of entire households doubtless facilitated the use of such estates as venues for Christian worship (Ac. 10:1-48; 16:13-15, 31-34; 18:8; 1 Co. 1:16). By the time Paul was writing letters at the mid-1st century mark, already he could name several homes where Christians customarily gathered for worship (Ro. 16:4-5, 14, 15, 23; 1 Co. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2). Of course, Paul was creative enough to use other facilities if they were available. In Ephesus, he utilized a public lecture hall, for instance (Ac. 19:9), but this seems to have been more the exception than the rule.

                Archaeologically, a most famous house church has surfaced in recent years, the fisherman’s home in Capernaum. Near the synagogue, archaeologists examined three superimposed structures, an octagonal-shaped building (5th century AD), under it yet an earlier structure (late 4th century AD, and beneath it a fisherman’s residence (1st century AD). Octagonal buildings in the Byzantine era were memorial churches, which is to say, churches built on sites to commemorate an ancient tradition. This one was constructed as concentric octagon (an octagon within an octagon). The inner octagon featured an apse oriented toward the east and a baptistry on the east side of the apse dating to about the middle of the 5th century. Beneath this church was yet another building dating to the late 4th century, this one also a church, judging from the graffiti (e.g., “Lord Jesus Christ help your servant…”, “Christ have mercy”, etched crosses on the walls, etc.). Some of the graffiti was in Greek, but one inscription was in Hebrew, possibly suggesting a Jewish-Christian community. This church had a central hall with an atrium and an arch over the center of the hall. In turn, it was constructed of yet an earlier existing house that dated to the Early Roman Period (ca. 63 BC and later). Sometime in the 1st century, the house was modified with plastered floors, ceiling and walls in a single room (very unusual for ancient Capernaum). At the time the room was plastered, the pottery changed from domestic (cooking pots, bowls, pitchers, etc.) to only storage jars and oil lamps. Obviously, people were no longer using this room for preparing and eating food. In the Early Roman Period, the only houses that were so plastered were buildings intended for public gatherings (plaster aids in reflecting light from oil lamps and provides better illumination). Once again, graffiti marks the room as one used by Christians (e.g., “Lord”, “Christ”, etc.). Altogether, the inscriptions consist of 111 in Greek, 9 in Aramaic, 6 or more in a Syriac alphabet, 2 in Latin and 1 in Hebrew. One particularly intriguing inscription may even contain the name of Peter, though this is not entirely clear. In the end, the name of Peter notwithstanding, the house in Capernaum may be one of the oldest house churches in existence, and while certainty cannot be obtained, circumstantial evidence suggests that it may have been the home of the big fisherman.

                Buildings used for Christian worship continued to be built. According to Eusebius (ca. AD 260-340), a large Christian church existed in Jerusalem prior to the Second Jewish Revolt (AD 135). In putting down the revolt, the Romans destroyed all significant buildings and rebuilt the city, so no remains are expected to be found. Mostly at this early period, Christians in the Mediterranean met in the large courtyards typical of the Greco-Roman oikonomia (household). In Rome, Christians met in the catacombs, not only to celebrate memorial services for their dead, but to share in the Eucharist. One of the earliest Christian churches outside Palestine has been discovered in Dura-Europos on the Euphrates River (ca. AD 232-3). It was adapted from a home, and the walls were painted with scenes from the Old Testament and the Gospels. Another from about the same period is currently being excavated in Megiddo, Israel. As of this writing, not too much can be concluded about this site other than it dates to about the mid-3rd century. Because it is from a period when Christianity was outlawed, excavators are reluctant to use the word “church”, since Christians did not have public buildings as such at this time. However, mosaics of fish (an early Christian symbol) and an inscription that unambiguously refers to Jesus Christ as God places the building squarely within an early Christian context. By the 3rd century, a veritable building boom of Christian churches occurred in most major Palestinian cities, and under Constantine, in the 4th century, even more were constructed, including the famous Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Typically, such churches were oriented toward the east and took the basic form of the Roman basilica, which was patterned after the Roman patrician home. The single religious symbol at this early period was the cross, and it began appearing in Christian worship settings before the end of the 1st century. In time, the addition of transepts made the basilica style into a cruciform shape, creating a distinctly Christian architecture. More than 130 of the churches in ancient Palestine were built with an apse for the communion altar. About a third of the excavated churches have a narthex, separating the interior holy space from the outside world. Hence, the first three centuries of Christianity saw Christian worship settings shift from caves, synagogues and private homes to structures built specifically for worship.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Early Christian Worship: Part 2

                In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul addresses at length the free participation of worshippers in offering expressions of verbal spiritual gifts. While he mentions in passing a short list of possibilities (“a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation”, cf. 1 Co. 14:26), his larger discussion focuses upon the gifts of tongues-speaking, the interpretation of tongues-speaking and prophecy. Whether or not such free offerings were typical or atypical of 1st century churches is not immediately clear, since such expressions are not described in any of his other letters. However, there are indications by Luke that such expressions may have been more widespread than generally acknowledged (cf. Ac. 10:44-46; 11:27-28; 19:6; 20:23; 21:10-11). This subject, of course, has been a lightning rod since the birth of Pentecostalism more than a century ago. Pentecostals and charismatics, working against a perceived formalism in the traditional churches, tend to argue that such expressions were normal and should be regularly expected in public worship. Non-Pentecostals and non-charismatics, reacting against what they perceive to be extremism, tend to argue that such expressions were more exceptional. While the outcome of this debate will probably never be settled, among the Corinthians, the gift of tongues-speaking seems to have been elevated as the supreme gift, and Paul is at some pains to show that it is only one among a number of spiritual gifts, not better than the others (1 Co. 12:4-31). Further, he points out that in public worship tongues-speaking requires special guidelines, since it is a gift that may not immediately be understood by the listeners (1 Co. 14:1-5). His guidelines proceed from the basic premise that what is unintelligible can hardly be edifying to the church (1 Co. 14:6-12, 14-19). Hence, any public use of tongues must be accompanied by an interpretation for the edification of the assembly (1 Co. 14:13, 27); otherwise, the one so gifted is required to remain silent in public. Further, there are limits for such expressions in a given worship service, “two—or at the most three” (1 Co. 14:27, 29). Also, under the rubric that things should be done “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Co. 14:32-33, 40), Paul does not allow two people to be speaking at the same time, whether in intelligible or unintelligible language (1 Co. 14:27, 30). Speakers must be “one at a time” and “in turn”. The basic rule that there should be no more than one person speaking at a time extends even to those who are not speaking in tongues, since Paul forbids women to interrupt the service of worship by calling out to their husbands (1 Co. 14:34-35). Presumably, this basic approach also would apply to any other verbal expressions in the worship service other than those parts that may have been spoken collectively in unison (i.e., the Amen, etc.).

                If the evidence of the New Testament letters is any indication, then the apostolic church was a preaching, teaching, believing and confessing community, that is to say, its very center was the content of its faith. It is likely that the reference to Timothy’s “good confession in the presence of many witnesses” refers to his confession of faith at the time of his baptism (1 Ti. 6:12), and Paul’s reference to the Corinthians’ confession of the gospel may be analogous (2 Co. 9:13). The documents of the New Testament are filled with such confessions. Typical in this regard is the introductory clause of 1 Timothy 3:16, “And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness…” (NASB). Many such confessions are short:

Jesus is Lord! (1 Co. 12:3; Romans 10:9) 

There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Co. 8:6).

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, [and] he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures… (1 Co. 15:3-4)

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro. 5:8b)

Such confessions define what it meant to be Christian, for as Paul said, “This is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (1 Co. 15:11). Peter spoke for them all when he declared the unique and exclusive Christian message: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Ac. 4:12). The “truth of the gospel” was a standard consciously upheld and protected (Ro. 16:17; Ga. 1:8-9; 2:14; 1 Th. 2:13). Those who departed from this standard were sharply rebuked (2 Co. 11:3-4; Ga. 1:6-7; 1 Ti. 6:3-5), and those who touted another message were cut off (1 Co. 5:3-5; 2 Th. 3:6; 1 Ti. 1:19-20; 2 Jn. 9-11).

This is not to say, of course, that there was no diversity among Christians. Rather, it is to say that the early Christians had a core of faith, they knew what it was, and they refused to allow it to be altered. Some Christians were Torah observant, while other Christians were not—and this diversity was permitted. Liberty was granted over various scruples concerning diet and the observance of holy days (Ro. 14). Paul could say that he “became all things to all men”, whether they were Jews under the Torah or others not under Torah (1 Co. 9:19-23), but these areas were never the core. The core itself, on the other hand, had to remain intact, and there was a sacred duty to preserve it without change. It was the “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Ti. 1:13), “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). It was what was “received” and “passed on” (1 Co. 11:23; 15:1, 3; 2 Th. 2:15).

How was this core passed on? Primarily through the public reading of Scripture and through preaching, forms that passed from the synagogue into the churches.

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Ti. 4:13)

The elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (1 Ti. 5:17)

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodecia. (Col. 4:16)

I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. (1 Th. 5:27)

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it… (Rv. 1:3, ESV)

Preaching could take the form of evangelism, where people were called to repent and believe the good news (Ac. 2:38; 3:19; 5:21, 42; 13:1; 1 Ti. 3:2). It could take the form of prophecy, that is, words for “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Co. 14:3). It could take the form of teaching, which doubtless included exposition, instruction and exhortation (Ac. 2:42; 18:11; 20:7, 11; Col. 1:28; 1 Ti. 4:13; 2 Ti. 3:16; Tit. 2:7-8). Behind apostles and prophets, teachers are ranked as the third most important leadership gift in the church (1 Co. 12:28).

                Finally, there is the collection of freewill gifts. While the Jewish system provided for a tithing structure to support the temple, the Levites and priests, and various charitable concerns, Christians had no such structure. Still, they were concerned to be stewards of their God-given resources. On more than one occasion, Christians helped support Paul in his missionary endeavors (Phil. 4:15-16), and other church leaders were supported as well (1 Co. 9:5-12a). Paul was not averse to tactfully asking for such support (Ro. 15:24, 28-29). Beyond this, relief efforts, especially during times of economic distress, were undertaken by Christians to help each other (Ac. 11:27-30). Paul urged his constituent churches to participate in such relief work (Ro. 15:25-27; Ac. 24:17; Ga. 2:10; 2 Co. 8-9). His advice to the Corinthians was probably typical in this regard:

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Co. 16:1-3)

Obviously, Paul could assume that the Corinthian Christians would be meeting together on Sunday, and during their worship service, a collection of funds would be made. His ethic was that Christians with means should be “generous and willing to share” (1 Ti. 6:18; Ga. 6:10).

                In summary, the central elements of Christian worship that come to us from the New Testament are these: the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist; public reading of Scripture, teaching and preaching; hymn-singing; communal prayer; opportunity for free expression of spiritual gifts; liturgical elements like the Thanksgiving, the Amen, the Maranatha, doxologies and blessings; the confession of faith; the collection of offerings. What did a 1st century worship service look like and how was it ordered? With no biblical description, it would be presumptuous to attempt precision or to assume that Christian worship in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor and Palestine was identical. Nonetheless, the above elements seem to be widely attested.

Early Christian Worship: Part 1

                Here I Intend to begin the first of four posts on the nature of early Christian worship as it can be gleaned from the bits and pieces as referred to in the New Testament.
                While to greater or lesser extent the earliest Christians still participated in both the temple (until its destruction) and the synagogue (until it became impossible to continue), they also began distinctively Christian worship. While such Christian worship was not directly connected to either temple or synagogue, it drew from temple motifs and synagogue patterns.

                Jesus left no formal order of worship, though he did leave two mandates for the sacramental practices of baptism and Eucharist. The earliest Christian worship services in Jerusalem seem to have been somewhat informal and convened on a daily basis:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Ac. 2:42) 

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. (Ac. 2:46-47a) 

They [Sanhedrin] were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (Ac. 4:2) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported… When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer… After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Ac. 4:23-24, 31)

All the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. …more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. (Ac. 5:12, 14) 

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Ac. 5:42) 

At this early juncture, it is probably fair to say that Christian worship was not yet normalized, that is, that there were as yet no formal principles regulating the service of worship. This is no more than would be expected of a group that had no formal mandate for a worship order. The expression “they broke bread” probably refers to the observance of the Eucharistic meal (Ac. 2:42, 46), and of course, baptisms were conducted for converts (Ac. 2:41). The apostles taught and preached the message of Jesus (Ac. 2:42; 4:2), and communal prayer was offered (Ac. 2:42; 4:24). The fact that they met in the temple courts suggests that they retained the basic concept of sacred space set apart for the worship of God (cf. Ac. 2:46; 5:12, 19-21, 42a), but the fact that they also met in homes implies their confidence that the indwelling of the Spirit sanctified all places where they gathered (Ac. 2:46; 5:42). The fact that the early Christians followed the “teaching of the apostles” (Ac. 2:42) distinguishes Christian allegiance from the teaching of other groups (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) and implies that Christians believed the Torah had been fulfilled in Jesus. Only after the Christian circle expanded beyond the environs of Jerusalem do we find the nucleus of an order of Christian worship.

Mostly what we find concerning early Christian worship services are bits and pieces. There exists in the New Testament no objective description of an early worship service. When Peter was arrested, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Ac. 12:5, 12). In a gathering of Christians for worship at Antioch, Syria, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned as missionaries (Ac. 13:1-3). At Troas in western Asia Minor, Christians gathered on Sunday evening “to break bread”, which implies the Eucharistic meal (Ac. 20:7, 11). In this context, Paul taught at length in an upstairs room illuminated by oil lamps (Ac. 20:8-9). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul could assume that his converts would gather for worship in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Co. 5:4; 11:18). He also could assume that in their corporate worship they would observe the Eucharistic meal (1 Co. 10:16-17; 11:17-34). Their meetings typically would be on Sunday, the first day of the week (1 Co. 16:2). During their worship gatherings, considerable room was afforded for congregational participation in song, instruction, and the expression of spiritual gifts (1 Co. 14:26). Both women and men were allowed to pray and address the congregation, though there were expected patterns of decorum (1 Co. 11:4-5; 14:39-40).

Some corporate, liturgical elements are clearly indicated, such as, “the Thanksgiving” (1 Co. 14:16), “the Amen” (1 Co. 14:16; 2 Co. 1:20), and the closing “Maranatha” (= “Our Lord, come!” 1 Co. 16:22).

And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Co. 1:20).

The references to “the thanksgiving” and “the amen” clearly have the definite article in the Greek text, which implies a formal element. Paul refers not merely to some incidental or spontaneous “thanksgiving” and “amen,” but rather to the amen and the thanksgiving. Unfortunately, some translations, such as the NIV, omit the definite articles, thus obscuring the liturgical framework. Maranatha is given in Aramaic. The fact that Paul would give a closing prayer in a language that ordinarily would hardly be understood by Corinthians in the Greek Peloponnesus almost certainly denotes a liturgical element, since otherwise it would have been incomprehensible unless it was a regular part of the service carried over from Palestine. What is true for Maranatha is equally true of Amen, which is a Hebrew word transliterated into Greek (and eventually, into English). Similarly, the word ‘Abba in addressing God, the Aramaic word for father, goes back to Jesus’ prayers and the Lord’s Prayer (cf. Mk. 14:36; Ro. 8:15; Ga. 4:6). The most natural context in which a Greco-Roman Christian in Italy or Asia Minor would employ the Aramaic word ‘Abba would be in reciting the Lord’s prayer.

                The widespread use of doxologies in the New Testament—standardized formulae offering praise to God—may well have been taken from worship settings (Ro. 16:27; Ga. 1:5; 1 Ti. 1:17; 6:16; 1 Pe. 5:11; Jude 25; Rv. 1:6; 7:12; 19:1). Doxologies typically begin with “Blessed be…” and are directed toward God. Typically they end with “Amen” (Ro. 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Ga. 1:5; Ep. 3:21; Phi. 4:20; 1 Ti. 1:17; 6:16; 2 Ti. 4:18; He. 13:21; 1 Pe. 4:11; 5:11; 2 Pe. 3:18). Often, they consciously refer to the Father, the Son and the Spirit (Ep. 1:3; 3:21; Ro. 16:27; He. 13:21; Jude 25; Rv. 5:13). Most naturally, such doxologies would have come at the conclusion of prayer. Similarly, New Testament benedictions—parting words of blessing upon God’s people—may also have been drawn from early Christian worship settings (e.g., 2 Co. 13:14).

                Other bits and pieces of evidence highlight music and singing. While we have no direct evidence about the use of musical instruments one way or another, it is possible if not likely that the early Christians did not use them, following synagogue practice, where they were banned. Still, vocal music clearly held a prominent place in Christian worship. Paul can assume that in Corinthian worship one of the expressions offered to the church would be “a hymn” (1 Co. 14:26). In Ephesus and Colossae, he can refer to “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ep. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Psalms would have included antiphonal singing (cf. Ezra 3:11; Ne. 12:24, 31), drawn from temple and synagogue, and hymns may have been original compositions, at least if Paul’s reference to hymns is analogous to similar references by his contemporary Philo. James can urge joyful Christians to “sing songs of praise” (Ja. 5:13), and while they were not exactly in a worship service, Paul and Silas sang in the midnight darkness of the Philippian jail (Ac. 16:25). Many scholars have suggested that the poetic forms of various New Testament passages may themselves have been derived from early Christians hymns. Luke’s Gospel contains several: the Magnificat (Lk. 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Lk. 1:68-79), the Gloria in excelsis (Lk. 2:14) and the Nunc Dimittis (Lk. 2:29-32), to borrow their Latin titles. The Book of Revelation contains several more (Rv. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13; 7:10, 12; 11:15, 17-18; 15:3-4; 22:17). All these parallel very closely the ancient psalms, and most scholars agree that they follow to a large measure the style of the Eighteen Benedictions of the temple and synagogue service. Later, these same compositions would be taken up in the liturgical use of the post-apostolic church. Such references occur in the Apostolic Constitutions, a compilation of directives concerning early church teaching and worship and derived from various sources and periods. Some probably go back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, some perhaps even earlier, others later.

                In addition to the poetic compositions more generally recognized as early Christian hymns, one should also recognize various passages in the Pauline literature that well may be fragments of early Christian hymns (Ep. 5:14; Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Ti. 1:17; 3:16; 6:15-16; 2 Ti. 2:11-13). In particular, Paul’s citation in Ephesians 5:14 is prefaced with the words, “Wherefore he [or “it] says…”

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

We might suppose that Paul is here quoting from the Old Testament, but in fact, he is not. Most scholars agree with the ancient opinion of Origen (AD 185-254) and Theodoret (5th century) that this is a fragment of a Christian hymn, possibly sung in the context of Christian baptism.

                In general, it is fair to say that these fragments, if indeed they are from the hymnody of the apostolic church, focus upon the central issues of the gospel itself—deeply held truths like the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, the messiahship and lordship of Jesus, the worthiness of God to be glorified, the Christian hope and so forth. None of them seem to give substantial attention to the psychological self of the worshipper. The center, just as with the ancient worshippers of the Old Testament, is the worth-ship of God, especially as mediated through his Son, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Belief System of Oneness Pentecostalism 5

The "Name" and the certain vindication of the future.

A final arena of distinctive Oneness thought concerns the "Name" and the vindication of the future. The revelation of the divine name "Jesus" as an end time event means, for Oneness believer, nothing less than the dawning of the kingdom of God in the present age. This divine action has garnered as its corollary a heightened Satanic darkness among the evil men and institutions of these latter days. This struggle of God and Satan will climax, according to Oneness projections, with the withdrawal of the restraints on evil embodied in the church of the "Name" in the "rapture" and the onrush of a worldwide catastrophic judgment on evil in the "tribulation period." But prior to the climactic events, God will restore the church to its true apostolic power, producing a revival of worldwide proportions. The Oneness Pentecostal sees himself as a "servant of the final age of revival," a tool in the end time restoration of the church.10

This eschatological intensity and the claim of an end time revelation of the saving name of God ostracized the Oneness believers from the growing institutional stability of the Assemblies of God. Their forced withdrawal from this body in 1916 led to a strong persecution complex and the modification of their eschatological expectations. Rather than as a force for renewing the existing churches, Oneness believers came to see themselves as opposed to and a divine witness against unfaithful Christendom. Opposition to the Oneness theology of the "Name" by Trinitarian Pentecostals amounted to a full rejection of Christ himself. "Come-outism" gripped Oneness leaders as they came to make exclusive claims on knowledge of God's person and Christian salvation. Emphasis shifted from the saving message of the name of Jesus as that "name whereby we must be saved" to the eschatological vindication of the Oneness movement through the selfsame judging name "before which every knee shall bow."

In the Oneness mentality, the future coming of Christ will reverse present injustices. The believer will triumph in his daily struggle with the powers of darkness and will enjoy full fellowship with God. Human institutionspolitical and economicwith their powers to oppress the Christian believer will be laid powerless before the judgment of a sovereign God. But most significantly, the religious status quo will be uncovered as false Christianity and the Oneness believers will be elevated to their rightful place of prominence. Nominal Christians will either be condemned to hell for their rejection of the Oneness message or relegated to a sub-salvational position due to their ignorance. The eschatological claim of superior revelationwhen reinterpreted in light of hostile rejection of the Oneness movementreversed the role of Pentecostal eschatology from incentive for evangelism to future vindication. In this manner, Oneness Pentecostalism has maintained its eschatological intensity on a prolonged basis despite the upward economic mobility of its adherents.


10Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, p. 413.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Belief System of Oneness Pentecostalism 4

The "Name, the"perfected humanity" of Christ, and the redeemed life of the believer

The strongest practical impact of the Oneness theology of the "Name" and radical redefinition of Christian monotheism appears in the realm of ethical life: the "Name," the "perfected humanity" of Christ, and the redeemed life of the believer. Walter Hollenweger correctly points out that the desire to "live with one's fellowman in a bearable and human fashion" is not the source of Pentecostal ethics. Rather the various practices and restrictions arise from the prospect of (or the fear of losing) the eternal glories of heaven. The invitation to the great eschatological meal, the prospect of rising above current dilemmas into an unending fellowship with God, and the contingency of such future rewards on present conduct underlies all Pentecostal ethics.

The function of ethics is to keep the believer on the narrow way which leads to heaven. As long as ethics has the function of preserving the white garment for the kingdom of heaven, the concern of Pentecostal ethics can never be for one's fellow man, but only for oneself: I must endeavor not to get my hands dirty, not to have any stain on the marriage garment, so that I might be ready when Jesus comes. To this extent it is also necessary to behave respectably toward my fellow men, otherwise my account in heaven is blotted. So a Pentecostal is friendly and patient with his neighbors and business colleagues. Even more, he regards them as potential objects of evangelism. A Pentecostal's love for these candidates is genuine in so far as he seeks to save them from hell.7

In addition to this eschatological orientation to ethics, Oneness believers embrace a moral perfectionism based on their understanding of the person of Christ. Christology necessarily dominates the Oneness doctrine of God. The Christological redefinition of "Father" and "Son" in terms of the divine-human interplay within the incarnate God Jesus doubly impacts upon the believer's life. First, the ready accessibility of the "human God" who is compassionate to human misery, anxiety, and limitation opens wide the possibility of salvation. Secondly, this Christology demands a "perfected life" of the believer accomplished by imitating the example of the "perfected humanity" of Christ and resting in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life.

The sinlessness of Christ plays a central role in Oneness Christology and ethics. Here, the "Father-Son" Christology, often portrayed in Nestorian terms, takes a definite Apollinarian slant. For some Oneness believers, the "Spirit of God" replaces the "human spirit" in the man Jesus, insuring that although he is tempted in every conceivable manner, he nevertheless resists all.8 In an interesting corollary, the Spirit- filled believer is himself presented as a miniature incarnation of the divine, weak in his humanity, but strong through the abiding Holy Spirit which calls him to and makes him capable of moral perfection. This triumphalism, although not human in origin, affirms the present, rather than eschatological, perfectibility of the believer.

Upon closer investigation, Oneness ethics reveal roots in a realized, or at least inaugurated, eschatology. The perfection of the future age is already being realizedat partial and hidden levelsin the present by the work of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers. Future communion with God is already experienced in the real presence of God in the acts of ritual worship. Eternity only extends this communion quantitatively, not qualitatively. With the Lucan tradition (the central biblical basis of Oneness Pentecostalism), these Pentecostals deal with the delay of Christ's physical return through his spiritual return in the "divine epiphany" (at Pentecost and in contemporary corporate worship). In this interim "Age of the Spirit," the cross of Christ provides a two-fold function in the believer's present lifeas a substitutionary atonement for past sins and an example for self-denial in daily ethical lifeand foreshadows the full victory of the "Age to Come."

Oneness restorationism is also apparent in its ethical standards and restrictions. Although many early Pentecostalsespecially the Finished Work or Baptistic Pentecostals which include the Assemblies of God, the direct forbears of much of the Oneness movementdid not fully embrace the restrictions on behavior, dress, and associations held by Methodist-Holiness believers, Oneness Pentecostals, in their zeal to maintain the intensity of the earliest Pentecostal revivals, perceived themselves as the guardians of these taboos in a rapidly compromising world. This reaction parallels the Oneness retrenchment concerning displays of demonstrative worship, the centrality of Spirit baptism, and the eschatological nature of the Pentecostal revivals. This reaction also explains the apparent contradiction of Oneness "Baptistic theology and Holiness praxis."9 The ethical conservatism of Oneness Pentecostalism became a sure token of its restorationist purity. The farther other Pentecostals (especially those with Baptist roots) moved away from Holiness restrictions, the stronger Oneness believers embraced them. Currently, Oneness leaders continually seek a "revival of holiness," a reaffirmation of these behavioral taboos by third, fourth, and fifth generation believers.

Such rejection of worldly involvement and pleasure demands a Christian alternative. For the Oneness believer, church life serves to meet social and entertainment as well as religious needs. (Perhaps the key to the diversification of ministries lies here.) As the believer matures, he progresses closer and closer to the inner circles of conformity in personal ethics and worship participation. The Oneness community turns in on itself, packing densely the fully committed at its core and radiating out in concentric circles of commitment and participation. The non-participant, the former Oneness believer who no longer attends services but still believes in the presence of God in the community, rests on the farthest circle. Despite his lack of participation, he remains a prime candidate for re-initiation at a future date.

Redeemed life, for the Oneness adherent, is community life. Although ethical demands extend obligations to employers and the state, the majority of such demands focus on the inner workings of the community's social structure. Almost all "positive" ethical demandsthose which prescribe a positive act of service toward another, rather than restrict behaviorconcern inter-community relations. Neighbor-love extends primarily, if not solely, to fellow believers. The positive and social quality of inter-community ethics quickly fades in the larger context of the hostile, secular society. Beyond the community, Oneness ethics become strictly personal and negative, restricting the believer's actions and associations.

7Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing Co., 1972), p. 408.

8This tendency is especially clear in the teachings of Robert A. Sabin, an instructor at Apostolic Bible Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota.

9David A. Reed, "Oneness Pentecostalism: Tracing the Emergence of an American Religious Movement," paper presented at the First Occasional Symposium on Aspects of the Oneness Pentecostal Movement, Harvard Divinity School, July 1984, p. 12.

Next Post: The "Name" and the certain vindication of the future.