The Name and the Sound of Breath

On various social media, and in sermons, and teachings, the claim is sometimes made that the Hebrew name of God equates to the sound of breathing.

That teaching goes something like this:

There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what his name is. God was gracious enough to answer, and the name he gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as YHWH.

Over time we’ve arbitrarily added an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH, presumably because we have a preference for vowels.

But scholars and Rab[b]i’s have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants. When pronounced without intervening vowels, it actually sounds like breathing.

YH (inhale): WH (exhale).

So a baby’s first cry, his first breath, speaks the name of God.

A deep sigh calls His name – or a groan or gasp that is too heavy for mere words.

Even an atheist would speak His name, unaware that their very breathe is giving constant acknowledgment to God.

You can find this example at https://diggingdeeper.net/2022/02/17/my-very-breath/.

So, let’s dig a little deeper. It is true that God has a name in the Hebrew Bible, not just a descriptor or category (such as god [elohim], lord [adonai]). In the text where the Lord appears to Moses through a burning bush, the narrator wrote,

God [ʾᵉlōhı̂m] said to Moses, “I AM [ʾehyê] WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14–15

Lost in English translation is that “the LORD” is hiding the name of God in Hebrew. This name is sometimes transliterated into English with the four letters, YHWH, called the Tetragrammaton in academic parlance. Though this text in Exodus introduces the name to Moses, its first appearance in the Bible is at Gen 2:4 and the name appears over 6800 times in the whole Bible.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint (abbr. LXX), translated God’s name as either “God” (θεός; theos) or “Lord” (κύριος; kurios). The latter translation begins the tradition of translating God’s name as “Lord.” The New Testament authors wrote in Greek and used the Septuagint and so consequently they speak of God as “Lord,” a term they also applied to Jesus.

Speaking of the development of the tetragrammaton, we did not somehow arbitrarily come up with the vowels between the consonants. Nor did Hebrew speakers lack a preference for vowels—it is actually hard to speak without vowels. Rather Hebrew did not express every vowel in written form—though some of the Hebrew alphabet function as vowels. In time, scribes created vowel markings so the vowels would not be forgotten as Hebrew became less used. Below I have given a copy of Gen 1:1 without and with vowels (and other diacritical markings) noted.

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

Hebrew had vowels before the vowel markers were added. But when it comes to YHWH, scholars remain uncertain exactly how this word was pronounced because the Masoretes, the scribes responsible for the vowel markings in the Hebrew Bible, used the vowels for adonai (“lord” or “master”) and would read the name as adonai or “the name” to avoid the misuse of God’s name in keeping with the third commandment. (See any standard Bible dictionary or encyclopedia for this information; e.g., I consulted Geoffrey W. Bromiley, editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], s.v. “God”).

Instead of the sound of breathing, the name YHWH is related to the verb “to be” (הָוָה; hāwâ) in Hebrew. It would convey the sense that God is the “one who is,” thus, directly connecting to the “I am who I am,” or even “I will be who I will be” of Exodus 3:14. This link is clear and uncontested to Hebrew scholars as the footnote in the NIV 2011 points out: “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.” Leon R. Kass, Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), 73, points out that the name of God YHWH is the “correlative third-person singular, imperfect, of the same verb: ‘He is being,’ ‘He will be being.'” As a verb, YHWH would be read as “he is,” not an onomatopoeia of breathing in and out.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the LXX dealt with the awkwardness of God announcing that his name is “I AM” in this way: Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, which translated would be something like “I am the being one.” Thus,” says the Lord (Κύριος), The One Who Exists (Ὁ ὢν) sent me to you.” The point is that God’s name revolves around the notion of the one who exists and who exists on God’s own terms. God’s existence, unlike our own, is not contingent or dependent on anything. God EXISTS! That is what is embedded in God’s personal name YHWH.

So who are the scholars and rabbis who say the name of God replicates the sound of breathing? You will note that in the piece cited above no bibliographic data is given and for good reason. None exists. Here you will only hear the sound of silence. You will not find this information in the Bible or any ancient Jewish source.

So take a deep breath. Now let it out, and be assured that God exists.

Did Jesus Fold the Cloth in His Tomb? The Myth of the Napkin in the Tomb

Around Easter every year, this little tale surfaces in various places on social media about the importance of Jesus folding the cloth that was about his head (John 20:1–10). The story goes something like this:

In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, we need to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating.

The servant would not dare touch the table until the master was finished. Now if the master was finished eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth, clean his beard, and wad up the napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, “I’m finished.”

But if the master got up from the table, folded his napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!”

Let us be reminded daily during this post-Easter season, Jesus Christ is “Not Finished.” He is coming back for his faithful servants within his Church.

https://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2017/04/21/devotional-why-did-jesus-fold-napkin-tomb/100612470/ as one example.

A couple of things should catch the attention of a discerning reader of Scripture. John does not make this interpretation but rather leaves the incident for his readers to ponder. And, secondly, the tomb of Jesus was not a dining table and Jesus’s burial cloth was not a napkin. This so-called tradition of setting aside the napkin to indicate the master would be coming back simply does not exist in Jewish tradition. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

The author of the Gospel of John had a very different reason for telling this story and reading the text of the Gospel of John carefully brings this to the forefront. Here is the text:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

John 20:3–9 NIV2011

John (the other disciple) had reached the tomb first, and it was John who made the correct logical deduction as to why the garments were there. “He saw and believed,” to which the narrative adds “They did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

For the Gospel writer, the deduction was logical and natural. The burial garments pointed to one clear fact: Jesus had risen from the dead (and this was in accordance with Scripture). The author makes no extended metaphorical application to a napkin on the table. They are what they are purported to be: burial garments without a corpse.

Just to cover the topic fully, let’s start with the particular words used for the materials in the text.

The word for the cloth that covered the body of Jesus is othonion (ὀθόνιον), which means cloth or cloth wrapping, generally of linen. In the context of John, we are speaking of burial wrappings.

The more important term in this conversation is soudarion (σουδάριον), which refers to a facecloth often used for wiping away perspiration. Interestingly, this is a word borrowed from the Latin (sudairium) which was, in fact, used for wiping the face of sweat. Conveniently, it would be comparable in size to what we today call a napkin. More problematic is the participle describing the cloth which was set apart from the larger linen cloth. John describes it as being “wrapped around,” even, twisted or rolled. “Folded” is not the meaning of this word (though a few newer translations goes in that direction). Louw and Nida in their lexicon underscore the meaning as “to enclose an object by winding something about or around it — ‘to wrap, to bandage.’” or “to cause something to be in the shape of a roll — ‘to roll up, to make into a roll.” So in the end, the cloth was not folded, but still retained the shape of being wrapped around something. The KJV has it right with “wrapped together.”

Now, the move from a head cloth in a tomb to a napkin on the table is unwarranted because there is no such Jewish tradition as so stated in the urban legend.

I have located only one reference to a napkin at the table in Jewish lore. In the Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish tradition, some of which goes back to the first century, a text (Berakhot 8:2–4) recounts the disagreement between Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel over whether one’s hands should be washed before or after the filling of the cup at dinner. Shammai prefers that the napkin should be placed on the table after the hands had been washed; Hillel thinks the napkin should be placed on a cushion. Next, in the debate, follows a discussion about whether the floor should be swept before the final washing of hands.

To reiterate, no tradition regarding a folded napkin every Jewish boy would know ever existed. Unfortunately, as heart-warming as it may be, the folded napkin tradition was completely fabricated or stitched together out of thin air.

Covid-19: Confession, Commitment, and Capacity

Perhaps, so far, I’m among the lucky ones. My work has continued, my travel schedule has been wiped clean, some commitments have been postponed, and I have had a chance to catch my breath a bit—and it came at a time I needed it. But Covid-19 has been a disrupter; my taken-for-granted activities of movement and gathering, like yours, have become gridlocked. The repetitive cycle between office and bed, with intermittent random TV, attempts to creep into the vacuum left by those other things I use to do. I’m grateful to our Creator for that patch of creation I call the “yard”—which is getting more attention than it has in years.

Sporting my Covid non-haircut

In the “in-between,” you know, the space between the normal and the hoped-for new normal, I live with a tension. The “experts” on Facebook and other social media caution with forked-tongue: “use this time to rest, to recalibrate” vs. “use this time to catch-up, to prepare for when Covid-19 is over.” I wonder if this might be something of a both/and rather than an either/or option.

“…now is possibly the time to let them go.”

What if we do a bit of both? On the one hand, let’s not fill in the vacuum so quickly. Chances are you were, like me, too busy before the crisis came. Before you take on another task, think carefully about how it fits in the journey God has you on. If it does not fit, let it pass. Having those things taken off your plate, now might be a good time to reassess, and keep them off your plate indefinitely, instead of recommitting to them in the new normal. If you found in the old normal that certain commitments created much stress as the deadlines approached, and that you wondered whether you should have done them in the first place—now is possibly the time to let them go.

“Now is a good time to explore…”

NOW is a good time to explore what God has for you. If you have that sense, move in that direction, and fight that “need to be needed” that drives our over-commitments. If you have a sense of your calling, use this time to drill deeper into it. If this is a down time for you, work on building your capacity. If you are among those unemployed because of the crisis, use this time to become better at what you are passionate about. Read that pivotal book in your field that you have put off because of the demands of work. Learn something new that will invest in your future and bless those near you.

“…have the courage to make the move that aligns you with God’s calling.”

If you have not been doing what you have been made to do—and you sense it deep down—have the courage to make the move that aligns you with God’s calling. Finally, in your relationship with God and his people, take the rest—God is getting us ready for the next. But also drill deeper into the divine life while you might have some time because the world will be working hard to get back to normal soon and it will want to drag you along with it.

Shared from https://abccampus.ca/abc-news/now-is-a-good-time/

Fellowship is more than Eating Together

By this point, you are probably a bit weary of self-isolation. You now long for fellowship, that sense of being together. And while “fellowship” has often been reduced to the church potluck, we know that it is deeper than that.

One of the challenges of getting a biblical view of fellowship is that word has become a “church” word and we don’t generally think of fellowship as a way of living. It is this broader since of the word fellowship (κοινωνέω (koinoneo) and related words in the New Testament). This word group is about being co-participants in something, like being partners, and is close to the idea of sharing with one another. For examples, James and John were said to be partners with Simon (Luke 5:10). The earliest church was devoted to living life together (Acts 2:42). Paul called on the Roman Christians to contribute to the needs of God’s people (Rom 12:13). He also knew that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were happy to share their resources with the poor believers in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26). Our life together means that we share in each other’s sufferings and consolations (2 Cor 1:7).

In seeking to gather gifts to take back to Jerusalem from the Gentile churches, Paul spoke of the ministry of giving as fellowship. In 2 Cor 8:4, he calls it the privilege (Greek here is grace) of sharing in this ministry to God’s people and commended their generosity of sharing with others (2 Cor 9:13). He also commended the Philippians for their participation in supporting his ministry (Phil 4:5). When we give to our church, we are in fellowship with each other in living out the mission of God.

This word group is also used to describe our intimate life with God. For example, God’s faithfulness has called us into the fellowship of God’s son (1 Cor 1:9). Paul later framed the Lord’s Supper as a sharing or communion in Jesus’s blood and body (1 Cor 10:16). Paul’s closing benediction in 2 Cor includes that the communion of the Holy Spirit would be with God’s people (cf. Phil 2:1). Paul sought to know Christ and the power of the resurrection and the sharing in his suffering that would make us like Christ in his death (Phil 3:10). This type of sharing goes deeper than just sharing our stuff. It is sharing the life of Jesus within and among us.

There are more scriptures that could illustrate the use of fellowship in the New Testament, but these are plenty so that it went far beyond the church potluck. John in his first letter has a particularly unique way of talking of fellowship. John is seeking a fellowship relationship with his readers (1 John 1:3) that is joined to a kind of fellowship with the Father and the Son. This fellowship with the Son cannot be joined to “walking in the darkness” (1 John 1:6); however, if we walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, then “we have fellowship with one another the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Don’t reduce John to saying that we have fellowship because we walk in the light. John makes it clear that we all sin. John is more dynamic than that. He invites us into a relationship that involves participation with God and when that is in full swing we have the basis for having a fellowship with each other. In Christian thinking, these two go together. We love God; we love our neighbours. Another way to say this is that we largely express our participation in God by the way we partner with other people.

Fellowship is more than eating together; fellowship is living together.

 

 

Those Missing Verses Again

Perhaps you have seen posts warning of the missing verses in the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV) of the New Testaments. One such post looks like this:

KJV-NIV Missing VersesWarning NIV:ESV Missing Verses

Sounds fairly ominous, don’t you think? However, notice these telltale signs that whoever composed this did not know what they were doing. At the end of the piece, one is warned to get earlier versions of the NIV and ESV. Only thing, an earlier version of either of these translations will not get your missing verses back because they essentially depend on the same ancient Greek manuscripts (MSS). The reader is further warned to keep a hard copy because a digital version like one might find in the a Bible app, like the OliveTree Bible Study app, might be changed on you. I do find it odd that the author of this slander chose only one app–there are so many good ones to choose from.

64,575 words have been removed! Really? I’d like to see that list. These words, so the warning screams, include Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost, and omnipotent. Let’s test this point.

Jehovah only occurs in the KJV 4 times (Exod 6:3; Ps 83:18; Isa 12:2; 26:4) and 3 other times Jehovah is part of place names (Jehovahjireh, Gen22:14; Jehovahnissi, Exod 17:5; and Jehovahshalom, Judges 6:24). I expected a lot more. Jehovah is an ugly transliteration of the divine name of God in Hebrew (YHWH; יהוה). No one know exactly how it was pronounced but the Jews—so as not to use the Lord’s name in vain—always replaced it with the Hebrew word adonai meaning “lord or sir.” Jehovah is the result of blending the consonants of the divine name with the vowels of adonai. Scholars of Hebrew suggest that Yahweh is closer to the original pronunciation but many use YHWH when writing the name. Nonetheless, the KJV regularly translates the divine name as LORD–all capital letters so readers can see when the name of God is used in the original Hebrew. In modern English translations, one will find LORD as the translation of God’s divine name. So no words lost here.

Next. Calvary. The Greek in Luke 23:33 is Κρανίον (Kranion) or “skull.” The Latin is “Calvariae” and means — wait for it— “skull.” And now you know where English translators got “Calvary.”

The Holy “Ghost” of previous translations become the Holy “Spirit,” as ghost now denotes a phantom, i.e, the spirit of dead people. The 1611 KJV had originally used Holy Spirit in the following places: Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10–11; Luke 11:13; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8. Nothing lost here, again.

The KJV used the word omnipotent of God in only one place, and that is, Rev 19:6. The NIV translated the word here as “Almighty,” as in “Lord God Almighty” which is a good translation of the word παντοκράτωρ which means “all-mighty.” Nothing amiss here, either.

Ok, nothing to see here, folks. No missing words among these examples.

But what about those missing verses? Imagine with me. What if the reverse were true and that the older version, such as the KJV of 1611, included “added” verses and words?

And, actually, this is closer to the truth. When the KJV was translated, the translators had access to very few manuscripts of the New Testament and the readings from these manuscripts were the basis of the available three printed texts of the New Testament. There was Erasmus’s 1516 Greek New Testament (based on 7 Greek MSS of the NT, dating from the 12th to the 15th century). Then, there was Robertus Stephanus’s Greek NT (the 1550 edition being the most important). And lastly the KJV translators had Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek NT. These printed editions formed the texts on which the King James Version of the New Testament was based.

The translators also had access to earlier English translations of the Bible, including Coverdale’s (1535), Matthew’s (1537), The Great Bible (1539), the Taverner’s Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568)–a fairly long tradition of English Bible translations. And, of course, they had access to the Latin Vulgate.

What they did not have is the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament that have been discovered since 1611. It is the discovery of these older manuscripts that change the textual base for translation. And these older MSS did not have the text that newer translations supposedly “removed.”

Let use Matthew 18:11 as an example.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

ἦλθε γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

A similar text occurs in Luke 19:10 and there is no doubt that it belongs here since all MSS have it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

ἦλθεν γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ζητῆσαι καὶ σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

So if there were some clandestine plan to remove Matt 18:11, why would translators leave in Luke 19:10? The answer is that what we have labeled Matt 18:11 (remember verse numbers were added later) was not originally in the Gospel of Matthew. Later scribes added it because they knew the text from Luke. How do I know this?

The oldest MSS we have that contains these words at Matt 18:11 is the 5th century MSS known as Codex Bezae and next a 7th century MSS known has Codex Basiliensis.

The oldest manuscripts that we that do not have these words at Matt 18:11 are the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and the 4th century Codex Vaticanus. While the evidence is much more complicated than these four examples, it is enough to show that scholars must decide, when the text is different, which one is more likely original. Important to note here again is that the KJV translator did not have access to these earlier MSS . Thus, newer translations are now based on our oldest and more reliable MSS and the verses that are declared “missing” were not there in the first place. This is true of all of the supposed “missing” verses.

So, in the end, it is still true that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but among the lost is not any of the verses mentioned here.

On Church Assemblies Not Meeting

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, more affectionally known as Pliny the Younger, lived from AD 61 to around 113. In his letter (10.96) to Emperor Trajan, Pliny sought guidance in handling the Christians to which Trajan offered his counsel (10.97).

When Pliny first encountered Christians in his role as proconsul (legatus Augusti) of the province of Bithynia, he was uncertain about how to deal with them. He asked the Emperor a variety of questions. Should Christians be punished just because they are Christians? Should they be punished if the recanted of being a Christian? Should Christians be punished only because they have been caught doing something illegal?

Pliny stated

… this is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it I repeat the question a second and third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist I sentence them to death. For I do not doubt that, whatever kind of crime it may be to which they have con­fessed, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy should certainly be punished. There were others who displayed a like madness and whom I reserve to be sent to Rome, since they were Romans citizens.

From those who renounced their allegiance to Jesus, Pliny learned their guilt or error was basically this

that on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally (Lat. carmen … dicere secum invicem) to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath (Lat. sacramentum), not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith, and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed. After the con­clusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food; but it was ordinary and harmless food

But, Pliny continued, they had ceased the practice of meeting after he had issued an edict forbidding the meeting of “secret societies.” Wanting to know more, Pliny tortured two female ministers (Lat. ministrae) but found only a “depraved and extravagant superstition.”

Noting the impact that Christianity had had on the culture, Pliny closes his letter with this last paragraph:

The matter seemed to me to justify my consulting you, especially on account of the number of those imperiled; for many persons of all ages and classes and of both sexes are being put in peril by accusation, and this will go on. The contagion of this superstition has spread not only in the cities, but in the villages and rural districts as well; yet it seems ca­pable of being checked and set right. There is no shadow of doubt that the temples, which have been almost deserted are beginning to be frequented once more, that the sacred rites which have been long neglected are being renewed, and that sacrificial victims are for sale everywhere, whereas, till recently, a buyer was rarely to be found. From this it is easy to imagine what a host of men could be set right, were they given a chance of recantation.

Pliny’s letter to Trajan is a fascinating window into the world of the earliest Christians. I encourage you to the read the letter in full for yourself. Also, because we have Trajan’s letter reply to Pliny, we get to see how the Romans viewed Christians before AD 117:

You have taken the right line, my dear Pliny, in examining the cases of those de­nounced to you as Christians, for no hard and fast rule can be laid down, of universal ap­plication. They are not to be sought out; if they are informed against, and the charge is proved, they are to be punished, with this reservation—that if any one denies that he is a Christian, and actually proves it, that is by worshipping our gods, he shall be pardoned as a result of his recantation, however, suspect he may have been with respect to the past. Pamphlets published anonymously should carry no weight in any charge whatsoever. They constitute a very bad precedent, and are also out of keeping with this age.

Here we see that the earliest Christians were willing to give up public gatherings to play their role as exemplary citizens. What the faithful would not do is denounce their allegiance to Jesus or bow their allegiance to Caesar.

Oh, and for the record, these Christians were really being persecuted by the government.

 

_______________

The excerpts above are from Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

 

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Recently I was reminded of a Charlie-ism, a saying of the late Charles Siburt, who had a knack of compressing a great amount of wisdom in a few pithy aphorisms. Since I did my Doctor of Ministry work under his leadership, I heard many of his sayings first-hand. One was “Most wounds are self-inflicted.” And how true that is for leaders–at least, I can give testimony of this piece of wisdom.

I wondered if this might also be true of congregations. As I have coach and counselled churches and their leaders through the years, I have come to realized that getting churches to quit doing the counter-productive things was nearly as important as helping them do the right things. For example, if a church is not collecting basic information on visitors, then there can be no follow-up. Or if a church is not tracking individual attendance, then, they cannot be proactive in caring for people who are thinking about leaving.

While pondering the meaning of Charlie’s statement, it occurred to me that Peter Wagner in his book The Healthy Church (Regal, 1996) gave a list of what he called “Church Diseases” and, as I noticed, most of them were self-inflicted. Here is Wagner’s list with a quick explanation:

Ethnikitis happens when a church finds itself in an changing neighbourhood and refuses to adapt to serve the people who now actually live in their community.

 

People Blindness occurs when we look past the different kinds of people around us. The people are there but we, for various reasons, seem not to be able to see them.

 

Hypercooperation happens when a church works harder to get along with other believers rather than focusing on God’s mission .

 

Koinonitis is the disease we experience when our local fellowship is too tight to let new people in.

 

We suffer from Sociological Strangulation when the potential of growth is there but we can’t keep up with leadership and structural development to support growth.

 

Arrested Spiritual Development is the condition where long-time “disciples” of Jesus have not progressively grown into becoming like Jesus..

 

Saint John’s Syndrome is apathy, or “lukewarmness.”

Wagner was being somewhat playful in naming his “diseases,” but his goal was to help us do critical self-reflection and assessment in our work as congregational leaders. My point in sharing is that it’s possible in congregational life for most wounds also to be self-inflicted. And this leads me to another Charlie-ism, “If you can name it, you can manage it.”

 

How Should We Then Live

One of my favourite readings from early Christianity is this excerpt from an unknown writer offering a defence of what it means to be a Christian to a certain (also unknown) Diognetus. Writing about the end of the second century, the author seeks to show that Christians have a certain relationship to the countries and governments under which they find themselves living. Given the present politicized environment, it might be good medicine to help the church get back to being the church.

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. 2 For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life. 3 This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. 4 But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. 

5 They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. 

6 They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. 7 They share their food but not their wives. 

8 They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.  9 They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. 10 They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. 

11 They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. 12 They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. 13 They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. 14 They are dishonoured, yet they are glorified in their dishonour; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. 15 They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. 16 When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. 

17 By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility. 6:1 In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.

Epistle to Diognetus 5:1–6:1

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