Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Church Ordinances: Communion

The Savior's Banquet

1 Cor 11:23-26
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

The typical Baptist church observes communion with small cups of juice and pieces of bread. It is a practice that can be confusing to those present for the first time, especially children.
A little boy was visiting his grandparents one weekend and went to church with them. The congregation was observing communion, something the boy had never seen, so he asked his grandfather about it afterwards. "That was Jesus' Last Supper," his grandfather explained. "Wow," the boy replied... "they didn't feed him much!" (Adapted from Rowell 1996:42)
We may not realize how this practice impacts young minds, even beyond the event itself.
A minister responded to a Red Cross appeal for blood donations. When he didn't come home by the time his young son expected him, the boy asked his mother, "Is Dad visiting sick people?" "No," his mother replied, "he's giving blood." Somewhat alarmed, the boy said..."But we know it's really grape juice." (Adapted from Rowell 1996:41)
Despite what passes for communion today, the initial context for that event involved much more than small cups of juice and pieces of bread. As Jesus observed it on the night he was betrayed, there was a full meal. It was, indeed, The Savior's Banquet.

Church Ordinances: Baptism

The Disciple's Baptism

Romans 6:3-4
Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

One of the minister's goals in preparing for Sabbath morning is to coordinate the various elements of the service so they direct the congregation's attention where it belongs.
A preacher was winding up his temperance sermon with great fervor. "If I had all the beer in the world," he cried, "I'd take it and throw it in the river." The congregation responded with a resounding, "Amen!" "And if I had all the wine in the world," the preacher continued, "I'd take it and throw it in the river." Again, the congregation cried, "Amen!" "And if I had all the whiskey and demon rum in the world, I'd take it all and throw it in the river." Yet again, the congregation cried, "Amen!" When the preacher sat down, a deacon stood up and said. "For our closing hymn, turn to page 126 and sing together... We Shall Gather at the River."
Although, it is usually best to coordinate the various elements of the service, I will not be suggesting this morning that we throw anything into the river. I do want us to consider another use for water, one that Jesus advocated, and that is The Disciple's Baptism.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More on the blessing of children

Child Blessing1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

"The Rabbi's Blessing" Moritz Oppenheim (1800-1882)
When the gentile church separated from the synagogue, it jettisoned some Jewish practices and altered others. Circumcision, for example, gave way to infant baptism (Manuel 1990).2 After the Reformation, some Christian groups attempted to restore biblical practices. Baptists reinstated believer's (adult) baptism and, wanting some appropriate ceremony for children, replaced infant baptism with infant dedication.3

I. The common practice today is infant dedication, derived from Luke 2:22-24.

The biblical justification for the latter is often Jesus' first visit to the temple, when his parents "present him to the Lord" (v. 22).
Luke 2:22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY [firstborn] MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."
The Old Testament passages Luke quotes indicate that this event is something quite different from what many Christians assume.

Church Ordinances: Blessing the children

The Children's Blessing

Mark 10: 13-16
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

I do not know if this was your experience, but growing up with a brother and a sister, it became clear to me that unlike boys, girls rarely do anything wrong and, so, rarely get into trouble. Linda and her sisters rarely did anything wrong—so I have been told; not so her brothers, who got into considerable trouble. I have heard stories about some of Elder Eddie's youthful antics. Yet, the next generation brings his daughter, Katrina, the perfect angel.
Two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble, and their parents knew that, if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons were probably involved. The boys' mother heard that a local clergyman had been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The minister agreed, but asked to see them individually. So the mother sent her 8-yearold first, in the morning, with the older boy to follow that afternoon. The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is God?" The boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting there stunned and wide-eyed. So the minister repeated the question in an even sterner and louder tone, "Where is God!?" Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the clergyman raised his voice even more, shaking his finger in the boy's face and bellowing, "WHERE IS GOD!?" The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his older brother found him, he asked, "What happened?" The younger boy, gasping for breath, replied, "We are in BIG trouble this time. God is missing...and they think WE did it!"
Unlike girls, boys are almost destined for trouble. Whether or not any of the boys that parents brought to Jesus were like the two in this story, they were not coming for any disciplinary reasons but to receive from him The Children's Blessing.1

The Roman Catholic Church has a series of seven practices it terms sacraments, so-called because the Church believes that through them God actively conveys a measure of grace to the participant, grace necessary to a person's relationship with God.2 Protestant churches, in particular Baptist churches, observe two of those practices, although not as sacraments but simply as ordinances, so-called not because they convey a measure of grace but because Jesus commanded his followers to keep them. The two ordinances are The Disciple's Baptism and The Savior's Banquet or communion. German Seventh Day Baptists recognize a third ordinance, The Children's Blessing, a practice Jesus commended to his followers. Unlike sacraments, the three Church Ordinances, while they accord with Jesus' instruction and example, are not necessary for a relationship with God. Those who had no part in them can still go to heaven, because God makes that determination on other grounds. Again, the primary difference between a sacrament and an ordinance is that with a sacrament, the Lord is supposedly active, dispensing His grace; with an ordinance, the participant is active, displaying his obedience.

The Children's Blessing was a ceremony common among rabbis during the first century, one Jesus also practiced. In the late Second Temple Period, it was customary for parents to bring their children to a respected teacher that he might beseech God's favor upon them. As Jesus' reputation grew, parents came to him with their children that he might petition God on their behalf.3

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Theology Series Chapter 4: The Holy Spirit

Chapter IV: Pneumatology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

In A "Reader's Digest" Approach to Theology, we come to pneumatology, a study of the Holy Spirit. We will approach this topic as we have the previous two, surveying the nature and work of the Spirit. After that, we will examine in more detail a particular aspect of his work that theologians often neglect. We will begin by considering three common opinions.
[The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Theology Series Chapter 3: Who was Jesus?

Chapter III: Christology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

After theology proper, the next section in A Reader's Digest Approach to Theology is Christology. More than any other area of doctrine, this one has generated the most diverse interpretations, and a religious group's stance on this subject is often the main determinant to its orthodoxy. The more a group deviates from what the Bible says about Jesus, the less likely it is to be Christian.

As in theology, we will divide the material into who Jesus is and what he does, comparing what others say with what the scriptures say. Again, we begin with at least one presupposition, an assumption that might not be appropriate in a non-church or in an apologetic setting: the historicity of Jesus. Because we agree on the reliability of the text, we will not spend time establishing whether or not he was a real person.
[The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Theology Series Chapter 2: God

Chapter II: Theology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

We established the basis for our study of theology by examining the Bible, how we got it and what the Bible says about itself. Because we believe the Bible is inspired and records reliable information about God and His activity, we now consider what the it says on that topic.

As I said in the Prologue, we use the term "theology" in two ways. In the broad sense, it means the study of religion, as in the title of our series, A Reader's Digest Approach to Theology. In the narrow sense, it means the study of God specifically, and that is how we are using it in this section. Today, we will consider who God is, His nature. Next, we will look at what God does, His work.

The Bible does not set out to prove God's existence; it assumes that He is: "In the beginning, God..." Since we accept the authority of scripture, we too start with that premise and can proceed directly to the next level of inquiry: Who is God?1  [The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Theology Series Chapter 1: The Bible

Chapter I: Bibliology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

The first aspect of theology to consider is the Bible. Why start there rather than with God? ...Our entire system of theology comes from information in the Bible. Therefore, it is necessary to establish the reliability of that source before we can proceed confidently that information we gather about other topics is trustworthy.

The whole process of validating a belief system is actually more complicated than this. If we were being thoroughly rigorous, we would have to begin with certain philosophical questions, such as "Does God exist?" We can skip those preliminary issues in this group; all of us agree on that point. If you were talking to someone who did not believe in the existence of God, however, you would not be able to jump straight to what the Bible says. Instead, you would have to start by explaining why you believe there is a God and convince your listener to admit the possibility of God's existence at least. Only then could you consider what that God might have communicated about Himself in the Bible.
[The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Theology Series: Prologue

Today we begin posting a series Paul calls "A 'Reader's Digest' Approach to Theology" [obviously not related to the magazine]. I will progressively link each successive chapter to this page as it is posted on this site.

A User-Friendly Guide to Basic Christian Doctrine
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Table of Contents

I. Bibliology
A. The inspiration of scripture
B. The canonicity of scripture
II. Theology
A. The nature of God
B. The work of God
III. Christology
A. The nature of Christ
B. The work of Christ
IV. Pneumatology
A. The nature of the Holy Spirit
B. The work of the Holy Spirit
V. Angelology
A. The nature of angels
B. The work of angels
VI. Anthropology
A. The nature of man
B. The destiny of man
VII. Soteriology
A. The purpose of salvation
B. The procedure of salvation
VIII. Ecclesiology
A. The design of the church
B. The leaders of the church
IX. Eschatology
A. The reign of Christ
B. The re-creation by God


During the next few months, we will examine the basis for what we believe. As I thought of possible titles for this study, the first and most obvious was the standard seminary one, Systematic Theology, but that sounded a little too technical. Then I considered one more "user friendly," similar to recent computer guides, like DOS for Dummies, this could be Doctrine for Dummies; but that was too condescending. There was also the Ridiculously Simple series for medical students that uses a comic book format to teach complex medical procedures; so instead of Gall Bladder Surgery Made Ridiculously Simple, we could study Religious Dogma Made Ridiculously Simple; but I do not have the artistic skills to illustrate such a text. I needed something between the intellectual and the infantile, so I settled for A Reader's Digest Approach to Theology.

You may have covered some of this material before, but I want to fill in gaps and pull together various elements in a single course that helps us see the "big picture." Our belief system is not some shapeless mass of random notions about God; it has a structure and coherence that allows us to think and speak about the One we worship and serve. God reveals Himself in two primary ways:
  • He makes general (or natural) revelation available to all people.1
  • Through the creative work
Ps 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
 [The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What is of first importance?

What Is Most Important?

1 Corinthians 15
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

A minister may face many challenges, both in and out of the pulpit. While prevailing in one of those challenges can be gratifying, even that experience may remind him of others he has yet to overcome.
Three men went hunting: a lawyer, a doctor, and a minister. While they were in the woods together, all three spotted a deer and fired at the same time. The deer went down, at which point the lawyer immediately claimed responsibility: "It was my shot that got it." The doctor said, "Since I have medical training, I'll examine the deer and determine which bullet made the kill." He traipsed off, while, the lawyer continued to make his case to the minister. After a short time, the doctor returned with his diagnosis: "The minister got the deer" he said. "How could you tell it was the minister's bullet?" the lawyer asked. "Because," the doctor replied... "it went in one ear and out the other."
I am under no illusions that everything I say finds a reception in the minds of a congregation. Much probably does go in one ear and out the other. I only hope that some of it, preferably the most important of it, lingers a bit before passing out of people's consciousness.

As you look back over your experiences, you can probably recall many 'firsts' in your life.
  • Your first teacher
  • Your first date
  • Your first car
  • Your first job
There were others—other teachers, dates, cars, jobs—but these marked your initial experience or encounter in such areas and, as such, stand out in your mind. It is in that sense they are first, but they were not necessarily your most important encounters in these areas. That list might be quite different.
  • Your best teacher
  • Your best date
  • Your best car
  • Your best job
There were probably other memorable teachers, dates, cars, jobs, etc., but these are most important because, in some way, they had a significant influence on your life, and someone who knows you well, who has seen their influence, might be able to identify them even if you never actually formulated such a list.

Suppose you made a similar list about your essential beliefs, not just the ones you think are important but those that determine your eternal destiny. What would be on that list? Would it include...1
  • Being part of a Seventh Day Baptist church
  • Belief in baptism by immersion
  • Keeping the Sabbath
There are other important matters, but these are essential because they determine your eternal destiny.... Right?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Death is swallowed up in victory

Mission Impossible

Acts 2:23-24
Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

There was a television program in the 1960s and 70s with Peter Graves called Mission Impossible about a secret team of government agents that took on especially difficult assignments, which they accomplished through a combination of intelligence, technology, deception, and daring. (The TV show spawned a quartet of recent movies starring Tom Cruise.) Despite the title, each TV episode showed how the team met and overcame a challenge that seemed at first to be insurmountable. The end of Jesus' earthly ministry also presented an impossible situation.

At several points, Jesus tells the disciples what lies ahead for him. After Peter correctly identified him as the messiah (Mat 16:16)...
Matt 16:21 ...Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed.., and on the third day be raised to life.
This was not something the disciples wanted to hear.
Matt 16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
Sometime later,
Matt 17:22 ...[Jesus] said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23a They will kill him...and on the third day he will be raised to life."
Despite the hint of hope ("raised to life"), news of their teacher's premature death was still not welcome.
Matt 17:23b And the disciples were filled with grief.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"No servant is greater than his master"

Different from All Other Nights

John 13:16
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

We are here to re-create, in abbreviated form, the events of an evening two thousand years ago, when Jesus and a small band of his followers met to observe the LORD'S Passover in obedience to God's command through Moses.
Exod 12:14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
As the disciples gather with Jesus to celebrate the Passover seder, they know that this night is different from all other nights. The liturgy reviews God's deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The participants eat bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of bondage and matzah (unleavened bread) to recall the haste of Israel's departure. It is not a somber occasion, though, for the evening has a festive atmosphere, with four cups of wine representing different aspects of divine intervention. The participants recite the exodus story, sing psalms, pray, and discuss the significance of God's grace.

On this particular Passover, though, Jesus will do things a little differently. He will take the matzah and the third cup of wine, and he will give them an additional significance that points to God's deliverance from another kind of bondage. At every Passover thereafter, his disciples will remember their physical redemption from slavery and their spiritual redemption from sin. This night is different from all other nights, even from other Passovers.