Relevant Verses: Heb. 10:23-25
Leading question: Can we accomplish more by ourselves or by working as a community?
Comment: The final lesson this quarter is one that offers a host of intriguing possibilities for discussion. Some ideas are more explicit in Scripture, some are implicit. In some case modern insights reinforce what we find in Scripture. For those who are obedient, a biblical command is enough motivation. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it – and I do it!”
1. The value of community life: Responding to a biblical command.
- Church as body of Christ: 1 Corinthians 12
- Church as the temple of God: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
1 Cor. 3:16 “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (New Living Translation)
Note: This is a church passage not a health reform verse. NLT gets it right (most translations don’t show that the initial “you” is plural.) See 1 Cor. 6:19-20 for the health reform verse.
2. What individuals do best.
A. Power of personal example: Abraham, Moses, Jackie Robinson
Abraham, arguing with God over Sodom: Genesis 18
Moses confronting God over Israel at Mt. Sinai: Exodus 32:9-14
Exod. 32: 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. (NRSV)
Moses asking for help in leading Israel: Numbers 11
Numbers 11:10 The Israelites stood around their tents complaining. Moses heard them and was upset that they had made the Lord angry. 11 He prayed:
“I am your servant, Lord, so why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? You’ve made me responsible for all these people, 12 but they’re not my children. You told me to nurse them along and to carry them to the land you promised their ancestors. 13 They keep whining for meat, but where can I get meat for them? 14 This job is too much for me. How can I take care of all these people by myself? 15 If this is the way you’re going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life!”
16 The Lord said to Moses: Choose seventy of Israel’s respected leaders and go with them to the sacred tent. 17 While I am talking with you there, I will give them some of your authority, so they can share responsibility for my people. You will no longer have to care for them by yourself.
Jackie Robinson: As the first American black to play major league baseball, Robinson inspired and encouraged all blacks to stay with. The movie, “42” is a powerful testimony to Robinson’s life.
B. Creativity and productivity: Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Random House, 2012) argues persuasively that “group think” works against both creativity and productivity. In particular, she is highly critical of “open office” plans that put people together when they should be working by themselves.
3. What the community does best:
A. Social Support! Hebrews 10:23-25, a crucial biblical passage:
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (NRSV)
Comment: Many modern translations prefer a softer word than NRSV’s “provoke.” But the idea of “social support” is one of the most insightful ways of understanding the power of community. The sociology of knowledge people declare emphatically: “That which we consider reasonable, is largely the consensus of those around us.” The author of Hebrews was no sociologist, but he gets it right.
Two other quotes make the point, one from C. S. Lewis, a literary genius rather than a sociologist, and Peter Berger, a real sociologist!
C. S. Lewis: “The society of unbelievers makes faith harder, even when they are people whose opinions on any other subject are known to be worthless.” – “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” in Christian Reflections, 43.
Peter Berger: “Put crudely, if one is to believe what neo-orthodoxy wants one to believe, in the contemporary situation, then one must be rather careful to huddle together closely and continuously with one’s fellow believers.” – The Sacred Canopy, p. 164
Note: A more extensive and revealing quote comes for Eta Linnemann, who nearly lost her faith as a result of immersion in modern theological study. Here are her observations:
Eta Linnemann: “Author’s Introduction,” Historical Criticism of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 17-20 (Scripture citations are from the NIV) [see archives for a self-contained copy]:
“Why do you say ‘No!’ to historical-critical theology?” I have been confronted with this question, and I wish to state at the outset: My “No!” to historical-critical theology stems from my “Yes!” to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to the glorious redemption he accomplished for me on Golgotha.
As a student of Rudolf Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs, as well as Friedrich Gogarten and Gerhard Ebeling, I had the best professors which historical-critical theology could offer to me. And I did not do too badly in other respects, either. My first book turned out to be a best-seller. I became professor of theology and religious education at Braunschweig Technical University, West Germany. Upon completing the rigorous requirements for a university lectureship [1 Linnemann refers to her Habilitationschrift, a scholarly writing which in the USA would amount to something very much like a second doctoral dissertation. It qualifies one to lecture in the German university.], I was awarded the title of honorary professor of New Testament in the theology faculty of Philipps University, Marburg, West Germany. I was inducted into the Society for New Testament Studies. I had the satisfaction of an increasing degree of recognition from my colleagues.
Intellectually comfortable with historical-critical theology, I was deeply convinced that I was rendering a service to God with my theological work and contributing to the proclamation of the gospel. Then, however, on the basis of various observations, discoveries, and a resulting self-awareness, I was forced to concede two things I did not wish: (1) no “truth” could emerge from this “scientific work on the biblical text,” and (2) such labor does not serve the proclamation of the gospel. At the time this was just a practical realization emerging from experiences which I could no longer deny. Since then, God through his grace and Word was given me insight into the theoretical dimensions of this theology. Instead of being based on God’s Word, it had its foun- [17/18] dation in philosophies which made bold to define truth so that God’s Word was excluded as the source of truth. These philosophies simply presupposed that man could have no valid knowledge of the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Father of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
Today I realize that historical-critical theology’s monopolistic character and world-wide influence is a sign of God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32). God predicted this in his Word: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3). He also promised to send “a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). God is not dead, nor has he resigned. He reigns, and he is already executing judgment on those who declare him dead or assert that he is a false god who does nothing, either good or evil.
Today I know that I owe those initial insights to the beginning effects of God’s grace. At first, however, what I realized led me into profound disillusionment. I reacted by drifting toward addictions which might dull my misery. I became enslaved to watching television and fell into an increasing state of alcohol dependence. My bitter personal experience finally convinced me of the truth of the Bible’s assertion: “Whoever finds his life will lose it” (Matt. 10:39). At that point God led me to vibrant ‘Christians who knew Jesus personally as their Lord and Savior. I heard their testimonies as they reported what God had done in their lives. Finally God himself spoke to my heart by means of a Christian brother’s words. By God’s grace and love I entrusted my life to Jesus.
He immediately took my life into his saving grasp and began to transform it radically. My destructive addictions were replaced by a hunger and thirst for his Word and for fellowship with Christians. I was able to recognize sin clearly as sin rather than merely make excuses for it as was my previous habit. I can still remember the delicious joy I felt when for the first time black was once more black and white was once more white; the two ceased to pool together as indistinguishable gray.
About a month after entrusting my life to Jesus, God convinced me that his promises are a reality. I heard the report of a Wycliffe [Bible Translators] missionary who served in Nepal. He reported that while he was away, his newly converted language [18/19] helper was thrown into prison because it is illegal to become a Christian in Nepal. He also reported what this new Christian said at his trial. On the basis of earlier reports which I had heard about this language helper, it instantly became evident that he could never have given such an answer merely on the basis of his own ability. Mark 13:9-11 surged before my eyes [2 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.] – a passage of which I had earlier taken note with only academic interest – and I had no choice but to admit that here was a fulfillment of this promise.
Suddenly I was convinced that God’s promises are a reality, that God is a living God, and that he reigns. “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9). All that I had heard from testimonies in recent months fell into place at that moment. I became aware of what folly it is, given what God is doing today, to maintain that the miracles reported in the New Testament never took place. Suddenly it was clear to me that my teaching was a case of the blind leading the blind. I repented for the way I had misled my students.
About a month after this, alone in my room and quite apart from any input from others around me, I found myself faced with a momentous decision. Would I continue to control the Bible by my intellect, or would I allow my thinking to be transformed by the Holy Spirit? John 3:16 shed light on this decision, for I had recently experienced the truth of this verse. My life now consisted of what God had done for me and for the whole world – he had given his dear Son. I could no longer brush this verse aside as the nonbinding, meaningless theological assertion of a more-or-less gnostic writer. [3 As one might well do if one followed the lead of Linnemann’s teacher Rudolf Bultmann; see his The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.] Faith can rest on God’s binding promise; speculative theological principles are of merely academic interest.
By God’s grace I experienced Jesus as the one whose name is above all names. I was permitted to realize that Jesus is God’s Son, born of a virgin. He is the Messiah and the Son of Man; [19/20] such titles were not merely conferred on him as the result of human deliberation. I recognized, first mentally, but then in a vital experiential way, that Holy Scripture is inspired.
Not because of human talk but because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I have clear knowledge that my former perverse teaching was sin. At the same time I am happy and thankful that this sin is forgiven me because Jesus bore it on the cross.
That is why I say “No!” to historical-critical theology. I regard everything that I taught and wrote before I entrusted my life to Jesus as refuse. I wish to use this opportunity to mention that I have pitched my two books Gleichnisse Jesu . . . [4 This work appears in English translation as Jesus of the Parables. Introduction and Exposition (New York: Harper & Row, 1966.)] and Studien zur Passionsgeschichte, along with my contributions to journals, anthologies, and Festschriften. [5 In addition to her books, Linnemann’s earlier publications included: “Überlegungen zur Parabel vom grossen Abendmahl, Lc 14, 15-24/Mt. 22, 1-14, ZNW 51 (1960) 246-55; “Die Verleugnung des Petrus,” ZTK 63 (1966): 1-32 (in which the historicity of Mark 14:54 and 66-72 is denied); “Der (wiedergefundene) Markusschluss,” ZTK (1969):255-87 (in which Linnemann proposes that Mark’s original ending consisted of 16:8, then two verses preserved in Matt. 28:16f., and finally Mark 16:15-20); “Tradition und Interpretation in Röm 1, 3f.,” EvT 31 (1971): 264-75; “Die Hochzeit zu Kana und Dionysus oder das Unzureichende der Kategorien. Übertragung und Identifikation zur Erfassung der religionsgeschichtlichen Beziehungen,” NTS 20 (1974): 408-18.] Whatever of these writings I had in my possession I threw in the trash with my own hands in 1978. I ask you sincerely to do the same thing with any of them you may have on your own bookshelf.– Dr. Eta Linnemann, Professor (retired). July 5, 1985.
B. Encouragement, a defense against loneliness. Jesus knew what he was doing when he sent the disciples out two by two. The biblical narrative of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is another powerful example of “encouragement.” As they hurried back to Jerusalem to share the good news about Jesus’ resurrection, they shared with each other the wonderful story: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). Hearts burn with much greater intensity when they are together! And here we could tuck in a quote attributed to the anthropologist Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Finally I would cite a former colleague, Jon Dybdahl, who has often said, “Theology divides, mission unites.”
Galatians 6:1-10: A final word of counsel from Paul. These concluding words from Paul to the church in Galatia, are full of wise counsel for God’s people today.
Galatians 1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads. 6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (NRSV).
Question: What are our gifts and talents that can help build up a “Community of Servants”?