Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Pastoral Epistles.

1 Tim. 1:1-4 (ESV)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
[2] To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
[3] As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

The Pastoral Epistles, I and II Timothy and Titus, given my occupation, make for some of my favorite reading in the New Testament. At the beginning of my ministry, or should I say my first year, (Having less than five years under my belt it may be a bit presumptuous to talk about the beginning of my ministry. I hope it has barely begun!) I would read the Pastoral Epistles almost every week, once through. I still return to them often. They grind me with law, show me my shortcomings, and theological masochist that I am I return. I need it. But they also breathe gospel into my lungs. The remind me of just what a great task has been entrusted to me. They are the best pastoral theology ever written. These three letters form the foundation of any pastoral theology that is worth its salt. I’ve been itching to blog on them.
I think the first thing that you see when reading these letters, and in I Timothy Paul smacks you upside the head with it right off, is how doctrinal they are in nature. What is Paul concerned about? Doctrine, doctrine and more doctrine, all that stuff that the world says you shouldn’t be concerned about as a pastor. Yet Paul leaves Timothy behind in Ephesus, as somewhat of a bishop over the area, in charge of overseeing , first and foremost, the doctrine that “certain” people are teaching. “Remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” One wonders who these certain people were, Paul was smarter than to actually mention them by name. Had he mentioned them by name it may have been too much for these certain men to bear. You get the impression that these men were possibly former heretics, or men who were faithful, or wanted to be faithful to Christ, but had gotten sidetracked, and were easily distracted by false doctrine, entranced with “millennialism, pre or post.” Paul left Timothy to do the diplomatic work of winning these people over gently. He isn’t going to name them in this case, as he was wont to do in other cases, especially with unrepentant heretics. He unabashedly told people to stay away from certain persons.
Paul then lists some of the particulars of these other doctrines that need to be corrected. He indicates that these men are prone to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations. Sorry but this reeks of millennialism. First century Jews were enamored with millennialism, and genealogies. Christian Jews tended to drop the whole genealogy thing. Now that Christ had come, and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and law, the family lines were largely meaningless. But people take great pride in family lineage, and some were not so willing to just let it go. It is said that Jesus’ relatives, and it is recorded in Eusebius, went around bragging about their relationship to Jesus. They were almost imprisoned for it by the Emperor. Well, I suppose I might make a big deal of it if I was Jesus brother too! Of course I am and I do! Hebrews 2:11-12 (ESV) For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, [12] saying,"I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise." Hebrews 2:17 (ESV) Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
But you get the point.
I sometimes wonder exactly what it is that all the speculation about the anti Christ and Armageddon is supposed to accomplish. Every time a Palestinian throws a rock and hits an Israeli in the foot the presses dump a library worth of speculation. The speculations have little to no basis in scripture, and are quite fantastic. I guess that is it. People think that doctrine is boring, or that the plain meaning of scripture is the milk, and they are led away by fantastic speculation proving to be cotton candy. Millenialism is the one heresy that has been with the church from the very beginning. In fact it was millennial fervor that caused most of the Jews to miss the messianic presence of Jesus Christ. The disciple’s themselves suffered from it. It caused Judas the Zealot to betray Jesus, as he thought Jesus had betrayed him by not ushering in the kingdom. Up to Christ’s last days with the disciples he had to correct their perceptions and false hopes. As he ascends they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” the still didn’t get it! I mean it is like they are thinking, “Jesus, that was a great trick coming back from the dead and all, but seriously now let’s get to it. Let’s restore the kingdom, take it back from the Romans. Surely that wasn’t all you came to do.” And yet it was. Jesus didn’t come to have an earthly kingdom he fought that from day one of his ministry. It was Satan’s first temptation to Jesus. And it is his first temptation to would be Christians, to confuse Christ’s kingdom with an earthly kingdom.
Why do we have the evangelical culture warriors? Seriously, if Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, why do we insist on trying to make this world his kingdom? The early Christians didn’t go about it that way. They didn’t try pass laws all over the place. They didn’t go murder abortionists. They were persecuted for believing in the forgiveness of sins. They tended to their own business quietly, and in doing so they transformed culture completely. But too few Christians believe in forgiveness anymore. We gave up faith in the gospel for trust in the law. We trust princes more than God. We ought to be ashamed. Too many in the church have given up on the stewardship from God that is by faith.
The stewardship from God that is by faith, here Paul is talking about the stewardship given to pastors. This is the Gospel in all its facets that is received by faith. Paul often talks about this stewardship a few times. Perhaps the most famous is 1 Corinthians 4:1, where he says we are to be considered stewards of the mysteries of God. Now the mysteries are the articles of faith that we confess in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, not to mention the Athanasian Creed we confess this next Sunday. But it is also Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You can’t rule these two protectors of the Gospel out. It seems every church that loses its way in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, loses her way in the rest of the articles. I mean I remain skeptical that a God who can’t make his Body and Blood present in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of my sins can actually forgive my sins at all. Is he or isn’t he all powerful? That is the question that I have. But where the Body and Blood are confessed for in the bread and wine of communion, there people know where to go for the forgiveness of sins.

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