total church

" "Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community"  is the best book I've read on doing, and being, "church" (ecclesiology).  It covers a perspective that many of us would recognize as a Biblical emphasis on the real, local expression of Church life.  I Think its a good read for all Christians and It may be especially helpful for leaders of churches and small groups. Here is a paragraph from the introduction:

Alan is the leader of a small Baptist church. He moved to lead his suburban congregation five years ago after several years of working in industry and three years of studying in a theological college.  He has seen a number of people join the church, but not as many as he had hoped.  They have a thriving mothers-and-toddlers' group, a solid youth work program, and an accomplished music group.  And yet Alan can't help feeling that the church is only scratching the surface. Truth be told, it feels as if ministry has become a production line: churning out sermons, putting on events, trying to generate another wave of enthusiasm for evangelism. If only there was another way of doing church.

The introduction sets forth a few familiar scenarios which lead the reader through a review of some of our presuppositions and possible misconceptions on church life.  The authors are interested in helping Christians understand the biblical emphasis upon "gospel" and "community" at the center of their christian identity. I reckon it is filled with very helpful, biblical, thinking. Let me know what you think of it.


Shape of Cross Disputed and why it might be important to you

There exists an odd yet very widespread practice among the Churches of "reverencing the cross".  This practice includes the actual physical bowing toward an image in the shape commonly thought of as a cross.  It is a practice that I can only imagine would seem, at the least, weird to our brothers in Christ if we were to transport it back to the New Testament era and then tell them that, for many of us, this is considered honoring to Jesus. The practice would seem even more weird if the shape of the cross now used every where became popular as a solar symbol originally used in the worship of the"invincible sun" and was transferred over as an appropriate(?) symbol for the worship of the "resurrected son". They might look at us and say, "you are doing what?..."

Recently a scholar has called into question some alleged assumptions about the shape of the cross which have even worked their way into authoritative lexicons and such.

Why might this be important?  Well it is not important except that it may highlight the fact that you and I do not need to fill our hearts and minds with a humanly evolved way of  being loyal to Jesus.  He has given you the word of the gospel. It is an authoritative call to real loyalty. If we won't hear it, then we will be subject toall manner of distractions.  We do not want to dilute that gospel call with an inappropriate concern for tradition-generated-practices and  symbolism.  The substance of honoring God is doing His will in obedience to the Gospel.  

Here is a link to a post that discusses some recent research on the topic of "cross" and "crucifixion".  This research may highlight the irrelevance of some modern Christian emphasis upon symbol rather than substance.  http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2010/05/if-samuelsson-is-right-about.html

also see http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dcjvgcp2_14cz3jsfcs&hl=en 
also seehttp://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AdPbTCLmbooiZGNqdmdjcDJfMzNkanQ3M2RnNw&hl=en


What can be said about the curious decree of Acts 15?

(Act 15:20) ...but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.
(Acts 15:20) ...but that we enjoin on them to abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication,  and from blood: and that whatsoever they would not should be done to them ye do not to others.

On the face of it the popular explanations of the decree seem acceptable. Those explanations run along the lines that the church council, with a binding and somewhat arbitrary authority, issued an odd mix of stipulations, a few of which prohibited some especially offensive eating habits.  To my mind this approach to interpreting and translating the some what dubious language of the decree creates inconsistencies within the apostolic letter, and inconsistencies within the broader context of Acts and the New Testament.  I am not going to try to develop all that here but as I continue to study, I remain interested in the myriad of things that can be said concerning this passage.  The most important differences in the second translation given above are due to its reliance on the Western manuscript group for Acts.  The following in Point #20 is from a 35 point introduction to this translation of Acts:

20. Difficulties removed by accepting the Text in this Codex as the true report of the Decree 

From such reasoning as this critics have been of late led to the conclusion that the β text gives the true form of the decree. For if the words "things strangled" were not in the decree, the natural interpretation of the decree, would, beyond all question, have been that it forbade the three great sins of idolatry, murder, and fornication; and was in fact a purely moral law: idolatry, of which the outward expression was sharing in the "sacramental communion with the idol," the temple feast, which St Paul describes (1 Cor. x. 18-22) as "communion with devils"; murder, commonly spoken of as blood-shedding or blood, as in St Matt. xxiii. 35 and often in the Septuagint; and fornication. These are the crimes forbidden to all Gentile Christians by the decree; associated here as in Rev. xxii. 15, "Without are the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters." The decree was a simple moral law, summarised, emphasised and consecrated by the quotation of our Lord's words from the Sermon on the Mount, naturally thrown into the negative form----"Whatsoever ye would not that should be done to you ye do not to others." This might well be hailed with joy everywhere. It was the final emancipation of Christianity from Judaism. Christianity had never been bound to the temple and the Sacrificial priesthood of the Jews. Now it was publicly transformed from a tribal or national religion to one that was universal; and the declaration is that the mark of the universal religion was to be faith in Christ's Revelation of God, along with morality and the observance of the golden rule.      The acceptance of the β text shews the greatness of the Council of Jerusalem. Well may Harnack say, "The Scribe who first wrote the little word 'strangled' opposite 'blood' on the margin of his exemplar created a flood, which has for almost 2000 years swamped the correct interpretation of the whole passage....We can close whole libraries of commentaries and investigations, as documents of the history of a gigantic error!...The importance of Codex D (Bezae)----supported to be sure by all the Western authorities----is here brought into great prominence."

That was written in 1923 as a part of the introduction to a "Western Text" translation of Acts which highlights every difference between the western text and that which is more common in our translations. Here is a table of contents for the work:
1.   The object of this Translation 
2.   Statement of the question that it raises
3.   The great importance of this text
4.   Its decisive importance recognised by leading critics
5.   Readers of English only are qualified to form a judgment from the translation alone
6.   Outline of supplementary matters touched on in this Introduction
7.   The internal evidence examined. Illustrations of omissions for the sake of brevity
8.   Interest on various grounds of some of the omitted passages
9.   Instances of some sentences rewritten
10. Excisions few where St Luke appears to be quoting from documents supplied him
11. Excisions in the account of St Paul's first missionary journey, and probable inference
12.  Importance of the fact supplied by this text in Acts xi. 28
13.   St Luke's presence at Antioch throws light on one of the sources of his Gospel
14.   Light is also thrown on St Luke's use of Q and on the history of Manaen
15.   A further inference from St John's Gospel as to the history of Manaen
16.   Importance of the Bezan text of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts xv
17.   The difference of the two texts
18.   The nature of the arguments in support of either text of the decree
19.   Difficulties in accepting the ordinary text
20.   Difficulties removed by accepting the text in this codex as the true report of the decree
21.   The words "things strangled" a later interpolation unknown to the earliest texts
22.   The evidences, internal and external, for the view here advocated cumulative and convincing
23.   Confirmed by minor verbal alterations, and an avoidance in the revision of over-statement
24.   Confirmed further by the additions made by St Luke in the revision
25.   Some supplementary information
26.   A brief description of the Codex Bezae
27.   The origin of the hypothesis that there were two Lucan originals of the MSS. of the Acts of the Apostles
28.   Why the ordinary text is preserved in so many MSS. and this text became so rare
29.   Were there also two original Lucan texts of his Gospel?
30.   Why this view of the value of the text in Codex Bezae was not adopted by the Revisers in 1880
31.   Professor Hort's study of the texts of the New Testament of great value
32.   Scrivener's final remarks on the Greek text of the Codex Bezae
33.   Why recent opinions of scholars are not here summarised
34.   Grounds on which late dates have often been assigned by critics to the writings usually regarded as Lucan
35.   Brief statement of results which follow from acceptance of the views above advocated

The translation of Acts can be seen here:

For a bit more of my take on Acts 15 see:  http://personaldiscipleship.blogspot.com/2010/03/exodus-32-and-acts-15the-golden-calf.html