Monday, February 25, 2013

A Fondness for the Church

I have been reading the New Testament differently than usual in 2013.  I have chosen to read it in chronological order.  By this I mean I am reading it in the order the books were most likely written based on date from earliest to latest.  The idea behind this reading pattern is to gain a better understanding of what was the most significant theological and community beliefs the early church had.

There is no firm way to know the exact order of the books written.  There are a few that easier to date than others.  1 Thessalonians is agreed by most scholars as being the oldest letter in the New Testament written in the 50's.  This along with Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and Romans make up the universally accepted seven letters of Paul all written in the 50's. Some place James as first because it is believed to be written by Jesus' brother but most academics place it as late as the 80's and don't believe James the brother of Jesus was the actual author.  It is also widely agreed that Mark is the earliest Gospel written some time in the 70's and Matthew and Luke used Mark as a resource to write their own Gospels in the late 70's or 80's.  John and Revelation were written even later probably in the 90's. The disputed Pauline books such as Jude, Hebrews, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus may have also been written in this time or later.  The newest book or last written was probably 2 Peter written well after 100.

I share this not to get into debates over chronology or the importance of dating the letters and verifying actual authors verses disciples of authors or people writing in the name of "famous" disciples/Apostles to ensure their letters would be read and shared among the early churches. I write to share what I have gained as a follower of Christ by reading in this manner.

I first began this process because I wanted to examine what was the most important thing to the early church.  It is easy to see the evolution of Pauline theology and what mattered to the recipients of the letters.  Early on in letters to the Thessalonians, Galatians, and Corinthians Paul is trying to help these young Christian communities with mixed Jewish and Gentile populations navigate the implications of their belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, is the fulfillment of OT prophecy, is the Son of God, and will return again someday.  He also spent a great deal of energy helping to live in community with one another, Jew and Gentile, based on these beliefs.  What was most important to them seems to be the ability to live together.  To be able to be Jew and Gentile together.  The second most important thing seemed to be what was most necessary for belief.  In other words it was theological in nature, right belief and right practice.

This is not only helpful to me as a minister but I find myself identifying with Paul in a way.  As a middle judicatory my first responsibility lies to the churches I serve.  My goal is to help them be the most healthy churches possible. If I am to take the above seriously this means I am to focus first on community.  I am to help the people of God in the local church be community together and to live in community with their neighbors.  Second I am to guide them theologically.  Everything we do from gathering on Sundays, to going on a mission trip needs to be rooted in Biblical teachings.  We are to reflect upon those teachings to help guide us in whatever choices we make from hiring a pastor to deciding what curriculum to use.

As I read Paul's letters I can feel his passion for the churches he was writing.  He often speaks of how much he loves the churches.  He shares memories of his times there.  He calls the people by name and sends them greetings from others by name.  I see how he spent years getting to know these people.  I can see how they trusted him to answer their questions.  This is my passion as a judicatory as well.  I care about our churches in our region.  I care about all the churches in our denomination, but I have a special calling to theses specific churches at this specific time.  I hope like Paul that I can promote community shaped by theological understanding for the reason we are gathered together for worship in the first place.

As I write this out and think about the churches in my care I know many that are looking for pastors, struggling with conflict, concerned about their finances, anxious about the future of ministry, and worried about their buildings.  Even so, I don't feel stress or fear or anxiety.  Instead like Paul, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of [them]..."  I am grateful for this ministry and the opportunity to come alongside each of these churches and together become imitators of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

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