John T. Willis

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Established the Standard for Godly Life

The Churches of Christ, like all churches, struggle with establishing the standard for godly living. In my own lifetime, at least EIGHT different standards for godly living. There is no way to go into detail about any of these standards. Here I will simply briefly sketch the different view. [BUT, keep in mind, there are probably several additional standards which I may not realize or forget].

1. Philosophy. Philosophy is essentially HUMAN REASON. All human beings have the capacity of thinking and reasoning. Thus, throughout history, very intelligent people have developed an impressive type of human philosophy. One can think of Plato, Socrates, Plotinus, Aristotle, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hume, Descartes, Wilder, and many others. Some allude to the Bible from time to time, but they do not think of the Bible as the standard.

2. Reader Response. In recent times, numerous scholars have adopted the stance that every human being has his or her own background and personal beliefs. So, all of us human beings think SUBJECTIVELY. We deceive ourselves when we think that we can use various approaches to approach the Bible objectively. If people REALLY adopt this view, any human being can adopt any view on planet earth and think, say, or do whatever he or she wishes.

3. Tradition. Many churches use the Bible, but TRADITION plays a predominant role in reaching a final decision. Churches of Christ HEAVILY follow their own TRADITIONS while declaring that they are studying and following the Bible. In future blogs, I will emphasize many views which we follow along this line rather than following the Bible.

4. Unearthing Earlier Sources. In the 19th century, many scholars invented the view that BEHIND the present Bible are various sources, and we must go BELOW the present form of the Bible to discover the original earlier sources. Julius Wellhausen championed this view in the late 19th century, and for example, declared that behind the Pentateuch were four earlier sources: J [for
J[Y]ahweh, E [for Elohim], D [for Deuteronomy], and P [for Priestly]. In doing this, he essentially rewrote the Bible.

5. Certain unprepared individuals have advanced the view that we must REWRITE the Bible in Chronological Order. This unfounded assumption is that WE must follow a chronological order of the Bible rather than a theological or spiritual emphasis as the Bible now stands.

6. A huge emphasis in my very early days in the church was that the church was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ in 33 A. D. found in Acts 2, and therefore, the ONLY authority for the church is Acts 2 through Revelation. Everything before Acts 2 does not apply to godly living. Those who took this view did not realize that the four gospels were written long after the establishment of the church as related in Acts 2.

7. The huge majority of Church of Christ people and churches assume that the ONLY authority for the church is the New Testament and certainly not the Old Testament=the Hebrew Bible. But anyone who takes this position diametrically opposes the view of Jesus himself in Matthew 5:17-20 and Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, as well as numerous New Testament texts. Due to this bias, most people in the Churches of Christ know little or nothing about the Old Testament, and many openly oppose the idea of seriously studying and following the Old Testament. This is essentially the view of Marcion in the second century A. D.

8. The true and appropriate view is that THE WHOLE BIBLE, OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS, are the proper authority for beliefs and practices and godly living. In doing this, everyone must realize that many texts in the Bible are cultural, occasional, and situational. First, one must study and understand the biblical message in THAT situation, and ONLY THEN attempt to determine whether this applies to ALL situations in ALL nations in ALL churches for ALL time. As we continue through the numerous blogs yet to appear, we will deal with very specific issues. For a brief introduction, here are a couple of examples.
     a. Before the coming of Jesus Christ, God our Father commanded his people to offer animal and cereal offerings to worship Yahweh and receive Yahweh's forgiveness. See Leviticus 1-7; Psalm 51, especially verses 18-19. But after Jesus Christ died on the cross and entered into heaven before the throne of his heavenly Father, God decreed that God's people no longer need to offer animal sacrifices, because Jesus Christ is now the appropriate sacrifice. See 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Hebrews 7.
     b. Jesus Christ specifically commanded his disciples to wash one another's feet to follow HIS example. John 13:1-20, especially verses 14-15. Churches of Christ do not OBEY this command. Very rarely, a small group of Church of Christ people may wash the feet of a specific person or a few people. Why do we disobey this command? WE have made the decision that this practice is "cultural," "occasional," "situational." In doing this, we are following the very same line of thought as other denominations to following different practices found in the Bible.
    Thus, it is crystal clear that our beliefs and practices are just as subjective as any other church or religious group. We need to accept this reality, and totally rethink our view of the authority of the Bible.

Share YOUR beliefs and ideas and rejections and denials and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Yahweh Loves Righteous Deeds--Psalm 11

There is no information about the background of Psalm 11. The superscription says simply: "To the leader. Of David." The Hebrew more properly means "For to To David." We know nothing about whether the superscriptions in the Psalter are original or later additions. It is safest to deal with the text of each psalm.

Psalm 11 is very short: it contains only seven verses. The term which stands out through this psalm is "righteous" or "upright," which occurs six times in seven verses (verses 2, 3, 5, 7 [3 times]), which probably indicates this is the intended theme. Psalm 11 naturally falls into two parts.

I. The Hostile Negative Attitude of the Psalmist's Enemies. Psalm 11:1-3.
    a. The psalmist begins with his determination: "In the Lord I take refuge." [NRSV]. Here the Hebrew verb is hasah, which means "trust," thus "In the Lord I put my trust." When faced when serious problems of any type, it is tempting to seek help from others, from counselors, from "common sense," etc. But the best course is to seek help from God. 11:1a.
    b. Immediate the psalmist turns to his enemies. "You" in the question, "How can YOU say to me" is PLURAL, not singular. Hence, the psalmist is confronted with several opponents, who are bring charging against him and trying to tear down his trust and confidence in God. His opponents encourage the psalmist to "Flee like a bird to the mountains." They are diligently trying to distance themselves from the psalmist. Their proof is: "the wicked are like archers, who shoot in the dark at "the upright in heart." Apparently, these opponents assume they are among the "righteous," and want to pit themselves against the wicked. In reality, they themselves are the wicked, the opponents of the psalmist and of God. 11:1b-2.
   c. The wicked continue to reason that if the foundations are destroyed, the righteous can do nothing. Actually this is a bluff to try to discourage the psalmist. The next several verses show that the psalmist will not pay attention to these threats. 11:3.

II. The Psalmist turns to Yahweh for Protection and Guidance. Psalm 11:4-7.
     a. The psalmist declares that Yahweh is in "his holy temple," that is, in "heaven," as the synonymous parallelism shows. Yahweh is the heavenly king sitting on his heavenly throne. From heaven above, Yahweh "beholds" and "examines" humankind. It would be a mistake to identify Yahweh's "eyes" and "gaze" as literal eyes like the eyes of human beings. This is clearly figurative language. Of course, Yahweh sees and knows all things. He is the great precise searcher of hearts. But he is not human like we are. See Psalm 139:1-6. 11:4.
     b. From his heavenly throne, Yahweh "tests" the righteous and the wicked. As he makes his decisions, he HATES THE LOVER OF VIOLENCE. Many people reject the biblical testimony that our God HATES human beings who persist in opposing Yahweh and hurting innocent people. Go to a concordance and see all the references in the Bible which testify that Yahweh HATES certain types of people. See for example Proverbs 6:16-19. There are many others. Note the strong contrast between the statement "Yahweh hates the lover of violence" in verse 5 and "Yahweh loves righteous deeds" in verse 7. 11:5.
    c. Since Yahweh HATES the lover of violence, in his own good time Yahweh will rain coals of fire and sulfur and a scorching wind on the wicked. Many people reject the biblical testimony that Yahweh will punish the wicked eternally. 11:6.
    d. By nature, Yahweh is righteous. From his heart of hearts, Yahweh LOVES RIGHTEOUS DEEDS. The upright will stand before Yahweh accepted and embraced in his heavenly court. 11:7.

Share YOUR experiences and understandings and aspirations and shortcomings and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, July 04, 2014

One Man's View of the History of Churches of Christ

In this and future blogs, I want to share my own story about the history of Churches of Christ as I have lived it almost 70 years. Now, this is ONLY MY OWN STORY, and there are many things which I am unaware of. I am NOT a historian, just a Bible student. I do hope that others will chime in and join the discussion. I am fully aware of the hard work of several Church of Christ historians who have written much on this topic. As I read all this material, I cannot find a lot of information which I will share in these blogs. I hope this will be helpful. Like everyone else, I am very biased. Everyone thinks and writes from his or her own background and experiences.

I was baptized in 1947 at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. I went through Abilene High School and graduated in 1951. I entered Abilene Christian College in 1951 and graduated in 1955, and then received my Master's Degree in 1956. As an undergraduate, I majored in Greek, and was a fellow-student of people like Everett Ferguson and Abe Malherbe and Earle McMillon and Roy Bowen Ward and many others. As a graduate student, I majored in the Old Testament [now Hebrew Bible]. In 1956, I was invited to become a teacher at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. I taught Old and New Testament from 1956 to 1971. In 1971, I returned to my alma mater and began teaching at Abilene Christian College. Several years later, the authorities changed this to Abilene Christian University.

I cannot begin to tell YOU how much I have changed in beliefs, feelings, understandings, relationships, and everything else in 70 years. I am still growing by leaps and bounds. My teachers at ACC started my serious studies. Vanderbilt University had wonderful professors who helped me understand the Bible much better. The practice of preaching for thirteen years and teaching now for 58 years has made a great impact on my thinking and life. My wonderful wife Evelyn and walked right with me in good and very difficult times. We have four children, 14 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren. I have been a member of the Highland Church of Christ since 1973 and an elder at Highland since 1976. Everyone knows all the changes that we have experienced at ACU and at Highland.

In future blogs, I will deal with issues which I have confronted over 70 years of study and experience. My views may be right or wrong, but I will be as open as possible to share what I think has taken place and where we are in 2014 and 2015 A. D. YOUR ideas and experiences will be helpful to sharpen our beliefs and backgrounds. Proverbs 27:17 is a great reminder:

     Iron sharpens iron,
          and one person sharpens the wits of another.

In this blog, I want to make only one simple point. By now, most people are aware of this point. Here it is:

The Churches of Christ are VERY DIVIDED. In any city or town of any size, groups of people will disagree on many topics and backgrounds and ages and feelings. Let's face it. The Churches of Christ are NOT a unified people. Some would like to pretend that we are united, but this is just not true. This does not trouble me at all. At least three times a year [some years more often] I attend national and regional meetings about the Bible and religion. As I attend various presentations, the speakers are VERY DIVERSE. Diversity is NOT necessarily a bad thing. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul carefully describes the nature of the church. The church is a group of people which is like the human body. The arm is DIFFERENT from the foot; the eye has a VERY DIFFERENT capacity from the ear; etc. So when YOU or anyone else champions a certain idea or belief, this does not bother me at all. What bothers me is that we cannot appreciate and espouse and love other people's views and beliefs. The Churches of Christ are a very limited group of godly, Christian people. The first step we need to take is to have genuine fellowship with all believers.

In coming blogs, I will deal with specific issues which I have personally encountered and tried to deal with in almost 70 years in the church.

Share YOUR ideas and thoughts and beliefs and reversals and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis