Sunday, June 30, 2013

About This Blog

Apparently some things that I have shared on this blog are bothering some people and causing them concern. Please understand that is not my intent.

So, if I may, I'd like to warn you about this blog. I will occasionally tackle some difficult questions here and I may not have the answer to the questions before I write about it. I don't have all the answers, but that doesn't mean that I won't write about something for which I don't have the answer. To be sure, I won't have the answer in mind before I begin studying about it. If studying without the conclusion predetermined is uncomfortable for you, this blog will be uncomfortable for you. I don't have an answer key like I had in the back of my mathematics textbooks. I'm not trying to write about how to come to a predetermined answer.

Honestly, this is uncomfortable for me, too. I don't see where Jesus called us to be comfortable, so keeping myself and any readers comfortable is not a goal of any of my writing. Some of the topics may elicit an emotional response in you. Considering them and writing about them is emotional to me, too. But writing here is both cathartic for me and constructive to my faith.

I may quote people that I don't agree with. I may quote people that you don't agree with. Sometimes, I will tackle a question and come up with an answer that you won't agree with. If that can't be okay with you, if you can't stand for people to have honest disagreements about theology, then you won't like this blog. It may offend you and it may make you stumble, and I'd hate for that to happen to you. I don't want to offend and I don't want to cause anyone to stumble.

If I must agree with you or be considered a false teacher, please don't read this. If it makes your conscience feel better to warn others about me, let me save you the trouble. I'm warning readers now. I'll get some stuff wrong on this blog. It's not my intention to do so, but I can guarantee that it will happen. I guarantee that there is something false on these pages. I want to change my mind about whatever I have written that is false. But I don't plan to remove it. I'm walking by faith, and I'm sharing my walk with any who care to read. I know that makes me vulnerable, but it may be helpful to see where I was before I got to where I am and to see where I am before I get to where I'm going. If your only purpose in reading this blog is to find my mistakes, you will find them, and you'll find them aplenty. If the only time you ever talk to me or talk about me is to tell me or others how wrong I am, don't be surprised if I don't listen to you. Love that only criticizes is not love at all. (1 Cor. 13:4-5) If you're kind and gentle and show interest other than just to find my faults, I'll listen and I'd enjoy very much to discuss these things with you. However, if you only talk to me or about me to criticize me, you're not "speaking the truth in love."

If you're not comfortable with people changing their beliefs, then this blog isn't for you. If you're not comfortable with some people having beliefs that differ from yours, you won't like this. You don't have to read it. You've been warned.

And I want to be extra clear on this next point, I do not speak for any church or group of churches. This is my personal walk of faith and I'm sharing some personal things. They're just that. Personal. I'm not trying to change the doctrine of any church or any group of churches. I don't have the influence or the intelligence to do that anyway. I do not speak for anyone else, and I can't speak for anyone else on these matters. Do not assume that anyone that I go to church with agrees with anything I say. They likely don't. Don't assume my wife agrees, either. She probably doesn't.

So, read at your own risk. But if seeing a doctrine that you disagree with will make you stumble, don't read. I don't want you to stumble.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Upon the First Day of the Week

I think this is the most technical post I have written on this blog, but some of these technical details are necessary for reasons that may become apparent as you read. I got a couple of private questions about some comments I made about the Lord's Supper in the recent post, "My First Lent", so I thought I'd present my study on that topic. The day and frequency of the Lord's Supper may seem minor. Compared to love, mercy, faith, resurrection, etc., it is indeed less weighty. However, because of the questions and the importance that I have placed on day and frequency in the past, I believe it is worthy of consideration.

Many in churches of Christ insist that the Lord’sSupper must be observed on every Sunday and only on Sunday, no exceptions and are quite dogmatic about this. This is also a doctrine and practice that is peculiar, so it is often discussed when talking to people of other denominations. I wrote a post a while back about "restudying" and this is an example of what I was saying in that post. This doctrine and practice is part of the identity of churches of Christ.

I do not believe this issue is a big deal. This post alone gives it more attention than it really deserves. I believe that there is considerable liberty given to us as to when we may observe the Lord's Supper. So, to be clear, I do not believe it is wrong to observe the Lord's Supper only on Sunday and every Sunday. But I do believe it is a mistake to make only and every Sunday a test for fellowship. I am not encouraging changing the frequency or practice. I am encouraging less dogmatism on the frequency and day.

Every Sunday is surely an acceptable frequency, but so are a variety of other times and days. Jesus instituted it on a Thursday and said "whenever" (1 Cor. 11:23, 25-26). One group of Christians observed it on a Monday (Acts 20:11). (I'll build that case in this post.) It could be argued that the early Jerusalem church observed it daily (Acts 2:46). "Only and every Sunday" is not a litmus test to determine if a church is a true church. The Bible doesn't seem to place such limits on frequency or day of the week.

Acts 20:7 is the primary proof text for this "only every Sunday" doctrine and practice. It is the only verse that specifies the day of the week that a church took the Lord’s Supper. However, I believe the evidence that they actually observed the Lord's Supper on Monday is compelling, perhaps overwhelming.

Leaving aside the question of whether this or any example should be binding on all churches for all time, let’s examine this text. Can we be sure that this group of disciples actually partook of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week? There are a couple of things that need to be considered in order to answer that question. First, was Luke using Roman time or Jewish time to count the days? Second, does "break bread" refer to the Lord's Supper in this passage?

Roman or Jewish Time?
According to Jewish time, the first day of the week begins at sunset on what we would call Saturday evening and lasts until sunset on what we would call Sunday evening. Roman time, like our time, counts days from midnight until midnight. So, since this text mentions events before midnight and on the next morning, it is important to discern whether Jewish time or Roman time is used to describe the first day of the week.

It is more likely that Luke was using Roman time for two reasons. First is that Luke wrote to a Gentile audience (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) and would have used terms familiar to them. The second and more convincing reason is found in the context. Recall that a Jewish day begins at sundown the evening before. Paul began his speech before midnight and continued until midnight. His plan was to depart on the next day (verse 7). Notice that in verse 11, he departed after day break. That indicates that Luke considered the early morning to be the next day. When you also consider that the first day of the week would have been a work day for them, it is likely that they met in the afternoon or evening of Sunday and that Paul departed early Monday morning. If Luke were using Jewish time, then I can't figure out how to make that departure on "the next day".

Common Meal or Lord's Supper?
Another question to consider is whether or not the phrase “break bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper. I don’t know of a compelling reason to think one way or another. I see nothing in the text that requires either interpretation. However, if “break bread” in verse 7 refers to the Lord’s Supper, it seems reasonable that it would also refer to the Lord’s Supper in verse 11, too. I don’t see any evidence to shift the meaning of that expression in mid-context.

Let’s assume for this discussion that “break bread” here refers to the Lord’s Supper. Now, we have the question of exactly when they observed the Lord’s Supper. Admittedly, they came together on this first day for that purpose. However, did they accomplish that purpose on that actual first day? The text mentions a sermon that Paul preached. I don’t see any evidence in the text of their observing the Lord’s Supper before the Eutychus incident. We could assume that they did, but it would be only that, an assumption. The text simply does not say. The text actually answers the question of when they “broke bread”. It was after they came up from the raising of Eutychus as verse 11 states. The text specifically states that Paul took 4 distinct actions after raising Eutychus. These verbs are all joined by "and". First, he returned to the upper room. Second, he broke bread. Third, he ate. Fourth, he spoke a long while. This places the breaking of bread after midnight and before dawn, technically on the second day of the week, or Monday. (You may notice that I didn't include "departed". That's because it is not joined by "and" which could indicate that "departed" is the only one of those things that Paul did alone.)

When I read this chapter, it is astonishing that the primary point that is made from this text is every and only first day observance of the Lord's Supper. I realize that I may be a hypocrite for saying that while spending this entire post talking about the actual time/day that they broke bread. But I've sat in and taught many Bible classes on Acts 20 where the primary emphasis has been the "first day of the week." Why is so little attention given to the reunion of Paul with the disciples in Troas? Why is so little attention given to their zeal that kept them together all night before a normal work day? Why is so little attention given to miracle of resurrection from the dead that Paul performed? Why do many of our children know Acts 20:7 better than Acts 20:35? In Bible classes and sermons on Acts 20 through the years, I have heard very scant mention of those other topics. I have been guilty (and I suppose that I still am guilty of this) of straining the gnat and swallowing the camel in this chapter.
Eutychus falling. Image from
Would I exclude from fellowship someone who disagreed with my exegesis of this text? Absolutely not! However, I believe that what I have provided here is a better exegesis than I have heard. But I do not believe this exegesis would be welcomed in a Bible class in many churches of Christ. I say this not as a blind supposition or baseless accusation. I say this because I have tried and have been disallowed from building my case. Many believe that this passage insists on only and every first day observance of the Lord’s Supper and they draw a line of fellowship on this issue. I view this drawing of such a hard line and the repeated emphasis on such a minor detail as a misapplication of this passage.