Lessons from the Seder

Seder20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.’ 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (ESV)

Through the millennia, Jews have observed the Passover seder (feast), commemorating their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Today, many Christian churches reenact this ceremony, but with a difference. They apply it to Christ. Working from Messianic haggadahs (Passover texts), they recite the wonders of God’s deliverance from Egypt and eat the symbolic matzoth, horseradish, egg, and apple. It is all carefully scripted, with precise actions and wording. The ceremonial stipulations are exact—the shank bone of a lamb, an empty chair for Elijah, the father’s questions for the children. There is no free-wheeling discussion, improvisation, or validation of divergent opinions. The message and format are fixed. Both are biblically and educationally important.

In this connection, Deuteronomy 6:20-25 illustrates several principles of religious instruction:

  1. Historical context is important (vv. 21-22). Those who fail to recognize the handiwork of the Author of history and the debt they owe to their heritage will live prideful, irresponsible lives. And though it is fashionable in academic and political circles to shape history for ideological purposes, God teaches that history is fixed, and only one version is true.
  2. Memorization is important. While of course there is a time for dispute and dialogue, certain bedrock statements should be committed to memory. Rote memorization of Scripture has fallen on hard times, but both the son’s questions about definite rules (v. 20) and the Lord’s provision of a definite answer (v. 21) show its necessity and vitality.
  3. Stated purposes are important. The Pharisees, not God, loved rules for the sake of rules. While teachers are not required to give an instant reason for every directive, the students must have confidence that rules are not arbitrary. Rules need good reasons, and these reasons are worth sharing (cf. vv. 23-24). Teachers who press the commands of God without highlighting the beneficent purposes of God do the Lord and their students a grave disservice.
  4. Theological context is important. False gods surrounded the Israelites, much as religious pluralism and vague spirituality surround contemporary Christians. Teachers must insure that their students understand God’s nature and authority. He it is to whom reverence is due (“the LORD”), who trounces false gods (v. 22), who commits Himself with integrity to men (v. 23), who should be feared (v. 24), and who secures goodness and life for His people (v. 24).

In the Christian Church, catechisms have played a role similar to that of the Passover seder. They too offer precise answers to vital questions. And they have proven to be a treasure on which pastors can draw in shepherding their people toward Christian maturity and articulate service in a world impatient with truth and reverence. In church, as in Moses’ congregation, it is wonderful to have sound, concise, and memorable answers available “when your sons (and daughters) ask.”

Kairos Journal and BibleMesh Partner with HarperCollins Christian Publishing

HarperCollins Christian Publishing Establishes Exclusive Bible Publishing Agreement with Kairos Journal and BibleMesh

(Morristown, NJ) – Kairos Journal and BibleMesh is pleased to announce a new partnership with HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In this agreement, HarperCollins Christian Publishing will utilize content from these two online resources to create multiple study Bibles, using various translations.

KJ LogoKairos Journal and BibleMesh are internationally known sources for theological content that promotes biblical understanding and Christian discipleship. Kairos Journal launched in 2000 to equip pastors and church leaders to restore the prophetic voice of the church. BibleMesh launched in 2010 to offer high-quality courses in a cutting-edge online learning environment.

“I have known of the outstanding work Kairos Journal and BibleMesh for many years, and admired the quality of their work,” said John Kramp, SVP and publisher for HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s Bible Division. “We’re thrilled to have the privilege of transforming their content into distinctive study Bibles.”

Emmanuel and Camille Kampouris, founders of Kairos Journal and BibleMesh, began these non-profit organizations to address biblical illiteracy worldwide. Emmanuel Kampouris is the retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. Camille Kampouris is an educator and performer most known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street.

The-Biblical-Story-logo“I am delighted that we are able to partner with HarperCollins Christian Publishing on these important projects, thereby extending the reach of God’s word,” said Emmanuel Kampouris. “From the very beginning our global team has sought to provide a fresh, faithful introduction to the Bible and to bring its teachings to bear on the culture. We strongly believe that this new collaboration honors this purpose.”

The first study Bible to be published by Zondervan using the content from BibleMesh will release in 2017 followed by a second Bible using the Kairos Journal content. Additional resources in multiple translations will follow.

In addition to partnering in Bible publishing, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, BibleMesh, and Kairos Journal anticipate expanded opportunities for collaborative work.

“I have a deep respect for Emmanuel and Camille Kampouris’ leadership, both in ministry and in business,” said Mark Schoenwald, CEO and president of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “Their ministry educates and empowers church leaders all over the world, bringing people closer to God’s Word.  Their work is a true example of The Great Commission. In addition, Emmanuel’s global business knowledge and experience offers our partnership a strategic focus with more opportunities to fulfill our own company’s mission.”

For more information about Kairos Journal, visit kairosjournal.org; for BibleMesh, visit biblemesh.com; for HarperCollins Christian Publishing visit HarperCollinsChristian.com.

 

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Repentance Begins in the Church—Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899)

prayer2Evangelist, church planter, and founder of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Dwight L. Moody had a passion to proclaim the gospel to the masses. Often preaching in the slums, Moody stressed faithfully the need for repentance and the hope of salvation in Christ Jesus. Ever looking forward to the Second Advent, his life’s desire was to see revival—revival that, he believed, had to begin in the Church of God.

I firmly believe that the Church of God will have to confess her own sins, before there can be any great work of grace. There must be a deeper work among God’s believing people. I sometimes think it is about time to give up preaching to the ungodly, and preach to those who confess to be Christians. If we had a higher standard of life in the Church of God, there would be thousands more flocking into the Kingdom. So it was in the past; when God’s believing children turned away from their sins and their idols, the fear of God fell upon the people round about. Take up the history of Israel, and you will find that when they put away their strange gods, God visited the nation, and there came a mighty work of grace . . . The judgment of God must begin with us.1

If . . . confession of sin is deep among believers, it will be so among the ungodly also. I never knew it to fail. I am now anxious that God should revive His work in the hearts of His children, so that we may see the exceeding sinfulness of sin.2

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Endnotes

1 Dwight L. Moody, Prevailing Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 28.
2 Ibid., 32.

Thomas Vincent: “Make Provision for the Children”

The Westminster Divines wrote the Shorter Catechism beginning with the famous question, “What is the chief end of man?” But it was Thomas Vincent (1634-1678), pastor of London’s St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, who helped make it popular. Vincent added his own explanatory notes and then encouraged its use in his church. He asserted that fathers have a unique responsibility to give their children a theological education: “It is not sufficient for you to bring your children and servants to receive public instruction; but it is your duty also to instruct them privately, and at home to examine them in their catechisms.”1 The authors of the Shorter Catechism were so pleased with Vincent’s work that they added their own imprimatur and encouraged its use by believers throughout England: “[W]e judge it may be greatly useful to all Christians in general, especially to private families.”2

Father copyVincent wanted more than to be family-friendly—much was at stake. He ministered in an age hostile to the evangelical faith. In 1662 the authorities ejected him from his pastorate, probably for his refusal to submit to the restrictive measures of the infamous Clarendon Code that required strict observance of all the rites of the Church of England. For the Church to persevere in truth and purity in the face of such persecution, the next generation must know the Bible. Vincent placed this responsibility squarely on the fathers’ shoulders.

Neither Vincent’s practice nor his circumstances were novel. When the early Church suffered persecution, her leaders turned to the method of catechizing, literally, teaching “according to sound” [by ear, not by reading assignments]. Well-instructed believers would be least likely to renounce the faith under fire.3 However, the act of catechizing children did not flourish until the Reformation. John Calvin argued in 1548 that the good of the Church depends, in part, upon the catechizing of children:

[T]he church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age. And therefore, if you desire to build an edifice which shall be of long duration, and which shall not soon fall into decay, make provision for the children.4

In seventeenth-century England, many Puritan pastors may have wondered if the edifice of the Church was falling into decay as evangelicals were forced out of their ministries or, worse, put to death for their zeal. Nonetheless, in the face of such opposition, they urged and equipped parents to catechize their children.5 Well into the nineteenth century, churches and parents considered catechisms a crucial component of their children’s theological education. Times have changed.

In the modern Church (and the modern family), catechisms are considered the ancient tools of a bygone era. Regardless of this current trend, fathers and mothers ought to reclaim the precedent set by their spiritual parents and take the responsibility that is rightfully theirs. This is for the good of the children’s own souls and, ultimately, the purity of the Church.

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Endnotes:

1 Thomas Vincent, “To the Masters and Governors of Families Belonging to My Congregation,” in The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained and Proved from Scripture (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1980), vii-viii. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was not the first catechism to be published in England, nor was Vincent the first pastor to encourage parents to take responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their children. The Cambridge educated, Baptist pastor, Henry Jessey, for example, wrote a catechism especially fit for little children in 1652. It included, in addition to a section of questions and answers, memorable theological tidbits such as, “The Law was given to show our sin. And wrath that’s due thereby. That we to Christ for righteousness, and life, might always flee.” See Henry Jessey, A Catechism for Babes, or Little Ones, in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 234. Jessey also, nicely, summarized the Ten Commandments: “With all thy heart love God above/Thy neighbor as thyself so love.” Like Vincent after him, Jessey recognized the responsibility of parents to oversee the scriptural knowledge and spiritual welfare of their children.

2 John Owen, et al, “An Epistle to the Reader,” The Shorter Catechism, v.

3 See Tom Nettles, Teaching Truths, Training Hearts (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1998), 16. For more information on catechism in early Christianity see Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, s.v. “Catechesis, Catechumenate.”

4 John Calvin, “Letter to the Protector Somerset, Geneva, October 22, 1548,” Selected Works of John Calvin, vol. 5, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 191.

5 The Puritan Hugh Peters urged parents to use catechisms in 1630, “if ever your poor infants be driven to wildernesses, to hollow caves, to faggot and fire, or to sorrows of any kind, they will thank God and you, they were well catechized.” See George, Baptist Confessions, 16.

 

When Marriage Brings Judgment

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said,” My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:1-3 (ESV)

GayMarriageMonogamy and marital stability are in crisis, and the gay lobby is capitalizing on this situation as it argues for “gay marriage.” They say that a change in law will encourage homosexuals to move from a lifestyle of dangerous promiscuity into the safety and decency of a covenanted relationship. But as the Bible shows, while the prospect of monogamous-marital devotion is extremely important, it is not enough to make a marriage valid.

From the wonders of Creation and Eden, through the Fall, to the Flood, Genesis traces humanity’s downward spiral, culminating in God’s judgment of drowning on everyone except Noah’s family. One offence, noted in Genesis 6:1-3, has prompted a range of interpretations. It is not entirely clear who the “sons of God” might be, but they had no business marrying the “daughters of man.” Some say these “sons of God” were angels. Others claim they were the offspring of Seth, who married the children of Cain. The crucial question for marriage is not what they were, but what they were not, namely acceptable spouses for the “daughters of man.”

The text offers no suggestion that the marriages were short-lived, contentious, or superficial. It is quite reasonable to suppose that at least some of these unions were lasting and peaceful, but that was not the point. They should never have been solemnized in the first place.

If the “sons of God” were angels, then the marriages were contrary to the order of Creation. Such unions would have been unnatural, as would homosexual marriages (cf. Romans 1:26-27). If “the sons of God” were Sethites, who chose their brides from the “pagan pool” of Cain’s progeny, then their matrimony would have been unholy. Either way, the Lord was disgusted with these unions, no matter how devoted the partners were to each other. He shortened their lives and began to withdraw His favor (v. 3).

Genesis 6:5 presents the grounds for God’s sending a worldwide destructive flood—that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is a very general statement of rampant evil, and it is quite significant that the only specific evil named in the beginning verses of this chapter concerned marriage. God could have mentioned robbery, murder, adultery, or any number of other grave offenses, and He did speak of corruption and violence in subsequent verses (vv.11-13), but He chose illicit wedlock as His lead example.

In other words, marriage is defiled not only by unfaithfulness; it can be impure per se, wrong from the very moment of its inception. No matter what promises certain couples might make to each other, or where they might make them, the relationships are, in and of themselves, profane and cannot be sanctified. Despite many claims to the contrary, there is clearly more to sexual ethics than the imperative to covenanted faithfulness in relationships.

The perceived benefits of widening the definition of marriage are far outweighed by the damage that would be caused by granting legitimacy to deviant behaviors. Marriage is a wonderful means of God’s blessing for whole societies, but the story of the Flood stands as a warning that, when perverted, it can also be the source of terrible curses. Such would be the case with homosexual “marriage” which is both unnatural and unholy.

Repentance, the First Key to the Kingdom—Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold_niebuhr


First as a pastor in Detroit and then as a seminary professor in New York, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was an influential voice for Christian ethics in the twentieth century. The cross of Christ was a particularly important theme in his thought.1 In this passage from “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” Niebuhr explains that brokenness and repentance at the foot of the cross are essential, that arrogance is deadly, while humility and godly sorrow are life-giving. This is true for civilizations as well as for individuals.

The question is, what shall the Christian Church say to this modern culture, which began its adventure in autonomy with such gay self-assurance, which is already so deeply involved in “riotous living” and which faces so certain a doom of a mighty famine?

We must, of course, preach the gospel to this, as to every generation. Our gospel is one which assures salvation in the Cross of Christ to those who heartily repent of their sins. It is a gospel of the Cross; and the Cross is a revelation of a love of God only to those who have first stood under it as a judgment. It is in the Cross that the exceeding sinfulness of human sin is revealed. It is in the Cross that we become conscious how, not only what is worst, but what is best in human culture and civilization is involved in man’s rebellion against God. It was Roman law, the pride of all pagan civilization, and Hebraic religion, the acme of religious devotion, which crucified the Lord. Thus does the Cross reveal the problem of all human culture and the dilemma of every human civilization.

Repentance is the first key into the door of the Kingdom of God. God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Whenever men trust their own righteousness, their own achievements, whenever they interpret the meaning of life in terms of the truth in their own culture or find in their own capacities a sufficient steppingstone to the Holy and the Divine, they rest their life upon a frail reed which inevitably breaks and leaves their life meaningless.

Perhaps that is why the truest interpretations of the Christian faith have come in moments of history when civilizations were crumbling and the processes of history and the judgments of God had humbled human arrogance. The faith of the Hebrew prophets was thus formulated when the culture religion of Israel was threatened and finally overcome by the mighty civilizations of Assyria and Babylon. Augustine wrote the City of God when Roman civilization, once mighty enough to seem identical with civilization itself, had become the helpless victim of barbarians; the renewal of the Christian gospel in the Protestant Reformation was, historically speaking, the consequence as well as the cause of the crumbling of a once proud medieval civilization. Proud men and successful civilizations find it difficult to know God, because they are particularly tempted to make themselves God. That is why “not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise after the flesh are called.” Without the godly sorrow that worketh repentance there can be no salvation.2

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Endnotes:

1 Mark Noll, “Reinhold Niebuhr,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 842.

2 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” in Christianity and Power Politics (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1940), 210-212.