Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Short History of Ordination

An e-mail from the Ministerial Dept. of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists included a link to a lecture video on a short history of ordination in the Christian church. It’s good to listen to it (viewing is optional since the camera doesn’t pan to the slides) but for those not inclined to spend the 36 minutes, here are my notes.

Darius Jankiewicz (Yun-kye-vich) is an Australian of Polish birth. He emigrated from Poland to Australia in 1986 and there attended Avondale College. After a few years of ministry in Sydney, he and his wife moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, to continue his education at Andrews University, where he first completed an MDiv and then a PhD focused on historical theology and specifically Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Following his studies at Andrews, he returned to ministry in Australia (Tasmania) and then became a missionary teacher at Fulton College in Fiji. From there, he was invited to become an associate professor of historical theology at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He has been married to his lovely Australian wife, Edyta, for over 22 years and has two wonderful daughters, Caitlin (13) and Ashley (11).

This presentation was given at the 2012 Women Clergy Conference sponsored by the NAD Ministerial Department.

  • There is no clear, unambiguous support for ordination on any kind in scripture.
  • Laying on of hands, when found in scripture, is most often associated with healing, and then with granting of spiritual gifts.
  • Ordination is derived from political practices of the Roman empire where individuals were granted entry to a higher class of society.
  • Tertullian was the first to introduce the practice of ordination into Christianity.
  • He wanted to show that Christianity was a reasonable religion acceptable to pagan Rome because of similar practices.
  • He knew exactly what he was doing - that he was introducing hierarchy into the Christian religion.
  • Bishop/pastor, elder, deacon - threefold distinction traces back to Iganatius - in Acts, there is no distinction.
  • In name of unity, power is centralized in one person.
  • Prior to this time, each local church had multiple "bishops."
  • Hippolytus - each office requires separate ordination.
  • Iranaeus - in the name of unity, introduces concept that ordination confers a special spiritual gift of truth and discernment; i.e., infallibility; and this gift granted by succession of ordinations.
  • Tertullian - introduces distinction between clergy and laity.
  • Cyprian develops concept of Christian priesthood where ordained priests are now mediators between laity and God; i.e., ordained clergy required for sacraments; authority of ordained clergy increases.
  • Augustine introduces the concept of an "indelible seal" of ordination, raising ordained minister to a higher spiritual level, a privileged order, and becomes channel of grace to laity.
  • In three centuries, Christian ministry changes from functional to sacramental.
  • Absolute ordination; ca. 4th-5th century - ordination (laying on of hands) assigned to person, rather than task. Ca. Council of Chalcedon. Prior to this, ordination was for a person to accomplish a task in a particular community.
  • Towards end of 5th century - Pope Gelasius irked by reports of (impl. ordained) women ministering in churches.
  • The practice of ordination only being allowed to be performed by ordained ministers dates back to Hippolytus. In Acts, all believers lay hands on Paul and Barnabas to set them aside for a specific ministry task.
  • Jerome - utters that Christian community cannot exist without ordained, male ministers.
  • Reformation did not alter ordination practices.
  • First face of Adventism - no priests, no organization.
  • Adventism realized some organization necessary for mission.
  • Adventist ordination was originally functional. But has it changed to become sacramental?
  • Two models of the church - both have organization - but function in different ways.
  • 1) Church as an organization; 2) Church as a missionary movement.
  • 1) Organization is essential for the existence of the church. Organization understood sacramentally - salvation comes from the organization. Dedicated to preservation of the organization, in the name of unity. Goal of church is mediation of salvation to its members. Ordination is a big issue.
  • 2) Organization is not essential for the existence of the church. Understood functionally. Organization does not save anyone. Organization seeks to preserve mission. Goal is mission to the world. Organization can be changed and adapted to mission. Ordination is not an issue.
  • The longer an organization exists, the more it is tempted to become sacramental.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Working out your own salvation

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

How many interpretations and applications of this particular two verses have you heard and read in your lifetime? Has it ever troubled you on reading it? It certainly has been a source of confusion and contradictions in my mind.

I heard it read over this past weekend and that prompted me to look at the passage again. By following a few basic rules of interpretation, I hope to bring a little more clarity to this passage.

Perhaps the most egregious error is simply lifting the two verses out of context and trying to make them say something they were never meant to say.

A second problem is trying to interpret the verses in the Western, Modernist, Individualistic context rather than the Middle Eastern, Ancient, Collectivistic context. Here I am indebted to Reading the New Testament series of commentaries on pointing out that “salvation” does not necessarily refer to individual salvation when found in the New Testament. (It should be noted that particularly in Paul’s writings, “salvation” is often NOT in the personal salvation sense that we Western Christians have been conditioned into thinking.) Rather it can have something to do with the community and how it experiences salvation.

When the verses are lifted out of their contexts and words are assumed to mean something they don’t, we end up with misinterpretation and confusion.

Two typical, traditional, and polar interpretations of the passage above are as follows:

1. You, as a singular Christian individual, must do your part in the process of salvation. God provides the power, but you have to provide the effort. You will do this with fear and trembling because you never can be certain if you are doing all that you are capable and required to do.

2. You, as a singular Christian individual, can never do anything to work out salvation on your own. To do so is futile; hence the fear and trembling. You must rely completely upon God to work in you to accomplish your salvation.

I suggest that neither of the above is a true and accurate interpretation of the text.

Let’s first deal with the issue of context. Verse 12 begins, “Therefore.” This is always an indication that what follows derives from what came just before. In this case what came just before was Jesus’ attitude of humility in comparison with how the people of the world relate to one another – with selfish ambition and conceit. This section on humility is an exhortation to the Christian community to follow the example given by Jesus in how they relate to one another, and through humility achieve unity of love and purpose. Notice that there is nothing here about individual salvation – that of “getting saved” that a modern Christian might typically associate with the word “salvation.”

But even that preceding passage, beginning in the first verse of chapter 2, begins with a connecting word, “So.” That means the context for 2:12-13 begins some place in chapter 1. A good place to set the flag for the start of the context is 1:27.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”  (Philippians 1:27-28 ESV)

Notice that Paul is speaking to the entire church at Philippi. His concern is that they stand united and to work together for the gospel, and that they not be frightened by hostility and threats of those that oppose them. Notice that he is also concerned about his absence from the church at Philippi, but that he is confident of their Christian walk regardless. Notice, too, that the word “salvation” is used in verse 28. Given that 1:28 and 2:12 occur in proximity and within the same contextual setting, we ought to interpret the two occurrences of “salvation” to mean the same thing.

In 1:28 “salvation” is not being used in the sense of “getting saved” or “getting to heaven” but rather in the sense of “external displays of the reality of belonging to God.” These external displays include: standing firm, unity in spirit, striving together for the gospel, courage in the face of threats.

The Philippian church is experiencing conflicts against them (1:29-30). Paul writes that this is to be expected. Paul’s exhortation (which follows in chapter 2) is to continue in the manner they have already shown to be living their salvation life. As a reminder Paul then describes how Jesus lived his life and faced the ultimate conflict of his life.

It is in this context of living life in the present, within a community, one that belongs to God, that Paul writes “therefore… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” He is writing not about individual salvation but about living out a saved life, as a church, as a community. He is writing that a saved community, living its daily life with courage and unity in the face of conflicts and threats, demonstrates the love and power of God for the world to see.

It is in this context that “fear and trembling” must be understood. It is not indicative of uncertainty or cowardice, but rather a sense of profound humility and respect in that the church has been given such an awesome responsibility for portraying God to the world.

Paul writes that such a life is not necessarily easy. He writes that he wishes he could be with them, but because he cannot he expresses confidence that they can “work out your own salvation” without his immediate presence. But Paul adds that his presence isn’t really necessary, because God will provide all that is necessary to make sure the church will not fail in its mission.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It’s Not That Simple - 2

Question: What is LIFE?

Ah… such a simple question. And a simple answer, too: “Life is ______.” Wait… okay, so how do you define life? Hmm… Maybe it isn’t so simple. I have a sneaking suspicions that the answer for most people is “life is what I think (or believe) life is.” Yup, a rather circular, incestuous reasoning.

“Wait a minute,” you protest, “I know what life is because ______ describes what it is.” That blank could be filled in with any number of options: a branch of science, a religious text, a school of philosophy, among others. But ultimately is comes down to, “I know what life is because of what I have chosen to accept/believe as an authoritative source.” Guess what? Your authoritative source isn’t necessarily accepted by every single human being.

Even in the case of science there is no unequivocal definition of what life is. Do chemical processes define life? Or maybe it’s biological? Or is it a combination, i.e., biochemistry? Does the branch of physics have anything to contribute? Science has come up with a consensus description of what what something called life generally shares, but that is far from a indisputable definition. It seems that even in science, it comes down to “I know life when I see it.”

If something as objective as science cannot form a precise definition of life, should we expect reliance on other sources to be any more precise and accurate? Perhaps not. Interpretations of religious and philosophical sources are far more subjective than interpretation of scientific data.

What precipitated this thought was the topic of “pro-life.” Now, if taken literally, pro-life simply means “for or promoting life.” I’d wager, except for a few sociopaths, no one is anti-life and all would agree they are pro-life. Is that how pro-life is used? We all pretty much know that pro-life is an euphemism for anti-abortion.

If the description of life was simply limited to the biological – e.g., a single cell containing growth and reproduction capabilities, ability to taken in food, ability to respond to external stimuli – a zygote would indeed be life, as well as a single cell amoeba, bacteria, spiders, ants, mosquitoes – and someone who professes to be pro-life would be bound to protect all of the above.

If the description of life was, instead, provided through ontology – e.g., the ability to think, feel, love – then only certain higher-order creatures would fit that description. Amoeba, bacteria, spiders, and ants certainly would be excluded. Cats, dogs and birds might be in an intermediate state. A human zygote… strictly would not be life, though it would have the potential for life if allowed to successfully grow and mature beyond some certain point. Ah, but what is that point?

The reality is that all of us combine the scientific and onotological descriptions of life. No two of us combine them in exactly the same manner. The result is that the description of what life is will vary between every person.

Therein lies the complexity of the pro-life/anti-abortion issue. Every person stands on a different foundation: some just slightly different, others vastly so. Even those who share sources of authority can disagree widely because of different methods of interpreting those sources and thus come to polar opposite conclusions. As I described in an earlier post, each person believes they are right and believe they are doing the right thing, but they may be in fact be wrong, and in complex cases no one can know for certain if they are right or wrong.

LIFE. It’s not that simple.

It’s not that simple

Question: Are Americans drowning in debt?

A simple question. There ought to be data from which a simple “yes” or “no” can be concluded.

Doing a Web search brings up any number of pages that attempt to answer this question. Most seem to be “yes” and rely on nearly identical data. But is it so simple?

The most frequently seen chart looks something like this1:

[Chart 1]

Looking at this it might appear that indeed, Americans are drowning in debt and are in trouble. There is a significant increase in the rate of rise of the debt ratio between the 1980’s and 2007, whereas the ratio remained fairly steady between 1964 and the 1980’s.

The problem with the above chart is that although accurate, it is incomplete. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco provides a document with a more complete chart.2

[Chart 2]

What this chart brings in are assets: personal income, real estate, and securities. We can see from this chart that even as debt has increased, assets have also increased. Is this good or bad?

First, part of basic economic theory is that debt is required in order for the economy to grow. There is no incentive for saving or investing if there is no return on it. For there to be return on savings and investing (both are essentially the same) the assets saved and invested must be loaned out. Through the process of debt, the original assets invested are increased.

For a household we need to include in the ROI (return on investment) not just liquid assets (from savings and investing in stocks), but also intangibles such as future earnings power (borrowing for education would fall here), future ability to have a roof over one’s head (mortgage on primary residence), ability to transport one’s self to work (auto loans), and recreational enjoyment to extend the ability to continue working (loan on vacation home). This is leverage, the ability to use one’s assets as collateral to increase their assets, both tangible and intangible.

Not all debt is bad. In fact as I hope I’ve briefly demonstrated, many debts can be good. The problem is when a person or household is overleveraged to the point they are unable to meet their debt commitments. The first chart (debt to income ratio) might imply that is the case, and much commentary on this chart concludes as such. But not all agree.3

My argument is the first chart, although informative and provides tangential data toward leverage, cannot answer by itself whether or not American households are in trouble.

This third chart plots data published by the Federal Reserve.4

[Chart 3]

This shows the most pertinent data to answer whether or not American’s are drowning in debt. This chart shows how much of personal disposable income is going towards servicing debt. The first chart shows the growth of leverage; this third chart shows the ability to pay for the leverage.

What this shows is that the Debt Service Ratio for all Americans is today as low as it was in the early 1990’s. The same can be said of most of the Financial Obligation Ratios that are plotted. The trend peaked around 2007 but has since been declining. According to this chart then, the answer to “are American’s drowning in debt” is “No.” Americans are well within their means to meet their ongoing debt commitments.

My answer to the original question is a qualified “No” and “Yes.” Americans are not in immediate trouble; they are not “drowning in debt” as some alarmist headlines might have you believe. At the same time the increasing rise of leverage is a concern. If the underlying assets – real estate, securities, one’s ability to earn income – is reduced, the ability to service debts will be affected adversely. If severe enough, then yes, Americans could drown in debt.

A simple question; but the answer? It’s not that simple.



Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hold on to convictions tentatively

The title of this post might appear to be one of contradictions. After all isn’t a conviction something that a person knows for certain? If something is certain, how can that person be tentative about it?

In light of a number of psychological, neurological, sociological, and anthropological studies1 that I have seen recently, the conclusion I have come to (which too, must be held just tentatively) is that our worldview, perspectives, system of beliefs, and even what we “know” as truth is subjective to the “box” that each person has slowly built up over the course of their lives up to this precise moment in time.

Each box is different from every other box. Which means that every worldview, perspective, beliefs, and yes, even “truth” differs from one person to another. In other words, what I know for certain to be truth, the next person may or may not accept as such. Not only may that person not accept it as such at this time, he may not have the capability to ever accept it as such. And likewise, I may have certain beliefs that in reality, may not be true, that because of my life experiences, I may never be able to reject; conversely, there may be things that I believe as false that in reality are true, but I will never be able to accept.

Thus, I must remind myself: hold on to convictions tentatively.

I think and act out of my convictions, my belief system, what I hold to be true. But I must be aware that all the I know, believe, see and hear are limited… that they are only partial views into reality. I have no way to apprehend reality in its entirety, in its fullness, and unobscured by personal and societal preconceptions and influences.

1I don’t have links to sources, but to paraphrase some of them: 1) Our biological senses such as sight and hearing, when they go through the process of interpretation in our brains, are selective. We see and hear what we want to see and hear, and have the uncanny ability to filter away stuff that are “irrelevant” to us. 2) We are tribal in nature. Even in an highly individualistic society such as the United States, we form tribes: political, religious, philosophical. We believe and act in ways to further “our” tribe and defeat competing tribes. We have the ability to unconsciously ignore and even contradict fact and truth in order to promote our own “tribal” views.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thoughts on James 1:2-19a

Is the book of James simply a collection of disparate wisdom topics, exhortations, warnings, and instruction? Can we find a unifying theme in the opening verses of the book?

The past several Wednesday evenings I’ve been going to a study in the book of James, held at the Baptist Church. It has given me an opportunity to study a book that I probably wouldn’t have seriously considered otherwise. The point here is not to agree or disagree with what I hear there, but rather provide my own interpretations and conclusions as I follow the verses and think about it for myself.

It appears that one common view of James is that it is a collection of wisdom sayings, much like Proverbs. Verses may cluster around a related topic but, according to the common view, there is not necessarily a unifying theme from the beginning to the end of the book. Even in a passage as short as the first eighteen verses, a reader could find half-a-dozen different topics that may or may not be related to one another.

People who know me well know that I like to look for the big picture and how the various elements fit together to establish and sustain the whole. I don’t like it when pieces seem to be thrown haphazardly together. After taking several weeks to go through these verses, I thought I saw some patterns in words, phrases, and concepts repeatedly coming up in verses 2 through 18.

My first step in seeing if I could find some kind of unifying thought in these seventeen verses was to go through and color code key words and phrases. I assigned identical colors to identical concepts; similar colors to related concepts. (See graphic)


I could now see more clearly that my hunch was correct about related and opposing concepts appearing throughout these seventeen verses. The next step was to organize the above through a table containing key ideas, related terms, and opposing concepts.


Related Terms

Opposing Concepts


Faith, stood, no variation, no change

Unstable, doubting


Doubts, doubting, tossed, pass away, withers, perishes, fade away, lured, enticed, deceived, double-minded

Steadfastness, faith








Testing, test



Tempted, deceived, lured, enticed

Trials, gift

Desire (human)


Own will (God's)

Own will (God's)


Desire (human)


Wisdom, crown of life, birth (from God), receive... from the Lord, gives generously, perfect, complete

Temptations, desire (human), lacking


Conceived, grown, brings forth, brought us forth, firstfruits





It began to become quite clear that in these verses James was contrasting two opposing concepts: God vs. human, faith vs. doubt, steadfast vs. unstable, life vs. death. My next step was to figure out how James developed this comparison through this passage.


Corresponding Scripture

Faith ↔ Testing → Steadfastness → Perfect and complete


“Lacking” → (transition to next set)

[2] Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

[4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(The faithful person)

God gives gifts to fill any lack that the faithful may perceive

Faith → God

Doubt → Human


“Unstable” → (transition to next set)

[5] If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

[6] But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

[8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways

(The faithful person)

Human effort is “unstable” and temporary


“Scorching heat [trial]” → (transition to next set)

[9] Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,

[10] and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

[11] For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

(The faithful person)

God gives gifts to the faithful → (life)

God does not cause evil

Human desire → death

Humans are unstable


[Human birthed life cycle]
Human desire ↔ temptation → sin (doubt) → death

[12] Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

[13] Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

[14] But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

[15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

(The faithful person)

God gives gifts to the faithful

God is steadfast

[God birthed life (is not a cycle)]
God's will → births faith → growth process of v.2-4 → perfect and complete fruits of God

[16] Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

[17] Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

[18] Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

What strikes me most is that this passage begins with a description of a growth process and ends with one-and-a-half. The beginning describes the growth process of a Christian. The end of this passage starts off with a description of the birth-to-growth-to-death process of someone relying strictly on human effort. The passage ends with the “half” life process of a Christian. I believe James intends his audience to take what he wrote at the very beginning and insert it into the ending to complete the birth and growth process of a Christian.

After this passage, verse 19 begins, “Know this, my beloved brothers...”

In all translations I've seen, this begins what seems to be a brand new section. An alternative translation is to make the first phrase in verse 19 a transition: “Knowing this, my beloved brothers...,” or “In light of what you have just heard...” In other words, through verse 18 James had been discussing in broad terms the right and wrong ways for Christians to live and grow in Christ. Now beginning with verse 19 he moves on to specific examples of right and wrong.