"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In His Name

This is the next installment in the series that began with Why I Am Not A Christian.  You can return here to click on the subsequent essays: Two, Three, Four, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10.

Lots of Christian denominations in the breathless "charismatic" wing will go on wild rants about invoking the name of Jesus.  Such rants, er, I guess I mean "sermons" are usually a mile wide and an inch deep.  And since it brings the subject to mind, it usually compares to the practice in many independent congregations to engage in what I call "broken-record" worship.  Now, before someone accuses me of being too critical, let me ask God, right here in front of the witnesses (No, not you JWs) who read this blog, to correct me if what I am about to say is wrong.  I just don't see how taking a little chorus of a song and repeating it over, and over, and over for a thirty or forty minute stretch at 110 decibels is somehow honoring to God.  To me, it invokes images of new age cults engaging in repetitive chants in order to empty their minds and achieve oneness with their navel or whatever.  I'd rather sing some stodgy old hymns that have great and meaningful lyrics that you have to actually think about and tell an important story or attribute of God than to sing the same line, "I am a friend of God" or "Better is one day in Your house" eighty-five times or for thirty minutes, which ever comes first.

If that isn't bad enough, imagine a preacher who spends 40 minutes talking about what the five smooth stones were saying to each other in David's pouch about which one of them get's to kill Goliath.  No, my imagination isn't good enough to come up with a whopper like that.  I remember being stunned by being surrounded by people shouting "Hallelujah!" and "Preach on!"  and wondering for the life of me what could possibly be edifying about any of this.  The reason it comes to mind over fifteen years later is because of the sheer stupidity and spectacle of it.  It wasn't like I walked out of that service (probably long before he was finished) thinking to myself, "Wow, this is understanding that is going to make such a difference in my Christian walk."

In a world that is hurting for answers, the last thing they need is mindless nonsense being associated with the Real God.  People need to hear the evidence for why they can trust the Bible.  They need to hear reasonable answers to skeptics about the Bible being just a bunch of myths invented to enslave people to a religious system.  People need to know that science doesn't conflict with anything the Bible says about history or anything else it addresses.  Real advances in the hard sciences show that the Bible can indeed be trusted.  There are facts and evidence that explain why the universe appears to be so old while the Bible claims an age of about 6,000 years.  People should have the opportunity to hear the logical, systematic explanations for why the atheist position isn't just illogical, but downright stupid.  By the way, I distinguish between atheists who don't really care about the argument, versus those who are militant in their religious fervor against God.

There are many, but not all of those associated with charismatic congregations who have this idea that if they simply attach the name of Jesus to whatever they are doing, and it seems like a good thing, God will bless, condone and sanctify it.  This stems from a serious misunderstanding of what it means from the ancient Biblical concept of "in My name."  We need to have the proper understanding of the phrase.

From the time Yeshua inaugurated His ministry and chose His disciples it was clear that he was no ordinary Rabbi.  But the modern, western, Christianized mind should never make the mistake of thinking that He did not teach in the exact same manner as all the sages who came before Him.  In case you haven't been keeping up with this series, let me pause here to fill in some things and repeat some things because they are well worth making clear.  There are Rabbis and there are Sages.  Sages were the top Rabbis.  They weren't appointed by anyone (unless you want to count the Holy Spirit).  They reached their status because they were recognized by the people as exceptional Torah scholars who practiced what they preached.  Just as a catholic nun would hold up Mother Teresa as a standard for piety and devoutness, a sage was the Rabbi everybody was hoping would be willing to take you on as a disciple, because everybody around knew that this guy had the answers and lived out everything that he preached.  The thing that probably shocks the mind of a modern westerner is the fact that when a Rabbi took you on as a disciple -- from the time of Noah until maybe a thousand years ago, the disciple lived with their Rabbi or Master.  It was nothing new or weird or different that the disciples of Yeshua of Nazareth spent all of their time with the Master.  It was a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week deal.  They slept in the same houses, they ate all their meals together.  Every waking moment was spent learning how to do everything exactly the way their Master did it and memorizing the words that He spoke. Keeping in mind that you first had to have memorized the Torah and pretty much the Prophets and the Psalms.

That is such a foreign concept to modern people.  Imagine living and learning in such constant closeness that the only things you don't do together are bathing and defacating.  Sorry if that seems too graphic for you, but I want to be faithful to the facts.  No wonder that the gospels tell us that Yeshua spent a lot of time finding a solitary place to pray. So, what does this have to do with the point about "in My name?"

In order for anyone to have any respect for a man invoking the phrase, "in the name of . . ." the listeners would have to know that the person was a disciple in good standing of the Rabbi whose name they were using for authority.  Otherwise, what you were saying had no more importance than the sound of a chicken clucking.  Today, there are people in the churches who use the name Jesus as if there is some kind of celestial voice recognition software floating in the ethersphere and if you just say that name you get some kind of spiritual respect.  But we are given a wonderful real event in the book of Acts which demonstrates that such would be faulty thinking.

In Acts 19, Paul has come to Ephesus, a city in western Turkey and greatly devoted to the worship of Artemis.  Paul used the synagogue as his local base of operations, reasoning from the Scriptures about Messiah with the local Jews who had settled there after the big Babylonian diaspora.  Adonai was giving credence to Paul's message by performing extraordinary miracles through his hands.  Knowledge of this activity naturally spread through the area to the point that even some Jewish exorcists were willing to try using the name of Yeshua "whom Paul preaches."  Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva tried to do this to a man who was possessed by a demon, and with disastrous results.  The demon says to these pretenders, "I recognize Yeshua, and I even know about Paul, but who are you?"  Then this demon-possessed man beats these guys badly enough to send them running, naked and bleeding.

Before I move on, please note the wording by the demon.  "I recognize . . ."  This isn't a casual phrase.  The demon is acknowledging Yeshua's identity in the same way that the demon in the man at the Capernaum synagogue cried out, "I know who you are -- the Holy One of God." (Luke 4:34)  This title is one repeatedly used in the book of Isaiah to refer to the God of Israel.  It doesn't easily translate from the Hebrew because there is no equivalent word "of."  English translators stick "of" in there to make it read better for us, but those Jews in the synagogue on that day heard a demon recognize that they were all standing in the presence of God Almighty.  They all knew what it meant and they were amazed at His power and authority.

Back to Acts 19: Let me give you an analogy.  Let's say a bunch of thugs take over a small town.  A couple of guys from the neighboring town decide to take it upon themselves to go save those poor people from this oppression.  They are outnumbered and out-gunned, but they decide to try to look official and when they ride into town they even announce themselves as being there "in the name of the Law."  Problem is; the thugs already know who are and are not the duly appointed law men in the land and they know that these guys are just playing vigilantes.  The thugs simply make sport of these guys and send them off wounded.  The thugs know that they can get away with this because those guys lacked both the power and authority to get the job done.

There is this passage in Matthew 7 that always bothered me when I was calling myself a Christian.  "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"   Matthew 7:23

What law was he talking about?  He seems to be clearly saying that invoking his name and even doing very good things and even miraculous things is not good enough if I am practicing lawlessness.  Which laws?  Who's laws?

Problem was, I hadn't yet learned to take the Bible as a whole.  The answer was right there all along.  Not even in another book or epistle, but in the very same sermon that the Master was giving at the time.  All I had to do was go back to chapter 5 of Matthew, early in this sermon.  "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law . . ."  Matthew 5:17  So, how do we define those who practice lawlessness?  Those who deny that we need to keep Torah.  If I were to try to define Matthew 7:23 as referring to any other law and especially man-made law, the verse would not just be meaningless, it would be stupid.

By coming to the understanding of Scripture as a cohesive whole, I can see that in order to legitimately operate in the authority of God, I have to follow His rules and guidelines.  Notice in Matt 7:23 the assumption is that, come the judgment, there will be such people.  I don't want to be one of them.  I would rather risk having God say to me at the judgment, "That was nice of you to observe and keep all those commandments and teachings of Mine, but it really wasn't necessary."  rather than hear Him say, "You've got no excuse.  I think I made myself pretty clear  in that sermon on the mount, and in Luke 16:17 and in plenty of other places in My Word."

Choose carefully.  Choose wisely.

In the next installment, we will ponder the meaning of Yeshua's sinlessness.

1 comment:

Please don't make me disable comments because you couldn't maintain decorum and civil discourse. You can disagree all you want to, just don't get nasty.