Muzzling the Ox

Occasionally I see critics of the LDS Church attack the salary drawn by General Authorities and the stipend given to Mission Presidents. I think the Church is fully justified by the Bible in offering these benefits to these men. The chief passage that allows for this practice is I Corinthians 9:1-18. In it Paul defends himself from the same charges.

Paul was a “tent-maker missionary”, someone who works full time to support themselves while ministering. Apparently at some point in Corinth he had eaten from the collective meal that Christians participated in as part of the Lord’s Supper. We learn from Chapter 11 that some believers were eating private suppers and getting drunk and not allowing everyone in the congregation to get a share of the portion of the meal. This was depriving some members of the body. Paul defense seems to come in context of this local controversy. Paul is incensed by this accusation because he feels that he’s not only allowed to eat from the church pantry but that he’s even allowed to take a portion of the offerings (though he does not).

Paul offers two defenses for the practice of paying those in ministry. Both are found in the Old Testament, which should especially appeal to the Mormon idea of practicing “Old Testament Christianity.” Continue reading

Skittles In Remembrance

Today a friend from college posted the following on Facebook:

We just took Skittles and iced tea as communion elements at my church in honor of the situation with Trayvon Martin–because being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life…

I knew immediately that there were a great many things to unpack in this posting.  At the very least I knew her congregation had inspired a conversation about Jesus and injustice and for that I applaud them.  But there seemed to be something else nestled into this radical statement that didn’t sit well with me.

254069-skittlesFor those unaware of the reference, Trayvon Martin was a black, 17-year-old who was killed (some say murdered) in an altercation with a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was recently acquitted of murdering Martin and the case brought up many controversial conversations about race, self-defense, and injustice. Martin had decided to go out to the store that evening to get Skittles and Iced Tea.

It is clear to me that Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die that night.  His death is a tragedy. It simply should not have happened.  I do not wish to jump into the cultural, political or legal controversies surrounding his death in this space, but I acknowledge the deep feelings of injustice that are conjured in the hearts of many Americans by his death. Trayvon Martin should not be dead because he wanted some Skittles and Iced Tea.

In many ways I understand what my friend’s church was doing by serving Skittles and Iced Tea in communion.  The bread and the wine are two of the most powerful symbols in Christianity.  Skittles and Iced Tea have become powerful symbols of racial injustice in America.  From an artistic perspective it makes a lot of sense to put these symbols in proximity to one another.  The moral complexity caused by creating a relationship between these symbols is explosive.  I believe this symbol clashing expression of a Christian sacrament is powerful, but I also must ask “is it good?”

From a purely pragmatic perspective I believe that Skittles and Iced Tea can be used as a substitute for bread and wine in Communion.  On a deserted island with nothing else on hand, I think God would find them an honorable means of worship.  If I had to guess, I’d say 99% of my worship experiences have been in churches that chooses to use grape juice instead of wine.  The LDS church uses water.  Most churches serve some variety of crackers, wafers or even bread with yeast.  My own church has recently begun to set out gluten-free crackers for those with gluten allergies. I say all of this to acknowledge that many churches use some substitute for the wine and the kind of bread Jesus served in the Last Supper.  Not many make the effort to replicate Jewish, First Century wine and Passover bread.

From a symbolic perspective I think the use of Skittles and Iced Tea is wrong.  I whole-heartedly agree that “being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life… ”  We should, ought and must be fighting against racial barriers and injustice.  Nonetheless I think it was inappropriate to make the Sacrament an opportunity to call Christians to the fight against injustice.

When Jesus broke the bread and served the wine, he said “do this in remembrance of me”.  He did not say “do this in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and the injustice of racial stereotypes”.  I hope and pray that churches every where are preaching relevant, practical and Biblical sermons on breaking the bonds of injustice.  I strongly encourage them to develop programs to help their neighbors overcome those types of struggles.  But Communion is not the place to offer that charge. The Gospel of Jesus is in part about racial and societal reconciliation, but that is not the entire message.

The error in using Skittles and Iced Tea in Communion is that it places the Christian mission against injustice at the center of the worship experience rather than Christ. In many ways this story illuminates the Conservative/Liberal Christian divide for me.  Churches on both sides of the spectrum fall into heresy when they misplace any one aspect of the Christian pursuit of virtue over Jesus himself.  Churches that designate themselves as “open and affirming” seem to easily devolve into nothing more than the message of acceptance.  Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Churches that focus on personal piety and moral regulations can devolve into nothing more than the message of righteousness.  Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than than. Churches that focus on nothing but their liturgy and priesthood can become a place where nothing is more important that the right mode of worship and authority. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Churches that passionately pursue complex theological teaching can become nothing more than their sound doctrines. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Justice, acceptance, righteousness, worship, authority and doctrine are all wonderful things and should be pursued passionately. . . but they aren’t Jesus.  Our Savior calls us to all of them, but they are not saviors.

I imagine the good people at my friend’s church would be appalled if they heard of another church that had replaced the bread and the wine with Budweiser and apple pie.  I hope their outrage would not be because they reject the cultural or political message symbolized by those items, but rather because what those items represent are never meant to displace our call to remember Jesus’ death when we partake of the sacraments.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Romans 16

Bridget Jack Jeffries (“Ms. Jack”) is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She blogs at ClobberBlog.

Romans 16 has often been overlooked and underappreciated when compared to the rest of Romans. It’s far lower in theological content and subsequently tends to warrant less space in commentaries and fewer mentions in sermons so that many end their reading of Romans without taking a careful look at this chapter. I find this unfortunate, because I consider Romans 16 to be the “cool-down” at the end of a high-energy theological cardio work-out. And as anyone who works out can testify, while it may be tempting to turn off your television and step away from your exercise video once the trainer initiates the cool-down phase, you’ll only be cheating your body if you do. Likewise, Romans 16 does have important lessons to teach us, even if they’re of a much different tone and nature than the heavy theological treatises of the preceding 15 chapters, and we cheat ourselves out of a portion of God’s “revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past” (v. 25) when we skip over this chapter and call it a day.

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Romans 15

Alex T. Valencic is a life-long Mormon, born and raised in central Illinois. He served a full-time mission in southern California (ostly in Victorville), and spent a semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. He is currently the Webelos Den Leader in his ward and works as a substitute teacher in his community. He also unabashedly uses non-American English spellings.


Romans 15 continues on from the advice started in chapter 12, giving practical advice to how the Saints can “present [their] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [their] reasonable service.” Having discussed a variety of aspects of practical Christian behaviour in the previous chapter, Paul starts off by admonishing the Romans to “bear the infirmities of the weak” and to “every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” Paul then gives counsel that we be “likeminded one toward another” that we “may with one mind and one mouth glorify God”.

Paul acknowledges that the people to whom he was writing were “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge” but he had written boldly to them on several subjects because it was his duty. He then talks about his own mission among the Gentiles and admits that he was worried about building on the foundation others had started—he felt his mission was to go to those who had not yet heard of Jesus.

He ends by promising to visit the Romans the next time he goes to Spain, but, first, he had to stop at Jerusalem because the Saints in Macedonia and Achaia had a contribution for the benefit of the poor in those parts. He asks for them to pray with him and for him, so that he can avoid being arrested by their persecutors in Judaea.


There are three items that Paul brought up in this chapter that I find of particular application to my life:

I. How are we to bear the infirmities of the weak, and how does this help strengthen them?

I can’t help but draw a comparison to the classic sermon in Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, in which Alma tells those desiring to join the fold of Christ to “mourn with those who mourn” and to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort”. It is one thing to feel bad that someone else is sad. We can make them a casserole, drop it off, say the trite things that don’t really help, and then we carry on with our day. But to truly mourn with others, we feel their sorrow as if it were our own. To bear another’s infirmities, we feel the struggle they go through. Their struggles become our struggles. A friend of mine is trying to help one of her friends stop smoking. For every day that her friend goes without a cigarette, Sarah is going to go a day without shaving. Another friend of mine attends AA meetings with his friend, to be a support to his buddy. The LDS church has recently implemented an Addiction Recovery Program, patterned after AA, that allows people to attend simple to help those struggling with addictions. All of these examples show how we can bear the infirmities of the weak. Having a support system helps the weak overcome and become strong. And, by being that support system, we often find ourselves growing stronger, as well.

II. How can we be likeminded one toward another?

I don’t actually have a complete answer to this. I am reminded of Paul’s angry letter to the Corinthians:

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

This should be one of the great issues facing the Christian world today, but I don’t think it is. I fear that this is a passage that is glossed over or ignored. Or, worse, we all blame everyone else for what’s wrong. I am interested to know how others respond to this verse.

III. Paul teaches that we are full of goodness.

In several places in the scriptures, we find passages that tell us that “there are none that are righteous”, that “none of us are good”, and that what we think is good is really “as filthy rags before the Lord”. Even the Book of Mormon teaches us that we are lower than the dust of the earth. Yet here we have Paul saying, “Look guys, you really aren’t that bad. Yeah, I know, I’ve called you to task on a lot of stuff. But really, by and large, you are good people. You mean well. You do well. You’re smart, you’re funny, and, gosh darn it, people like you!”

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how he put it, but that is what I hear him saying. I hear Paul telling us that, yes, we screw up. A lot. And we are so very, very fortunate to understand that it doesn’t matter how badly we screw up, because Christ can overcome everything. His mercy, His grace is stronger. To paraphrase a children’s song, Jesus is bigger than the boogeyman. And because of that, we don’t need to be flogging ourselves every night. We don’t need to be groveling on the floor saying, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” We know we aren’t worthy, but Christ can make us worthy, and He will, if we will let Him. So, instead of beating ourselves up, we can acknowledge that we are capable of doing good and that, in so doing, we are going to have a positive influence on others.

Romans 14

This review of Romans 14 is provided by BrianJ, a Mormon.

NET: Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions.

NIV: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

NKJV: Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

NRSV: Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.

receive/accept/welcome: It seems as though Paul meant this as an instruction to “receive in full fellowship; i.e., as a member,” as opposed to merely “welcoming as a (temporary) guest.” Still, I wonder if he wouldn’t extend this advice to the latter as well. Do we receive/welcome/accept guests or visitors the same as we do new converts of our denominations? Should we?

One problem with interpreting Paul here is that he was writing with a Christianity in mind that is quite different than today. I realize that there were differences in doctrines taught in the different cities during Paul’s day, but the delineations were not nearly as demarcated as they are today. Is it reasonable to extend Paul’s admonition to include interfaith relations? Would Paul encourage a Catholic to receive a Baptist? an Evangelical to accept a Mormon? a Mormon to welcome an Anglican?

weak: I confess that I’d like to misread Paul here as well. I’d like to read this verse as an indication of his self-awareness: Paul wrote some confusing, difficult stuff in the chapters we’ve already covered, and here he is backing down (intellectually speaking) to acknowledge that a lot of people aren’t going to understand everything at first pass.

But that would require misreading what Paul means by “weak in faith.” “Weak” must refer back to Paul’s use of “weak” in previous chapters to mean someone who is holding onto old religious traditions; their weakness is made manifest by their inability to let go of the outwardness of the Law and make the leap to the new covenant. Thus, Paul makes no concession (at least here) to those who don’t understand—or trust—his previous chapters.

disputes/quarrels over opinions: This is where I saw some irony if I purposefully misread Paul. Throughout our group study, we’ve had many disputations—in fact, to some degree that was one of the purposes of our group discussion. So even though Paul, in chapter 14, wasn’t talking about discussions like ours, I wonder what he would tell us. Some sort of adaptation of this verse, encouraging flexibility and friendship, or would he favor a more hard-lined approach? Would Paul tolerate differences of opinion over matters of doctrine, or just over something he sees as trivial (such as what one eats)?

Actually, that’s the kind of question we’ve had all along in regards to Paul: How far is Paul willing to take his rhetoric? How far would Paul extend this forbearance? Some of us have taken Paul’s words with full force, whereas others have suggested that Paul might be exaggerating his doctrinal positions for effect.

Verses 5-6: What I still don’t get from Paul is whether he is merely tolerating the idea of holding on to certain religious “rules” or if he actually respects the practice. It seems the former, since he keeps referring to such people as “weak.” Is this why (some) Evangelicals criticize Mormons for our adherence to rules of Sunday dress, Sabbath activities, Word of Wisdom, etc.?

Verses 7-9: I find this analysis very odd. Not that I dispute the conclusion in verse 9, but it seems kind of thrown in there—almost like a reflex “amen!” If I just look at the logical flow of these verses, I come up with: Christ died and was resurrected so that he could be Lord of…people who eat pork and people who don’t (?).

Verse 13: Okay, I promise never to put a stumbling block in my brother’s way…but tell me: what is a stumbling block? How am I to know if I’ve placed one? Paul’s teaching seems straightforward enough, but in practice…. Paul used as an example the eating of kosher foods, telling both “sides” not to make it an issue for the other “side.” That’s a fine example, because it’s easy to see how pork chops or crab cakes could cause disputations between early Christians, but where I get a bit lost is in knowing how to apply this today. How can I know what will cause my brother to stumble? (And isn’t it, at some point, still his decision whether or not to stumble?)

Verse 15 anticipates this concern, even if it does not explicitly answer it. “Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died” (NET). Ahh, well said Paul: you expertly call us petty. There’s no room to complain about another’s “weak faith,” saying anything like “What? I have to give up meat because my (ignorant) brother doesn’t understand that it’s okay to eat? What’s next? Give up milk, cheese, bread? How about my clothes or musical preferences? Maybe my brother should just grow up!” No, there’s no room for any of that because, after all, Jesus gave up his very life! Points like this make me very grateful for Jesus’ example of charity.

Verses 19-20: I’ve hinted at this already, but what if we took “food/meat” in these verses as merely a metaphor. A metaphor for…doctrine? ritual? worship style or ritual? etc.? Is that taking Paul’s words too far out of context, or would Paul endorse that exercise?

Romans 13

Todd is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Ammon, Idaho.  He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Romans 13 is the shortest chapter in the book, but don’t let that lessen its impact and relevance for today.  Whereas the opening message of Romans brought justification to Martin Luther and later in church history to John Wesley upon hearing Luther’s preface, the message of Romans 13 changed the course of Augustine’s life.

The chapter could primarily be broken up into three sections:  commandments in relation to your government, commandments in relation to your neighbor, and commandments in relation to Christ.  I think that one’s obedience in these three areas is directly connected to how much one is willing to grow in gospel grace, for it is only the gospel that enables one to live out any of this stuff.

The Christian’s Relationship to Secular Government (vv. 1-7)

First of all, I don’t quite understand some of Joseph Smith insertions in the text.  He is thinking of the church:  and punishment instead of damnation, a rod instead of the sword, and consecrations instead of tribute.  What did he think about the U.S. President during the time of these translational notes?

Paul is talking about civil authorities in this opening paragraph.  And Richard Holzapfel and Thomas Wayment in their book, Making Sense of the New Testament, make a fair observation, “[Paul’s] comments on government . . . should be interpreted in light of the fact that the rulers he was speaking of were not democratic leaders but foreign oligarchs with their own interests and agendas” (p. 338).  Just imagine the political leaders in Paul’s day.  Wow.  I am glad to live in America.

But can we apply this passage to President Barak Obama?  Certainly.  Paul was not a political revolutionary.  And in light of this passage, Christians would be in disobedience for dodging the paying of taxes.  And we ought to seriously take note that our city, county, state, and national servants are God’s deacons (v. 4).  Christians display the glorious Christian gospel and trust in God by their submission to government.  Christians can be accused of a lot of things.  But they shouldn’t be accused of being political rebels or rabble-raisers.

The Christian’s Relationship to His Neighbor (vv. 8-10)

Paul and James join hand in hand with one another.  Paul writes, “For the commandments . . . are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” . . . and “love is the fulfilling of the law.”  James writes in James 2, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”

But how do we do this?  And who really is the consistently good Samaritan?  We don’t have the strength within ourselves to love our neighbors as we should, let alone an enemy.  We need something or more specifically Someone – the one who perfectly loves neighbors and enemies – to live and love through us.

It is interesting how Eric Shusten and Charles Sale seek application from this text.  In their book, The Biblical Roots of Mormonism (2010), they write, “While the Bible is clear about the sin of homosexual sex, it is equally clear about love (Matthew 22:39).  Love the sinner, not the sin (Romans 13:9-10)” (p. 238).

The Christian’s Relationship to Christ (vv. 11-14)

A Christian does not get saved by grace and then try to live the Christian life by his or her effort.  It is all grace.  There must be a daily putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith.  Yes, Paul exhorts us in regards to our responsibility.  We must cast off by faith, our sinful tendencies.  We must put on by faith, the gospel armor.  Simply put, we must put on Christ.

So, we cast off.  We put on.  And we walk forward in the daily spiritual battle.  And we can do it all through only one – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Going beyond earthly politics, this King is our ultimate freedom fighter.  He set Augustine free.

Let me conclude with a snippet from Augustine’s testimony.  I finished reading his Confessions last month.

“I sent up these sorrowful cries:  “How long, how long?  Tomorrow and tomorrow?  Why not now?  Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”

“I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl—I know not which—coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick up, read; pick up, read” [Tolle, lege; tolle, lege].  Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like.  So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could only think that this was a divine command to open the book and read the first passage I should light upon.  For I had heard how Anthony, accidently coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him:  “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”  By such an oracle he was immediately converted to you.  So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left.  I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell:  “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”  I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to.  For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

Romans 11

In chapter 11 Paul continues his explanation of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation.  He explains that God didn’t reject his people, but saved out a remnant (such as Paul); just as in the time of Elijah, God saved 7,000 who remained faithful.  Paul explains that this remnant has been saved purely by God’s grace.  He states in verses 5 and 6:

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Verse 6 is totally a side note in Paul’s overall message in this passage, but I love the nugget we find here.  In chapter 10 Paul explains that there is a righteousness that comes from works and a righteousness that comes from grace.  The righteousness from works is basically unobtainable. So the only thing we can hope for is the righteousness that comes from grace.  Here he further sets works and grace apart from one another. Grace and earning are opposed to each other and can’t be reached for simultaneously.  Grace is something that is freely given and undeserved.  Righteousness-by-works is something a person would deserve.  Grace, by definition can’t be earned.  To give someone something through grace is to acknowledge that they don’t deserve it. The ONLY thing a person can do to qualify for the gift of grace is to be undeserving of it.  No one can ever deserve grace, if they could, it would no longer be grace.

I think grace, by definitions, stands in contrast to any idea of us paying off a debt and then God swooping in to pay off what remains because he saw that we were trying our best to pay it off.  God already knows our best efforts aren’t going to do it, so grace pays the entire debt.

Paul goes on to explain how parts of Israel have been broken off from the vine, this allows Gentiles to be grafted in even though we are like wild olive shoots.  Though parts of Israel may be cut off from the root, it’s not a permanent condition.  If something foreign and untamed like Gentiles can be grafted in, so too can the natural branches be rejoined.  This condition the Jews find themselves in is a temporary hardening of their hearts “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.

There’s something perplexing in verses 28 -31 pertaining to our freewill.  Paul explains that Israel will always be loved by God because of his covenants with the patriarchs.  Though they are disobedient God will show mercy to them just as he showed mercy on those of us who were disobedient Gentiles.  Then in verse 31 he states

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

I’m not sure what being “bound over to disobedience” means.  But I love how “The Message” explains this passage: In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. There’s bad news in there for everyone, but the good news is bigger than the bad, God wants to have mercy on everyone.

The chapter ends with a closing prayer that echoes the final chapters of Job.  Who can know God’s mind?  Who can give him advice?  Who does God owe any favors to?  No one.  Everything ever given to us is from God, through God and ultimately for God.  All glory goes to God.  If you’re ever looking for a good novel on this topic I recommend “Till We Have Faces” by CS Lewis.  Lewis claimed it was his own personal favorite.

Romans 8

This review of Romans 8 is provided by Seth, an active Mormon

People sometimes gripe that a chapter-by-chapter treatment of a book like Romans cannot possibly do justice to the full message of the work taken-together. On this I completely agree. You simply cannot read a single chapter of Romans in isolation and get a real sense of what Paul is talking about. I think many casual students of the Bible – both in Mormon and Protestant contexts – do themselves a real disservice in their studies in their tendency toward the “chapter-a-day” method of scripture study. However, we need these artificial divisions to keep life and discussion manageable, so an approach like this is probably unavoidable. But I’d still like to provide a quick overview of where we are, and where we’ve come from when we arrive at Romans chapter 8. I think focusing mainly on chapters 6 and 7 (with reference to other scripture passages), will be sufficient for this purpose in a bare-bones sort of way.

The first eight chapters of Romans might be broken down in this fashion:

  1. Man’s sin and need for justification – Chapters 1-3
  2. The nature of justification: its basis and its benefits – Chapters 3-5
  3. Justification and the goal of righteousness – Chapters 6-8

I am only focusing in this intro on #3 – Justification and the goal of righteousness. This run of three chapters in 6-8 has often been popularly referred to by Protestant scholars and speakers as “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” We go through the impossible dilemma and “agony” of the problem facing Paul in chapters 6 and 7, and then in chapter 8 are treated to the “ecstasy” of the glorious vision and promise of chapter 8.

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Romans 7

This review of Romans 7 is provided by KatyJane, a former-mormon now emergent Christian.

This chapter starts out by talking about why we are no longer bound to the Jewish law. When we take on Christ’s name, when we make the decision to follow Jesus Christ, we are no longer bound by the written law, but by the law of the Spirit.

He then continues to talk about the law, and the relationship between the law and sin. Paul says that while the law is not sin, without the law we wouldn’t know what sin was.

For apart from the law, sin is dead.

And honestly, I don’t follow Paul’s logic in verses 11-12. He says:

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

I guess I don’t see that it necessarily follows that the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good, but Paul indicates that it is with the ‘so then’.

This chapter also makes me question whether the death that Paul is talking about is physical death. I think it makes more sense to think about it as separation from God.

But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Earlier, he gave an example of coveting, and said that with the commandment against coveting, Paul coveted all sorts of stuff. And it would seem that applying that example here would mean that Paul knew that he shouldn’t be coveting, and so he was separated from God in all the ways he coveted. It produced separation from God in him through the following of the commandment not to covet.

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Romans 1

Before jumping in to the heart of Romans 1, I’d like to point out two quick things found in verse 5:

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

The first is that Paul says that he received apostleship from Christ. That means he’s not just speaking to the Christians in Rome as a fellow believer. He’s speaking to them as one who has authority. The rest of what he says is not merely his opinion, it’s authoritative for the believers. The second thing I noticed in the verse was the phrase “the obedience that comes from faith.” People like to set the Book of Romans up against the Book of James as if they contradict one another. But right from one of the very first verses Paul affirms obedience and faith and then clarifies how the two books work together. Obedience comes from faith. Faith produces our obedience rather than our obedience producing our faith. Sometimes to help myself from getting confused by the word “faith,” I substitute it with “active trust.” In this instance, the verse would read “the obedience that comes from active trust”. The first eleven chapters of Romans are Paul’s exploration and explanation of what the good news of Jesus is all about. In verse 18 he jumps right in by explaining the problem confronting the world.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

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Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

Forgive the provocative title.

Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.

After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In John, Jesus gives this definition:

34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)

Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :

John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.

So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.

It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?

So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?


Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:

As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.

An inside LDS Perspective on this Topic from David Haight

and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)

Another tangent:
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?

A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian:

Parchment & Pen

Not Just Paul’s Opinion

I had always just assumed that Paul was merely giving his opinion in I Corinthians when he says “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her”.  It just seems obvious that Paul is giving his own personal opinion and not saying anything authoritative in that verse.  So as such, we (and the Corinthians) can take it or leave it.

I recently read this article and it’s totally changed my mind about the authoritative claims in this passage.  Paul it seems is writing the whole letter from his own apostolic authority as the founder of the church in Corinth.  When he says in an earlier verse that “not I, but the Lord says. . .” he is referring to the teachings of Jesus on marriage which had not been written down into the Gospels yet.  Paul is actually giving us the earliest written portion on the Sermon on the Mount, which to this point had been passed on in the oral tradition.

So it’s not that Paul is doing some sort of automatic writing as he pens this letter with God whispering in his ear the whole time, and then Paul hears silence and decides to let us know he’s throwing his own thoughts in.  The entire letter is formed by Paul’s own thoughts and he pauses to tell us something Jesus specifically said. Then he lets us know that he’s back to offer more of his own authoritative instruction.