I hate it when God “shows up.”

I remember when I used to go to Christian retreats/festivals/revivals/conferences. I used to love them so much. They were quiet times of reflection, a time to spend in unabashed and unashamed camaraderie with fellow believers. More importantly though, they always had great music. I knew without a doubt that the evenings would be intense. It would be a kamikaze of blue lights, key changes, tears, sweat, and a 23 minute rendition of  Michael W Smith’s Let it rain.  It is a collusion of blood, bone and brain matter; fused with flickering lights, heat, glowsticks and D-chords. The synapses are firing. The skin is getting prickly. It would leave me on my knees, my chest heaving  and my body crumpled on the floor because I could not stand the weight of the glory of God in the room. The air was too thick with it. It was too much for my heart and legs to bear.

In the aftermath, in the stillness with our spiritual afterbirth, we would reflect on the experience as we rode home in the dark in buses and vans. It was a quiet time of holy reverence for what we had just gone through. As we came out of our shells and began to talk,  we would always agree on the same thing, that the music was awesome and that “God showed up.”   Later on during the next morning service, the Pastor would call up one or two of us teen representatives on stage to talk about our time there. We would invariably share the same thing, that it was a fantastic life changing experience, and that ” God showed up”.

But why did we say that? Its because since we were little, we’ve been conditioned by the Church and the purveyors of modern evangelicalism to believe that emotional experiences are equated to a spiritual experience. That they are interrelated and interchangeable. That if you have an emotional response to a song or to an atmosphere, that God is there and at working. I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t taught, either explicitly or tacitly. They might not outright say it, but their actions scream it. Music is a powerful thing, all the much more when it is consecrated with the Holy Spirit and imbued with spiritual words and meaning. That’s why I can remember how I felt every single time conference,  but I can’t tell you what was preached on. I could walk someone through minute by minute of a two hour worship set during certain retreats, but I couldn’t you what scriptures they used to preach on for 15 minutes afterward, other than 2 Chronicles 7:14 [but only because everyone always uses that verse]

Do I think God shows up? Absolutely, but listen- he ALWAYS SHOWS UP. God is there at every Church service. Every prayer group. Every congregational meeting. Every Bible study. God is there and has shown up, and he has shown himself relentlessly faithful to do so. He is an omniscient, omnipresent deity whose Spirit lives inside of us, present in nearly every way possible as we gather together as believers and as his children.  It is a wonderful, beautiful and precious thing, and yes, that can be an emotional thing. But he is never far from us. So why is it I’ve never heard anyone say that God “really showed up” during a Bible study through the book of 1 Samuel?  Why is it that no one says that God “showed up” during a Sunday school lecture on the penal substitution atonement?

Why is it that God only “shows up” when we’re jumping up and down with arms raised? Why does he only “show up” when our hearts are beating fast and when we’re engulfed in a heightened emotional state? Is it a more powerful manifestation, or a more palpable iteration? Why make these artificial distinctions when there is no objective basis for doing so? I’ve heard some of the most idolatrous, blasphemous things said at certain conferences where God “really showed up”. I’ve bit my lip during certain songs that contained the most vilely irreverent lyrics where God “showed up”. I’ve heard heretics bastardize the scriptures and manipulate them into every theological grotesquerie at retreats where God really, really “showed up”. What has “showing up” come to mean?

Why is there so much emphasis on getting people to this emotional state and then constantly reinforcing the meaning and significance of this state? Why is so much money, energy, and ministry resources dedicated to creating occasions where people can have these experiences? Are these experiences spiritual by virtue of their very existence? How can this constant reinforcement of “experience = meeting God” be healthy for anybody who wants to grow and be sanctified? What happens when the thrill, the flush and the buzz go away? What theological monsters and biblical confusions are being created in the mind of a man who can’t distinguish them, and in fact doesn’t want to? What happens when they get tired of chasing the high and come to the conclusion that loss of experiential high means that they’ve been abandoned by God? That the burnout means that God is no longer showing up? That the angst and terror of depression and spiritual desolation is proof positive that they’ve been severed from Christ and betrayed by His love?

What happens then? Will God “show up” or will He show up?

Posting Domestic Abuse Hotlines In The Ladies Bathroom At Church?

I know of a large Church where a church committee made up of both men and women wanted to post a domestic abuse hotline in the ladies’ bathroom at the church.  The committee approached the pastors and the elders for their approval and the pastors denied their request. In response to hearing about this, certain people have become visibly upset, saying that this demonstrates all sorts of evil intentions, specifically that the Church doesn’t care about women, that they are tacitly encouraging abuse, that this is evidence of male headship and submission gone awry, and a host of other things. Their reasoning for these charges is simple[ish]; they don’t believe there could be a good reason for the Church leadership [all men] to deny their request.

What do you all think? Are there legitimate reasons why the church might deny their request? Do you think its a good idea to post something like this in the bathroom? If they denied the request, does this necessarily mean that they are tacitly encouraging abuse?If you were on that committee how would you feel? Discuss!

The Demonic Beliefs of Martin Luther King Jr.

Growing up I never had much exposure to Martin Luther King Jr and his life [from this point being abbr MLK.] I knew that he was a Baptist minister, a civil rights giant of the 1960′s, that he delivered a famous speech about his dreams for the nation, and that he was assassinated in 1968.  Whenever I did hear from him however, the context usually involved a Christian-bent. That is to say that he was lauded and praised as a legitimate Christian leader who stood up for the marginalized, outcasts, disenfranchised and stood  for equal rights to all people everywhere. He was pointed to as the poster-boy for faith in action, and that even atheists and agnostics had to begrudgingly admit that his behavior was emulative of Christ in action. In short, he was and is revered as a modern hero of the Christian Faith.

However, through a series of circumstances I began to question the veracity of those claims.  Orthodoxy in the black church has never struck me as particularly strong, for several reasons, and I was interested to see to what degree MLK had adopted any of those specific beliefs and weaknesses. It didn’t take long to be enlightened. I quickly discovered  that MLK came from  Crozer University, a  bastion of Christian liberalism that would have only served to intensify what could be described as already tenuous beliefs [he stated that when he was 13 he denied the bodily resurrection of Christ and that from that point "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly."]  He and his wife Coretta attended a Unitarian Church for a while  until he eventually settled in as Pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a place he flourished for the next six years under the ideas of the social gospel and progressive black theology/  liberal theology.

Finding most secondary sources to be generally unreliable, what I found most helpful in much of my research was delving into primary sources at the Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute. From here I was able to read a collection of papers, sermons, articles, speeches and discussions that he wrote or delivered, specifically  “The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus”  [29 November 1949 - 15 February 1950] andWhat Experiences of Christians Living in the Early Christian Century Led to the Christian Doctrines of the Divine Sonship of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Bodily Resurrection” [13 September-23 November 1949] and “The Weakness of Liberal Theology” [1948]. In these papers we see that  MKL, for all his claims of being a legitimate  minister and faithful Christian, despite his decision to inexorably tie the civil rights movement to his faith in Christ and proclaimed that faith , possessed some extremely destructive  and outright satanic views on God. In the interest of providing primary sources,  they can all be accessed in full from the aforementioned site.

Throughout his writings we see that he believed that the Bible was mythic in nature and that many of the stories were either fabrications, symbols, allusions, or were borrowed from other mystery religions.  The Bible was as an ever-shifting, ever-fluid  library of thought that served to be the best way that pre-scientific men could explain the world around them, and was certainly not meant to be the infallible, innerant, inspired word of God. For example, in his paper on the weakness of liberal theology, he believed that one of his primary functions of a pastor and religious leader was to to marry and reconcile Biblical  theory with concrete meaning. In it he states his belief that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale, that Jesus never met John the Baptist, and that Jesus was not born of the Virgin Mary.

“It is certainly justifiable to be as scientific as possible in proving that the Pentateuch was written by more than one author, that the whale did not swallow Jonah, that Jesus was not born a virgin, or that Jesus never met John the Baptist. But after all of this, what relevance do the scriptures have? What moral implications do we find growing out of the Bible? What relevance does Jesus have in 1948 A.D.? These are questions which the liberal theologian must of necessity answer if he expects to influence the average mind. Too often do we find many of the liberals dodging these vital questions.”

MLK believed that much of the doctrines of the early Church  grew out of the Greek mystery religions and cults which flourished at that time, whereby a host of the specific beliefs and practices of the early church were in imitation of Mithraism and were not unique to the Christian Church. He would suppose that concepts such as being buried with Christ in baptism or eating the flesh during communion certainly originated in mystery religions. In another article entitled “The Christian Pertinence of Eschatological Hope,” MLK played around with several other important doctrines, rejecting  the idea of a second coming of Christ and that people were either destined to heaven or hell. He did not believe in the orthodox view of hell and denounced the second coming of Christ, as well denying a  final judgment from God.

But to a theological liberal, those denials  did not mean that the Bible was unimportant, or in a way any less true. From a liberal mindset, the scriptural texts were true and accurate in what they were meant to portray, convey and express, even if they were not factually true. They were true in being an accurate barometer of the mindset and culture in how people related to God, even as they were not true to give an objective basis for certain elements happening in history. In a way, it was true-ish.  This understanding is what lets him argue later that as it pertains to the resurrection of Christ- that Christ was resurrected in the eyes of the apostles due to their belief in who he was, even if factually his body laid rotting and decomposing in a tomb. Both can be true at the same time.

NOTE: Up to those point, while those beliefs are very important, it can be argued that they are secondary issues, and that that those in itself are not damning. With the exception of the Virgin Mary I am prone to agree, though I find those progressive liberal beliefs bizarre and untenable. That is why it is a shock to see MLK  categorically deny most of the primary doctrines of the Christian faith, including the virgin birth of Christ, the divinity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Christ.

In rejecting the divinity of Christ and the idea that he was fully God and fully man, he writes in “The Humanity of Jesus” ;

“As stated above, the conflict that Christians often have over the question of Jesus divinity is not over the validity of the fact of his divinity, but over the question of how and when he became divine. The more orthodox Christians have seen his divinity as an inherent quality metaphysically bestowed. Jesus, they have told us, is the Pre existent Logos. He is the word made flesh. He is the second person of the trinity. He is very God of very God, of one substance with the Father, who for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate be the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.

Certainly this view of the divinity of Christ presents many modern minds with insuperable difficulties. Most of us are not willing to see the union of the human and divine in a metaphysical incarnation. Yet amid all of our difficulty with the pre existent idea and the view of supernatural generation, we must come to some view of the divinity of Jesus. In order to remain in the orbid of the Christian religion we must have a Christology. As Dr. Baille has reminded us, we cannot have a good theology without a Christology. Where then can we in the liberal tradition find the divine dimension in Jesus? We may find the divinity of Christ not in his substantial unity with God, but in his filial consciousness and in his unique dependence upon God. It was his felling of absolute dependence on God, as Schleiermaker would say, that made him divine. Yes it was the warmnest of his devotion to God and the intimacy of his trust in God that accounts for his being the supreme revelation of God. All of this reveals to us that one man has at last realized his true divine calling: That of becoming a true son of man by becoming a true son of God. It is the achievement of a man who has, as nearly as we can tell, completely opened his life to the influence of the divine spirit.

The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadequate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental. To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: “Oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possibly have …” So that the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied. The significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit of God. Christ was to be only the prototype of one among many brothers. The appearance of such a person, more divine and more human than any other, and in closest unity at once with God and man, is the most significant and hopeful event in human history. This divine quality or this unity with God was not something thrust upon Jesus from above, but it was a definite achievement through the process of moral struggle and self-abnegation.

The appearance of such a person, more divine and more human than any other, andstanding and standing in closest unity at once with God and man, is the most significant and hopeful event in human history. This divine quality or this unity with God was not something thrust upon Jesus from above, but it was a definite achievement through the process of moral struggle and self-abnegation.”

In “What Christians…” concerning the development of the theology of Christ and Sonship of Christ, writes

In this paper we shall discuss the experiences of early Christians which lead to three rather orthodox doctrines–the divine sonship of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the bodily resurrection. Each of these doctrines is enshrined in what is known as “the Apostles’ Creed.” It is this creed that has stood as a “Symbol of Faith” for many Christians over the years. Even to this day it is recited in many churches. But in the minds of many sincere Christians this creed has planted a seed of confusion which has grown to an oak of doubt. They see this creed as incompatible with all scientific knowledge, and so they have proceeded to reject its content.

But if we delve into the deeper meaning of these doctrines, and somehow strip them of their literal interpretation, we will find that they are based on a profound foundation. Although we may be able to argue with all degrees of logic that these doctrines are historically and philolophically untenable, yet we can never undermind the foundation on which they are based. Davis corrected “undermind” to “undermine.” As Dr. Hedley has so cogently stated, “What ultimately the creed signifies is not words, but spirit.”…

The first doctrine of our discussion which deals with the divine sonship of Jesus went through a great process of development. It seems quite evident that the early followers of Jesus in Palestine were well aware of his genuine humanity. Even the synoptic gospels picture Jesus as a victim of human experiences. Such human experiences as growth, learning, prayer, and defeat are not at all uncommon in the life of Jesus. How then did this doctrine of divine sonship come into being?

We may find a partial clue to the actual rise of this doctrine in the spreading of Christianity into the Greco-Roman world. I need not elaborate on the fact that the Greeks were very philosophical minded people. Through philosophical thinking the Greeks came to the point of subordinating, distrusting, and even minimizing anything physical. Anything that possessed flesh was always underminded in Greek thought. And so in order to receive inspiration from Jesus the Greeks had to apotheosize him. We must remember that the Logos concept had its origin in Greek thought. It would {was} only natural that the early Christians, after coming in contact with the Greeks would be influenced by their thought.

In a paper entitled “A View of the Cross Possessing Biblical and Spiritual Justification,” MLK describes the various different views of the meaning of the cross throughout history and then concludes:

“Any doctrine which finds the meaning of atonement in the triumph of Christ over such cosmic powers as sin, death and Satan is inadequate…. If Christ by his life and death paid the full penalty of sin, there is no valid ground for repentance or moral obedience as a condition of forgiveness. The debt is paid; the penalty exacted, and there is, consequently, nothing to forgive.”

I touched on this a bit earlier, but when he traces the development of the virgin birth of Christ, he rejects the idea the the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. He believed it to be unscientifically untenable, and instead was a doctrine that necessarily developed as a way for the early Church to demonstrate how highly the valued the uniqueness of Christ. Someone had sex with Mary prior to her conception. She was definitely not a virgin. Jesus had a human father.

“A more adequate explanation for the rise of this doctrine is found in the experience which the early Christians had with Jesus. The people saw within Jesus such a uniqueness of quality and spirit that to explain him in terms of ordinary background was to them quite inadequate. For his early followers this spiritual uniqueness could only by accounted for in terms of biological uniqueness. They were not unscientific in their approach because they had no knowledge of the scientific. They could only express themselves in terms of the pre-scientific thought patterns of their day. No laws were broken because they had no knowledge of the existence of law. They only knew that they had been with the Jesus of history and that his spiritual life was so far beyond theirs that to explain his biological origin as identical with theirs was quite inadequate. We of this scientific age will not explain the birth of Jesus in such unscientific terms, but we will have to admit with the early Christians that the spiritual uniqueness of Jesus stands as a mystery to man.”

Perhaps most damning of all however, is that MLK rejected the bodily resurrection of Christ. After all, if Christ was not born of a virgin, and was not divine, how could he rise from the dead?  He writes in the “What Experiences …”

“The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?

The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form. But it must be remembered that before the doctrine was formulated or the event recorded, the early Christians had had a lasting experience with the Christ. They had come to see that the essential note in the Fourth Gospel is the ultimate force in Christianity: The living, deathless person of Christ. They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression.

In short, for someone who is revered as a great Christian leader, I see him as anything but. He did great and lasting things for civil rights and race relationships in America, and for that I am grateful and applaud him. I would also suggest that his bibley and christianish beliefs played a massive role it in, especially as it pertains to the social gospel. But a legitimate pastor? A legitimate Christian leader? No way. Not only was his theology disjointed and inconsistent, playing the same games that Mormons do when they use the same words as evangelical Christians but load them with completely different meanings, but his personal life was in shambles too. It is well documented by Ralph David Abernathy, who was a leader in the civil rights movement , a minister, and a close friend of  MLK. In his 1989 biography And the walls came tumbling down that MLK was a serial adulterer and had a “weakness for women”, having numerous affairs and having made it a practice to cheat on his wife and break his marriage vows. It was not a one-time thing, but rather a chronic, persistent choice that he made and sustained for years.

Such ongoing behavior should be weighed carefully in light of what the scriptures say, not the least is that he would be disqualified as a pastor and at the most his soul would be in dangers of hellfire for that reason alone.

As it were. the reality is that MLK had numerous opportunities to express his understanding of Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity with his many sermons, books, interviews, and writings. If at any point he changed his views and became an orthodox Christian, he might have at least once claimed that Jesus was his savior, that Jesus was divine, that Jesus was born of a virgin or  that the Bible was the literal word of God. But there are no statements either during his educational career or in his work as a civil rights leader and preacher that would suggest he ever changed his liberal views of the doctrines. He still spoke of God and Christ and used biblical examples in his speeches and sermons, but his view of the Bible enabled him to do that, being ” true” while at the same time not being “True.”

Instead we get a man who believed the doctrine of demons, and for that reason he should not be lauded and exalted as a Christian leader

Seven Misconceptions about Submission

Mary Kassian has a great little article about the misconceptions about submission at her website. I like Mary a lot and find her articles to be generally quite excellent. It’s worth the read here

Misconception #4: Submission is a right—a husband has the right to demand his wife’s submission.

A husband does not have the right to demand or extract submission from his wife. Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!! Not ever. She is to “submit herself”— deciding when and how to submit is her call. In a Christian marriage, the focus is never on rights, but on personal responsibility. It’s his responsibility to be affectionate. It’s her responsibility to be agreeable. The husband’s responsibility is to sacrificially love as Christ loved the Church—not to make his wife submit.

Singing Ozzy Osbourne in Church?

A few months ago Newspring Church@ Florence, one of his multi-church video sites, had the idea to Play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as part of their praise and worship set. Newspring is no stranger to this sort of controversy, having infamously played ACDC’s Highway to Hell as their opening song on Easter Sunday. When asked about that particular choice, lead Pastor Perry Noble said that the reason he played it was to “p*** off the religious people”. Other songs that have been sung by the band over there have included Kelly Clarkson’s “I do not hook up“, Taylor Swifts “Love Story,” the Darkness’ “I believe in a thing called love” Christiana Aguilera’s Hurt, Metallica’s Enter Sandman, and a host of others. In regards to this specific song, I’ve embedded the video below

In terms of what people think about this, I know several people who think this is one of the coolest ideas alive. They believe  part of the Church’s mission is to be attractional and that anything they can do short of sin to get people into Church is a good thing. A certain subset of this groups also believe part of the Church’s mission is to be entertaining, and so anything short of sin that can be done to keep the congregation members from getting bored while they are in Church is a good thing, as this also ensures repeat visits. With regard to playing these specific songs, I imagine that  much of it revolves around the Churches ability to be culturally hip and relevant, with the idea that playing this type of song will draw people in and then they’ll be able to experience Jesus while they’re here. Another group thinks this is a horrible idea, and that it is some mixture of blasphemy and idolatry as people replace worship songs with classic rock and roll in a desperate bid for relevancy. They would say that this type of mindset and everything that goes with it is what makes a goat factory that produces unbelievers with spiritual convictions of the most shallowest depth.

While I would fall somewhere near the latter category, I want to focus on how something like this blurs the line between praise and worship, and something else altogether. I certainly don’t like the idea of them playing these songs during Church, but if you watch those videos of those others songs you’ll notice at least that they are merely singing them.  They don’t have the lyrics posted up on power point for people to sing along. There is some nuanced division between song A and songs B, even if its hard to see and is very minute. At the very least this represents some sort of delineation between a rock and roll song meant to entertain, and a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, regardless of which side you take.

But this song was different, because in this case they projected the lyrics up on power point for the congregation to sing along.  On this particular Sunday morning there was no delineation. There was no separation from the Ozzy Osbourne song and the worship songs. They flowed naturally into each other and people were encouraged to sing along with the Ozzy song  and then jump right in with fare like “Revelation Song” and “It is Well”. That blurs the lines, if not completely decimates it. I’ve written before how the worship music is in and of itself a sermon. I made the case  that

“When we worship, we are saying things about the Lord. We are teaching, rebuking, professing, declaring, correcting and confessing based on the revelation of God in Christ as revealed in his word.  That is the function that our praise and worship lyrics have. Paul says that we ought to teach each other the words of Christ using hymns and spiritual songs- the intent being that this is how the words of Christ will dwell richly in us. That is how we will know more about God, and how we will know more about the words of Christ and how he works through his words. That is a sermon.That is preaching.So when we listen and sing lyrics, we need to ask ourselves “what are we teaching others? What sorts of things are we expounding upon? Are we accurately reflecting God’s character? Are we accurately teaching the words of Christ?  Are we teaching the scriptures?” We also ought to ask ourselves if we are preaching deep, thoughtful sermons through our music, or if we are singing light, breezy, unclear, muddled, mindless, vague sermons?

At the time I was arguing against vapid christianish songs, but how much more true is that when you throw in a secular song like this? When your praise and worship set is 6 songs long, and one of those songs is by someone known as “The Prince of Darkness” shouldn’t that be enough to send up some red flags? I hope that irony is not lost on people. When we consider the breadth of the lyrical content and some of the satanic, hypersexualized songs that Ozzy and his former bands have sung in the past,  I suppose on one hand I should be thankful that they did not choose other songs to be sung, and wonder how many people will think the Church is tacitly or overtly encouraging the listening of this artist? Or perhaps I should be thankful they did not  change any of the lyrics to make it more christian-y… i.e. “I’m riding on the rails of the Jesus train…”. Is it wrong to secretly hope that someone would have thrown a dead bat on stage during that song, just to see what would have happened?

Which brings us to a few questions, what do you think about singing these sorts of songs in Church? Is there a difference between the band singing them solo and having the congregation join in via lyrics on power point? Does this blur the line between worship and secular songs? Lastly, if Newspring had enough money, and Ozzy was coherent enough and willing, do you think they would have brought him in to sing live and would that have been a good idea?

The myth of carrying a dead man on your back- “the body of death”

A local Church Pastor/Pastrix recently preached a sermon which incorporated part of Romans 7 into it. Usually, merely saying “Romans 7” is usually sufficient in Christian circles to bring to mind the struggle with sin. As Paul describes the thoughts and impulses that war within him, he comes to verse 24 and says,

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

This individual did use that exact text, and they told a familiar story. Like many preachers who have come before them, they recounted the story of  how in ancient Rome there was a form of capital punishment which was gruesome and terrifying. The idea was that if you murdered someone, your victim’s corpse was then chained to your back. As the sun beat down on you and as days and weeks passed, rancid odours would nauseate you as the body rotted and decayed. Infection quickly set in as it seeped into your own body and killed you. Its a familiar story.  Some pastors, desiring to go a step further, would add that it was only possible to be freed from the horrors of this punishment if someone else chose to carry the body in the place of the murderer, carrying it to his death.  We are told that this is what the term “body of death” meant, and that Paul used this terminology and phraseology to bring to the mind precisely this well-known form of punishment- that it was a brilliant illustration on Paul’s part and a powerful allusion for us today on how to understand our sin and the effects it has on us.

The only problem is that this is extremely suspect if not outright false. The only mention of this practice  comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, a Latin epic poem that recounts the deeds and mythology of Aeneas. Originally published some 80 years before the Epistle or Roman , its possible that Paul and his readers would have heard of it, there is no indication that he actually did. To recount the pertinent part in Book VII;

Not far from here is the site of Argylla’s city,
built of ancient stone, where the Lydian race,
famous in war, once settled the Etruscan heights.
For many years it flourished, until King Mezentius
ruled it with arrogant power, and savage weaponry.
Why recount the tyrant’s wicked murders and vicious acts?
May the gods reserve such for his life and race!
He even tied corpses to living bodies, as a means
of torture, placing hand on hand and face against face,
so killing by a lingering death, in that wretched
embrace, that ooze of disease and decomposition.
But the weary citizens at last armed themselves
surrounded the atrocious madman in his palace,
mowed down his supporters, and fired the roof.

Does this prove anything? Not at all. Though the story may be based on true events, the poem itself is Greco-Roman mythology.  It is largely fictional and describes what took place prior to the founding of Rome. If Virgil was alluding to a common practice of his day, there is nothing to show it. From the context before and after the bold section, it appears this kind of punishment was not acceptable  [at least to Virgil], since he uses it as an example of King Mezentius’ “wicked murders and vicious acts” for which the people rose up against him.

There is no indication that this practice of tying murderers to dead men,  if it even happened, was called “the body of death”.  It also cannot be said that this was a Roman custom/ law as all we have is one isolated reference to one king’s unacceptable barbaric practice that pre-dated the Romans. There are certainly no primary Roman sources where this punishment has been codified into law or even mentioned as a legitimate form of execution. In terms of what the punishment was for, there is no specific crime listed in the Aeneid.  The victims of this punishment were not identified as murderers and the corpses were not identified as murder victims. On that note,  who would consent to having their murdered loved one chained to the murderer and left to rot instead of receiving a decent burial? In terms of the dead men being carried on the murderers back, in the story the victim was bound “hand on hand, face against face.” This description does not suggest any mobility afforded to the victim. Lastly there is no such reprieve mentioned. This part was made up to strengthen the allusion to Christ who bore our punishment for us.  There is absolutely nothing about someone taking their place, though at least the concept of getting sick and dying from the presence of putrefying flesh was accurate.

In terms of where drawing that parallel  first originated, the earliest records I could find of it all come  from the late 17th century works and 18th century commentaries. Attempting to find something earlier,  I’ve read commentaries and homilies from such early Church fathers, theologians and preachers as  Augustine, Origen, Chrystosom, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, Erasmus, Aquinas, Hillary, Ambrose, even Pelagius, and none of them mention it in their sermons and writing concerning Romans 7. To say that this is what Paul had in mind when he spoke of the body of death is pure mythos, even as the salient details are wrong.

In short, in our present day many pastors and lay persons have not only changed an extra-biblical illustration into an embedded allusion , but some would suggest that the story of Mezentius is an interpretive key to understanding the passage in Romans 7. Its not. This particular pastor, while sincere in their efforts, was wrong to preach this story as central and specific to the exegesis.

Being prophecied over- an early death and a heart for missions.


When I was in my teens I went to a youth conference of sorts. It was a church-led evangelical shindigs- but at the end there was something special. The pastor introduced us to the weekends guest speaker, a woman who we were told was a modern day prophet, gifted in miracles and visions, and that she was going to prophesy over us individually. I found myself enraptured by this idea. At the time I was having a hard time in my faith. I was confused, struggling with private sins, biblically ignorant, and the prospect of having someone who heard directly from God- from someone who was far more spiritual than I, was a prospect too tantalizing to forgo.

There was such a need there- such a strong desire to see what God had to say. I spent my formative Christian years in the quasi-charismatic/pentecostal movement and so it was not unfamiliar to see other people prophesied over, or to go to an event like YC and be told that we were all history makers, and that we were going to change the world and take the nations for Christ [there was a bit of a dominionist streak there]. I had seen adults come up and be prophesied over, but never from a woman, and never for me personally.

But this was my chance. They asked everyone who wanted to hear a word from the Lord to come forward. I jumped out of my seat and charged forward. The air was electric, the music thudding, and my blood was on fire. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. About 15 of us stood at the altar and as I was on the opposite end I had to wait my turn. She would put one hand on the persons shoulder, lift the other hand up, speak in tongues for a minute or so, and then speak quietly to the person whose hands she was upon.  Some people would start sobbing. Others would get slain in the spirit the minute she touched them. I stayed upright, waiting…waiting….

Finally she came to me and smiled. This was it! This would give me direction and purpose in my life! I was about to hear directly from God in as audible a way as humanly possible, and I was scared out of my mind. What would God say? I had no doubt that it would be from God. After all, earlier in the night, she had stood up after the worship and said “Thus says the Lord, I am coming like a river. I will wash over your land and make everything new. I will bring healing, thus says the Lord, and I will bring blessing and riches to my people”  I was primed, pumped, and ready to go.

She spoke a few words in tongues, looked into my eyes, and then told me

“I see that you have a heart for missions, and that you are called to go. Do not be afraid, even if God calls you where you don’t want to go. He will be with you. The Lord is also telling me that you have fewer decades than most, that is your time is short, and so you can’t delay. You must reach them soon before it is too late.” [or something extremely close to that, but not exactly verbatim]

And then she moved on to the next person.

Predictably I was floored, at first that God was speaking to me through her, but also that she had just prophecies my imminent [or at least early] death. Decades fewer than most? Most people lived to be in their seventies, so did that mean that I was going to die in my Fifties? My Forties? And what was this about a heart for missions? Other than having gone on a “Missions Trip” to Mexico when I was younger , I really had no interest in them at all. What a confusing, perplexing experience. It left me all the more troubled, even morose than before, and instead of being a sure word I could hold onto, made me bitter and angry that God wanted to take my life. In fact, it made me feel like God didn’t know me at all.

Looking back, almost a decade later, Its not difficult to see the massive problems and blasphemies that were taking place that night. I hadn’t thought about that night for a long time, and in fact hadn’t shared that with anyone until I told my wife a few days ago, when the issue of prophecies and visions came up. Do I believe her prophecies were legitimate and that she was hearing from God? Not at all. Do I think I will have “fewer decades than most”? No. Like most people I don’t think of death often and have an overly optimistic mentality about my own mortality. Odds are I’ll live to a ripe old age, but If I die early, if the Lord takes me, it will not mean that this womans prophecy came true. Likewise I don’t have any particular interest in missions, much less being a missionary, but if that too should change it will not mean that this woman’s prophecies were reflective or biblicly sound.

 

Agree? Disagree? What do you all think? Have you even been prophecied over? What was it like? Was it accurate? If you had the chance, would you like to be prophecied over?