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Peter Leithart asks,

What if the gospel narratives are the atonement theory? What if, instead of God’s offended honor or God’s reputation for just rule, we began our atonement theories with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” or “In the days of Herod, king of Judea” or “In the beginning was the Word”? What if the selection of apostles, Jesus’ meals with sinners, His healings and His combat with Pharisees were integral parts of our atonement theory?

I Have Provided for Myself a King

1 Sam 16:1-13 is the story of David’s anointing by Samuel. It’s a dramatic and colorful narrative that makes for good children’s sermons and character lessons. Young David was Jesse’s son least likely to be chosen as king, but God looks on the heart. Nice story. I’ve even used it as a springboard for a discussion of fathering!

The story of Samuel, Jesse and David, however, is a part of something much larger. For the final authors of 1 Samuel, it is part of a narrative that begins with the book of Genesis and continues through the book of 2 Kings. I ask myself two questions when I look at Old Testament stories like these.

  1. What was God doing?
  2. Where is Jesus in this story?

We don’t have this story primarily so that we can see ourselves in the lives of characters like David, Jesse or Samuel. God did not give us the Bible to illustrate abstract spiritual truths. Rather, the Bible exists first of all to tell us about God’s might acts in history.

What was God doing when he sent Samuel to Jesse’s house? The answer is in found in God’s word to Samuel. “I have provided a king for myself.”

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Psalm 23 and the Life of Jesus

As I listened to Psalm 23 read in worship this morning, I heard the words filtered through the life of Jesus.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Jesus had no home and no means providing for his own needs. His green pastures were the villages of Galilee and Judea where he proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and depended on the uncertain hospitality of others for his daily bread.

He leads me beside still waters.

Jesus once got into a boat and started across the lake with His disciples. “Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat.” (Matthew 8:23-24a) Sometimes his mission took him into the path of literal storms where the waters were anything but still, but it would be hard to describe any part of Jesus’ life as tranquil.

He restores my soul.

Jesus said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38a) He did not cling to life, but poured out his life for many.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Jesus’s path subjected him to suffering at the hands of the unrighteous. Jesus told his disciples “that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” (Matthew 16:21)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The cup Jesus drank was filled with suffering and death. “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

None of this led Jesus to doubt that the Lord was indeed his shepherd.

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The United Methodist Trust Clause

The Trust Clause in the Church Law

The United Methodist Church has a trust clause requirement that dates back to the days of John Wesley. The Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States formally adopted the “model deed” in 1797. In current church law, the basic principles are set forth in paragraph 2501 of the Book of Discipline.

All properties of United Methodist local churches and other United Methodist agencies and institutions are held, in trust, for the benefit of the entire denomination, and ownership and usage of church property is subject to the Discipline. This trust requirement is an essential element of the historic polity of The United Methodist Church or its predecessor denominations or communions and has been a part of the Discipline since 1797. It reflects the connectional structure of the Church by ensuring that the property will be used solely for purposes consonant with the mission of the entire denomination as set forth in the Discipline. The trust requirement is thus a fundamental expression of United Methodism whereby local churches and other agencies and institutions within the denomination are both held accountable to and benefit from their connection with the entire worldwide Church.

The specific language of the trust clause currently required in a local church deed is found in paragraph 2503.

In trust, that said premises shall be used, kept and maintained as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry and members of the United Methodist Church; subject to the Discipline, usage and ministerial appointments of said Church, as from time to time authorized and declared by the General Conference and by the annual conference within whose bounds the said premises are situated. This provision is solely for the grantee, and the grantor reserves no right or interest in said premises.

Even if the church deed lacks this specific provision, the Discipline asserts that the trust provisions apply if a congregation used the name, customs or polity of the denomination or accepted the bishop’s pastoral appointments.

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Denominations, Congregations and Property Rights

Who Speaks for Great Aunt Sally

Many old-line Protestant denominations are experiencing defections in their ranks, often related to disputes about doctrine and practice. Dissenting congregations want to sever their ties with their parent bodies and take their property with them. Denominational leaders want to hold on to the property. The financial interests of both parties are obvious.

Denominational leaders may also say that they have to hold on to property to preserve the trust that they have with previous generations. Great aunt Sally, long deceased, sacrificially gave a considerable sum of money to help build First Church in 1910 so that there would be a denominational congregation in this place, fulfilling the denominational mission, teaching the denomination’s distinctive doctrine and practicing the denomination’s distinctive way of living the Christian faith. Now the dissenters want to divert the property away from the purpose to which it was dedicated.

The dissenters will probably respond that they represent the values for which Sally sacrificed better than the denominational leaders, and in many cases they are probably right. The dissenters often look more like their denomination’s “old time religion” than the denominational leaders do. Is continuity with previous generation based on the denomination’s identity or the values it espouses?

The dissenters may also point out that Sally offered her gift because she loved the people of her congregation. She prayed with them, sang with them, ate with them, laughed with them and cried with them. The community to which she belonged was real and immediate. Stories of Sally’s generation have been passed down from generation to generation. The dissenting community, they may claim, is every bit as much Sally’s spiritual family as her great nieces and nephews are her physical family. The current congregation is visibly, tangibly and physically connected to the generation that built First Church.

The denomination will reply that it, too, is part of Sally’s church family. The communion of saints extends beyond the local congregation. In churches with connectional polities, the spiritual ties that bind congregations together in denominational mission are no less real than the emotional bonds of a local congregation, even if they are not as immediately self-evident. The larger denomination may have changed since Sally’s day – as all cultural institutions do – but the continuity with her generation is nonetheless genuine.

I’m not sure that either side can claim exlcusive claim to Sally’s legacy. That was then. This is now. I don’t think it’s possible to say with any certainty what a person of the past would say about a situation today. One’s personhood can’t be fully separated from the temporal enivornment in which they live.

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Block: How Lutherans Should View Luther

Matthew Block on Standing with Martin Luther:

. . . It is easy to understand why people seek to justify Luther’s errors. We consider Luther to be a hero of the faith. Consequently, we sometimes feel compelled to gloss over that which is distasteful about him. But Lutherans cannot and should not wish to ignore these failings in Luther. They must be recognized; and they must be rejected. . . .

. . . This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness. . . .

. . . Luther, then, did not excuse sin. Nor should we today ignore Luther’s sins. But with Luther, we recognize that the sacrifice of Christ is greater than our sin. We confess with him that the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world—our sin—through the free gift of grace. We therefore still stand where Luther himself took his stand—indeed, where all the saints throughout the long history of the Church have always stood: at the foot of the cross. . . .

If Lutherans can see how the bad in Luther is an illustration of what was good in him and his teaching, I wonder how Wesleyans would make that same assessment of Wesley.