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My Story

Living like Jesus

What about Paul?

the Big Split

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      The view you present is so different from the way you were taught. How did you ever come to make such a change in beliefs?

      It's true that my view on these subjects today is vastly different than it was when I graduated seminary in 1990. The change was not made all at once. No one with any intellectual integrity can make that kind of a change immediately. It was a matter of new things being suggested, and then confirmed over time by ongoing reading and study of scripture.

      When I finished graduate school, I was strongly behind the traditional Evangelical Christian viewpoint and thoroughly dispensational in outlook. But seminary had given me the tools to study the Bible on my own. Numerous classes in Greek and Hebrew exegesis, as well as Aramaic and other cognate languages had given me the skill to work with the Bible in its original languages. Almost as importantly, many study projects had given me the confidence that I could interpret scripture correctly, if I was careful, even if others disagreed with me.

      One of the earliest breakthroughs in my thinking came when the church in which I was leading music decided to bring in a local Hebrew professor to do a Passover Seder for the church. This professors's discussion of Jesus and his last Passover celebration with his disciples got me thinking. Was Jesus instituting something new here, or was he simply applying the Passover symbolism to his upcoming death?

      When I studied the gospel accounts, there seemed to be no indication that Jesus was initiating a new, Christian, celebration. His words, "Whenever you eat this bread..." seemed to be referring to the bread of the annual Passover commemoration. When I studied the term "breaking of bread" in the New Testament, I found that it was an idiom that referred to eating a meal. It did not refer to a specific communion celebration. In terms of biblical evidence, that left only some comments in I Corinthians 10 and 11. In light of my previous study, I Cor. 10 didn't seem to be referring to this topic at all. In I Cor. 11 it was obvious that Paul was relating the last Passover of Jesus to some contemporary social issues in his church. But it was far from obvious that he was referring to a specific Lord's Supper celebration.

      I felt that for as important a plank in Christianity as the Mass/Communion had become, the ambiguous evidence in I Cor. 11 was far too little to base it on with confidence. It occurred to me that perhaps the early church developed this observance as a way to separate itself from Judaism, to keep the Passover symbolism referred to by Jesus, but do away with Passover.

      I knew that this was such a radical thought that I hardly dared hope to be correct. So I went to the seminary library and read as extensively as I could on the history and theology of communion. The writers never defended its existence as a church ordinance; they seemed to just assume that. And yet, the earliest evidence of its practice was in the second century. There was nothing in my reading that presented any evidence against my conclusions.

      About this same time another thought occurred to me. The churches I was in were strongly supporting the idea of the biblical tithe as a motivation for giving. It occurred to me to compare the teaching on the tithe and the Sabbath. Of the two, the tithe was deeply connected with the Levitical sacrificial system, which I had been taught had been discontinued. The Sabbath, on the other hand, was based on creation. Yet all the churches that I was acquainted with taught tithing but not the biblical seventh-day Sabbath. I decided that I needed to do some study on the Sabbath to solidify my understanding of what the Bible really taught.

      In my research I came across a book by Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday. In reading this book in conjunction with studying the Bible I found that Jesus argued consistently that he was retaining the original meaning for the Sabbath, not changing it. I also found out that when the first day of the week is mentioned in the New Testament, it is invariably in contrast to the Sabbath. For example, money was not to be handled on the Sabbath. So Paul gave instruction to put money aside on the first day of the week in I Cor. 16. The book just seemed to be so thoroughly researched and logically reasoned that I was drawn to its conclusions.

      On the other hand, when I read books on the other side of the issue, defending Sunday observance, they seemed to be so shallow and missing the point of the biblical evidence. It was essentially a no-brainer intellectually to accept the seventh-day Sabbath, but it was very hard emotionally because it was so different from what I had been taught.

      It was about this time that I went through the exercise described in My Story. Again, the conclusions from this seemed obvious, but emotionally difficult to embrace because I knew it would alienate me from friends and church colleagues.

      Shortly after this a seminary student asked me to help tutor him in biblical Hebrew. Since that had been my best subject during my own seminary days, I agreed. After one of our sessions he loaned me a teaching tape of Dwight Pryor, a teacher on the subject of Jewish Roots of Christianity. This tape seemed to explain a number of things I had questions about. I got additional tapes of Pryor's and was referred by them to the studies of Robert Lindsey and the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research, in which a number of Christian and Jewish scholars were studying the accounts of the life of Jesus from the context of the land of Israel and Hebrew language studies. These proved to be a real eye-opener.

      The other major event in my development of understanding came when I was between churches as a music director. I happened to check a book out of the seminary library on Messianic Judaism. I had never heard of it, but it seemed to be right along the lines of my conclusions about the Bible. So my wife and I sought out and visited a local Messianic congregation. The first service we attended, we got the feeling that, yes, this is where we belong. During my time with them I learned a lot more about what Jewishness involved, and I filled out my knowledge of what the religion that Jesus followed was really all about.

      Now I find myself back in a church setting as a music director. But I have an understanding that I believe God has privileged me to develop and a message that I am eager to share with others.