Thursday, August 29, 2013

8 Reasons Why Some Churches Never Grow

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Maybe this post will be a little painful. Let's be honest, if you are reading this and you are part of a church that is not growing then there will be some elements of truth in this post that might hit hard. 

I want to offer you eight reasons why some churches never grow. Many churches are really flat out and committed to many programs. Many churches have leaders who love God and want to serve him. I acknowledge that. I don't what this post to be seen in a negative light as such, but a challenge to consider what needs to change to grow healthy churches.

For some churches it's either deep painful change or slow painful death. Surely the discomfort of embracing new ideas and changing old habits is worth it.

What authority do I have to speak into such a situation? Maybe none. Maybe lots. I have spent many years in churches that have either declined or grown. I have led a small, inward focused, hurting church to a place of growth. I now lead an amazing group of people in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, namely The Salvation Army Craigieburn (Salvos 3064), that continues to witness steady growth.

What do you mean by a church that doesn't grow? Good question. I mean exactly that. A group of disciples of Jesus Christ who are a missional people should surely be a growing group of missional people. Forgive me if we differ at this point. We can strongly debate ecclesiastical structures and missional methodologies if you like and that is valid. Though, I will not compromise on the fundamental belief that a healthy bunch of disciples of Jesus Christ should be both living out a Christ-like existence, but also inviting others to join them on the journey.

So let me delve into reasons why churches don't grow:

Reason 1 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - The People in the Church are Inward Focused

People seem to automatically move to a default inward-focused mentality. If the people of the church fail to continue to remind each other of the importance of being outward focused, people drift inwardly. The church must be outward focused, and not just 'focused' but practically engaged in ministry that is expressed beyond itself.  

An inward focus means the people of the church care more about themselves than others. In 1 John 3:16 we have this amazing picture of sacrifice, when John writes, 'This is how we know what real love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.' The suggestion is not just to lay down your life for those you love and respect, but to even lay down your life for those your struggle to get along with. Love is meant to be expressed to everyone. Jesus laid down his life for everyone. We must stay outward-focused and keep it about living out God's mission in the world. In the face of many a church decline, we must stay focused on Christ and his mission.

Reason 2 - Why Some Churches Never Grow- The Leaders/Pastors of the Church are a Hindrance to the Growth of the Church

I'm not wanting to step on to many toes here, but let's face it, sometimes the greatest hindrance to a local congregation being healthy and vibrant is its leader. John C. Maxwell calls this the law of the lid. The idea is that a leader will hinder the organization's effectiveness when the leader reaches his/her lid. 

Let me suggest some reasons why leaders can become ones who hinder the growth of a church:
  • They micromanage others
  • They exert too much 'power' in their leadership position
  • They exert too little 'power' and thus foster a culture of anarchy
  • They fail to lead with passion, vision, integrity, faithfulness and compassion.
  • They choose to want to be a 'likeable' leader and therefore do not make tough decisions
  • They fail to drive a culture that is God-honoring, Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit empowered
Some might well argue that leaders need not make or break the life of a church. Though, I'm yet to see a healthy, amazing church that has a dysfunctional leader as its captain. I'm yet to see it. I'm sure someone can prove me wrong.

Reason 3 - Why Some Churches Never Grow- Churches do lots of Good Things, but not Great Things

What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example of a good church. I think of a church that regularly has programs/initiatives that offer hope to people's lives. They run community lunches and outreach ministries and women's programs and Children's programs and loads more. They are a good church, doing good things. But are they doing great things? 

The next point I'm about to make, might sound a little controversial. Many churches do good things, but are still not growing, and the Kingdom of God is not growing. Now, sure, these kinds of churches are helping many people. The Kingdom of God is being expressed through their ministry, sure. They are being a blessing to many in their community. Though people are not joining them on the discipleship journey. I'm not trying to sound negative, all I'm saying is that, at what point do you look at all the business of church life and say, I think we have compromised the making of disciples in the process. 

If your theology sits fine with simply expressing the love of God in your community, then fine. Move on to the next point. Though, I would argue, that living out the love of God and inviting people to live in the love of God themselves must go hand in hand. 

Many churches are not growing because they do not keep the main thing, the main thing.

Reason 4 - Why Some Churches Never Grow -They Fail to Understand and Embrace the Role of the Holy Spirit

Much could be said on this point. I do not intend to want to create a dualism amongst Christians. Though I sit in the theological camp that says, you can have more of the presence of God in your life. Some would say you are simply 'becoming more aware of God's presence', but I don't think that fully captures what I'm talking about. I am saying, that a Christian can invite the Holy Spirit to move more in their life. They can invite the Holy Spirit to fill them, overflow within them and give them joy, peace and power. 

Now, because I believe the fundamental idea that we can have a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I believe the converse to that. I believe that people who are followers of Jesus, can have a flicker of the Holy Spirit inside of them, but very little Holy Spirit power moving within them.

So with that in mind, we can have churches with very little of the Spirit of Jesus amongst them. Maybe they never invite the Spirit of God to move amongst them. Maybe they simply acknowledge the Father as Lord over all of creation and forget the third person in the Godhead. Maybe they simply don't believe in the above premise, that they can have more of the grace, power and peace of the Holy Spirit within them. Whatever the reasoning, I believe wholeheartedly, that the reason some churches are not growing, is because they have never understood or furthermore embraced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Is there a correlation between the dynamic growth of the Pentecostal movement and the willingness to embrace the Holy Spirit as a significant part of the life of a church?

Don't be afraid of the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus. There's no need to be freaked out when someone offers a prophetic word, or someone prays and believes for healing. I believe that churches would be far better off if they realized that when Jesus ascended into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and ignite the followers of Jesus to transform the world!

Reason 5 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - They Don't Really Care about Growth and Their Theology Justifies That Position

Let me step onto shaky ground. Some churches don't grow because people don't care, are complacent and they develop a theology around their lack of passion that justifies why they don't care.

I've lead a church that was complacent. A church that was more content on simply showing up on a Sunday morning and ticking the 'church' box. If new people ever engaged in their fellowship they quite often did not feel welcome and did not come back. Unbeknownst to the church, they began to justify their lack of growth, with comments like, 'Well that's just what it's like here...' The challenge when you sit with this kind of a mindset is that you end up needing to change the focus of your preaching/teaching/small groups. You need to shift the emphasis away from reaching out by partnering with God in mission, to one of say, a watered down message on holiness, or a nice, safe message about the benefits of sharing in fellowship together.

I want to say something clearly. When people care more about themselves than about others, they really don't care about the health of a church. They are choosing to put themselves at odds with the commands of Jesus to go into the whole world and make disciples. When an entire church has this kind of apathetic attitude to the ways of Christ, things either need to drastically change or something more controversial: Shut it down.  

Apathy is an absolute killer to growing healthy churches. 

If you are not fired up for the things of God, then get fired up! God is looking for some people to say, 'Here am I Lord, send me!'

Reason 6 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - Sin is not Held to Account

Well, if you're still reading, you're probably wondering how many more punches will I pull. Let me say this, the church will not grow to its fullest potential when there's sin in the camp. You can have the arguments and theological debates about what exactly is sin. You can comment if you like about how you know whether this or that attitude is sinful, or whether that particular action is sinful, etc, etc. Great, go off and have that debate.

The fact is, when the secretary is stealing the offering money, there's sin in the camp and it affects the growth of the church, not to mention the credibility of the faith community.
When an elder of a church continually undermines the minister of the church, there's sin in the camp.
When a small group of a church back-bite and back-stab the faith community in which they are a part, there's sin the camp.
When the Corps Officer or Senior Pastor dabbles in porn on his day off, there's sin in the camp.
When a church worships its music over who they intend to worship, there's sin in the camp.
When 5% of the men in the church secretly are part of the Free Masons, there's sin in the camp. 

I think you get the point.Though, this is not all that's worth sharing about growing healthy churches. When the leadership team, or minister/s become aware of sin in the faith community, there may well need to be action.

Please do not ever say to me, 'Well, that's just the way Mrs. Hodgepodge always reacts to those kinds of things.' Seriously? Are we o.k. with that kind of mentality? Just to let things slip and slide, because we don't want to hold anyone to account for their pathetic behavior? I want to drive this point home, because I think it is detrimental to the life of the church in general when those who are leaders or overseers of a faith community will not hold people to account for sinful behavior. 

Is that easy to do for a leader? No, of course not; unless you have no compassionate bones in your body. I would think, many reading this would understand, that holding someone to account for their actions is not easy. 

The problem is, the reason some churches are not growing may well be because the unacceptable behavior has never been addressed.

Reason 7 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - Churches Fail to be 'Missional'

I would suggest some churches don't grow, not because they are apathetic, but because they misunderstand why they exist.

I must say, I don't know everything there is to know about the emerging missional church. I have much to learn; granted. That being said, I think it is fair to say that some churches do not grow because they fail to be missional. They believe they exist for themselves. It is safe to say there are churches that exist that are not even wrestling with ideas such as, 'How can we be missional?' 'What does mission even mean?' 'How do we become a missional church?'

How do you define the missional church? Lois Barrett's definition of the missional church (cited in Mike Frost's The Road to Missional) goes like this:
A church that is shaped by participating in God's mission, which is to set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem it, and restore it to what God has always intended for the world. Missional churches see themselves not so much sending, as being sent. A missional congregation lets God's mission permeate everything that the congregation does--from worship to witness to training members for discipleship. It bridges the gap between outreach and congregational life, since, in its life together, the church is to embody God's mission.
The people of God must be outward focused. They must be a people who seek to both pronounce and demonstrate the love of Christ. Healthy churches thus learn to be missional and learn what it means to embody God's mission in the world.

Reason 8 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - They Have Never Learnt How to Pray

The Chinese church continues to multiply and the African church is bursting at the seams. The church in South Korea is known for its growth. At the risk of sounding very simplistic, let me say, there's a correlation between the prayer life of churches and their growth. Churches that know how to pray, know how to grow. Or rather, churches that include disciples who are consistently engaged in prayer, usually are consistently a part of a church that is growing and healthy. Of course there are exceptions, but the point is worth noting.

They say, you find out how popular Jesus is, by how many come along to the prayer meeting. I have not heard of a church that is absolutely sold out to bringing justice to the oppressed, and that consistently makes disciples of Jesus Christ and who do not pray. 

I have on the other hand, consistently heard, read and witnessed churches that pray fervently, with boldness and faith and become churches that grow.

We may know this to be true. The challenge is taking this nice little, simple concept and applying it. Many a pastor would tell you the importance of prayer. Many would absolutely be nodding their heads when you speak of the power of prayer. When the rubber hits the road, some churches cannot even get more than a handful of people to a prayer meeting.

Maybe it's because when the people come together to pray, they don't actually pray. They just talk. They debrief. They scrutinize church programs. They read poems. They even read Scriptures.

Intercessory, gut-wrenching, passionate prayer isn't always high on the agenda. People are too concerned about the person next to them. Others are too worried what others may think if they pray out loud. Others secretly wonder whether God actually hears prayers. Some are convinced that God knows the end from the beginning and God will simply sort it all out.

A healthy church demands passionate prayer. A healthy, growing church, prays... I mean, really prays...


Finally let me finish with some words from Lesslie Newbigin:
We do indeed look forward with eager longing to that Christian society which is the final goal of all God's creative and redemptive love, but until that day we are called upon to seek on earth a society which, as far as may be granted to us, reflects the glory of the city to which we look forward.
God help us to establish healthy, missional churches that are growing and effective for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

*****

Some other top posts that are worth reading:
10 Reasons Why People Don't Go To Church
10 Reasons Why People Don't Believe in God
How to Flatten Organizational Structures
The Church will Grow




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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Healing Testimony VIDEO Hot off the Press - Stirring the Pot on Healing

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Does God still heal the sick today?

Some people will absolutely love this post. Others will hate it. Others will sit on the fence. I just happen to love it.

God just healed a new guy that came to our Church. Well, watch the video for yourself. 





Let me say a couple of things. God still heals the sick today.

Wait a minute. Did I just say that?

God still heals the sick today.

The problem is, too many people are simply praying nice prayers (and no doubt God hears them). Prayers that go like this:

"Lord, bless my friend today, who's feeling sick." (Praying for blessing, not healing)
"Give peace to Mary during this difficult time." (Praying for peace, not healing)
"Please be with the family, while John is unwell." (Praying something that Jesus already promises)
"Lord, please bless the hands of the surgeons."(Again, praying for blessing, not direct healing)
"Please comfort Lucinda during this ordeal." (Praying for comfort, not healing)

Nice prayers. God hears them. Sure. Agreed. BUT, what if we actually prayed for the person to ACTUALLY be healed?

I want to stir the pot a little here. Can we stop namby-pamby prayers and begin to ask that Jesus would in fact literally heal someone?

Let me stir it further. We have embraced for too long, a watered down theology of healing, and lacked the bold, Spirit-filled faith to speak to a sickness to be gone!

It's time to usher in a new theology of healing. One that not only respects and honors the idea that God wants to bring love, peace, hope and joy into someone's life, but also that God may well intend to bring physical healing into a literally broken body.

Too controversial?

That's fine. Stick with a watered down version of healing. Stick with a theology that justifies your lack of faith.

Or begin to embrace the idea that Jesus still heals the sick today. Not everyone, sure. God doesn't take away third world hunger, agreed. There is still war in Syria; I know that.

Though, God wants the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. That's why we pray, ''Your Kingdom Come..."

When the Kingdom does come in all its fullness, that will surely mean healing of every sort.

I'm not sitting on the fence when it comes to that.

*****

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

There's a Sermon Brewing

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Have you ever had something brewing inside of you, just wanting to come out? I'm not talking about drinking too much coke.

I have a sermon brewing inside of me.

There's a message beginning to make traction in my spirit. A message about demolishing the walls of brokenness in our community, and reestablishing walls of salvation and praise.

I dare not give too much away, for when I preach next Sunday, on Father's Day, some of you who are a part of The Salvation Army community in Craigieburn might have a sleep in!

There's a message brewing about the people of Israel, who trusted in the Lord, shouted aloud and witnessed the walls of Jericho come down!

God's people must break down the walls of violence, and the walls of injustice, the walls of sexual promiscuity, the walls of sexual abuse, the walls of addiction and the walls of apathy to the gospel.

The walls are coming down! I said, 'The walls are coming down!'

Hallelujah.

There's a sermon brewing. The inside of me, is bubbling away, like a nice soda.

Get ready. The walls are coming down!!

Let's reestablish walls around our communities of salvation in Christ and praise to the one true Lord.


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Want to Say, "Thank You" - PeteBrookshaw.Com reaches 100,000 Hits!

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have read, commented and supported my petebrookshaw.com site over the years. Way back in July 2006, I launched off with my first few blog posts. I called the Blog, Revolution Earth, and tentatively put a few thoughts up on the web. Have a read of one here. Who would have thought 7 years later, I'd still be offloading my thoughts to a wider audience...

100,000 hits is a bit of a milestone... I don't care much for accolades though. The fact is most of my website hits no doubt come from my Mum and that anonymous Atheist from down the road. Nonetheless, praise God!

What interests me though, is the change in Blog Readership over the last 7 years. When it came to blogging 7 years ago, it was the next best thing since sliced bread. Everyone was blogging. Teenagers were writing blogs about their latest I.T. Gadget, and people were reflecting on their latest journal entries.  Christians were launching blogs quicker than Apple were creating Apps. The blogosphere had well and truly taken off.

Blogging then took a dive in the number of writers (at least from within my realms of influence), as people gave up on the continuous need to update their readers on their particular topic of choice. The blogosphere in a sense became more specialised. People were seemingly reading more articles and websites that were more informative and more specialised. Readers didn't care what you ate for breakfast! Readers for the most part, were not wanting to listen to the dribble of the intricate details of a person's emotional life. They were desiring to read things that will add value to their day. They were wanting to read what interests them, from writers who had some level of credibility within their blogging genre.

Funny enough, this blog is still going. 

So, with that all being said, I still have a few people here and there that are wanting to read what I write. If that continues, I'll continue to write.

I am passionate about people reaching their potential in life. I unashamedly want each and every person on planet earth to choose to follow God's son, Jesus Christ, and live a life that pleases him! I want to see leader's rise up, grow up and stand up to lead their generation to the purposes of God.

If my blogging helps at all towards that end, then I'll keep blogging.

Let me ask you:

What do you seek most from a Blog?

What Blog post has most inspired you?

God bless you and thank you for joining with me, in partnering together with God, in the work of the Gospel!



*****

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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Holy Spirit in Luke

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The Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Luke

Compare Luke's references to the Holy Spirit with the other Gospels. What is he saying? Why do the references to the Holy Spirit seem to stop half-way through? Is the view of the Holy Spirit in Luke consistent with Acts and the Pentecost story? What is the relationship between the Holy 
Spirit and prayer in Luke?

This blog seeks to clarify, firstly on whether there is continuity in the Luke-Acts accounts and the role of the Spirit between those two books. Secondly, some brief comparisons will be made regarding the Holy Spirit as recorded in Luke compared with the other Synoptic Gospels.

Luke-Acts and the Continuity Problem
To determine whether in fact the Holy Spirit in Luke is consistent with Acts, you must determine the continuity or otherwise of the authorship of Luke. Is the writer of Luke the same as the book of Acts? W. C. Van Unnik says, ‘we speak of it [Luke-Acts] as a unit....It is generally accepted that both books have a common author....By almost unanimous consent they are considered to be two volumes of a single work.’[1] While there is unity amongst scholars regarding the ‘literary unity’[2] of Luke-Acts, that does not mean there is theological continuity.
W. F. Lofthouse argues that the Synoptic Gospels are, ‘unable to act as a basis [for the Spirit] in Acts 1-15.[3] Lofthouse and others assert the discontinuity of the Luke-Acts narrative, but surely if there is continuity in authorship, there is continuity in theological expression. Assuming we have determined that Luke (or a close companion of Paul) was in fact the author of Luke and Acts, then it is somewhat ridiculous to suggest the author changes their ideas about pneumatology in between writings.[4] In fact, G.W.H. Lampe for instance, says, ‘the connecting thread which runs through both parts [of Luke-Acts] is the theme of the operation of the Spirit of God’.[5]
Notably Luke only mentions πνευμα after chapter 13 of the Lukan account three more times and the word is used not as the ‘Holy Spirit’, but simply ‘spirit’.[6] Does this mean, for instance, that the Holy Spirit is not active at the death and resurrection of Jesus? Simply because there is no avert mention of the work of πνευμα does not then allow us to make that assumption. Following the ascension of Jesus, we read of the inauguration of the Holy Spirit, and just as the Spirit was present at the birth of Jesus, so the Spirit is present and active at the birth of the Church.[7] There are some great parallels in the Luke-Acts accounts in relation to the work of the Holy Spirit.
LUKE[8]
ACTS
The Holy Spirit at work at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-39)
The Holy Spirit at work at the birth of the church (Acts 2:1-47)
The Holy Spirit at work in Jesus beginning of ministry (Luke 4:14-30)[9]
The Holy Spirit at work in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:14-41)
The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:21-23)
The Holy Spirit descends upon the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47)

The Holy Spirit in Luke and the other Synoptic Gospels
Luke clearly places a greater emphasis on the role and work of the Holy Spirit than the other two Synoptic Gospels. The references to the Holy Spirit in each are:
Luke – 17 references
Matthew – 12 references
Mark – 6 references[10]
Take the example of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4:14-30. Luke mentions (v. 14) that Jesus returns in the power of the Holy Spirit (δυνάμει τοῦ Πνεύματος). Mark and Matthew say nothing of the Holy Spirit in their versions on the start of the ministry of Jesus[11] (See attached parallel version of the relevant Scriptures).
We are left with many questions related to redactive criticism. Why is Luke choosing to communicate a story that Mark and Matthew both do not adhere to? Has Mark simply emitted the story of unrolling the scroll of Isaiah, or has Luke creatively added the story?[12] Not being within the scope of this tutorial, though pertinent to the discussion, is rationally discovering the validity or otherwise of the Lukan passage. After redactive criticism, assuming we believe the authenticity of such a narrative (that many scholars have done), we can merely say, Luke is clearly deciding to add references of the Holy Spirit and it would seem, Luke is wishing to, ‘show the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry’.[13] This is consistent later on, whether he shows the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church. As David Hill writes about the whole of Luke-Acts,[14] ‘The Spirit is the main hero of the story,’ and no doubt this could be said of the Luke 4:14-21 section.
Interestingly, Mark and Matthew identify Jesus as one calling for repentance, while Luke leaves the repentance mantra to John, and he prefers to highlight the importance of the empowering Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus.[15]
In this short tutorial I hope to have shown you the great continuity within the Luke-Acts writings and therefore the continuity of theological understanding and commitment to the work of the Holy Spirit. Finally, I have shown briefly that Luke quite often will focus on the Holy Spirit to a greater degree than the other Synoptic writers, as we have seen in Luke 4:14-21 passage.


[1] See Roger Stronstad (1984). The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, page 3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Stronstad writes, ‘the literary unity of Luke-Acts must compel the interpreter to recognize a theological homogeneity in the theology of the two books,’ (page 5). He then goes on to mention that this is no less relevant to Luke’s charismatic theology than any other theological doctrine of motif.
[5] Quoted in J. Verheyden (1999). The Unity of Luke-Acts. Leuven: Leuven University Press, page 180. Also quoted in John Michael Penney (1997). The Missionary Emphasis of Lukan Pneumatology. Wiltshire: Sheffield Academic Press, page 17.
[6] Ibid, page 173-174.
[7] Ibid. See pages 165-184. A great quote from John Michael Penney says that, ‘Luke’s primary and pervasive interest is the work of the Holy Spirit in initiating, empowering and directing the church in its eschatological worldwide mission,’ page 15. See John Michael Penney (1997). The Missionary Emphasis of Lukan Pneumatology. Wiltshire: Sheffield Academic Press.
[8] Adapted from Stronstad’s, Thematic Structure of Luke-Acts, page 34.
[9] Penney says, ‘The Holy Spirit is the power by which salvation is both announced and effected (Luke 4:18/Isaiah 61:1) in the ministry of Jesus, and this is the same power by which universal mission in Acts in announced and effected,’ page 23.
[10] Cited in Penney (1997), page 26.
[11] See James B. Shelton (1991). Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, page 63.
[12] Ibid, page 66.
[13] Ibid, page 63.
[14] Referenced to in, William H. Shepherd Jr. (1994). The Narrative Function of the Holy Spirit As A Character in Luke-Acts. Georgia: Scholars Press, page 35-36.
[15] Ibid, page 66.
 

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Luke 12:1-12 - Biblical Insights into the Gospel of Luke

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INTRODUCTION


Jesus leaves a Pharisee’s house, after reclining at the man’s table, and finds himself surrounded by thousands of people, some hostile to his message, and he addresses the disciples directly. As the passage unfolds we witness something of the nature of the ministry of Jesus; what he chooses to focus on, the positive and negative aspects of what he communicates, and how Luke portrays the whole narrative.
In 12:1-12 (see bottom of post for Luke 12:1-12) we are privy to what Jesus communicated to his disciples that day. In order to glean wisdom and understanding from a passage like this, I will endeavour to highlight critical aspects of the passage, including firstly the social setting of the passage and secondly the structure of the discourse. Thirdly, I will refer to important textual aspects of the Lukan narrative, and then fourthly, will compare parallel texts in Mark and Matthew with the Lukan text. There are many theological implications of such a passage, and so lastly I will comment on sub-sections of the passage, namely, hypocrisy, shouting from the rooftops, fearing God and not man, acknowledging God and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

THE SOCIAL SETTING


Geldenhuys writes, ‘A spirit of hostility to Jesus probably prevailed among the major portion of the multitude’ (1979, p. 348)[1]. I would categorically omit the word ‘probably’ from his quote. Hostility was clearly evident. The question is what caused the hostility? We see in 11:37-54 that Jesus had reclined at a Pharisee’s house for a meal (11:37), and that Jesus critically challenged the Pharisee’s understanding and representation of holiness. Jesus says words like, ‘this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets...’ (11:50 NIV). The word hostility, thus used by various authors (Geldenhuys, Green and Tannehill) is completely justified to explain the social atmosphere of the situation at hand.
In the Lukan narrative we have a transition from a small crowd in the home of the Pharisee, to Jesus going outside (11:53). We read in 12:1 that the crowd gathered by the thousands, and it is not a stretch to say, by the tens of thousands, similar in a sense to the Sermon on the Plain narrative.
Are the parallel versions of 12:1 (discussed later), namely Mk 8:14-15 and Mt 16:5-6, occurring in a different setting? Or are the settings the same and the circumstances identical, yet recorded differently? Bock argues for a distinct setting in 12:1 to the other Scriptures, as Jesus quite often spoke similar kinds of things in his public discourse (1996, p. 1130). Brill argues similarly, as Jesus is speaking to the ears of a large crowd compared with Mark and Matthew, to a small crowd (1999, pp. 53-54). Simply because all the synoptics use similar phrases, for example, ‘yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod’ (Mk 8:15), ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ (Lk 12:1) and ‘yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Mt 16:6), does not allow the assumption of the same setting.

STRUCTURE OF PASSAGE


Luke uses the presence of the large crowd to begin a new section in the Lukan narrative. Green highlights 12:1 – 13:9 as one large section labelling it, ‘Vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis’ (1997, p. 476). 12:1 – 13:9 appears to be one single discourse with three of four differing topics (Green, 1997, p. 476). While Talbert (Reading Luke) and Stein say the discourse concludes at 13:21, you can sense a break in the narrative between 13:9 and 13:10. While Grundmann supports 12:1-48 as a section (See Bock, 1996, p. 1129), there is overwhelming support for 12:1-13:9.
There are also some strong links with the previous verses in 11:37-54, where Luke has recorded Jesus giving a scathing attack on the hypocrisy (Stein, 1992, p. 349) of the Pharisees. It seems fitting then, that Jesus would speak ‘first to his disciples’ about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
The 12:1-12 passage has three subunits (Nolland, 1993, p. 675) of vv 1-4; 5-7; 8-12. Verse 13 clearly is delineated from the previous verse and thus the passage is 12:1-12.  
If we were to produce an outline of 12:1-12, one may write:
12:1 – The hypocrisy of the Pharisees
12:2-3 – Secrets will be exposed
12:4-7 – Do not fear man, fear God who knows you
12:8-9 – Acknowledge Jesus and do not blaspheme against the Holy Spirit
This may well be simplistic compared with the literary structure of Luke highlighted in McComiskey (2004, pp. 205-208), though I do not believe Luke considered a structure of his writing to the complexities of stratums and cycles and the like and therefore this creates unnecessarily complexity when simplicity is acceptable.

TEXTUAL ANALYSIS


1 ‘Meanwhile’ – literally means ‘at which things’ (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954), or ‘in which things’ (Tannehill, 1996, p. 201) which thus links this verse strongly with the preceding verses in chapter 11.
The word ‘crowd’ is translated ‘people’ in a small number of manuscripts (namely ms. P45).
υποκρισις – ‘hypocrisy’ (NIV, NRSV). Giesen in (Green, 1997, p. 480) defines someone who exemplifies υποκρισις as, ‘a person whose conduct is not determined by God and is thus ‘godless’’.  Fitzmyer writes that υποκρισις only appears once in the LXX (1985, p. 955).
Καταπατειν – ‘to walk over one another’ (Bock, 1996, p. 1133), ‘to trample down (underfoot)’ (Strong, 1890). The sense is the crowd is swelling in very large numbers, and there is much pushing and shoving in order to hear Jesus or be in close proximity to him.
3 ταμειοις (tameion) refers to the innermost part of an Oriental house. This is the most private location in a resident’s dwelling.
4 φιλοις (philois) relates to ‘friends’ and Bock highlights that this informs the reader that the disciples are still the ones in view within the narrative (1996, p. 1135).
5 γέενναν – ‘hell’ (NRSV). Gehenna, also known as Ge-Hinnom is a valley south of Jerusalem. Geldenhuys notes that in years gone by, children were in fact sacrificed as burnt-offerings to the Canaanite god Molech (1979, p. 351) in this valley. We read of references in the OT of a God who kills and brings to life (See Deut 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6 and 2 Kgs 5:7), though we do not read of references there of God committing the sacrifices, but the gross killings of children, were burned as sacrifices primarily to pagan deities but sometimes to YHWH. Nonetheless, human sacrifice occurred in this place known as Ge-Hinnom (see Jer 7:32 and 2 Kgs16:3) (Nolland, 1993, p. 678) (Hendriksen, 1978, p. 653).
Under the leadership of Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), he stopped the practice of child sacrifice, and the valley in Jerusalem was then used to burn up corpses of animals and criminals; a garbage dump. The fire continually burned in Ge-Hinnom. It entered the vernacular of the first century people, as a figurative place of everlasting punishment (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 351). Kittel notes that the Valley of Hinnom became associated with everlasting judgment in hell in apocalyptic material from the 2nd Century b.c.e. (Kittel, 1964, p. 657).
6 ασσαριων – ‘penny’ or rather ‘assarion’. A Roman copper coin, that is worth one-sixteenth of a denarius (Nolland, 1993, p. 678; Stein, 1992, p. 347).
Nolland notes that sparrows were a cheap type of food for the poor (1993, p. 678).
7 ‘even the hairs of your head are all counted’ – In the OT, we read of God’s deliverance of the Israelite people, like 1 Sam 14:45 that reads, that, ‘As the LORD lives, not one hair of his (Jonathan’s) head shall fall to the ground.’ So as the Lord was with the Israelite people, God is with the disciples gathered in the Lukan narrative. As Nolland expresses it, ‘Since God is vitally and caringly involved, disciples do not stand alone in the situations in which their allegiance to the Son of Man is under challenge’ (1993, p. 678).
8 ‘before the angels of God’ – Jesus is picturing a parallel, juridical scene in the heavenlies (Doren, 1981, p. 484).
10 ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost reveals hostility to what is unmistakeably divine and holy, and is therefore unpardonable’ (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 352). Βλασφημησαντι is the, ‘aorist participle, and thus does not denote a continuous action or a permanent attitude, but indicates that after this deed has once been done it is already finally decided’ (Geldenhuys, 1979, p. 352).
11 μεριμνατε – to be anxious about (‘worry’)

PARALLELS WITH OTHER GOSPELS and SOURCE THEORY


Referring to Bock’s outline of the source material of the Lukan passage is helpful. Some authors, like Marshall, while intellectually astute, complicate the parallels in the synoptics (Marshall, 1978, pp. 508-521). Bock highlights clearly the parallels between 12:1-12 and the other synoptics. He writes (1996, p. 1129):
Lk 12:1 = Mt 16:5-6 = Mk 8:14-15
Lk 12:2-9 = Mt 10:26-33
Lk 12:10 = Mt 12:31-32 = Mk 3:28-30
Lk 12:11-12 = Mt 10:19-20 = Mk 13:11

In our exegesis, comparing the Lukan text to the other Synoptic gospels is helpful in determining the similarities and differences between the usage of particular terms and concepts within the text. Other authors choose not to visually present the parallels as below, though seeing the differences before us is beneficial.
Let us look at the reference to the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ or similar derivatives of this phrase:
Mark 8:15 - And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out--beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod."
Luke 12:1 - Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.
Matthew 16:6 - Jesus said to them, "Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

I have placed Mark first, as Mark we know is the earliest of the Synoptic gospels. There is debate about the source of the saying used in 12:1 of the yeast of the Pharisees. Fitzmyer notes that some credit the saying to ‘Q’ (Schneider and Marshall), yet even with the similarities to Mark 8:15, the verse seems to be a Lukan specific verse (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 953), with Luke’s addition of the word ‘hypocrisy’.
The other parallel considered here is Lk 12:2-9 compared with Mt 10:26-33 below: 
Luke 12:2-9 - 2There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
     
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

     
8 "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

Matthew 10:26-33 - 26 "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

     
32 "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.


In the Lk 12:2-9 and Mt 10:26-33 passages above, we witness the use of the same source (Nolland, 1993, p. 675). The passages are very similar, though some differences are the introductory comments in Matthew and that Luke references that five sparrows are sold for two pennies (12:6) and in Matthew, two sparrows are sold for one penny (Mt 10:29). Nolland alludes to the idea that the differences between Luke and Matthew may be because Luke has corrected the amount in order to produce the ‘correct going price’ (Nolland, 1993, p. 678). Surely the purpose of such a statement is not so much the meticulousness of the mathematics at hand, but rather that God does in fact know the intricate nature of not only the environment, but your own life. God is to be revered and not feared; a God who even numbers the hairs on your head.


COMMENT


Hypocrisy

Jesus is clearly warning the disciples in 12:1 of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, comparing them to yeast in a loaf of bread (Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954). While Pharisees were clearly religious observers, for example, practicing circumcision, fasting, having a kosher diet, they nonetheless deceived others and thus were hypocrites (Neyrey, 1991, p. 88) (Clark, 1982, p. 40). So the question is, why the yeast of the Pharisees?
From what is understood of yeast in the cooking of bread, is that the yeast spreads throughout the whole loaf (note the parable of the Kingdom in 13:18-21 used in a positive sense) and obviously used negatively here (Bock, 1994, p. 221).  Leaven (used interchangeably with yeast), is known to be old sour dough which has been stored away and placed with fermenting juices and then finally used in new dough to act as a rising agent (to make the bread light) (See Fitzmyer, 1985, p. 954; Nolland, 1993, p. 677).
Plutarch (46 – 120c.e) is a Greek historian and he discusses why priests of Jupiter were not allowed to touch either yeast or flour (Danker, 1988, p. 244). In a sense Plutarch is commenting on a well established tradition within Jewish faith and culture; namely the removal of yeast during the Passover celebrations (Ex 12:14-20). Yeast in 12:1 is used in a negative sense, of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that will spread quickly like yeast in a batch of dough.


Shouted From the Rooftops

Hypocrisy will thus spread quickly, and not only that, has the potential to come to the light. Furthermore, if we view the 12:1-12 passage eschatologically, we see that hypocrisy will not go unnoticed at the time of judgment. What is covered up will be seen and what is spoken in secret will shouted from the rooftops. The challenge is laid down from Jesus, to the disciples in the ears of the crowd (including of course the Pharisees and other religious leaders), that whatever is said, and done, will one day come under a certain amount of scrutiny at the time of judgment.
Is the comment made to the Pharisees meant to be one that Jesus intends to come to pass or is it simply a general comment? The question is asked of Bock (1996, p. 1134) and he says that a ‘general remark seems likely’, that is that the Pharisaic grumblings will not necessarily be literally shouted from the rooftops. Though, the eschatological view of this passage, as mentioned, alludes to the potential that hypocrisy will in fact be exposed at the time of judgment.


Fear God, Not Man

Jesus continues speaking with his φιλοις in 12:4, and communicates to them that they need not fear that anyone would kill their body. Furthermore, it is better to fear the Lord, as the Lord is the one who can cast you to into γέενναν if God so chooses.
Jesus says to his disciples to not be afraid of those who kill the body (12:4), with the assumption that persecution is inevitable (Green, 1997, p. 480), that is, Jesus does not say, ‘Persecution may come...’ he in effect, validates that it will.
Conveniently, the seemingly sceptical Jesus Seminar authors, Funk and Hoover, seek to discredit the validity of the 12:3-5 section, amongst others. The reason (cited in Bock, 1996, pp. 1130-1131) for the rejection of such a passage is, ‘because it presupposes a level of persecution that fits the era of the early church, not Jesus’ time’. When we think of authorship dates, we know Luke to be written around 80c.e. and of course by then much persecution had arisen within the Judean area (including the horrific events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70c.e.).  Though to assume that Jesus did not say to the disciples, ‘do not fear’ but to fear God because God has the capacity to send someone to everlasting punishment, and to say these verse are not relevent, seems all too convenient for difficult theological passages.
There are two challenges present here. One is to intellectually discuss such a proposition by the Jesus Seminar authors, on its validity or otherwise of the inclusion of 12:3-5. The second is to determine the level of literalism intended by Jesus in 12:5.
Firstly, Bock argues well for the validity of the insertion of 12:3-5 (1996, p. 1131), because even prior to the beginnings of the early church persecution was rife. Remember the decapitation of John the Baptist? What about the hostility towards Jesus himself? That hostility we know was occurring from his birth, and religious leaders sought to kill him following his inaugural reading of Isaiah in a Galilean synangogue. It is therefore, on this premise alone, not unlikely that Jesus would have in fact given that challenge to the disciples present.
The second challenge, that many authors fail to expound on, is the literalism of the 12:5 passage. Many are happy to explain the historical aspects of γέενναν and how it came to be used of Jesus himself. The confronting exegetical task is to then ask will God in fact follow through on Jesus’ statement of casting people into ‘hell’ (NRSV)? Interestingly, Jesus does not say that God ‘will’ cast people into a continuous burning rubbish dump, but that God nonetheless has the authority to do so if God so chooses.
The passage then shifts from negative, to positive, that God has not forgotten about the sparrows and therefore you do not need to be afraid, as God even knows how many hairs are on your head.


Acknowledging God


Jesus exhorts the disciples of the importance of acknowledging him, so that he will acknowledge them ‘before the angels of God’. Matthew’s parallel in 10:32 renders it, ‘before my Father in heaven’. Irrespective, acknowledging the reality of who Jesus is, is a vital aspect critical to the discipleship journey, or as Conzelmann puts it, from this text, we are challenged to confess Christ’s Lordship over the world (1960, p. 188).


Blaspheming Against the Holy Spirit


One of the difficult passages in the Lukan narrative is the reference to the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Exegetically the issue is not sins against the ‘Son of Man’ as this clearly seems to be forgivable, but rather against the Holy Spirit.

Looking at the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in 12:10, we see connection with the Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt. One author says that the blasphemy in the Lukan passage is related to, ‘the denial or rejection of the manifest saving intervention of God on behalf of his People’ (Nolland, 1993, p. 679). Keener says it refers specifically to the ‘sin of the Pharisees, who are on the verge of becoming incapable of repentance’ (Keener, 1997, p. 107). Though we will see below, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is more than just the Pharisee’s concern.
Fitzmyer (1985, pp. 964-965) discusses five explanations possible for the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit which has clearly reworked an earlier commentary of Marshall (1978, pp. 517-518). Also further adapted from Marshall and Fitzmyer is Bock (1994, p. 223) and again Bock (1996, pp. 1140-1141)

In summary:
1.       The blaspheming is attributed to the work of Satan and therefore is not forgivable.
2.       Since the blaspheming comes from ‘believers’, they should know better and is thus unforgiveable.
3.       It is rejecting the post-resurrection preaching of the apostles and is unforgiveable as this is explicitly Spirit-led preaching. (Also in Marshall (1978, p. 517) and (Brown, 1969, p. 108). Brown links this strongly with the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
4.       It refers to a failure to communicate what the Spirit is saying to those in positions of leadership.
5.       Refers to a persistent, rejection of the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus.
I sit with point five, as Βλασφημησαντι relates to ‘abusive speech’ and ‘personal mockery and calumniation’ (Kittel, 1964, p. 621), and while the demonic may be at work in some way or another (point 1), what is unforgiveable is, as Fitzmyer says, the, ‘persistence in consummate and obdurate opposition to the influence of the Spirit’ (1985, p. 964).

CONCLUSION


There is more to be said. Rigorous debate will no doubt ensue, especially because of the controversial nature of some of the aspects of this Lukan text, for instance, the existence of hell and the theological rhetoric that comes from that, the idea of God’s judgment upon follower’s of Jesus and the challenging verses of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
That being said, we have gleaned much from the discussion above. We witness something of the compassion of Jesus, coupled with the willingness to share with the disciples, words that will challenge.  Jesus ultimately offers hope to his listeners if they stay true to acknowledging him, abstaining from hypocritical ways like the Pharisees, and if they fear God and not people.
God knows the intricate details of each person. He know how many hairs are on our heads (not many for this particular author), and God cares for people even more so than the sparrows. Every reader can take encouragement from those truths found in Luke 12:1-12.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke 9:51 - 24:53: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downer's Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Brill, K. (1999). The Composition of Luke's Gospel. Leiden: Tuta Sub Aegide Pallas.
Brown, S. (1969). Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute.
Clark, T. &. (1982). The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Great Britain: Morrison and Gibb.
Conzelmann, H. (1960). The Theology of St. Luke. Britain: SCM Press.
Danker, F. W. (1988). Jesus and the New Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Doren, W. H. (1981). Gospel of Luke: Expository and Homiletical. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Fitzmyer, J. A. (1985). The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, INC.
Geldenhuys, N. (1979). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans.
Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans .
Hendriksen, W. (1978). Gospel of Luke. Edinburgh: W & J Mackay.
Keener, C. S. (1997). The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
Kittel, G. (1964). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament VOL 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WB. Eerdmans.
McComiskey, D. S. (2004). Lukan Theology in the Light of the Gospel's Literary Structure. Milton Keynes: Paternoster.
Neyrey, J. H. (1991). The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation. Massachusetts: Hendrickson.
Nolland, J. (1993). Word Biblical Commentary (35B): Luke 9:21 - 18:34. Dallas, Texas: Wood Books.
Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke: The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. U.S.A.: Broadman & Holman.
Strong. (1890). Strong's Bible Dictionary.
Tannehill, R. C. (1996). Luke: Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press.


NRSV - Luke 12:1-12  Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.

Luke 12:2  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

Luke 12:3  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
Luke 12:4  "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.

Luke 12:5  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 

Luke 12:6  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight.

Luke 12:7  But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:8  "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God;

Luke 12:9  but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.

Luke 12:10  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Luke 12:11  When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;

Luke 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say."
 
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