Exploring 1 Timothy – Above Reproach

Statue of Paul outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Photo by Wikipedia user AngMoKio

When he was writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul made a point of emphasizing the requirements for becoming an overseer – that is, a pastor or elder.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Paul lists a number of characteristics that every pastor should have. Rather than discussing every one of them, I would like to focus on the phrase that seems to encapsulate them all: “above reproach”. Not only is this the first requirement Paul mentions, but the importance of every other thing on that list seems to revolve around its relation to the first thing. Clearly, the importance of personal testimony, moral character, and the like is foremost in Paul’s mind when it comes to pastors. Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – The Invisible God

“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Carvaggio, circa 1600. This was the moment when God became visible in more than one way to Saul/Paul.

At one point in his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul breaks into a kind of benediction: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” (1:17) This is a great statement of praise, but what strikes me is the list of attributes he applies to God.

Eternal means He has no beginning or end – He is the creator of time and beyond time. Immortal means He Himself is not created, and He can never not be. But what exactly does it mean that our God is “invisible”? What is Paul getting at here? Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – Sound Words

“Timothy and Lois” by Willem Drost, circa 1650s

In the coming days and weeks, I would like us to take a break from all of this political commentary and dig into a lovely little book of the Bible that has many practical applications for the Church today: 1 Timothy. I intend to bring you a series of essays, hopefully little more than 1,000 words each, that address some of the aspects of this letter that have left the greatest impression on me. Today, we start with the concept of “sound words”. Continue reading

Being Female in the Era of Trump

Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Official White House photo

In light of the events of the past few days (here I refer not to the AFC and NFC Championship Games, but to the Presidential Inauguration and Women’s March on Washington), I have decided to share some of my thoughts on what it currently means to be a woman – and more specifically, a Christian woman – in the United States of America.

Donald Trump is the legitimately elected president of this country, and as such, he is entitled to a certain degree of respect. As an American, I believe this to be true because democratic elections, the peaceful transfer of power, and respect for governmental institutions are absolutely essential to the continuation of the American ideal. This is what our country was built on, and if we choose to abandon it because of our disdain for the person who won the election, then our concern for protecting the country will in effect end up hurting the country. Continue reading

The Reformer Who Wrote Erotic Poetry

Theodore Beza, lover of fancy hats. Portrait by an unknown artist circa 1605.

History is full of odd tales, and nowhere more so than during the Protestant Reformation. We have, for example, the much beloved story of how Martin Luther’s future wife, Katharina Von Bora, escaped from her convent in a fish barrel, giving new meaning to the phrase, “That’s a pretty kettle of fish.” The relationship between the two of them and the subsequent improvements in Herr Luther’s bowel movements are rather the stuff of legend. (More about Luther, Germans, and poop can be found here.)

Then there was Wibrandis Rosenblatt, who managed to get herself married to three different Protestant Reformers – Johannes Oecolampadius (Try saying that three times fast!), Wolfgang Capito, and Martin Bucer. Now, I must stress that this dear lady was not married to them all at the same time, but rather in succession after they each went the way of all flesh. Indeed, before she was ever married to Oecolampadius, she was already the widow of one Ludwig Keller (Ancestor of Timothy Keller? Just throwing it out there…). That makes a total of four husbands for Wibrandis, which is either incredibly unlucky or incredibly suspicious.

However, for our story today I would like to take us a bit farther south to the town of Geneva, nestled on a beautiful lake at the feet of the Alps. Long before it was nagging the rest of the world about how it should behave in times of war, Geneva hosted a rather interesting religious experiment when it invited a French expat named Jean Calvin – yes, that’s John Calvin – to carry out a reformation in the city along with Guillaume Farel. This was an important development in the history of the Reformed Protestant tradition.

But I’m not going to talk about Calvin today – sorry to burst your bubble. I know Calvin is much beloved in these parts, even by those who have never bothered to read any of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his greatest lasting legacy. No, I would like to talk about one of Calvin’s close associates, Théodore de Bèze, better known in the English speaking world as Theodore Beza. His is a truly fascinating story with many twists and turns. Continue reading

Two Ways to Think about the Lord’s Supper

“The Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip, circa 1562

Friends, I would like to consider today the deeper meanings of that meal we call the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, for I feel that in many places, its importance has been rather downplayed. Over the course of my life, I have attended multiple churches, each of which did the Lord’s Supper in a slightly different way. The Baptists I grew up with held it four times a year and with a purely symbolic interpretation. Later on, I was among other Baptists who felt it was important enough to do twice a month. The Anglicans, of course, did it all the time and used real wine. I was fine with the alcohol, for if it was good enough for our Lord, it was good enough for me. The communal cup did give me the heebie jeebies, but I got over it.

My academic study brought me into contact with a broad array of interpretations of this thing that we call either an ordinance or a sacrament. This caused me to truly contemplate the nature of what was occurring when I participated in the Lord’s Supper, and it became to me much more sacred and monumental. Over the past year, while in the process of observing the Lord’s Supper, I have had two different thoughts about how we can view it, neither of which is particularly original. However, I think you are less likely to hear these mentioned on a Sunday morning, depending on what church you attend. I would like to suggest that we can view the Lord’s Supper in terms of two words: communion and covenant. Continue reading

Awaken!

A plaque with saints rising from the dead made in Limoges, France circa 1250. Photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

The year was 1971 and the new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. was about to have its grand opening celebration. The late president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, commissioned the famed composer Leonard Bernstein to create a new work that would be performed as part of the dedication festivities. Bernstein had already established himself as one of the greatest American musicians of all time, heading up the New York Philharmonic and writing the music for West Side Story and On the Waterfront. However, for this particular occasion, he chose to do something rather unconventional: he wanted to create a Catholic Mass.

Masses intended for performance were nothing new. Both Mozart and Verdi had reached the pinnacles of their careers by writing a Requiem Mass, though Mozart was famously unable to complete his before dying young. Those who went for a more general Mass, as opposed to one for the dead, included Puccini, Liszt, Schubert, Haydn, Stravinsky, Bach, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, Rossini, and Dvořák. The reason for this is obvious: the Mass was always meant to be sung, and it serves as the focal point of Catholic life. Even some Protestants have gotten in on the fun, including a few of the names on that list.

But why should Bernstein wish to compose a Mass? He was, it must be noted, not a Catholic. If anything, he seems to have been a rather secular Jew. He was also homosexual (despite not revealing that publicly and being married for many years) and held some views that were not in complete harmony with Catholic teaching. Yet, the Kennedys were well-known for their Catholicism. Bernstein no doubt wanted to honor this aspect of his friends’ lives, and according to his daughter, Nina Bernstein, he “had always been intrigued and awed by the Roman Catholic Mass, finding it (in Latin) moving, mysterious, and eminently theatrical.”[1] Continue reading

Christ is All in All

Mosaic of Jesus Christ at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, photographed by Edal Lefterov

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles below.

As I noted in the previous essay, there are two major sources of discord between Christians. The first, doctrinal issues, we have already addressed and noted that in the case of a person who forsakes the gospel, there may be little we can do but to stand firm upon the Word of God, in all humility and with hearts full of love and compassion. The second major source of discord is what I will call political/personality issues, and here there may be more we can do. Yet, that does not imply that there is anything easy about it, for here we find not the nice black and white of some doctrinal debates, but the infinite grays of human emotion.

By “political” issues, I do not mean debates about secular politics, but rather the politics that exist within the Church. Essentially, this is all about who has the power, who is in charge, or who gets their own way. Personality issues are closely linked, and can usually be boiled down to phrases like, “I don’t like so and so because…”, “It really annoys me when they…”, “I just hate it when they do…”, “Why can they not see how selfish, ridiculous, etc…”, or “They really get on my nerves!”

Now, I have never conducted a scientific study on this topic, but from my own personal experience and the numerous anecdotes I have heard from others, I would have to say that it is political/personality issues and not doctrinal issues that cause more discord within the Church. In fact, many of the apparent doctrinal issues begin as political/personality issues or have such things at their heart. Therefore, it will not do to focus on doctrine alone. We must get down to the root of our malaise: the ugliness of our hearts. Continue reading

Truth with a Capital ‘T’

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

When I finally had the chance to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest and arguably most important church in the world, there were three things in particular that I wanted to do: 1) I wanted to gaze in wonder at Michelangelo’s Pietà. 2) I wanted to stand on the same red porphyry tile on which my distant ancestor Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. 3) I wanted to pray for the reconciliation of the Church.

The basilica did not disappoint. We got there early enough in the morning that it was not yet packed with tourists, so the place was quite peaceful. I was unfortunately not able to get close to the Pietà as the chapel was blocked off, but I did see it from a distance. I confused my husband thoroughly by making him take my picture standing on the porphyry. I tried to explain in whispered tones the significance of this rare holdover from the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, but in the end I suppose it was just a reddish piece of stone.

We had made our way through much of the sanctuary (no small task, especially when you are stopping constantly to take pictures) and were about to head down to the grottoes when I chose my moment to pray. I had many altars to pick from, but all featured relics or icons of some saint or another to which Catholic pilgrims were praying, and I would have felt somewhat of a fraud kneeling there. Therefore, I picked an obliging spot near the Altar of the Transfiguration – roughly halfway between the bones of Saint Peter and Saint Gregory – and squatted down to say my prayer. Continue reading

A New (Old) Commandment

Depiction of Christ washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

Depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

This is the ninth in a series of article on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I sincerely hope by this point that the biblical imperative regarding reconciliation has been well established and that it has been made clear just how vital of an issue this is: the most vital, really, for within the concept of reconciliation all the things that pertain to salvation are encompassed along with our purpose on this earth. We have also taken a look at the underlying heart attitudes that can make or break reconciliation. The conversation has for the most part centered on relationships between two individuals, or between the individual and God. By focusing on big concepts rather than specific circumstances, it is possible that I have even made it this far without seriously offending you. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

It is necessary that we move beyond this limited scope and begin to examine reconciliation on a corporate level. Here it is worth noting that every Christian has relationships with two kinds of people: those who are Christians and those who are not. Reconciliation is needed in both areas, but I am going to begin by examining reconciliation among Christians themselves, for if we cannot get our own house in order, we have little hope outside the walls, so to speak. Continue reading