Tag Archives: The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews

Commentary on the Command to Fellowship: A Jewish Interpretation of Hebrews 10:23-25

Yesterday, reader ProclaimLiberty (PL) commented on how he understands the meaning of Hebrews 10:25. Later, I responded by quoting Hebrews 10:23-25 and describing how I understand those verses.

The issue is whether or not Christians can take these verses as a general commandment to enter into fellowship with other believers. That is, does Hebrews 10:25 command us to go to church?

Maybe not, at least not exactly.

PL emailed me a detailed translation and explanation of Hebrews 10:23-25 rather than post it in a blog comment because he wasn’t sure how to deal with the needed typography. I think I can represent what he wrote correctly here in WordPress and I think it’s a much-needed perspective on addressing the pesky challenge of whether or not returning to Christian fellowship should be an imperative for me. I’ll continue to review Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love The Church, but I thought this particular commentary was a worthy interlude.

Shabbat Shalom.

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@James – Maybe you’ll see a bit more of what I meant in reading the following alternative translation of the Greek text of the Hebrews 10 passage (as I take each verse through the stages of transliteration, literal translation, and colloquial rendition):

23κατέχωμεν τὴν ὁμολογίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος ἀκλινῆ, πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος:

Katechomen tin homologian tis elpidos aklini, pistos gar ‘o epangeilamenos:

Holding-tight/not-letting-go the saying/claim the [one of] expectation/anticipation [hope or fear] not declining, faithful/trustworthy for/[because of] the [ones] declaring/promising:

Let’s hang on to the claim that we anticipate unflaggingly, because those who declared it to us were trustworthy:

24καὶ κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων,

Kai kata-no-omen allilous eis paraxusmon agapis kai kalon ergon,

and consider one-another unto spurring-on [paroxysms, spasms] love/good-will and good efforts/deeds [mitzvot],

and consider how to spur one another onward in hesed and mitzvot,

25μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθος τισίν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν.

Mi egkataleipontes tin episunagogin eauton, kathos ethos tisin, alla parakalountes, kai tosouto mallon, ‘oso blephete engidzousan tin emeran.

not abandoning the gathering-together [under the same roof; around the synagogue] ourselves, just-as/seeing-that custom/ethos/habit/practice [of] some, but summoning/exhorting [one another], and so-much/all-the-more, as-far-as/how-much you see approaching the day.

Not abandoning the synagogue meetings [or the prayer minyans], as some have done, but rather calling and encouraging [one another], all the more, as you see daylight approaching.

[Note that this last phrase is an expression of hope that the situation will improve, possibly even invoking the anticipation of that “day” when Messiah ben-David will appear to set all things right.]

Note that this comes out just a bit different from the NASB rendition you cited.

As you can see, my colloquial rendition represents how I envision a modern MJ reflection of the first-century Jewish readership would perceive this passage. As I see it, the Hebrews writer was not exhorting his readers solely to hang onto their faith in Rav Yeshua as the messiah, but to continue in their Jewish praxis and to similarly encourage other beleaguered messianists to do likewise, because of the promised hope that Rav Yeshua would return to set right all the issues and persecutions they were facing, and that they would be found faithful when he came. I’ll turn your attention to a question that appears in Lk.18:8 – of which I will render the final phrase as: “But when the Son-of-Man comes, will he find faith in the Land [of Israel]?”). Note that while most English translations will say “in the earth”, rendered literally from Greek, the word reflects a cognate in Hebrew between “earth” and “aretz”, both of which may refer to the planet, to dirt, to a plot of land, or to the Land of Israel. Given Rav Yeshua’s dedicated focus on the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (cif:Mt.15:24), I infer that the Land of Israel is the intended primary focus of this question. If he will find faith anywhere on planet earth, Israel is the first place he should be expected to look. It is this question that I believe impels not only the writer of Hebrews but also my inference that the passage was intended to encourage these first-century messianists to remain solid witnesses that their trust in Rav Yeshua as messiah strengthened them as Jews and that they should share this strength and encouragement with fellow Jews who would likewise wish to be found faithful when the messiah should appear in Judgement.

ShabbatNow, extracting from this exhortation to Jews some sort of generalized principle for non-Jews raises the question about what non-Jewish affiliates should be expected to be doing while awaiting the messiah. Certainly they should be encouraging one another to do good deeds of all kinds, including their support for Jews to “be all they can be”. Of course, the practice of such encouragement is much facilitated by gathering together and interacting for fellowship, for meals, for worship, and for teaching, in whatever venues may be available. This may include virtual ones via the internet, though virtual meal-sharing is rather insipid, and it’s virtually impossible to pass the ‘humus around the table. [J] Nonetheless, one may recognize the truism that sharing such encouragement would tend to protect its participants from growing spiritually weak and falling away in apostasy, hence there is a valuable recommendation to offer against isolation. As you point out, that’s not exactly your problem, since you engage in a great deal of virtual interaction, receiving both encouraging and critical responses. The writer of Hebrews was rather far removed from any ability to comment on the merits or demerits of fellowship that lacks the benefit of ‘humus and falafel. But let’s not whine that we can’t dine together.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Bypass

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

“The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”);

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:18-28 (NASB)

Does the priesthood of Messiah cancel the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical system? The relationship between the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedekian priesthood explored in Hebrews 7:18-28.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-eight: The Bypass
Originally presented on October 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was a particularly interesting (and difficult) part of Hebrews to get through because I had to bypass (no pun intended) the traditional Christian reading (and what seems to be the plain reading) of the text and not believe that the Aaronic priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah were all weak and useless and that Jesus replaced them as a better hope in bringing us closer to God.

By his own admission, Lancaster’s “bypass” analogy is flawed and by the end of the recording, he was asking his audience to forget he had even used it. But here it is anyway.

bypassI’ll use my own location as an example. Just west of Boise is the community of Eagle, Idaho. When I first moved here nearly twenty years ago, State Street ran west out of Boise and directly through downtown Eagle. Now between Boise and Eagle, you could travel about fifty-five miles an hour but as you approached Eagle, you had to slow down considerably. This could be a pain if you were just passing through and your destination were further west.

Eventually, the highway department built a bypass. Now State Street completely avoids Eagle and folks can go fifty-five (or more), not go through Eagle at all, and get to where ever they’re going faster. Old State Street still goes through Eagle, but you have to specifically take that turnoff to get there.

Lancaster says the Aaronic priesthood is like Eagle, Idaho and that the priesthood of the Melchizedek “bypasses” it to better promises, as opposed to replacing it. Eagle is still there and still a destination. So is the Aaronic priesthood.

Yeah, it’s an imperfect metaphor. Here’s why.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:23-25 (NASB)

Why is the Aaronic priesthood considered weak, imperfect, and useless? Was it really so? Was the Torah so weak and were the sacrifices so useless? It depends. It depends on what you are using them for. If you are using the Torah to give you eternal life in the resurrection and to justify you at final, eternal judgment, then yes, they are weak and useless…because they were never designed to be used for those purposes!

To employ another metaphor of Lancaster’s, it would be like using a screwdriver instead of a hammer to pound a nail into a board.

The Aaronic priesthood had a completely different purpose and it wasn’t an eternal purpose, even though the Aaronic priesthood itself is eternal:

Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Exodus 29:8-9 (NASB)

high_priestThe priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron by statute forever. They still have a job. It will be there waiting for them when Messiah returns and builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

But…

…but, Jesus as our priest in the order of Melchizedek has a different purpose than the Aaronic priesthood and it operates in a completely different venue, in the Heavenly Court or Temple.

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

Exodus 25:8-9 (NASB)

God instructed Moses to have the Israelites build what could be described as a scale model of the Heavenly Court on Earth, the mishkan or tabernacle. If you look at the specific instructions, all of the objects of the tabernacle, right down to the priestly robes, and the proportions of the tabernacle itself were all carefully modeled on their Heavenly counterparts.

That means for everything in the tabernacle, there was a counterpart in the Heavenly Court where Yeshua (Jesus) functions as the High Priest (and if it took a whole army of Aaronic priests and Levites to serve in the tabernacle, then there must be a host of priestly angels assisting Jesus our High Priest in Heaven).

So what Jesus does in Heaven as Priest, the sons of Aaron do in the earthly tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. They are not in competition, they’re complementary. The Heavenly Court then is not a “bypass” around the earthly Temple, they exist on two separate parallel roads, and they don’t even go to the same destination. It would be like modeling one interstate freeway system on a different, similar system.

Oh, “former” priests. Verse 23 is misleading in English. The Greek doesn’t say “former”. Lancaster tells us it says something like “those who are many who have become priests.” If you look at the context, you see the major difference between the Aaronic priests and Yeshua is that the sons of Aaron, like all men, die, while Jesus, having died and been resurrected, is immortal. There were no immortal Aaronic priests in the tabernacle or Temple.

Thus, Jesus is able to intercede for us forever, not just in terms of our immortal souls and salvation at the eternal judgment, but right now, today, Jesus is praying to the Father for us.

What about verses 20 and 21 where it mentions an oath? What oath?

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4 (NASB)

Oh, that oath.

MessiahGod swore an oath that an immortal Jesus would serve perpetually in the Heavenly Court as the eternal High Priest. No human priest in the Temple in Jerusalem was immortal and God swore no oath regarding them. Their mortality and imperfections, that is, their having sinned, made them “weak” and “flawed” and “useless” for the purposes of providing perpetual forgiveness of sins before the final judgment and eternal life through the resurrection (and remember, that’s not what they were designed to do). Jesus as High Priest is indeed “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”

That’s the difference. That’s a much more consistent explanation of the comparisons and contrasts between the Aaronic and Melchizedekian priesthoods. That the latter is better doesn’t mean it replaces the former. It just means they function in different contexts and each one fulfills different job descriptions. Nearly two-thousand years of Christian interpretive tradition makes it seem otherwise.

What Did I Learn?

Just about everything. As I listened to Lancaster’s sermon, it all clicked into place, but trying to read Hebrews 7 without running it through this interpretive matrix made these passages seem terribly depressing when compared to my overall understanding of the New Covenant message.

That’s what this is all about. The “better promise” is what happens as the New Covenant enters our world and what happens when it reaches fruition. We are still in Old Covenant times. People are not perfected. We don’t have the Torah written on our hearts and our hearts have not yet been circumcised. We have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but not in its fullness so that we “know God” and obey His statues as a natural response.

Lancaster said that “perfection” refers to the resurrection and our perfected physical and spiritual states. Well, we certainly haven’t gotten that far yet.

Lancaster alluded to his What About the New Covenant lecture series which I suspect he incorporates into later sermons in his “Hebrews” series. The only way to understand Hebrews or any other part of the Apostolic Scriptures is to have a firm understanding of the New Covenant and how it works, which Lancaster provides in his New Covenant audio recordings.

Without that perspective, it is almost impossible to see the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in any accurate manner or in any way that is consistent with God keeping the promises He made to His nation Israel.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

According to Hebrews 6:1-2, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Messianic faith. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at the apostolic hope in the resurrection, distinguishing between the resurrection of the righteous and the general resurrection.

This is teaching number 25 in the Hebrews series and number 10 in special series on the elementary teachings of the Messiah. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, teaching 26 and the conclusion to the special series on the elementary teachings, titled “The Eternal Judgment,” was not recorded.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-five: The Resurrection of the Dead
Originally presented on August 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This sermon is closely tied to the previous one which I reviewed last week and continues to discuss a literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

It all starts with that empty tomb of Yeshua’s (Jesus). Why was it empty? Had Jesus risen into Heaven? No. He was physically, bodily resurrected. The same body that died, rose. He even had the same wounds.

Lancaster talked about resuscitation vs. resurrection. We have modern examples of resuscitation when a person is declared dead but then, through modern technology, resuscitated and is again alive, but that person was dead temporarily and the resuscitation is temporary. Eventually, that person will die again.

We see examples of resuscitation in the Bible such as Jesus raising Lazarus (see John 11:38-46). Jesus resuscitated Lazarus but didn’t resurrect him, otherwise Lazarus would have been immortal. At some point, he died again and, like the rest who are dead in Messiah, awaits the resurrection.

…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Romans 6:9

That’s what it means to be resurrected. That’s why Jesus is the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected to prove a point. The point is that all of God’s promises to Israel are real and literal. When God speaks of the resurrection of Israel, He’s being literal and Jesus is the proof. If we believe God proved He will fulfill the resurrection, then we can believe in all of His promises.

In the day of Jesus, the Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection but the Sadducees did not. To settle the point in Judaism once and for all (ideally), Jesus died and was resurrected. For all those who were witnesses and all those who believe through faith in the literal resurrection, that is our hope that death isn’t the end and that a just God will punish evil and reward good.

Rambam (Moses Maimonides) established believing in the resurrection as one of the thirteen principles of faith. In order to be a religious Jew, you have to believe in the resurrection, according to Maimonides.

According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, belief in the resurrection is one of the six principles of the Messianic faith.

Lancaster said that a belief in a literal, earthly resurrection has largely been rejected by the mainstream Protestant church. That’s kind of a surprise to me, but I guess if it’s common for Christians to believe they go to Heaven (and stay in Heaven forever) when they die as some sort of spirits, then a physical resurrection and a life with Jesus on Earth kind of kills the deal (no pun intended).

Lancaster goes so far as to say a Christianity that doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection is no longer Christianity, it no longer follows the Biblical faith of the Apostles.

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14

If we don’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead in the same body he originally had, and we don’t believe that we too will be raised in the same manner as Jesus, then, according to the Apostle Paul, he, and all of the apostles and disciples who had been preaching Jesus, were preaching in vain. Not only that, but our Christian faith is also in vain if we don’t believe in the resurrection.

aliveThat’s pretty strong stuff. If you believe you’re going to Heaven as a “floaty ghost” (Lancaster’s words), then your body is dead and stays dead. You have some sort of spiritual existence in Heaven but you will never have a physical existence again. If this is what you believe, then you deny the resurrection, making Paul’s preaching and your Christian faith vain and worthless.

That’s pretty horrible. There goes your hope. Poof. Up in a (spiritual) puff of smoke.

Jesus is the definitive proof of a resurrection, if you’re willing to believe. If you believe, you have hope. If not…poof.

Not only will there be a resurrection, there will be two of them. The first is what is called the resurrection of the righteous which includes the exiles from Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) and all those in Messiah (that is, the Gentiles who are in the faith). We will be gathered to the Messiah and taken to the Kingdom. That happens at the beginning of the Messianic age.

The second resurrection, also called the general resurrection, happens at the end of the Messianic age and at that time everyone will be resurrected from the dead…to be judged.

Jesus even taught about it.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

John 5:25-32

Those of us who hear the voice of the Master will be among the first resurrection because we are in him. However, not all of humanity is or will be in Messiah and those who are not in him won’t hear his voice. However, even those who are not in Messiah will hear him at the second resurrection and they will be judged by the will of God.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RestorationA word about going up into the air. We don’t stay there, according to Lancaster. This isn’t the ride to Heaven most Christians believe in. We won’t be raptured to Heaven but rather to where the presence of the King of Israel will be…to Jerusalem.

That may be disappointing or even startling to some of you reading my words. Actually, after spending so much time hearing about the rapture, it’s still a little jarring to me. What? No Heaven with Jesus? Christians I know believe that “the Church” will be raptured to Heaven for the remainder of the tribulation, and then return to Earth with Jesus to conquer the enemies of the Church and take over the world.

But that’s not what Jesus taught or Paul wrote about.

… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 4:14

The King will be in his Kingdom. His presence will be in Israel.

But how will we be raised. What will it be like?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

1 Corinthians 15:35-41

Orthodox Jews don’t cremate their dead, they always bury them. In fact, how one prepares the dead for burial and the rituals around treating the body of the dead all are built on the belief in the resurrection. A dead body is treated with great respect because it is a body that will come alive again.

jewish burialBut what about people who were cremated or suffered some fatal accident which destroyed the body? According to Paul, the body doesn’t absolutely have to be whole and intact. By using the “seed” metaphor, he suggests that all that’s required is some small, perhaps very tiny fragment of the original body. God will not be stopped in accomplishing the promise of the resurrection.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Corinthians 15:42-49

According to Lancaster’s understanding of scripture, we will be resurrected in our original bodies, warts, wounds, disabilities and all, God will heal our infirmities, and through a process we don’t understand, a process Jesus went through after his resurrection, our bodies will be transformed into immortal and indestructible bodies. In fact, all of Creation will be transformed, resurrected, so to speak, and death will be no more.

So although we mourn our loved ones who have died, it is not as if they died without hope, for in Messiah, we shall all be raised again.

My God, the soul that you placed in me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it within me, and you will ultimately lift it away from me, only to return it to me in the future to come. For the entire time that my soul is within me, I give thanks to you, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, Great One over all works, Master of all souls. Blessed are you, O LORD, who returns souls to dead bodies.

-Siddur

What Did I Learn?

As I said last week, the idea of a physical, bodily, earthly resurrection is not new to me, so no curve balls there. I did have a question of whether or not Lancaster believes that all Jewish people will be in the first resurrection or only those in Messiah, but from what I could tell on the recording, that was left somewhat ambiguous.

I’ve mentioned before in these reviews and in my reviews of Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant that it seems as if God intends to forgive the sins of all of Israel, so one way to interpret that is all Jewish people will be forgiven, redeemed, and be made righteous, and thus they will all be part of the first resurrection.

WaitingThat has problems when compared with much of Paul’s commentary about being resurrected in Messiah so I’ll reserve judgment on that issue. I don’t want to create the impression of a dual path to salvation.

Lancaster did say something interesting about how we should treat our bodies in the present age. He said we should treat them with respect and honor, doing only healthy things to our bodies. Of course, we will age or even possibly die in accidents that will be very damaging to our bodies, but the idea is that we don’t get new ones. We get the same old ones, even though they will be transformed, healed, and made immortal and indestructible.

God made our bodies as well as our spirits and even though at death, they are temporarily separated, one day they will be brought together again.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

When you go to sleep in the dust, you will also rise, just as you are, only better. You will be gathered with your King in the air and travel with him in triumph and glory to Jerusalem, City of David, as he is enthroned bodily in Israel as her King, as our King.

That last part, as I mentioned above, may throw some of you. I’ve heard this before. I’ll probably get some angry comments about it. But think about it. Would it be so bad to stay here with Jesus on Earth? Do we really have to go to Heaven first?

Oh, don’t worry about the next lecture, “The Eternal Judgment” not having been recorded. It’s covered in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles, so I’ll just review that chapter for next week.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Initiation

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

On the subject of Baptism and Instructions regarding Immersions in Hebrews 6, we look at the evidence from early Christian documents. Find out how the second-century Christians welcomed new converts into the body of Messiah. This teaching contains quotations from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, from the Didache, and from the Apostolic Constitutions. The quotations are available in the PDF document below titled “Initiation Texts.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-three: Laying on of Hands
Originally presented on July 7, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This is one of the shorter sermons in the series (barely thirty minutes long) as well as a short chapter in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles. In this sermon, Lancaster proposes to show how the basic foundational principles he has covered in previous sermons, particularly as mapped to the Didache, were carried forward in time to the second and even the third century CE, using classic Christian documents.

To review these first four principles covered so far:

  1. Repentance from dead works (sin)
  2. Faith toward God (through Messiah)
  3. Instruction about washings (elemental instructions of the faith prior to immersion in the name of Messiah)
  4. Laying on of hands (to confer discipleship and possibly the Holy Spirit)

Lancaster outlines the challenge in what he’s trying to do, since the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews felt the six principles were so basic that he didn’t bother to write them down. Neither did any of the other New Testament writers. Lancaster states that he believes Paul taught these principles orally, and that by the time the Hebrews writer was composing his letter, it was just assumed everyone knew all about this “milk”.

But we know nothing about them today since they weren’t written down in much detail, if at all.

Lancaster turns to three Christian documents to prove his point that these elemental principles were indeed carried forward in time with Christianity:

  1. Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”
  2. The Didache
  3. The Apostolic Constitutions

first apologyI’ve posted the link above to the relevant document, but here it is again. Click the link to open the PDF and you’ll find the list of documents and specific quotes Lancaster uses.

He uses these quotes to map back to the specific phrases in Hebrews 6:1-3 that list the six elementary principles.

Justin Martyr was writing around 150 CE and Lancaster paints a brief portrait of Martyr’s environment. The Bar Kochba rebellion ended in failure. Jerusalem has been destroyed, Herod’s Temple razed, and a pagan temple built on its ruins. The Jewish people have been exiled and in the midst of all that, the new religion Gentile Christianity and the original Jewish Messianic movement of “the Way” have just gone through a nasty divorce.

Martyr wrote his document, which we call “The First Apology” to the Roman Emperor as an appeal that the Empire stop persecuting Christians.

It’s Lancaster’s contention that these later Christian documents, especially the Didache, were based on much earlier writings and oral traditions going back to the second and even the first century, and perhaps even reflecting the teachings of the apostles.

Lancaster’s handout is organized as follows:

  1. Instructions before Immersion (Apostolic Constitutions 7.39.2-4)
  2. Preparing for Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61)
  3. Fasting Before Immersion (Didache 7:1-4)
  4. The Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61, Didache 7:1-3)
  5. The Investiture (Laying on of Hands) (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)
  6. Prayer for the New Disciple (Apostolic Constitutions 8.6.5-8)
  7. Breaking the Fast (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)

I won’t go into all of the details. You can read the PDF and listen to Lancaster’s sermon (only half an hour) for the details, but there are some questions.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster has a talent for pulling together information and documents from (sometimes) widely disparate sources and then attempts to make them work together. To the degree that he’s comparing ancient Christian documents, I can see where he’s going, but Lancaster admits that these are documents originating in different time periods, so care should be taken in making very close comparisons.

messianic judaism for the nationsAlso, he states that the “nasty divorce” between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentile Christians had already occurred, and except for arguably the Didache, the other two documents Lancaster is using are from the Gentile side of the equation. Why is that important? Because Lancaster’s purpose in this investigation is to uncover the practices of ancient Messianic Judaism so we can practice this way, too.

But a lot of what he introduces isn’t from, strictly speaking, Jewish sources. These are interpretations made by Christian Gentiles who, after the aforementioned “nasty divorce,” have no reason to spread any sort of love for their Jesus-believing Jewish counterparts.

In fact, quoting Paul Meier from his recent Messiah Journal article which I reviewed:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-Meier, pg 81

I’m not saying Lancaster is wrong, and he’s certainly more studied and better educated in these matters than I am, but I don’t want to get too excited about drawing firm conclusions from a little bit of documentation and a lot of supposition.

That said, I don’t know if it would hurt to add some or a lot of this structure to modern Christian practice. Think about it. As you follow the train of Lancaster’s logic and observe the linear fashion by which an ancient novice disciple of the Master is initiated, educated, and baptized into the faith, becoming a Christian in the first and second centuries was a much more formal affair than it is in Evangelical Christianity today.

The initiate had to give a great deal of serious consideration to their decision to become a disciple, study quite a bit, deeply repent of their sins, dedicate themselves to a life-long pattern of righteousness, and be willing to take a solemn vow before God prior to baptism.

Can you say that all or even most professing Christians today take their faith that seriously and were that prepared even before baptism? How many Christians today came to faith simply by raising their hand at a Christian camp meeting or answering an altar call at church? Even after years or even decades, many Christians still may just be “going with the flow” and have never come to the realization of what they’ve committed to.

This is where I see Lancaster making his point very strongly. Today, we don’t even know much about what the writer of the Book of Hebrews took for granted to be the “milk”, the “baby food”, the six elemental principles of the faith. They were so basic and so well-known, that they were never documented, at least not in any text we have with us today.

Orthodox JewsLancaster’s point, as I understand it, is that we should return to the formal seriousness and dedicated preparedness of inducting novices into true discipleship, taking time to make sure that the person is ready to enter this tremendously august relationship, and only after all that, actually proceed forward, pressing “on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

Lancaster is quite serious about rediscovering the ancient teachings and practices of Messianic Judaism as it existed in the first century and into the second, and that desire has merit, but is it do-able? All of the other ancient streams of Judaism from that era either were extinguished or progressed forward, morphing and evolving across the long centuries. What was Pharisaic Judaism in the days of Jesus and Paul is now called “Rabbinic Judaism,” although there are indeed multiple Judaisms in our day and age.

I guess I could say that Orthodox Judaism (although there is no single expression of Orthodox Judaism in modern times) is the most direct inheritor of ancient Pharisaic Judaism, but you many not be able to directly compare the two. So much has happened, the definition of practicing Judaism in Orthodox thought is quite different from how the Pharisees saw themselves.

Should we contrast modern Messianic Judaism with the ancient Jewish practice of “the Way” in the same manner? If “the Way” was most closely compared to the Pharisees in the first century, what does that say about the relationship between modern Orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism or what should it say?

I don’t know that Lancaster has set a completely achievable goal for himself and particularly for his (mostly Gentile) congregation. If he’s been lobbying for a mikvah to be built for the past several years but support hasn’t been overwhelming among his constituency, is that indicative of how difficult it is for we modern Gentiles coming out of our church experiences to fully embrace a strongly observant Jewish lifestyle?

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but even most of the Messianic Gentiles in Messianic Judaism may not be ready to take on board the full yoke of Torah, either as it was expressed in the days of Paul, or as we understand it in Orthodox Judaism today, assuming that is the model to be followed.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Instructions About Washings

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings…

Hebrews 6:1-2 (ESV)

Hebrews 6:1-3 identifies “instructions about washings” as one out of six fundamental, elementary teachings about the Messiah. Does this refer to Baptism? Learn about the Jewish practice of immersion in a mikvah and discover evidence of early, apostolic-era catechism prior to immersion.

Includes a short introduction to the Didache.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-one: Instructions About Washings
Originally presented on June 22, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Instructions about washings (plural). After a brief summary of the first two elementary principles, “Repentance from dead works” and “Faith toward God,” Lancaster continues with the third, “Instructions about washings”. This is often considered in normative Christianity to refer to baptism and easily dismissed as such. The King James Version of the Bible even renders the phrase as “the doctrine of baptisms,” but…

The translators of the English Standard Version, like many Bible scholars, recognized that the Greek word “baptismon” does not sound as if it’s talking about Christian baptism, because it appears in the plural form, whereas Christians are baptized only once. Furthermore, in other places in the New Testament, the word “baptismos” refers to ceremonial purification rituals of immersion in a mikvah. Several scholars looked at this passage and said, “I don’t think he’s talking about Christian baptism. I think he’s talking about Jewish purity rituals.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 5: Instruction About Washings,” pg 64
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity

This book leverages much of the material from Lancaster’s sermons on these elementary principles from his “Hebrews” series and is a good companion to use with these audio recordings.

Here we learn that it is highly likely that these “immersions” mentioned in Hebrews 6:2 do not reference the modern Christian concept of baptism, since a Christian is only baptized once and the Greek word used in the text is clearly plural. It is more likely that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is talking about Jewish ritual purity rites using the mikvah, since the writer (according to Lancaster) is a Jew writing to other Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua.

Lancaster presents some historical and archeological information regarding ancient immersion pools in the late Second Temple period to illustrate that it was extremely common for Jews to immerse on any number of occasions for the purpose of ritual purity, including participation in Temple sacrifices.

He also takes this opportunity to go on a small “rant” about how Christianity has fundamentally misunderstood the nature and character of baptism, and he ran through a litany of things that he believes the Church has gotten all wrong (he was talking too fast for me to take notes, so if you want to hear his reasons, you’ll have to listen to the recording). I don’t think Lancaster was trying to “diss” the Christian Church so much as he was being passionate about what he sees as the truth of the early history of Jesus-believing Judaism and how it’s been distorted by subsequent Gentile Christianity.

mikvahAs an aside, Lancaster has been lobbying to build a mikvah at Beth Immanuel for the last seven years (eight years as of this writing) but there hasn’t been much of a response. That reminded me of something I just read in Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. Often, when a Chabad family moves into an area without an Orthodox Jewish presence, their first and overriding priority is to build a mikvah, particularly for the use of the Rabbitzin in relation to the laws of ritual family purity. The reaction from the local Jewish community to the Chabad’s fundraising efforts to build a mikvah (and they’re not cheap) is just as lukewarm. What does Lancaster and the Chabad know about the mikvah that the rest of us don’t, or is that a sad question to ask as connected to “elementary principles” of our faith?

So, what were these “instructions about immersions?” How to build a mikvah? The mechanics of how to baptize? At one point, Lancaster might have said “yes”, but then he realized how “dumb” an answer that was…a typical “Goy” answer.

Jews would have been already well acquainted with the rituals surrounding the mikvah, the occasions when one had to engage in ritual purity rites and so forth. This wasn’t a mystery. While Gentiles may have needed those sort of instructions, they would have been less than useless to the Jewish believers.

Lancaster shared his own revelation. When reading a commentary on this part of the Book of Hebrews, he learned that these instructions about immersions could be referred to as “Catechetical Instructions for Conducting the Baptismal Rite.”

When I was a pre-teen and into mid-teens, my parents regularly took me to a Lutheran church. Lutheran churches, like Catholic churches, put their young people into a two-year Confirmation class where we studied Catechism, which according to Wikipedia is “a summary or exposition of doctrine and served as a learning introduction to the Sacraments traditionally used in catechesis, or Christian religious teaching of children and adult converts.”

That’s what Lancaster thinks these “instructions about immersions” are. Not directions on how to immerse or baptize, but the very basic instructions a new believer had to know before being immersed in the name of the Messiah as a full disciple.

Lancaster than referenced the best known ancient “catechism” we have access to: the Didache.

Last fall, I read and wrote about First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Toby Janicki’s article “The Didache: An Introduction” published in Messiah Journal. Since then, I purchased a copy of the Didache along with a commentary and wrote several blog posts on the topic which can be found here.

While Lancaster isn’t saying the Didache we have is the actual set of instructions being referred to in Hebrews 6:2, they may very well be related. It’s clear that the Didache was written for new Gentile “novices” in Yeshua-discipleship in order to prepare them to be immersed into Messiah by being initiated in the teachings of the Master. These instructions may have begun as oral instructions that accompanied the delivery of the Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter” to the various Jesus-believing Gentile communities in the diaspora.

Didache CodexI should mention here that as Lancaster correctly states, the Didache’s initial discovery prompted accusations of forgery and fraud, since the document didn’t match the theology and doctrine of any Christian denomination and was seen as “too Jewish”. But today, most Christian scholars admit that the document most likely originated within one or two decades of the destruction of Herod’s Temple, written probably by Jewish disciples of Jesus for newly minted Gentile disciples. As I mentioned though, these written instructions could well have been preceded by an oral equivalent and could possibly have first come from the apostles themselves.

However, the Jewish disciples may have required a similar, parallel set of instructions to familiarize them with the teachings of Messiah and what it is to be a Jew preparing for a lifelong commitment to “take up their cross” and follow Moshiach, even unto death.

So look at it like this.

The newly initiated Jewish believers were first taught the very elementary principles of Yeshua-faith starting with repentance from dead works (sin) and then faith toward God as specific to Messianic devotion. Once they had mastered those first two principles, they were ready for the third, the basic instructions required for them to prepare to be immersed into the name of Messiah, which constitutes a vow of eternal fidelity.

Jewish people would immerse in the mikvah an untold number of times over the course of a lifetime, so immersing for ritualistic reasons was hardly novel. However, John specifically practiced an immersion of repentance (Matthew 4:17, Acts 19:4) and the Master commanded another specific immersion:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (emph. mine)

Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)

The immersion in the name of Messiah fits in perfectly with what the Church calls “the Great Commission” but put back into a Jewish context, the ritual immersion in Messiah’s name makes a great deal more sense.

Jewish ConversionFor Lancaster, and I agree with him, a serious time of preparation must have been thought necessary before formally becoming a disciple of the Master. This was probably quite similar to the proselyte ritual process Gentiles experienced when converting under other Jewish sects. Even today, a Gentile converting to Judaism, particularly Orthodox Judaism, undergoes a time of intense preparation and study under the supervision of a Rabbi, and must past several tests before becoming circumcised (for males) and immersing in the mikvah as the final rite in becoming a Jew.

It seems very reasonable to believe that in ancient Yeshua-faith, the Gentile “converts” were required to undergo a similar procedure, although I’m sure there were exceptions (Acts 8:25-40, Acts 10:44-48).

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?

Luke 14:17-28 (NASB)

What Did I Learn?

Actually, I felt there were things Lancaster only hinted at in his sermon. If he believes the Christian Church has gotten baptism all wrong, particularly as far as only being baptized once, what other applications might there be for immersion among the body of believers? I’m sure that Messianic Jewish disciples of the Master could and would immerse for the same reasons as other observant Jews, but what about the “Messianic Gentiles?” If we immerse in the name of Messiah once, on what other occasions should Gentiles enter the mikvah?

It had never occurred to me to apply Matthew 28:19-20 to Hebrews 6:2 but now it makes a great deal of sense to connect the two scriptures. I’m sure an entire study could be done applying what we think of as “baptism” in Christianity to ancient and modern concepts of immersion in the mikvah.

This also made me think of my own immersion. In August 1999, my entire family was immersed, under the auspices of a local Hebrew Roots congregational leader, in the Boise River. The following month, my life started to dramatically fall apart in such a spectacular manner that it would take years for me and my family to recover.

My interpretation is that God takes immersion into the name of Messiah quite seriously, even if the people being immersed don’t know what they’re doing (and I certainly didn’t). God delivered the consequences of my ill-conceived decision directly into my lap and it wasn’t pleasant at all. A lot of re-writing of my script had to be done and it’s not finished yet, not by a long shot. The finger of God is still writing on my heart and slowly converting it from a thing of stone to a heart of beating flesh and blood.

How many churches prepare their people with a dedicated set of instructions and tutelage before determining they are ready for this level of life-long commitment? I know in the church I attend there is some sort of formal preparation, but I fear for the sake of the children, some age nine and younger, who are deemed ready to understand what it is to count the cost, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus, even unto death. How could you be nine years old and possibly comprehend who you’re vowing to obey and what the consequences will be?

child baptismLancaster says he believes our churches are filled with “false converts,” people, like me, who consent to being baptized without any real idea of what that truly means. We have very few formal vows in Christianity left. The one you most likely think of is the wedding vow, but the staggering divorce rate in the Church indicates even that one is not well understood.

When we consent to being immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit of God, we had better know what we’re doing, and if we haven’t been prepared adequately for the commitment, then even though we are acting out of ignorance, God will hold us accountable.

Lancaster believes we should return to instructing new believers in the elemental principles of our faith which might include some familiarity with the Didache or something patterned after it. I think he’s right. People declare Christ as Lord and Savior and are baptized in his name far too casually in our day. I think thousands upon thousands of people in the Church are in a lot of trouble and don’t even realize it.