Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunday law, church and shopping in Prince Edward Island

Do you remember when the law was changed that allowed Walmart, Superstore and my bike repair shop to start  opening up on Sundays? In Ontario in the early 1990s, I can remember being invited to church-sponsored rallies to demonstrate against Sunday openings of our grocery stores. Many churches were very concerned about shopping on Sundays and the secularization of our society. It was actually on April 24, 1985 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that “the Lord's Day Act violated Canadians' freedom of religion… This law—the Lord's Day Act—prevented non-Christians from performing otherwise legal activities on Sundays” (“Sunday Shopping,” Wikipedia).  The court found this to be inconsistent with the then-new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over several years this has played out in the provinces of Canada, each in some way moving toward removing restrictions from Sundays. This week, I was surprised to discover that it’s still playing out in Canada’s smallest (and in some ways, most traditional) province, Prince Edward Island. 

Regis and Kelly Live from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (July 12, 2010)Regis and Kelly made PEI famous this summer by hosting their show, live from the island for four days. On the first day in PEI, July 12, Live with Regis and Kelly scored its most-watched in Canada episode ever! Almost one million viewers watched Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa being marched onto stage by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Very cool! Now, when Regis and Kelly were there on Sunday, July 11 before taping, most stores and shops were open to tourists! Yes, stores open on Sunday! So what’s being debated in the PEI Legislature now? Here’s the deal. Prince Edward Island had previously partially removed restrictions on Sunday shopping, a kind of compromise position. Stores were permitted to open after 12 noon from the Sunday before Victoria Day (late May) until Christmas Eve, but for the other 5 months of the year they were to be closed.

novideo On Tuesday this week, Olive Crane, the Leader of the Conservative Opposition in the PEI Legislature, introduced a bill to remove the remaining restrictions, giving businesses the power to decide for themselves what to do on Sundays. As you watch this news video, perhaps you can join me in remembering when this issue mattered so much that we were involved in the debate…

“I can’t open the Bible and say, ‘Thou shalt not shop on Sunday.’”

The pastor in the news report is correct. There is no Scriptural support for Christians to oppose shopping on Sundays. Back in the 1980s and 90s, it seems to me that we in the church were opposed to it because we viewed Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” and many understood that to mean that it was a day of rest, essentially the Old Testament Sabbath moved from the seventh day, Saturday, to the day of post-resurrection worship of Christ, the first day, Sunday. This is not what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath. I see no indication in the New Testament that the Sabbath practices of the OT were to be transferred from Saturday to Sunday. But at that time in the 1990s, we feared that the church was losing its place in society, that secularization was happening rapidly and Ontario was about to leave behind its Christian heritage. In retrospect, I think we were misguided because Sunday is not the Sabbath nor does the NT ever describe it as a day of rest.

Prince Edward Island banks over the Northumberland Strait

It is clear that Christians were gathered together on the day of the resurrection of Jesus—Sunday. And it’s also clear from the New Testament, that Christians continued to gather every Sunday after that day (John 20:19, 26). On the Day of Pentecost (seven Sundays later), while they were gathered together the Holy Spirit was given and the church was born (Acts 2:1-4). Did you know that Christians actually renamed the first day of the week? They started calling it “The Lord’s Own Day” (κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ / Kuriake h’amera) or simply “The Lord’s Own.” This new name for the first day occurs just one time in the New Testament, Revelation 1:10, but it is used frequently in early Christian writings. So, for example, around AD 100, Ignatius wrote an Epistle to the Magnesians, saying “We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Own Day instead” (9:1). And to present day, Christians continue to gather together on Sundays to worship our Risen Lord. Now, historically, some churches adopted Sabbath-like regulations for this day, making it a day of rest, but this was not biblically-mandated. Indeed, Romans 14:5-6a claims that there is freedom to make these kinds of choices on a personal level, “Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike.Vintage Royal Bank of Canada metal calendar Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord.” But when it comes down to arguments about Saturday vs. Sunday and such, Colossians 2:16-17 takes the matter further, saying, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

This “reality found in Christ” is not the OT Sabbath being moved from one day to another. No way! By biblical definition, the Sabbath is the seventh day—Saturday, a day of rest under the law of Moses. But as with the Passover, Pentecost and other special holy days of the old covenant, the Sabbath was a type or “a shadow of the things that were to come,” something which would find greater fulfillment in the new covenant. What was the OT Sabbath pointing toward? The writer of Hebrews explores this greater fulfillment, explaining that the Sabbath pointed toward the rest of God, and now, in Jesus, we are invited to that rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore make every effort to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:9-11a). We enter it not once per week, but as a new way of living in time. Our experience of Christ changes all of our days. All of our time in Christ is to be lived differently now. The very way that we experience time is now being transformed, so that we are people who live more for the moment than for the minute. Sunday worship helps to ground me and remind me who I worship and connect me with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but every day now is sacred time to be lived doing the will of Christ.
Regis and Kelly return home to New York with all their PEI tourist memorabiliaOne day a week is simpler, but Christ calls us to enter into his rest, 24/7. Jesus invites us to follow him into a whole new lifestyle. How will I live each and every day to his glory? How do I move from praying "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer to actually doing it? Prince Edward Island Christians will now face this same challenge of not allowing the daily rat race of so invading every minute of our lives that we forget who we are and and whom we follow. Eugene Peterson shows a great understanding of Romans 12:2 in The Message, when he paraphrases, “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Many Islanders will still have Sunday off, a day set apart to be reminded of who we are in Christ and where he's leading us in life. But with or without that day off, faithfulness to Christ means learning to live all of our time in Christ, in his rest. So the passing of this bill cannot destroy our faith, unless we allow it to.

PEI has caught up with Nova Scotia, the other Canadian provinces and the 1985 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada.  We may really like the idea of everything shutting down for one day of the week—I know I do, but there is no specifically Christian or theological basis for mandating this.  Even if there were, on what basis would we impose our Christian practice on all of society, our multicultural society? What will really make a difference in our society is not Christians imposing a weekly day off on society, but Christians living for Christ 24/7PEI flag, seeking him daily and daily attempting to do his will and live as Jesus himself would live. Prince Edward Island will not suddenly slide into decadence because businesses can now choose to be open on Sundays. Look what Regis and Kelly did for the island this summer—people are still talking about it!  Imagine what the Christians of PEI could do if together they started living out their faith not just on Sunday or Saturday, but every day of every week. Prince Edward Island could be renewed, a place where Christ could be found in Canada: Parva sub ingenti (“the small under the protection of the Great”).

Click here for interaction with Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs on the Sabbath, Sunday and the National Sunday Law NOTE: Originally this post also included interaction with Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs about the Sabbath, Sunday and the Sunday law. This interaction has been moved to a better place in the Comments section where it will actually allow for discussion and interaction. If you understand the Seventh-Day Adventism position or you are a Seventh-Day Adventist, I welcome your interaction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shakespeare or Scripture: Can you tell which is which?

King James and Shakespeare How close is the language of the King James Version of the Bible to the language of the works of Shakespeare?

Very close.

Shakespeare wrote his great works during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of UK). In fact, King James became a patron of the bard who renamed his acting crewing “The King’s Men.”

This is, of course, the same King James who authorized a new translation of the Scriptures into Elizabethan English. Wild speculative rumours suggest that William Shakespeare even helped in the translation. Did the bard encode his name into his translation of Psalm 46? (Count to the 46th word, “shake,” then count from the end of the psalm back to the 46th word, “spear,” then tell me what you make of that.) Personally, I doubt it. There is a lack of any solid historical evidence for Shakespeare being on the KJV translation team. But, still, since the King James Version of the Bible was composed during the same era as the great plays of Shakespeare, it can be hard discern whether a particular phrase is from Shakespeare or from the Scriptures. Don’t believe me? Try this quiz: The Bible or the Bard?The Bible or the Bard? 
Be sure to post your score in the Comments section! I scored 90% ;)  See what you can do. You might be surprised as just how tough it is!

And there’s the point I want to make… There’s a lot to be said for clarity. The King James Version is too old to be useful today. We need to hear God speak to us clearly through his Word and thus we need a good contemporary translation written in today’s English. We should not expect God to speak to us today in the 400 year-old language of Shakespeare which most of us had a tough enough time with in high school English! God has called able men and women to produce good contemporary translations of the Scriptures. I look forward to the updated NIV. In the meantime, take the quiz and post your score! :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From the King James Version of the Bible to Today’s NIV: There’s a lot to be said for clarity

Recently I asked my good friend Andy if he might be willing to share on this blog his experience of discovering the benefits of reading Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible. Hear him out. I love what Andy says about this experience.

Shakespeare-presented-to-Queen-Elizabeth-I Andy: Having always maintained the King James Version was the Bible for me, I had been using it for forty years and was very reluctant to accept any other version until I was introduced to the TNIV—no small chore I might add. In conversing with a chap via email, I found my friend, Ken, always quoted from the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). I in turn used the KJV but this friend kept challenging me to try the TNIV and at times got into some serious debate regarding scriptural passages. I decided I would use the TNIV to back up my position on several issues just to prove that I was as comfortable in either version. 

Ken: Plus, Andy may have gotten tired of me replying to his emails by asking if he always spoke in Elizabethan English or if he only sounded that way when he was typing emails which included quotes from the KJV. Was he debating me or Shakespeare? If me, then I wanted to let him know that while I could understand his old English, it seemed odd to me. I’d ask Andy if he really was old enough to speak this archaic form of English. For me this issue comes down to a simple principle. I believe there’s a lot to be said for clarity.

Ken: I think my friend Andy would agree—there’s a lot to be said for clarity. Sometimes reading the Bible may leave us puzzling like the man in the Clarica commercial, but I don’t think we should be puzzling over what the English words mean. Let’s puzzle over what God’s Word meant back then and what it means to us today. In trying to show me he could be just as comfortable in the TNIV as in the KJV, I think Andy may have discovered that even he was more comfortable in today’s English.  And in my mind, that only makes sense. Even Shakespearean scholars do not go about their daily lives speaking Elizabethan English.

Glasses-on-BibleAndy: Since then I have purchased two copies of the TNIV so my wife and I would be on the same page when we have our devotions. We are very near completing the OT and look forward to commencing with the NT. One major note is that it is much easier reading in 21st century English.
    I have encouraged another friend of mine to obtain a copy of the TNIV as well. I highly recommend the TNIV to complement any serious Bible student’s library and not to gather dust but make use of it for study. This now is my study Bible even though when I read passages in it, I keep my KJV handy for reference.

Ken: After 40 years of use, I understand this, but I also know that Andy presents his ideas from Scripture with greater clarity and precision today. I’m very happy for Andy and his wife. God’s Word was not ever meant to sound “old.” God speaks to us in our own language and idiom. When you think about this, it really is odd that we would expect God to speak to us only in Elizabethan era English. From every indication we have in the Bible, God spoke the language of the people of the day: the Hebrew of Genesis is different than the Hebrew of Habakkuk, certainly different than the Aramaic chapters of Daniel, and the Greek of John’s Gospel is markedly different than the Greek of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The King James Only movement seems to misunderstand the very nature of language: it is always changing. And good Bible translation is always about making God’s Word clear in today’s language.

Before you go out and buy a new TNIV Bible like my friend Andy, I should let you know there’s big news. The TNIV is out of print (discounted sales possible) and so is the NIV. Why? They are about to publish the NIV 2011, but they’d prefer we just call it an updated NIV (which I suspect is actually a revised and updated TNIV). Here’s part of what the Committee on Bible Translation had to say about this updated NIV:

Click here for an excellent video introducing the updated NIV by Doug Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation Since its first emergence as a complete text in 1978, the New International Version (NIV) has stood as the modern pioneer of a different approach — an approach that mirrors the balance of priorities held by the KJV translators four hundred years ago. The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. The NIV is founded on the belief that if hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant were the hallmarks of the original reading experience, then accuracy in translation demands that neither one of these two criteria be prioritized above the other.

Built upon this philosophy, the NIV has experienced much the same reaction in the church and beyond as its beloved predecessor whose values it seeks to emulate. Thirty years after its first publication there are more than four hundred million NIV Bibles in print.

But, unlike its predecessor, the NIV was designed from the very start with a built-in mechanism to defy the attritional effects of time. Since 1978, the NIV translation team has continued to meet, year after year, reviewing developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage — revising the translation to ensure that it continues to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience, and periodically releasing those revisions in updated editions of the text… A lengthy revision process was completed in 2005, resulting in the separately published Today’s New International Version (TNIV). The new 2011 updated NIV builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it if they had been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.

BibleGatewayThe new updated NIV won’t be available in print until 2011, but you can check it out now at Bible Gateway.  You’ll find that from this point on at this blog, I will be quoting from the NIV by default, except as always, I will quote from an alternative translation when I feel it captures the sense of the passage better. I take seriously the responsibility to always do my best to make clear what God’s Word is really saying to us. In light of what Andy has shared with us, I look forward to the positive impact the updated NIV will have on people today.

What are your thoughts on Bible translations? Has anyone else made the move from the King James Version to NIV or TNIV or NLT? If you want to know more about my evaluation of Bible translations for today, please see my post Fresh Strawberries.
Andy has indicated that he would be happy to respond to any comments as would I.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can we be faithful in a world like this?

Did you happen to hear the Old Testament reading from the Revised Common Lectionary on Sunday? It’s a really good reading for someone like me who spends everyday at work analyzing the daily news. Something has definitely gone wrong in this world! That’s why the Bible has a form of writing called lament, so that we may respond to injustice of the world in which we live. The lament read in a lot of churches this past Sunday was from Habakkuk 1:1-4 (Australian paraphrase by Nathan Nettleton,

My name is Habakkuk and I am a prophet. I went to God seeking an explanation for the way things are.

For crying out loud, LORD!
........How long will it be before you listen?

Law-and-Order-logoHow long do I have to scream blue murder
........before you come to the rescue?

Why do you make me witness so much evil?
........Why am I forced to see such things?

Everywhere I look: violence and carnage;
........fighting and madness on every side.

Law and order are out the window;
........justice is a joke.

The corrupt ride roughshod over decent people,
........and twisted laws protect them as they do.

Doesn’t it sound like Habakkuk just wrote this last weekend? Doesn’t this describe our world today? As faithful people, don’t we find ourselves facing the same dilemma as Habakkuk—unanswered prayers for the healing of our society? I cannot believe that an Ontario court overturned the prostitution laws. These women are being victimized; no one grows up wanting to be hooker selling herself on the street. Overturning these laws will push society toward viewing the hiring of another person for sex to be socially acceptable. With the laws in place, and the police carrying out john raids it was clear that the hiring of a prostitute was wrong and socially unacceptable. This is but one example. I see constantly the difference that money makes in legal defence. It’s not right that people serve more jail time for lack of expensive legal representation. When the government is caught lying to the public, why do their numbers still go up in the polls? …and so much more is just not right in this world.

There is a part two to this lectionary reading from Habakkuk; it’s God’s response to the prophet’s lament, from chapter 2:1-4 (v1 from laughingbird but vv2-4 were a too Australian so I’ve used the New Living Translation):

So what have you got to say, LORD?
........I’m not budging from this spot until you answer.
I’m going to stand right here, all eyes and ears,
........until you respond to my complaint.

Then the Lord said to me, 
   “Write my answer plainly on tablets,
      so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.
      It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
   If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
      for it will surely take place.
      It will not be delayed.
“Look at the proud!
      They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.
      But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.

That vision is the new heaven and the new earth. God is going to make everything right. We know this because he’s already sent his Son, our Lord and Saviour. In him we can be made right with God, reconciled and redeemed. We know that God is working toward good in our world. There is a definite time at which the vision will be completely fulfilled.

Again, I say Habakkuk is so fresh, this message could’ve been preached last Sunday! We too live in this time between the vision of the future and its fulfillment, the already, but not yet. So how do we get by? We may cry out in lament, just like the prophet. We may mourn the wrongness of things in this world. We might get pretty frustrated at times. But what’s the answer that Habakkuk is given?

Trust the vision that God has given, a new heaven and a new earth, all things brought together in Christ, no more tears, no more pain. That day is coming. People who believe in such a future do their best to approximate it and live it now. Already we experience so much of God’s grace and redemption in our lives.Church-small-group In community with other believers, we can experience Jesus himself in our midst. We know that better day is coming—we experience moments of it, glimmers when God is so real and peace floods our worried souls. Our goal, says Habakkuk, is to ‘live by our faithfulness to God.’ Yes, this is the verse made famous in the New Testament by Paul and in the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther, “The just shall live by faith.” But, I dare to say that we can understand its meaning better in what we’ve just read from Habakkuk. Romans 1:17 as it is commonly preached misses the breadth of what is being described in Habakkuk 2:4. The just (the righteous) or the person in right standing (or good relationship) with God will live by their faithfulness to God. One of the preachers (and authors) who made the Old Testament come alive to me, Elizabeth Achtemeier, explained that “faithfulness here means trust, dependence, clinging to God; it means living and moving and having one’s being in him alone; it means relying on him for the breath one draws, for the direction one takes, for the decisions one makes, for the goals one sets, and for the outcome of one’s living.” In short, “faithfulness is life by God’s power rather than by one’s own.”

Habakkuk sees only two options for us, the way of self with its heartbreak and emptiness, or the way of faithfulness with its dependence on God. Life can be tough because things are so messed up all around us. Prayers of lament can help us give voice to the frustration we experience when we conclude that God is not showing up in this crisis or when we question how God could let this happen. Sometimes some of us in the church are too quick to dissuade people from raising these questions or expressing these frustrations. So Peter Craigie explored this tendency, comparing it with what he saw being expressed in the writing of Habakkuk. I think you’ll find his explanation to be very helpful:

Faithfulness requires a continuation in the relationship with God, even when experience outstrips faith and the purpose in continuing to believe is called into question.The sometimes contradictory "knowledge" which some believers share with us actually seems to get us nowhere. The life of faith does not require reason and knowledge to be abandoned, as Habakkuk’s persistent questioning makes clear.  But the life of faith may require continuing belief, even though reason and knowledge have long since been exhausted. We cannot always understand either God’s action or his seeming lack of action. Nevertheless, if the relationship is secure, we can continue in the path of faith even when the road of knowledge has become a cul-de-sac.

I believe it is this kind of faithfulness to God that Paul had in mind when he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17, “the righteous will live by faithfulness.” It fits very well with what he goes on to argue in Romans 1 about the corruption of society (hmm, kinda sounds like Habakkuk’s lament). Unfortunately Paul has been misunderstood here to the point that it sounds like he is saying something very different than the prophet Habakkuk. I can’t accept that. Paul is tapping into something here bigger than just “justification by faith” and how that is typically presented. Paul understood the Scriptures and he understood that we find ourselves like Habakkuk, trusting the vision but living in a world gone wrong. The vision is being fulfilled in Christ; we are the firstfruits; we live in the tension of the already but not yet. The world is still a mess all around us, but we also live in a kingdom of people being redeemed by the Lord. We can live abundant lives though the vision may not yet be fulfilled. The prophet and the apostle call us to trust the vision and live faithfully to God.

For more on Habakkuk, see:
Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi Interpretation Bible Commentary (Atlanta: John Knox, 1986); quote in post from p46.

Peter Craigie, Twelve Prophets Vol. 2 The Daily Bible Study Series (Louisville: John Knox, 1985); quote in post from 93.


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