Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Redemptive Almsgiving

The doctrine of redemptive almsgiving states that giving money to the poor provides a ransom for sin. This idea, implicit in the writings of Luke and also Paul, were boldly advocated by the Apostolic Fathers.

2nd Clement 16.4 states: “Almsgiving is therefore good as repentance from sin. Fasting is better, but almsgiving is better than both. Love covers a multitude of sins but prayer from a good conscience rescues from death. Blessed is every man who is found full of these things for almsgiving lightens sin.

Didache 4.5-6 states: “Do not be one who stretches out his hands to receive, but shut them when it comes to giving. Of whatever you have gained by your hands, you shall give a ransom for your sins.

Barnabas 19.10 states: “You shall remember the day of judgment day and night and you shall seek the face of the saints either laboring by speech and going out to exhort, and striving to save souls by the word, or working with your hands for the ransom of your sins. You shall not hesitate to give and when you give you shall not grumble

. . . .

Origen, Cyprian and Chrysostom all cite Luke 11:41 as proof-text to support the doctrine that almsgiving redeems sin.

This doctrine is inconsistent with the belief structure of Christians that Jesus died for our sins. Why is it that the atonement provided by the death of Jesus was replaced in the writings of some Apostolic Fathers by redemptive almsgiving?

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Exit polls

“Sticks and bones can break my bones

but words can never hurt me.”

The Pennsylvania exit polls have demonstrated that this nursery rhyme may not be accurate. Words may not break bones but they do hurt one’s feelings. Gun owners and those who regularly attend church flocked to the polls and supported with their ballots the opponent of the person who called small town people “bitter.” The day before the primary election, Stuart Rothenberg noted many Democrats have been elected to the U. S. Congress with the strong support of these conservatives including four member of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.

I was more interested in the significance of the Pennsylvania exit polls for those individuals crafting strategies for growing churches.

Copyrighted 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bitter Water

One US Senator wrote a book, the title of which is memorable. Unfortunately I have not read the book. Perhaps, if I did, I would understand why the author of The Audacity of Hope would refer to people in my State as bitter voters. It seems such a contradiction that I was hoping that perhaps I only heard a sound bite out of context. Yet even in the backpedaling no explanation was forthcoming. I guess this US Senator only meant to offer hope to those persons who read his book and did not mean to offer hope to those who supported his candidacy.

The campaign will become bitterer before the water is sweet.

Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"I will make you a community of peoples"

Only the New International Version correctly translates this verse appearing in Genesis 48:4 (NIV) consistent with the MT. I did not recognize the verse utilized by Pastor Dan in the brochure because neither the KJV nor the RSV uses the word “community.”

What is a community of peoples? What do we mean when we use this phrase in our brochure? The proposed revision answers these questions:

“We invite you to the community ordained by the Word and established by people who want to experience with you acceptance and belonging in God’s community of love. In this way, we believe we will become, with your help, a community of peoples.”

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rabbi Judah the Patriarch

While Pope Gregory[1] was codifying the ecclesiological practice, the change in the ecclesiological practice made by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (135-220 C.E.) was loosening the binds. The close commonality of the two faiths was about to end as the new faith sought to distinguish itself from its sibling. What did Rabbi Judah the Patriarch do or say that was so unusual?

Rabbi [Judah the Patriarch] said: “The Day of Atonement atones for all of the transgressions in the Torah, whether or not one has done penance, except for [the following cases]: one who throws off the yoke [of the Law entirely], one who [willfully and wrongly] interprets Torah and one who removes circumcision. In these cases, if he has repented then the Day of Atonement atones, if not, the Day of Atonement does not atone.[2]

Rabbi Judah the Patriarch rejected the view that Yom Kippur gives atonement only to repentant sinners. “Rabbi Judah is of the opinion that the power of atonement is greater than the power of repentance. ‘Repentance needs Yom Kippur; Yom Kippur does not need repentance.’”[3]

In discussing the Enigma of the Prodigal Son, I said that the younger son has repented simply by returning home. In the parable nothing more is required. Jesus has redefined the prevailing view of repentance. There is no longer a requirement that penitence be visibly demonstrated to be effective. Those who created the canonical and the penitential systems did not understand the true meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Rabbi Judah the Patriarch did.

Copyrighted 2008

[1] Bishop of Rome from September 3, 590 until his death, March 12, 604 CE.

[2] b Yoma 85b.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations, quoting b Yoma 85b, 87a.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blame it on Eli

Some people had too much time on their hands so much that they have to create elaborate categories of sins and detailed tables of penance. This was necessary since the ecclesiological practice of both the synagogue and the early church required confession and provided the means to penance. Who would have thought that the redefinition of sins and atonements would have such impact?

Part of the problem was attributable to Eli, the priest, whose filial lecture recognized only two categories of sins. Eli had said: “If a person sins against man, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord who can intervene for him?”

Man being creative in the ways he sinned soon had to recognize more categories for transgressions being careful to be flexible enough that most miscreants could live with their sanctions. However, no matter how imprecise the boundaries, there was always a need to “cut off” those who committed mortal sins.

High-handed v. unwitting; conscious v. unconscious; death by human hand v. death by God’s hand; remissible v. irremissible; capitalia v. mortalia; and the list goes go.

Blaming Eli for recognizing only two categories of sins does not address the more important question. Does the forgiveness of sin require the sinner to do penance?

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jealous Competition with the Muslims

The continuing uproar in the Muslim community over a Danish cartoon strip did not appear to make any sense. However the theory with respect to jealous competition between religious groups may help us understand the dispute by providing the missing information. When groups compete for members among same group of prospects or obtain members from the other via conversion, there usually is a reaction. This reaction may be experienced in same area as the success or in another area.

There was a period of time when certain products could only be purchased in certain regional markets. When the product was offered outside the regional market, competition was stiff as the product in the invaded market responded aggressively to the new product. The same may be true for religious groups as it is for Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme Donuts.

For a long time, Muslims only lived in Muslims countries. Recently we see the growth of Islam in many countries which in the past had not experienced the Muslim presence. The response in this instance was natural. Religious groups which had not previously had a missionary presence in Muslim countries increased their outreach programs. We can argue which came first but the result is the same. As religious diversity increases in the Western countries, someone is bound to ask the question why there is no religious diversity in the Muslim countries and what can be done.

Proselytizing of Muslims is forbidden in most of the Islamic world. The Islamic world is truly obsessed with conversions. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is considered an act of apostasy that merits death. At least 7 Islamic countries apply the death penalty to those who convert from Islam: Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Mauritania.

There is a problem with conversion numbers which should be stated. In the Islamic world, government issued identity cards state the religion of the cardholder. It is very difficult if not impossible to change the religion on the card from Islam to Christianity. Therefore these numbers are disputed.

The following chart is based upon the article by Joel Rosenberg of the Joshua Fund. It provides some remarkable statistics regarding the number of Muslims in these countries compared to earlier point in time:


2001 2008

17 10,000


1990 2008

Zero 30,000


1979 2008

Handful 70,000+


1991 2008

3 100,000



. . . .1,000,000+


1979 2008

500 1,000,000+


. . . . 2008

. . . .5,000,000+

“In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, a leading Saudi cleric, appeared on a live interview on Aljazeera satellite television to confirm that, sure enough, Muslims were turning to Jesus in alarming numbers. ‘In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity,’ Al Qataani warned. ‘Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity.’ Stunned, the interviewer interrupted the cleric. ‘Hold on! Let me clarify. Do we have six million converting from Islam to Christianity?’ Al Qataani repeated his assertion. ‘Every year,’ the cleric confirmed, adding, ‘a tragedy has happened.’” Joel Rosenberg at the Joshua Fund

THE BIG (UNTOLD) STORY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Muslims converting to faith in Jesus Christ in record numbers — 2008 Update by Joel Rosenberg at the Joshua Fund

Christianity is expanding all across the Third World becoming a truly global religion. In the recent past, the various religious groups constituting Christianity have refrained from evangelizing in countries with an Islamic majority and being quiet about the reality of conversions in Christian countries. The conversion of Magdi Allam, who was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI at Easter, is the confirmation that the policy of restraint has changed.

The impetus for the Vatican policy change may be the recent announcement by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world's largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday. The article noted that Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population while Muslims were at 19.2 percent. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations. When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population.

Jealous competition is about to turn violent.

Copyrighted 2008