Thursday, September 13, 2018

McDonald's, Dairy Queen or Bob's Burgers?

What was the evangelistic mission of the church as it had its beginning in Jerusalem? What was the intent for its growth?

The charter, of course, for the church is the commission of Jesus to the eleven apostles who gathered with Jesus in Galilee following His resurrection. He charged them, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.19-20). And, so, those men and others began to preach, and converts were won, and local gatherings of believers came into being. And before long, the church wasn’t located only in Jerusalem and Judea, but had spread to Galilee and Samaria, and soon to Syria, Asia, Africa, Greece, Italy, and beyond.

What was the intent as these churches came to be? Were these churches to be exact replications of the original church that met at Jerusalem? Were they to be clones of the mother church, keeping all forms and methods in place? Or, was it expected that as the church came to new towns and countries and cultures that forms and methods would be adapted to these new places and peoples?

I find it helpful as I ruminate on these questions to consider the business models adapted by three American food establishments: McDonald's, Dairy Queen, and Bob's Burgers.

First, the business model employed by McDonald’s is one of replication. The history of the creation of McDonald’s is fascinating and much more detailed than this short article can retell, but it involves brothers Richard McDonald and Maurice McDonald, who over a period of 15 years customized and streamlined the business of selling hamburgers into an operation that was the height of efficiency and profitability. Their success caught the attention of Ray Kroc, an Illinois-based salesman of restaurant equipment. Kroc eventually convinced the McDonald brothers to aggressively franchise their operation nationally. Kroc led this effort (eventually ending up with control and ownership of the company).

McDonald’s franchisees were bound to strict policies which governed everything from the architecture and d├ęcor of each restaurant, menus, staffing, and service. The governing concept was that every McDonald’s restaurant was a mirror of the original. Variance was not permitted. That was the business model, and it helped build McDonald’s into the largest restaurant chain in the world. (Although, today, the McDonald’s business philosophy has changed somewhat, and franchisees are given some leeway on matters that used to be non-negotiable.)

Dairy Queen had a different beginning and history than McDonald’s. The first Dairy Queen was opened in Joliet, Illinois by Sherb Noble in 1940. Its core business was soft serve ice cream, which had been developed in 1938, by business partners of Noble. The DQ concept was soon franchised, but franchisees were given a lot of leeway in the establishment and operation of their restaurants. The core business of soft-serve ice cream connected the franchises, but everything else was left to the customization of the franchisees. Frequent a DQ located in Texas, and your menu options will be somewhat different than a visit to a DQ in Minnesota, and the look of the place will be different, and methods of service will be different, but the soft-serve ice cream will be the same.

Bob’s Burgers is not a national entity. There are many restaurant establishments that are named Bob’s Burgers, and at least two regional chains bear the moniker (and, by the way, Bob’s Burgers is the title of a Fox TV animated series). The name Bob’s Burgers suggests the common business of selling hamburgers, but a Bob’s Burgers chain based in Louisville, Kentucky boasts tacos and burritos as its core business. Bob's Burgers are varied. There is no governing concept directing the business of local and regional owners.

So, is the church to be more like McDonald's, Dairy Queen, or Bob's Burgers? What was the original intent or evangelistic mission of the church? Was the intention replication? Were Christian missionaries to go out and win converts and plant churches, replicating the forms and methods of the Jerusalem church in every detail? Or, was the plan to win converts and plant churches who shared a common faith, but were given some freedoms to express and live that faith in community? Or, was there no plan or central concept? In other words, did the expansion of the church just happen, sporadically, organically, and without direction or intent?

Perhaps the very nature of the New Testament can lead us to an answer. Is there a manual for how to do church in the New Testament? In other words, is there a "How To Guide" for the structure and operation of the church in the New Testament?

You may quickly answer, "The New Testament itself is the guide." And, yes, in a sense, it is, but it is not a guide that provides much in the way of direct details. We have the Gospels, which offer narratives of Jesus' life on earth and his teachings, which concern themselves primarily with the subject of discipleship. The church, as an entity, is rarely mentioned by Jesus, and he certainly does not give details about what is to be the institutional structure of the church or of its routine methodology. The Book of Acts is helpful as a partial historical record of the early church, but its pages are much more concerned with the personalities of Peter, Paul, and others and with the core gospel itself than they are with providing a detailed look at the organization and operation of the church. The letters of Paul and other evangelists are largely reactionary in nature. They are written responses to issues of the day. And, certainly, from these responses we are able to see something of the nature and practice of the church, but the letters are not exhaustive in this regard--there are many holes (matters left to our discerning imagination?).

It seems to me that if replication were the original goal for the church that there would be a rather detailed manual for how to do church in the New Testament. In the context of the church assembling, Paul says that "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14.33 NIV), Would the God of peace (or order) leave it to his people to seek out and find details about the church in a process similar to finding needles in a haystack and in a process often subjugated to the educational and cultural biases of those who seek? In other words, wouldn't an objective standard for the church be clearly communicated by the God of order if the replication of that standard were the goal?

It seems to me that the intent of the New Testament is to articulate the identity and work of Jesus and the need for salvation on the part of humanity. The New Testament clearly shows how a person is delivered from condemnation of sin by the sacrifice of Jesus and clearly shows how the saved are brought together by God into community. But that community is not a static institution with a rigid set of policies and rules governing its operation. The church is an organism, not an institution. It is a community, a people, a family, and like any living thing it is conditioned by its environment. I'm not saying that it is subjugated to the whims of people, but the church adapts to its surroundings of time and place. Like Dairy Queen, the core business is static--the Gospel of Jesus Christ is formative and operative, but the forms and methods are fluid.

Before you protest my point, ask yourself, is the congregation of which you are a part a replication of the church at Jerusalem in circa A.D. 33? I don't think that I have ever encountered a congregation that mirrors Acts 2.42-47. In spirit, I've found many that do, but in practice I have found none. If replication is the goal, we have failed, right down to the name we pridefully post on our buildings.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Jesus, the Son of Joba?

Two distinct genealogies of Jesus are given in the Gospels. Matthew 1.1-17 provides a family tree of Jesus that shows his human heritage from Abraham to Joseph over 42 generations (counting Jesus, himself). Luke 3.23-38 provides another genealogy tracing the heritage of Jesus back through the ages, from Joseph to Adam, and ultimately to God. What are the purposes of these ancestral listings (in Hebrew, toledot)? And how can the differences between the lists of Matthew and Luke be explained and reconciled?
A satisfactory answer to the second question is allusive. The differences between the lists is profound. Most obviously, the orientation of the lists is different, as described in my opening paragraph. As glaring as the difference in orientation are the names of the ancestors themselves. Matthew provides the names of 26 ancestors of Jesus from David to Joseph, whereas Luke lists 42 names in the same time frame, and only four names from this time period appear on both Matthew’s and Luke’s lists (David, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel or Salathiel, and Joseph).
How can these significant variances be explained? A common explanation, argued since at least the time of Ambrose in the 4th Century, is that Matthew provides us with the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, whereas Luke provides the heritage of Mary. Three objections counter this argument: Luke does not name Mary in the family tree that he provides, only Joseph; of the time period of Luke’s writing it would go against every known convention to delineate a heritage through one’s mother (although, it is recognized that Mary is no ordinary mother); and, perhaps most convincing to me, is that Luke seems to emphasize that Mary is of the tribe of Levi and not of Judah. The reference to Elizabeth being a Levite of the house of Aaron is not a passing comment (Luke 1.5; cf. 1.36).
Another explanation for the differences between Matthew and Luke is intriguing and would fit with the larger theme found in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus being a champion for the disenfranchised of society. This explanation theorizes that Matthew lists the royal lineage of David, using kingly names, whereas Luke either gives the familial names of these ancestors, or traces a lineage of Jesus through ordinary men (and not kings) while making the vital connection that Jesus was a descendant of David and Zerubbabel (in whom the kingly line of David was preserved following the Babylonian exile). Thus, in this thinking, the differences in names are not discrepancies but representations of the different purposes held by Matthew and Luke as they outline the heritage of Jesus. (To add detail to this argument: Luke preserves the true heritage of Jesus, mostly through ordinary men who were descendants of David but not necessarily kings in their own right, while Matthew is merely providing the line of Davidic kings and chief heirs down to Joseph, and then Jesus, while in actuality the ancestry of Jesus may have bypassed many of the men listed by Matthew.)
As I said before, a satisfactory way to reconcile the divergent lists of Matthew and Luke is allusive to us, but I think the purposes for the lists are clear.
One, Matthew presents his list with an intriguing symmetry of three divisions of 14 generations, giving 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. In Jewish thinking, numbers were often meaningful. Three fourteens (or six sevens) “bring” Jesus to the head of a seventh seven, which can be understood as the church.
Two, Matthew includes five women in his ancestry of Jesus, including Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba), and Mary. Each woman presents a certain amount of scandal and intrigue to the heritage of Jesus and highlights the providential nature of the coming of Jesus into the world and serves to connect Jesus’ awkward heritage with our own strange family histories (and even stranger relatives!).
Three, as I stated before, Luke is emphasizing the commonness of Jesus’ heritage, while maintaining his royal (Davidic) bloodline. There are a lot of “no names” in Luke’s listing of Jesus’ ancestors.
Four, both Luke and Matthew name Joseph as being the father of Jesus. And as the reader of the Gospel accounts, we also know that Jesus was born of Mary through a conception that was of God. Joseph was not involved in the conception of Jesus, but Matthew and Luke both name him as the human father. Perhaps I overstep by saying this: if we were able to do genetic testing on Jesus, I believe that he would have the DNA of Mary and Joseph. I think that Luke and Matthew clearly assert this in their ancestries of Jesus. And that is one of the wonders of Incarnation: by the power of God, Jesus was the son of Joseph, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam . . . (and, yes, the son of Joda, and of many other forgotten men) . . . And, yes, especially, he was the Son of God!
Do you see other purposes in the ancestral lists of Matthew and Luke? Share them with me.