Jamesian stew (4): KJV, AVB, & mold

I think we all know, deep down, that the KJV is as outmoded as it is inferior to most other translations.  Not that it gets everything wrong; no translation is that bad, and not one is above scrutiny, either.  Those who use the KJV exclusively may be holding on to something (denominational dogma? archaic wording? sentiment? some vague feeling of old “properness”?) that’s not worth holding on to . . . when we’re talking about God communicating to humankind, that is.

Like other people from various Christian and para-Christian contexts, I have a certain literary appreciation of the KJV, but am currently on a campaign against the churchgoing thought that it’s a good idea to use a KJV in this century — that is, for purposes other than literary analysis or historical curiosity.

In Biblical studies, I’m after 1) exegetically derived understanding before attempting 2) application, and the KJV often gets in the way of understanding — more than other translations that miss things here & there — because of its outdated language.  Moreover, the KJV is not blessed with the light shed by the archaeological uncoverings of recent centuries.  (The NKJV, despite some cosmetic updates and glints of current glamour, isn’t really any more illuminated.)

These days, anyone who uses the KJV exclusively probably needs a little instruction.  I sincerely hope to be an educator in this sphere.  Sibs everywhere:  we must stop holding on to a single English translation.  The “Authorized Version” is no more authorized than any other version, and its thin smokescreen is dissipating.

I found this YouTube of an ingenious, humorous song by a now-defunct iteration of the ACappella Vocal Band.  Some might call this an oldie-but-moldy, but I think it’s worth a re-listen. . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhA5Sp9K610

Some of the best lyrics:

Hard to understand . . . what the language means to me

Say, who is this man?  King James!

. . .

Back when it was brand new, the lingo, it was prime

. . .

[from the bridge]

If you’re tryin’ to tell me that’s it’s the only one,

That would mean Jehovah God would be an Englishman!!

 

Don’t miss the complete bridge in the song.  It’s entertaining and pointed, to boot (he noted ironically, with an intentionally regionally limited, outmoded, adverbial modifier).

Those who might tend to think that merely having a Bible on the shelf is a statement of belief, or “any Bible will do” if you carry it to church or hear a verse or two every now & then, wake up. 

We ought to be more interested in hearing, through scripture, the message of God instead of the word of usThere are obviously better, fresher versions available than the moldy KJV.  There is therefore no longer any reason to stumble over the old.  Choose a better version.  Choose life.  We ought to be more alive.  We’ve got to quit limping along with the KJV.

Some will say, “Well, the KJV what I memorized from as a child.”  I get that.  And I have my own memorization issues.  I once memorized a fair amount, and what I recall from 1Peter, from Acts, from Colossians, from Romans, etc. (thanks largely to VBS at Cedars¹ and Sr. High Week at Camp Manatawny), happens to have been from the NIV.  It can be semi-comforting to hear NIV words I know already.  But I don’t really care much whether a new version messes with my memory or yours.  What we need less of is comfort.  What we need more of is vibrancy, vitality . . . and challenge.

Some three years ago, at the passing of 2011 (400 years since the KJV’s publication), I wrote a sort of memorial for the anniversary.  I’ll paste in the conclusion here, as a sort of obituary (not that I’m ordering a spiritual-mob hit, but I do know a guy). . . .

At this juncture, we must pay our respects and allow the KJV to pass with a dignity that matches the richness of some of its language. For poetically or aesthetically oriented purposes, or for sake of academic study of the literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, it is fine to use the KJV.

For the sake of understanding God’s messages in our day, it is no longer fine to give credence to the KJV.  We now have infinitely better scholarship to bring us more communicative, more accurate versions of what was originally scribed.  Today’s versions are not all worthy, but just about any one of them has a better chance, in 2011, of communicating something God wanted said than the KJV has.

Those old soldiers of the scriptures, the giving-away Gideons [who put the KJV Bibles in motels], need to learn this truth, and so do the rest of us.

Thank you, KJV, for shewing thyself unto humans who have sought the Almighty for lo, these scores of years.  Prithee, though, as 2011 flees, may thine arcane gists and thine obsolete phrasings take flight on wings of reason and spirit.  Thy stilted language no longer serves the purposes of the Kingdom of God.  We beseech thee, in good faith:  takest thou thy leave, with alacrity!

Good riddance, KJV.  May another, more worthy than thou, haste to take thy place.


¹ At Cedars, a tragic death occurred during my childhood — an electrocution of a father of four young children.  I still remember the KJV (there wasn’t much of a choice for pew Bibles in that time, although my parents carried ASV and RSV, respectively) Bibles that were purchased as a tribute to Ronald Keller and placed in the pew racks.  A feature of those KJV editions was a listing of “Words which have changed in meaning.”  Memory says the list was 5 or 6 pages long (not long enough!).  I don’t know whether any published KJVs carry such a list anymore, but they should.  At least then, people could cross-reference some words and get a little more light on their reading.  The word list should have grown a bit as the decades have passed.

Each generation ought to have at least one good, new translation of the scriptures.

Thanksgiving in the 90s

A brief time-out before the final installment in my Worship in the 80s series. . . .

A devotional program (not my own, but one I found worthy of retaining) from Thanksgiving Eve in 1995 proceeded as follows, with singing interspersed between items.  Perhaps readers can find something for personal, family, or congregational use here.

  1. A call to give thanks — 1 Chron 16:8-12
  2. Reasons for being thankful — Ps 107:1-9; 1Tim 1:12-18
  3. Living out thankfulness — Rom 6:15-18; 2Cor 9:6-11, Col 3:15-17
  4. A warning not to forget to be thankful — Deut 8:10-14b, 17-18; Rom 1:18-25
  5. A scene of worship in heaven — we will will give thanks — Rev 4, 1Cor 15:55-58

A suitcase full of degrees

I once sat in a “congregational meeting” in which a preacher’s future was being discussed.  This situation involved an “independent” congregational polity (as is assumed by most Christian Church and Church of Christ groups … and, originally, the Congregational Church and presumably the Church of the Brethren and Freewill Baptists and many others). In this meeting, a man stood and proclaimed, “We don’t need no suitcase full a’ degreez ta preech da word a’ God!”  His statement seemed to be denying the value of education in preparing one for teaching a congregation from the Bible, but I think the words betrayed more than that—particularly, the man’s distaste for the preacher in question.  (The former hoped the latter would be let go.  Fortunately, the preacher wasn’t in the room at the time!)

I’m of two minds on the question of education and public teaching “ministry”:

ON ONE HAND, I affirm that a sound education in proper Biblical studies is helpful, if not essential, if one is going to be teaching.  In fact, I can’t imagine someone standing up, presuming to teach others, without having

  • delved deeply into biblical texts under the tutelage of someone more learned
  • recognized and developed some natural gift and/or training in communication
  • learned some Hebrew and/or Greek
  • come to understand hermeneutical principles, to some extent

These things are just some of the benefits of having studied the Bible formally—whether in a college/university or in some other setting.  I’m not dealing here with “religion” studies or “theology” studies as separate from “biblical studies,” because I frankly think religion and theology decrease decidedly in value when separated from biblical studies.  Studies in logic and rhetoric and communication and homiletics may also be of great aid, whether or not one has the natural giftedness in assembling and communicating instructive thoughts.

ON THE OTHER HAND, having been around for a while, I would call into question the value of some ministerial education.  Peripheral pragmatics seems to rule in so many “pastors'” vocational lives, and their “training” can end up having little to do with the activities with which their weeks are filled.

Actually, some of the better teaching ministers I’ve known of do not have PhDs.  A few icons in my own vocational field come to mind here, as well:  Bob Reynolds, Jerry Junkin, Gene Corporon, Allan McMurray, and Craig Kirchhoff.  None of these men earned a doctorate, yet their art, their craft, and their professional experience has justifiably earned them highest berths in the field of collegiate and professional wind band conducting (a field which all the newer-comers must have doctorates in order to enter, much less to succeed in).  It is not always a direct result of a set amount (or type) of education that one ends up being an exemplary leader.

What do you think?  Ever known a D.Div. or Ph.D. “pastor” that wasn’t as well-placed in his field as someone without a Bible or ministry degree at all?

Local

Years ago, I delivered a full-length sermon (one of only 4-5 for me); it was titled “The Universal Church.”  Within that message, I stepped on the toes of several more conservative siblings by suggesting that there was sectarian thinking within our local church and within our (“non-denominational”) denomination as a whole.  We needed to think more universally.

Every few years, I pull out the old cassette (I know, I know … what’s a cassette? at least it wasn’t on 8-track), figuring I’ll be embarrassed at what I said back then.  Actually, not.  While I would like to retract a couple of sentences and re-word them, I still believe what I said to the Cedars Church in 199x.  Although we have our closest relationships in local churches, our “membership”–if indeed such a thing is a valid concept at all–should be conceived of more globally and, well … scripturally.

We experience church primarily on the local level, but my parents taught me that traveling was an opportunity to visit other churches outside our geography, and this practice helped me see things more broadly.  Vacations were never an opportunity for slacking and backsliding, and visiting in new places expanded our thinking, both spiritually and practically.

I thought this journey-and-visit practice was mostly out of fashion, but only this summer, as we were visiting the church of a friend, his mother mentioned the same idea.  During one phase of my life, the dedication shown in visiting other churches grew passive, but these days, it’s being revived a bit:  now, more frequently and with more purpose, I am again taking the opportunity to visit other churches.  The summer provided some beneficial times with four churches in NY, one in OH, and one in NJ.  Of course, there can be some “duds,” but none this summer!

Only last Sunday, as we visited with Sojourner’s Mennonite Fellowship (we are guests with this group a few times each year), we were not only made to feel welcome again, but actually felt we were a part of the group, participating actively in what went on congregationally.  Shared “Kingdom matters,” prayed concerns, intoned spiritual truths (read:  energized singing!), and other aspects added up to an inspirational time for our family.  Once, I sensed that Karly had stopped singing, and I wasn’t sure why.  As the song was winding down, I looked over at her, and could see that she was emotionally moved.  Something about lustily singing “Brethren, We Have Met To Worship” with this group was especially meaningful.

Almost paradoxically, I have found that in thinking more universally, local experiences may have a deeper spiritual impact.

So, I’m certainly not suggesting here that local, congregational connections should go away.  In fact, my heart is very much inclined toward local–especially smaller–groups.  But for sake of discussion:  if believers were not official, card-carrying members of a single, local church, what would be the negative results?

  1. Less $ in the local church collection coffers, which leads to
  2. Less money for salaries and building mortgages and upkeep (by far the largest items in most traditional churches’ budgets), which leads to
  3. Fewer church staff positions, and fewer owned buildings, which leads to
  4. More monetary resources for other missions, the poor, etc.

Ahem. That ended up being a positive outcome.  Sorry.  Let’s try again.  If believers were not official members of a single, local church, what would be the negative results?

  1. People who are less committed to perpetuated, legacy-based church programs (could we say “people who are less ‘churchy'”?), which leads to
  2. Fewer such questionable church programs to take time and resources, which leads to
  3. More time and energy for connecting with family and neighbors.

Shoot. Ended up being a positive thing again.  I can really do this.  One more try.  If believers were not official members of a local church, what would be the negative results?

  1. People who are not involved in a church “community” or “family,” which leads to
  2. People who withdraw more and more into self-centered lives, which leads to
  3. Materialism, and other evidences of selfish decision-making, which leads to
  4. Marital strife and breakups, neighbor squabbles, consumerism, and other societal/moral ills

It is important to be connected to a congregation of some sort.  It draws us out of ourselves, helps us “belong,” gives us purpose outside of our own, little worlds, and calls us continually to something higher.  The size of the group isn’t necessarily important.  The connection is.  And that is why God intended a communal aspect of church.  While faith is personal and not inherited, Christianity is not solely an individual enterprise!

I would further suggest that having connections on multiple levels is important for fully actualized discipleship.  Local small groups and churches are significant, and so is a more universal sense of tie-in to the Kingdom “at-large.”

A summer softball memory

A while back, three or four of my summers included playing in a church softball league.  One of those years, a guy I’ll call “Tim” was the co-captain of the team.

At Delcastle fields on Friday evening, I wasn’t having a great game, and I made a costly mental error (e.g., forgetting an opposing baserunner was on third with only one out when I caught a pop fly, forgetting that there were two outs and not running when the ball was hit, etc.).  When these things happen, “Get your head in the game!” is the frequent cry.

Tim had some choice thoughts for me after the game, and I retorted defensively with something about being glad God doesn’t get us for mental errors.  Tim shot back with something about the religion department’s being a different matter.  He came from a more strict background—one that assumed you had to get every precise point correct before you were following God.

Although I’m very interested in pursuing many of those “picky points,” I’m so glad that God’s grace doesn’t appear to be tied to my mental prowess.  My errors—assuming they’re not intentional and rebellious—are covered.  Both the behavioral errors and the mental ones are covered by grace.  No matter what percentage of the time I’m right, His grace is His grace, and my acceptance on His terms makes the covenant complete, no matter what I get wrong logically.

Tim, wherever you are now, I imagine you’re playing softball and probably coaching your sons or pushing them through high school or college baseball.  I hope you’re having grace toward them, and I hope you know more of God’s grace now than you did back then in Wilmington.

Worship–ritual v. relationship

“Relationship.”  An overused word in our time, perhaps.  Yet it can scuff at the root of what life — both temporal and eternal — is about.  When considered in juxtaposition with ritual in the context of worship, relationship may be even more crucial.

Brad Carman, a preacher in Delaware, wrote this for his bulletin recently, springing out of Heb. 9:1-5:

In these opening passages, the author briefly takes his readers into the highly ritualized worship of the Jewish Tabernacle. . . .

. . . Almost everyone still has some rituals in his/her life and worship. (We sit in the same pew, order the same foods, sing the same songs, etc.) But more importantly, these rituals of Tabernacle worship serve a valuable purpose as summary of the first covenant God made with His people. They describe a system in which a Holy God is inaccessible to His people except through a series of sacrifices made by High Priest for himself and the people he represents. Sin has separated us from God and the idea of an intimate relationship with a Holy God is unthinkable under such a system.

That all changed when Christ came and ushered in a new and better covenant with God. This new covenant still involved a blood sacrifice but this offering was the blood of the Son of God, delivered to the eternal dwelling place of God. As our High Priest, he continually dwells in God’s presence providing us an opportunity for an intimate relationship.

In a recent interchange with Alan Knox on his blog, I found a thoughtful person with more time and careful insights than I:  he appropriately, kindly challenged several of my hastily penned comments.  Yet I continue to believe his understanding of the relationship of  worship and service is a trifle flawed.  (I know, I know — whose understanding isn’t flawed?  But this topic is important to me beyond most other things of the Lord, and most of the Christian world has gotten it so wrong.)

Brad’s comments above show something I concur with, believing it is significant:  a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian worship lies in the difference between the “series of sacrifices” to which Brad refers above on the one hand, and the spiritual attitude of reverence, adoration, and homage on the other.

Under the New System, worship may must not be confined to ritual acts.  Rather, our worship of God is based on a more intimate (can anyone say “Incarnation” and not think there’s a different approach to God now?!) relationship.  Latreuo is the Greek word that appears to refer, more often than not, to the former, Jewish rituals (≈things done) and is found in Romans 12:2; proskuneo is the word that renders the attitude of obeisance, homage, reverential adoration (John 4, Revelation 4-5).  Hebrews 13:15-16 nicely sets these two word-concepts together, simultaneously differentiating and relating the two.

The above paragraph is an oversimplification, but I present it for thought and comment nonetheless.

[Coming soon … I’ve been thinking a lot about worship recently, spurred by Alan’s blog and various other stimuli.  I’m preparing a post on the notion of sacrifice in worship, and if you have any thoughts to contribute in advance, I’d love to see them.]

Light of the church

I’m not sure what Riley did for a living for DuPont, but he had access to a lux meter. The machine was borrowed to measure incandescent light in our church auditorium. (“Auditorium” is low-church lingo for “sanctuary” . . . neither of which is a scriptural term, by the way.) Riley took the machine into various corners and spaces, apparently gathering data to support the need for a change in lighting.

And change there was. It had always been dark in there, but soon there were new light fixtures installed. These new fixtures were beautiful. Gloriously designed, each cylindrical chandelier had 12 sockets. And about 30 of the chandeliers were installed in our tall, angular auditorium, designed in the 60s.

Enter Dwayne. Dwayne was an electrician who gave hours and hours to fix this, to upgrade that. He was an unusual guy, slight of build and slight of voice. But he had a lot of ability with electric power and was also very safety-conscious. If Dwayne recommended something, pretty much every deacon or elder listened.

For some reason, I was there when this decision was made, and I overheard it. The sockets were rated for a maximum of 60 or 75 watts. But Dwayne thought we needed 40-watt bulbs in those splendiferous chandeliers just to be safe, so 40-watt it was. It was the conservative choice.

And the auditorium never was as well lit as it could have been. The end.

~ ~ ~

Our church had made some effort to make the auditorium/sanctuary/worship hall a more inviting place. Gotta give ‘em that. Most older churches don’t even get that far. But why is it that lighting where Christians gather tends to be so bad? It’s either not enough light or bad, fluorescent light. I don’t recall ever being in an assembly hall where there was really good light.

Jesus is the Light of the World, and where the Light is, we need no other light . . . but I don’t think it serves to glorify Him and His purposes that the places where Christians gather are dark.