Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Correcting an Abuse of the Lord’s Supper" Understanding 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 in Context

Today I was asked to teach the lesson in Elder's Quorum on the topic of the sacrament. The lesson manual at one point used the scripture found in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 to emphasize the importance of being worthy to partake of the sacrament. Since we use the King James Version in the Church this is what appeared in the lesson manual.
"Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."
This is not the first time, and definitely won't be the last, that I have heard this passage used to emphasize the importance of being worthy while taking the sacrament. But if there is one thing that I have learned is that if we are understand the scriptures we must read and consider them in context. So let me give the context of that passage and see if it changes the meaning. For this I will be using the New International Version translation of the Bible since it helps make it easier to understand certain critical passages.

In the early days of the church when Jesus's apostles established churches everywhere they went they frequently did not have a formal church building where the saints would meet. Sometimes they would meet in the local synagogue, but it was more common to meet in a member's house. Many notable women are mentioned as being the spiritual center of these early house churches.

In the early church it quickly became the custom that when the members met they would have a meal together, as in a full meal. As a part of the meal they would have the sacrament of the Lord's supper in the same manner that Jesus taught his disciples before he died. As Paul explained to the members at Corinth,
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
To follow the pattern set forth by Jesus the church members would have a full meal and then afterwards would have the sacrament. To understand what and why Paul was writing we have to understand the letter to the Corinthians.

Paul had traveled to Corinth and had established a church there. After he continued on his mission to other cities he received a series of letters from the saints in Corinth with some questions. They had had some contentions regarding how the church was to be run and they wrote to Paul to settle some doctrinal, procedural and administrative disputes. We do not know exactly what questions they asked, but a good portion of 1 Corinthians is Paul responding to their questions. Without this it is easy to get lost. The confusion is further compounded by the fact that occasionally Paul will quote from the letter sent by the Corinthians and his responses get mixed in with their questions. So sometimes it's hard to tell what are his responses and what are the statements he is responding to, and in some cases refuting.

It is in this context that Paul responds to the saints in Corinth in Chapter 11. We do not have their question, but obviously they had a question about the sacrament of the Lord's supper. From his response we can infer what problems they were facing.

It would appear that when the church started they had the custom of having a full meal before the sacrament. But at some point certain members started holding their own church meals (v. 21) and not inviting other members to these meals. Some members who had an abundance of food would use that fact to try to pridefully demonstrate to the other members that they had God's approval, while those who could not contribute to the communal meal did not have God's approval (v. 19). This caused divisions in the congregation (v. 18) since groups of members were having their own private "sacrament meetings" with full meals (v. 21). Thus the poor members were showing up to the meetings expecting a full meal before the sacrament and instead got nothing (v. 22). This made some members get sick, or be weak, and in some cases fall asleep in the church meetings (v. 30).

Thus the church in Corinth was having a problem with members holding their own sacrament meetings, perhaps without proper priesthood authorization, and in some cases they were having parties or meals (v. 21) and not having the sacrament afterwards (v. 20), but still calling it a church meeting. So they were misunderstanding the purpose of the Lord's supper and were calling any big meal they had "the Lord's supper." It had gotten to the point that the church meetings were doing more harm than good (v. 17).

So when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was trying to correct these problems and make sure that there were no contentions among the members. He was also trying to correct the misconception that "the Lord's supper" was not a meal to be shared with only friends, but that when the church came together for a meal, everyone should be invited and should participate (v. 33). But to prevent the sacrament of the Lord's supper turning into nothing more than a party, or well spread meal, the members should eat in their own homes first and then gather for the sacrament (v. 34). That way there would be no confusion between a church potluck and the sacrament.

Thus Paul clearly laid out the procedure for the sacrament (vs. 23-26) and admonished the saints to follow that pattern for the sacrament, until he could come and give them further instructions (v. 34). In is in this context that Paul gives his warning about eating and drinking of the sacrament unworthily.
"So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves." (vs. 27-29)
In this context when Paul talks about being unworthy he is referring to the contentions and divisions (vs. 18-22) that are tearing apart the church. Church members are not taking care of the hungry and poor (v. 22) and are despising the body of the church (vs. 22, 29, 31), or the "body of Christ". When the church comes together to "partake of the Lord's supper", they are not doing the ordinance correctly, and everything else, the unimportant stuff is getting in the way of the sacrament, hence what they are doing is not the Lord's supper (v. 20). For this reason the church is under condemnation and when they are doing it in an unworthy, or unauthorized manner, they are "guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord."

So in the end, the unworthiness that Paul was speaking against was the contentions and divisions in the church, and the fact that some members were not doing the ordinance correctly. Thus those members who were having their own private "sacrament meals" were eating and drinking "judgment on themselves."

In our church today verses 27-29 are frequently cited as proof that we need to be careful not to partake of the sacrament unworthily. While there are some cases where members who have committed certain sins are not allowed to take the sacrament, I think that sometimes members take those verses out of context and understand them to mean that if we have any sin or misdeed in our lives we should not take the sacrament, no matter how small. But unfortunately comes from misunderstanding the context and intent of the passage. Taking the sacrament signifies our desire to make a covenant with the Lord, it does not signify that we have personally atoned for our own sins. That is something we cannot do. Because of the misapplication of those verses some members get the idea that we must be perfect to take the sacrament. This in effect denies the atonement of Christ since it is he who atones for our sins, not us. The sacrament signifies our accepting the covenant that the Lord will cleanse from our sins, not that we have cleansed ourselves, since that is something we cannot do.

The reasons for not taking the sacrament should be when someone has committed a major sin, one that is damaging to other members and disrupts the good feeling among the members, or if there are divisions and contentions among the members. If they can't get along and be unified in the covenant then they should not take the sacrament. Also members should not try to partake of the sacrament without proper authorization from the bishop of other presiding authority. Thus members cannot have their own sacrament meeting if they happen to not like the bishop or other members in the congregation. They do not have the keys to determine when and where the sacrament should be done.

When I presented this in my lesson in Elder's Quorum, one member of the quorum commented that he had never had it explained to him like that. He said that taking the sacrament was something he had struggled with because he had never felt worthy and it was a relief to hear that it wasn't about fixing all the little sins and misdeeds before we take the sacrament, but that we take the sacrament to signify that we are unified with the body of Christ, which is the church.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What happened to Quantumleap?

So what did happen to me? Long story short, I got a job, after being unemployed for three months, and effectively homeless for one month, all while moving across the country twice.

Now the long story.

Over a year and a half ago, my cousin who lives in Australia told me about postdoc position at the University of Western Australia in Perth. It was a pretty good deal and fit exactly with my research. I worked hard on that application and put together three stellar pages explaining my research. I must have done something right since they wanted to interview me (by skype). Being confronted with the prospect of moving to literally the opposite side of the earth (Perth is pretty close to the antipode of North Carolina) was rather intimidating. Because I was still expecting to take another year to finish my PhD I didn't tell anyone that I was interviewing for a position in Perth. My wife's parents only found out about a month ago that Perth was a serious possibility for a while. I only told my parents the day before my interview.

In the end, and after much waiting, they offered the position to someone else, and they accepted (I was the alternate). That experience did turn out to be very helpful since the application material that I put together for that position formed the core of all my other job applications.

Then last fall I started looking for other postdoc positions to apply for. I looked for ones that aligned with my experience, and ultimately I was asked to interview for about half of the positions I applied for.

But my big break came in January when I traveled to the annual American Astronomical Meeting to give my dissertation completion talk. While I was there I ran into a professor who I met at a previous AAS meeting. I reintroduced myself and they remembered me and coincidentally had just been reading my paper on their laptop. They wanted to talk to me some more but didn't have time right then, so they told me to email them. I did and they extended an invitation for me to come speak to their department.

So in February they flew me out to visit and give a department colloquium. The trip was fantastic and while I was there they offered me a postdoc position there at the university. The professor offering me the position was aware that I also had interviews lined up in the next few days with other (more prestigious, by their own admission) institutions and insisted that I see how those interviews go before formally accepting the postdoc position with them. Some of the interviews were with people that that professor occasionally collaborated with so they didn't want to snipe me out from under their collaborators.

After a few more interviews in the next week, including one where I was again the alternate, I replied to the offer I had received and said that I would accept. And then I waited. And waited.

About the middle of March I finally got a reply. Someone had become ill and the funds that were intended to pay for my position had to be diverted to cover the replacement for the ill postdoc. So there would be no position for me. Sorry.

So a little more back story. In early February I had been very concerned that I would not be able to find a job and that I would not know where to move my family. I had been praying about it for some time, until in mid February I had the distinct impression that in exactly one month I would have a job offer. At the same time I had a very strong impression not to apply for a particular job. The application for that job was due March 1st, but I had a very strong impression not to apply for the job. In many ways it was an ideal job for me and fit almost perfectly with my research. I also had a connection to the professor offering the position through my advisor (they were friends and former colleagues). So if I had applied for that position I most likely would have received an offer. But I felt a very strong impression not to apply for it.

Not applying for that position didn't bother me because by the time the deadline rolled around I already had an offer so I didn't think anything of it. Exactly one month after I had my initial prompting I still technically had an offer, had accepted it, and was just waiting for a response. Two days later I received the email informing me that the offer had been retracted.

This put me in a bit of a bind because the season for postdoc position deadlines had mostly passed. There weren't a lot of positions left that were still hiring. I desperately tried applying for any and all positions I could find, but this time with a marked decrease in invites for interviews. I did have a few interviews, including one with Oxford in England (by skype, no they didn't fly me out). But nothing came through.

At that time I started applying for temporary teaching positions. Most teaching positions are advertised at the same time as the postdoc positions so I had already missed 90% of the deadlines, but during the summer a number of departments realize they don't have enough professors to cover classes for the fall (i.e. someone unexpectedly leaves the department or gets sick etc.) so they have to do a quick faculty search and hire someone to teach. I started applying for as many of those positions as I could find.

During this time I finished my dissertation, got my second paper submitted for publication and graduated. I still did not have a job. Before I had my defense my home teacher gave me a blessing and in the blessing he mentioned that in the coming months I would find employment and that I would meet collaborators for my research. I also had reassurances through the spirit that everything would work out.

After several rejection letters and still no prospects I was getting worried about not knowing where we were going to move and about getting my kids in school in the fall. As May wore on still with no prospects my worry got worse. At about that time two things happened. The first was I had two friends who work at Los Alamos National Labs and I contacted them wondering if they knew of any positions that I could apply for. They pointed me towards some possibilities that I applied for. The second thing happened as I was reading the scriptures.

As I was wondering about the promise made to me in the blessing from my home teacher I was lead to Enos 1:4-6, which reads,
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
That last line struck me with extreme force, "and I knew that God could not lie."

As May turned into June I still had no prospects, but my friend at Los Alamos informed me that there might be postdoc position that I could apply for and he would let me know the details when they were available. At this time I kind of had a deadline because the lease for my apartment was ending in June and I kind of wanted to know where I would be moving with my family before then.

In June I was able to go to the temple with my wife. While we were in the Celestial Room I had a special experience that let me know that God was going to take care of me and that by August I would have a job. At the time I wondered if the job at Los Alamos would pull through since my friend had told me that if I got the job I would start in August.

Near the end of June, about a week before we had to move out of our apartment, I was thinking about possible jobs and I was thinking a lot about the possibility of working at Los Alamos. I knew that it would be an interesting job. but I also knew that a significant portion of my time would involve simulating nuclear weapons.

While thinking about this and wondering if the possible job at Los Alamos was where I was supposed to be, I was lead to a passage in the scriptures in Alma 24. In that chapter we find the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and how they buried their weapons of war for peace. Usually when people are lead to certain passages in the scriptures, Alma 24 is not the place they are lead to. But at the time that chapter was intended for me. While I was reading it I had a very strong impression that I should not take the job at Los Alamos, even if I was offered one. I was not meant to work on anything related to nuclear weapons. I struggled with that one since at the time Los Alamos was the only place that I had the possibility for a job at that time. Also I knew that my friend was working to get me there. In many ways I would be an ideal job for me, and it would make applying for jobs in the future easier.

At the end of June we had to move, and with nowhere to go we put most of our stuff in storage, put the rest in our car, and began the long drive across the US from North Carolina to Utah. I had no plan other than "Find a job." We hoped that some of the places I applied to would work out, or I could apply for jobs in Utah. Our plan was to live with family until we figured out something more permanent.

On our drive out to Utah we stopped in Nauvoo and while we were there I checked my email (something I had been unable to do for a few days) and I had received an email from Augusta University in Georgia wondering if I was available for an interview. I tried responding to set a time, but I couldn't talk to them by phone since Nauvoo has terrible cell phone reception. So I responded to see if we could arrange a time to talk when I had reception. Unfortunately they said that they wanted to get everything done as soon as possible and make a decision before the 4th of July weekend. So, sorry.

We continued on to Utah and I started looking at places to work. I had one interview that went well with a company in Raleigh (I JUST came from there!) and they were making moves like they wanted to offer me a job. But then July 7th I got an email from Augusta again saying that they were still interested in talking to me. I set up a time, we talked and everything went well. Then I got an email from the chair of the department saying that he wanted to talk to me. When we finally connected by phone it was the 12th and he offered me a job(!). The same day my friend from Los Alamos emailed me and said that the postdoc position was going through and could I give him some information so that he could have some talking points to make the case for hiring me. Even though I was very thankful that my friend was doing that, I told him that I had just received and offer. Thanks, but sorry. It's still nice to know that I had a friend who would do that for me.

So when the dust settled and I had accepted the offer it was the middle of the month, and oh, by the way classes start on the 17th of August and I have to be there by the 8th. So we had less than a month to plan our move across the country (again) find a house and get our kids in school (oh, and by the way, public schools start on the 8th, and you need several documents proving residency to get your kids registered for school). So we drew upon the social capital of the Church, got in touch with the bishops in the area, got some information and got a recommendation for a realtor (two bishops independently recommended the same one).

We were looking into different options, whether to buy or to rent and considering our options when my sister offered to watch our kids so we could go to the temple. While I was there waiting for the session to start I was prompted, very clearly, to look up D&C 48:3. I did so, and this is what it said,
3 And inasmuch as ye have not lands, let them buy for the present time in those regions round about, as seemeth them good, for it must needs be necessary that they have places to live for the present time.
That was perhaps a very unique answer to our question. So we decided to buy a house.

Then after the 24th of July holiday we started driving back across the country to move to Georgia. Before we left we had arranged for a temporary apartment and were planning on buying a house as soon as possible. Along the way we stayed with family and friends, and on the 28th of July we rolled into town about noon, got checked into our temporary apartment, and then went to meet our realtor. We spent all afternoon looking at houses. I won't bore you with the details (as if I haven't already), but over the next week we drove to North Carolina to get some essentials from storage, considered our options and made an offer on a house. The seller responded positively to our offer, and we were able to use the offer letter and a document from Georgia Power to go get our kids registered for school. Four days later they started school. Now in three days I start school as a physics professor at Augusta University. I ended up driving 5,000 miles to end up moving three hours away from where I started.

So if it seems like I dropped off the face of the planet and wasn't keeping up with my blog, you will have to excuse me because I wrote my dissertation, submitted a paper, applied for jobs, moved across the country twice, was homeless for a month, bought a house, and now I have to prepare lessons for a class that I found out a month ago I would be teaching. So I've been busy.

So, what have I learned from this? If anybody asks me, "Do you have evidence of God's existence?" I can honestly say, "Yes. Yes I do. But I don't get to pick the nature of the evidence. I must accept the evidence as it is."