I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, No Sir, Not Today: Jonathan Leeman Responds image

I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, No Sir, Not Today: Jonathan Leeman Responds

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I have to admit, the length of this dialogue would suggest I care a lot more about dancing in the church than I actually do. I honestly don't think it's that big of a deal. 9Marks does not exist (and I don't write) to warn churches against dancing! One guy asked me in a mailbag what I thought, and I gave him my best answer on the topic. So let the record show, this conversation (including your pursuit of it) brought this conversation to me. I didn't go looking for it. Capiche?

I will say, I do think the larger hermeneutical question behind it is crucial, as you intimated. And I hope there is something instructive here for any readers who have endured this far. Turning to the hermeneutical conversation, I’ll say again, I’m not sure how useful it is to invest too much stock in big single-colored labels like “continuity” or “discontinuity.” They’re of marginal use, but they lack institutional specificity. Is there continuity or discontinuity between temple and church? Well, uh, yes!

Better to ask the more institutionally-attuned question, whom has God authorized to do what?

God has established a multitude of institutions, and each institution comes with its own membership, authorizations, responsibilities, obligations, practices, and jurisdiction. Each is established by God and needs to be respected for it’s own sake. To be “husband” or “father” or “elder,” which are all institutional roles or “offices,” comes with a particular set of responsibilities and obligations and a specific jurisdiction. Though there might be jurisdictional overlap between them, I don’t assume the responsibilities of a “father” or “husband” immediately transfer to one another, and neither transfers to what it means to be an “elder,” even though God is God over all three offices. By the same token, the temple is one institution, the state another, apostleship another, and the local church still another. God has established each for his purposes and with an explicit set of responsibilities and obligations. You don’t just say, “Well, there is one God over all, his Word lasts forever, and so they’re all the same!” No. There is indeed one God over all whose Word lasts forever, but he has given different assignments to each of these institutions. That’s why we don’t assume everything Moses or David or Jeremiah were authorized to do transfer to you and me. We intuitively know they have been given different assignments and licenses.

Words like “continuity” and “discontinuity” are simply too crude of instruments to address the texture and nuance necessary between different institutions.  If I were to follow your logic, I would assume everything they were authorized to do (unless abrogated) transfers to me because, after all, we’re all “God’s people.” Do, then, you believe with Warfield that the children of believers remain in the covenant “because,” in Warfield’s words, “God nowhere put them out”? Do you practice the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths, since the New Testament nowhere abrogates them? Do you maintain a NT office for priest? It wasn’t explicitly abrogated.

You and I could keep going back and forth with specific examples to prove our continuity or discontinuity point. But the reason I think (not dancing but) the hermeneutical question is a big deal is that great damage has been done to the church and its witness for 2000 years because Christians have too casually slapped down the “continuity” or “discontinuity” sticker. Marcion gave us a whole lot of discontinuity, as have liberals ever since. Roman Catholic priests, infant baptism, the Crusades, and prosperity gospel blessings have been the product of too much presumption toward continuity. Why not just acknowledge that the one God speaks in many times and in various ways…and that at different times he establishes different institutions (definition of an institution: an identity and behavior defining rule structure). 

To the specifics of your email, then…

I’m not sure I entirely grasp your first ecclesiological point. We are grafted into Israel through the new covenant, yes. But we’re not talking about covenantal membership. We’re talking about the institutional authority of a gathering of believers in Christ’s name with the keys of the kingdom, and what they have been explicitly authorized to require of one another in those gatherings.

I agree with your theological point, basically, but I would argue that the entire temple apparatus as it was practice in Israel has passed away, replaced by Christ himself who is our temple. Nowhere does the New Testament do away with priests either, but as part of the temple apparatus, they passed away. So it strikes me as somewhat arbitrary to pick and choose from among the temple practices and apparatuses saying, “This we keep (dance); this we lose (priests).” No, the whole thing was fulfilled and subsumed by Christ.

To the historical point, I think church’s dependence on the various patterns of the synagogue have been a bit overplayed (at least since Presbyterians began doing it in the 18th or 19th century in order to justify the rule of elders). It does seems reasonable to assume that there would have been some overlap in the practices and governance of the synagogue and the church. (Were the synagogues known for performance dance? I was unaware of this, but fine.) The difficulty with equating synagogue and church, however, is several-fold. First, the New Testament never suggests the possibility. Second, there was no consistent leadership pattern in the synagogue, e.g. not every synagogue had elders. Third, the synagogue was not simply a religious but a community institution. Fourth, Jesus and the NT authors could have named and patterned the ekklesia after the synagogue. He had the language available to him. But he and they didn’t. From the Aramaic he chose the word for assembly, and they chose the Greek word for a political assembly. It’s a different institution than the synagogue, it’s a different institution than the temple. And for each we ask, “God, what would you command and require?”

Let me clarify one last thing. I don’t have a problem with the kind of dancing that would be a natural movement of the body when singing. I do have reservations about performance dancing as a distinct element - what was called liturgical dance that was popular in some churches in the 80s and 90s. It was essentially a ballet performance. And I’m suggesting this has no more place in a church service than wheeling in a basketball hoop and shooting free throws as an act of praise to God during the church gathering. Bounce around and shake as you sing in ways that are culturally expected and normal, fine. But keep the special performances at home.

I hope this clarifies a few points, and persuades you utterly of the good sense of my position! But, ah, perhaps it won’t. I remain grateful for the dialogue.

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