Saturday, March 25, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 2

[Since this is a series, I want to remind my readers of what we are covering. Therefore, the beginning paragraph here is about the same as it was for the last post.]

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the second in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

In our previous post, we saw how one NT writer (Paul) was using the OT in a way that might seem unusual - taking an OT principle and "translating" it, so to speak, into a NT principle with the gospel and Christ taking the place of the Law and the OT commands. In this post, we will see how an Old Testament practice, fasting, is used differently in the New Testament church.

One of the reasons for fasting in OT times was to get God's attention so that He might change a bad situation. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, they produced a child. The prophet Nathan revealed David's sin and told him that the child would die. (Read the whole story here: 2 Samuel 12:1-23)

The child that Uriah’s widow bore to David ... was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

David understood something that those around him did not understand. He knew that it was possible that God might spare the child if he fasted and prayed for mercy. He also lay on the ground. He did this even though God had said that the child would die. He believed that God might change His mind. Once the child was dead, there was no more reason to continue this fast. Of course, in this case, God did not relent. His judgment stood firm. Sometimes, when OT saints would fast this way, they would put on sackcloth and spread ashes on their faces. They afflicted themselves to try to get God's attention.

Esther did a similar thing when she and her people were in a very dangerous place. The Jews were about to be wiped out by their enemies at the command of the Persian king. As queen, Esther was uniquely positioned to plead for her people to the king. Unfortunately, even the queen had to be summoned to come before the king to petition him. To arrive unsummoned meant death, carried out immediately. She had not been able to speak to the king. She risked her life, going before him to plead her case. Before that, however, she and the Jews in Susa fasted for three days, eating and drinking nothing at all. The purpose of the fast was so that God would allow Esther to enter the king's presence and petition him without harm. (It was not, as some have suggested, to break the power of witchcraft. See below.*)

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

It worked. Esther was allowed into the king's presence without harm and she was able to save her people. This is a wonderful and powerful use of fasting under the Old Covenant, but the question is: Should we do this today? Of course, Jesus made it clear that we should fast at various times in our Christian lives. He said,

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)

So fasting is a New Testament practice, but it seems that Jesus changed the rules on fasting. No more sackcloth and ashes. No more getting God's attention by afflicting oneself. What about the fasting itself? Do we fast to change things in this world like Esther did and David tried to do?

We do not fast this way in the New Testament era. We do not need to fast to get God's attention. We can instantly get His attention by using the Name of Jesus in prayer. The rules have changed quite a bit with the coming of Jesus. We should not go back to the OT way of fasting.

Why, then, do we NT Christians fast? Fasting keeps the flesh under. The flesh can dominate us at times and hold us in bondage. When we constantly feed the flesh with physical food and we constantly attend to its needs, we have trouble hearing from God. Fasting allows us to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit and hear God's voice more clearly. We are more sensitive to Him and His leadings. When we pray, we can then more accurately pray what God wants us to pray. Hearing God more clearly also gives us more confidence in what He has told us to do. Then, when we face challenges, we can face them boldly.

In other words, fasting does not change God, it changes us. We are the beneficiaries of the fast. When we are called to fast and pray, either individually or corporately, it is not the fasting that moves God, but believing prayer. Prayer changes things. Fasting changes us and makes us better able to hear God and pray.

As mentioned above, fasting can be used to break fleshly bondages. I had a friend who was "addicted" to drinking coffee. She drank about 50 cups per day. (Won't that kill you or something?) She fasted for several days just from coffee and broke that fleshly "addiction". We can fast in different ways according to the need. I do not recommend, however, going on a complete fast - no water at all - as Esther did. That can be dangerous. Some have ended up in the hospital because their fasting was severe or prolonged. I personally have never fasted more than two days. The goal of NT fasting is not to afflict oneself but to simply keep the flesh from dominating us.

I have used fasting for the times when I have had to hear from the Lord about something important, like making a big decision. Before moving here, I fasted so that I could hear Him more clearly and accurately so that I would be sure to know and do His will. We sometimes need a little help in hearing from the Lord. Often we would rather get someone else to tell us what to do rather than hear from God for ourselves. We lack confidence. Fasting can help us hear and be confident.

I believe in fasting, but I do not believe in simply taking the OT practices and bringing them into the Church. We are in a different, and better, position than the OT saints were. We have the Name of Jesus to use in prayer. We do not need to get God's attention with a bleeding sacrifice or fasting with sackcloth and ashes. Jesus paid the price so that we could "get an audience with the King" any time we need to.

[*Excursus: Fasting does break the power of witchcraft or demons as has been suggested recently. In the Hebrew book of Esther, witchcraft is never mentioned at all. The fast was for Esther that she might not die when she entered the presence of the king. Besides the OT clearly teaches that "No curse can touch Jacob; no magic has any power against Israel." (Numbers 23:23) So witchcraft could have had nothing to do with it. Even when the disciples could not cast out a demon and Jesus told them that "This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting", most translations and ancient manuscripts do not say "and fasting". The problem that the disciples had was not a lack of power or authority. Jesus had given that to them. The problem was with their unbelief. Fasting would have given them the ability to overcome that unbelief by being more sensitive to what God had told them and more confident in their authority. We have authority in the Name of Jesus to cast out demons. In the OT, an anointed singer and psalmist would play and sing to relieve people from demonic attacks. They did not fast to do so.]






Saturday, March 18, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 1

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the first in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Of course, how we use the Old Testament, especially, can be a little confusing. We know that certain things are directly carried forward from the Old Testament to the New. Commands regarding basic morality are a good example. "You shall not murder" and "You shall not commit adultery" are as valid in the NT as the were in the OT. In fact, the NT evens expands some of these moral principles. Jesus said, "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:28)

Then there are commands given to the Jewish nation that do not apply to the church. These are not moral laws but religious regulations. The Jews could not eat pork, for example, because it was considered 'unclean'. The NT abrogates such rules. All foods are allowed under the New Covenant.

These things are clearly laid out for us, but some things are less clear. Often a principle found in the OT applies quite differently in the NT. Here is an example from Romans 10:5-9:

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Now this might seem like a simple quotation from the OT, but it is not. In fact, the quote from the OT has been altered to fit the point that Paul wants to make and has a meaning opposite from the OT context. Paul even changes words when it suits him. Here is the OT passage that Paul quoted. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The words of God that Moses is talking are His commands. The words of God that Paul is talking about is the gospel (the word of faith). Moses talks about bringing the Law from Heaven; Paul applies this to Christ, not the Law. Moses speaks of going across the sea; Paul turns this into going into the 'abyss'. Perhaps bigger than anything, Moses is telling the Israelites to keep the Law of God in the mouths and hearts so that they can do the commands so that God can bless them. Paul tells the church that we are saved by believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and by confessing with our mouths the Lord Jesus.

This is really quite amazing. Paul seems to turn what Moses said on its head! But we have to look at two things here. One is the fact that the principle is the same, but that the application is quite different and it even contradicts, sometimes, its OT meaning. The principle is one about revelation. God revealed the Law to Moses and therefore the Israelites had to keep it and they could do that if they kept it in their mouths and hearts. Paul, however, applies it to the gospel. We now have the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to us so that we have no excuse not to believe and be saved.

The second important thing to understand is that we must be careful when applying certain OT principles in the NT era. Sometimes that principle has been transformed by Christ and the gospel.

With all this in mind, let's see how we can apply what Paul has said to other OT passages. We can take two passages from the OT that say something very similar to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Both of these OT quotations talk about the same thing, meditating on the Law of Moses. Should Christians do this? We have to say that in a way we should do it, but we have to transfer this principle into NT terms. We do need to meditate on the words of God, but not just on the Law of Moses. We need to meditate in the New Testament much more than in the Old. That is a proper application of the OT and I think that most Christians would apply it this way. However, what Paul does in Romans 10 is our justification for "translating" OT principles and making them applicable to the gospel.

We do need the Old Testament as well as the New. What we also must realize is that we cannot just yank anything out of the OT and apply it the NT era. We can easily get into foolishness and error that way.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Shack is Back!

The Shack, the book that inspired me to write a blog in the first place, has come out in movie form. The book was, and is, quite controversial because of the way it depicts the Trinity - as an old woman instead of a heavenly Father; a bumbling, less than omniscient son instead of the glorious Son of God. I did not care for that despite the needed message the book sought to convey: that God is not some unapproachable being who is far above our problems and concerns, but a person (or persons) to whom we can bring our deepest wounds and who brings comfort and healing. I have heard that the movie is better in making clear that the characters who appear as the persons of the Trinity are simply ways that God shows Himself to make Himself more relatable. But I have not seen the movie so I will not comment on that. Instead, I want to focus on our view of God and the attempt of some to try to change that - often for the worse.

This book is not the only attempt to make the God of the Bible more relatable. Some theologians and scholars have tried to re-define God in such a way that He does seem more relatable. Let's face it. There are barriers to fallen people to be able to relate to a holy God. He seems so great and powerful and separate from us that it is hard for us to understand how we can come into His presence.

A recent attempt to alter the traditional, Christian view of God is called Open Theism*. According to this view, God is not completely omniscient. He is bound by time and does not perfectly know the future. He is doing the best He can and will straighten everything out in the end. In the meantime, He is comforting and healing those in need. According to Open Theism, the traditional view of God as eternal (outside of time) and completely omniscient makes it impossible for men to relate to Him. How could someone approach such a God? Open Theists claim that their view allows us access to a God we can relate to and who can relate to us. So all Christians need to do is to alter how they see God.

There is a very interesting philosophical argument here, but it is not scriptural. God is clearly outside of time since the speaks of the beginning of time. Does "In the beginning" ring a bell? If God existed before the beginning, then He must exist outside of time. That puts Him above time - seeing all of history at one glance. He does know the future perfectly because He is already there. I don't know about you, but I take much more comfort in a God who knows everything than in a God who knows a whole bunch.

No, we cannot alter our view of God to make us better able to relate to Him. I cannot, however, just write these attempts off as simply wild heresy. There has been a real problem in the church with how we represent God. Yes, we must teach that God is omniscient and holy, but we have made Him unapproachable. In the Garden of Eden, God would fellowship freely with Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day". That fellowship was broken by their sin. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Is. 59:2) So, we do have the problem of sin and that is what truly separates man from God.

In the Old Testament era, God was 'locked up', so to speak, in the Holy of Holies of the temple and nobody could approach Him except the high priest once a year with the blood of an animal. This was so he would not die. "But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing." (Heb. 9:7-8) They could not come directly come into God's presence under the Old Covenant. Something more had to be done to restore man's lost fellowship.

That is why Jesus came. He did much more than just save us from Hell and take us to Heaven. He came to take Hell out of us and put Heaven into us. Does that sound radical to you? What about this scripture? "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) If Christ is in us, is not Heaven in us?

The people of the church have yet to realize our identity in Him. When we receive Christ, we first have our sins washed away. (Rev. 1:5) Then we receive a new nature, the nature of God Himself. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, OLD THINGS HAVE PASSED AWAY AND ALL THINGS HAVE BECOME NEW AND ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD." (2 Cor. 5:17-18) The old things are the old sinful nature you had along with all the junk that goes with it. The new things are the new nature, spiritual fruit, etc. "That we might be partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) We are truly God's children, not just emotionally, but actually, since children inherit their nature from their parents. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:7)

We have the nature of God in our spirits and we can now fellowship with God and enter His presence anytime we like. Our relationship with God has been fully restored and it is even better than what Adam and Eve had in the Garden. In fact, we have received the gift of righteousness. (Romans 5:17) I learned a long time ago that you cannot earn righteousness. It is a gift. It is, in fact, God's own righteousness imparted to us. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The problem with our theology has not been because we had too high of a view of who God is, but a too low view of who He has made us to be. If we had understood that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ, then we would have had boldness to come to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need. (Heb. 4:16) We could pour out our heart to Him and He would listen and give comfort and healing for our hurts.

So, we do need to change our view, but the answer is not to depart from what the scripture teaches about God. The answer is to dig deeper into the Bible and discover how God has completely reconciled us through Christ and how we can enter His presence without any sense of guilt or inferiority, for He is our Father. What a great and wonderful Father He is!


*Advocates of the Open Theism view includes some like Pentecostal scholar Clark Pinnock and C. Peter Wagner of the New Apostolic Reformation.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Now you've gone too far!

{I am back blogging again. It's been a couple of years, but I have some things on my heart I wish to share. I had followers in the double digits before and I hope they will come back. For those who read this, I welcome you as well as your comments.}

As I often have I am writing about one of my pet peeves. This one is an example of taking analogies and imagery in the Bible and taking them too far, thereby distorting and misapplying them. The answer to this is to ask ourselves the question, 'Does the Bible really teach that?'. At the same time, I want to get the complete revelation of what God has for us in these images.

One of the most common types of imagery is military imagery. In our own society, we talk about fighting all kinds of diseases and poverty and injustices. Our politicians, when running for office, run a "campaign". The Bible also has a lot of military imagery and, of course, actual armies as well. The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to Joshua calling Himself 'Captain of the Lord of hosts'. We read about God fighting battles on behalf of Israel, bringing down Jericho without any fighting by the Israelites at all. We have young David defeating Goliath in the name of the Lord. In Daniel, we have angels having to fight demonic powers that ruled over Persia at that time. (Daniel 10)

The New Testament is also full of military imagery, except that our enemies are not men, but demons. Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers ... triumphing over them ...". (Col 2:15) Then Paul uses similar imagery regarding the church. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ." (2 Cor 2:14) Paul sees use in a triumphal procession, having defeated our enemies. And God is the One who led us into that victory. Again, "we are more than conquerors through Christ". (Romans 8:37)

Then there is Ephesians 6:10-17 where we are instructed to "put on the full armor of God". Indeed, those who do want to live the victorious Christian life will experience much spiritual conflict because the Devil wants to keep us in bondage. We must enforce his defeat. There is a saying in the world about freedom that applies to us here. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The Enemy is constantly trying to keep us down. We are not ignorant of his devices and we must be ever aware of how he is trying to oppress us. We ought to take full advantage of the armor of God and the "weapons of our warfare" (2 Cor 10:4) . We certainly do need it in this demon-filled world we live in.

But can we take this military imagery too far? I have often heard Christians say, "We are the army of God". Does the Bible actually say that? Is that the conclusion we have to draw from the scriptures that use military imagery? Maybe, but I am not sure. If we are "the army of God" why does the NT not say so directly? The NT does call us a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the body of Christ. That is quite direct language. It never calls us an army. Why not?

One could point out that Paul told Timothy,"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Tim 2:3-4) Here it calls Timothy a soldier and speaks as if he is in an army. But read the subsequent verses as well. "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops." (2 Tim 2:5-6) Paul then calls Timothy an athlete and a farmer! The NT has several places where athletic imagery is used, but nobody calls the church an athletic team. And farming imagery is more prominent in the NT than military imagery. Jesus used agricultural imagery in His parables and His teachings all the time. Yet, nobody that I know of has said that we were a farming cooperative!

Additionally, even the imagery of the armor of God is actually a mixed metaphor. It says that we "wrestle" against these principalities, etc. Soldiers do not wrestle, they fight. We have military and athletic imagery combined here. Wrestling is very strenuous and is one-on-one unlike the ways that armies fight. Yet we need military armor to do this wrestling. It's strange when you think about it.

I am not necessarily saying that it is wrong to call the church, 'the army of God', but I do not teach it. Also, I have seen this "army of God" saying taken too far. I know of a couple of ministers who have gone so far as to say that we not only are an army, but that we have different ranks and a kind of military order in the church. But the NT never speaks of believers as being "ranked" as such. I heard one say that there are "generals and privates" in this army and that generals give orders and privates obey them. Really? Where exactly does the NT say that? I certainly believe in authority in the church, but is it military type of authority? Of course, this minister does say that the five-fold ministry is to govern the church. That is fine, but what does that have to do with generals and privates?

Look at the imagery used when the NT talks about the five-fold ministry. The main passage is in Ephesians chapter four. You will find no military imagery here. Instead, the imagery is that of a body, an organic unit where the head is Christ. Also, we have a similar list of ministries at the end of 1 Corinthians 12. Once again, the context is one of a body and not of an army. In fact, no place in the NT where it says to submit to the elders of the local church is any military imagery used. Even the term "bishop" or "overseer" is not military.

I have seen those who have been so caught up in the church being "the army of God" that they begin to get a militant attitude and begin abusing the authority that they have. They will order people about and then rebuke anyone who does not instantly obey. It is not a question of who has authority but the manner in which they exercise it. It's often an attitude that's the real difference. "Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant." (Mark 10:42-43)

We need to use the right images in the ways that they were intended. With regard to our relationships with one another, we love one another as brothers and sisters. With regards to ministry and church life, we are to function as a body - each one contributing with their gifts and callings and taking orders from the Head. And in our facing the Enemy, we need to be vigilant and not let him kill, steal and destroy. That is where military images are appropriate. We should not get carried away with any truth in the Bible or we can distort it. Instead, we should keep all these things in balance. Then we will be successful.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letter about gay "marriage" and the UMC

Last January I wrote a letter to Ron Mason, Chincoteague UMC's representative at the Virginia Annual Conference, regarding the issue of so-called gay marriage and of homosexuality in general. It was not my intention to put this letter on my blog but some have asked that I make the letter available online so I am using this forum to do just that. I plan on resuming my regular blogging next week. Here is the body of the letter plus some more information at the end. I hope that this will help those upset and confused about this issue what I think and know about it.

Here it is:

Letter from Brian Scarborough to Ron Mason who represented the Chincoteague UMC at the Virginia Annual Conference in 2015:

I have spent much time studying and keeping up with the issue of homosexuality and the response of the churches. I also know that the roots of this controversy in the church goes much deeper than this current hot button issue. It has to do with basic views regarding the Bible and exactly what the Bible is to us. Is it the fully inspired Word of God or is it a book written by men who did their best to understand what God was saying to them? But I cannot get into all that now. I will try to take the issues a step at a time.

1. What is homosexuality?
This might seem obvious to us, but we may mean different things when we use the term. It originally meant, and means in the Bible, those who have sex with a person of their own gender. But today it often means those who have a homosexual “orientation”. In other words, they have the natural desire for a person of the same sex. The Bible does not recognize or deal with the modern view that we may be “oriented” one way or another, it only deals with behavior. This means, very simply, that homosexual ‘feelings’ or desires are not discussed or condemned in the Bible at all. The closest it gets to this is in the whole subject of temptation.
We all have temptations, feelings that lead us in the wrong direction that, if yielded to, makes us sin. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14-15) Jesus was tempted but did not sin. Temptations (feelings) are not sin.
So, when we discuss this subject in the church, we must be clear that we are talking about behavior and not feelings. Nobody is saying that someone is wrong because of how they feel.

2. What is marriage?
Lost in this debate is a discussion of what marriage truly is and what it does for society. Before there was a church or synagogue, there was marriage. It has been around from the beginning and has been practiced by all cultures and been recognized by all as a foundational institution. And it has only been defined one way – the union of a man and a woman, preferably for life. It is protected by law and custom and any violation of the marriage covenant is universally condemned. Even in a sexually permissive culture like ours, adultery is still judged as wrong.
However, in our modern, individualistic culture marriage has been seen as little more than a means of personal fulfillment, a social contract between two people. People get married so that they can be happy, as our romance novels continually affirm. But that is not why society puts such a high value on marriage. The (physical) union of a man and woman is the only relationship that produces children. (Technology may allow us to produce children outside the womb, but we still need something from the male and female to accomplish this.) From the joining of the man and woman we not only have children that they love, nourish and protect, but these unions have produced all humans from Adam and Eve onward. This is how we create the next generation. It is not just a benefit to society, it is the very means of society’s propagation and survival. The whole complex of human relationships – aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc – stems from man and woman. It makes the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation.
Children are nourished and raised best, under normal circumstances, by their biological parents. (We all understand that this is not always possible or always the best.) Children want, and need, both a mother and a father, not one or two of each. Recently, a well-known celebrity, who is gay, adopted a boy. When the boy became old enough, he told his adopted mom that he wanted a daddy. She told him that mommy was not the kind of mommy who wanted to live with a daddy but the kind who wanted another mommy. He still wanted a daddy, not another mommy. She thinks that he just does not understand, but it is she who does not understand. He truly needs a father.
Fatherless families have created havoc with children and contribute enormously to societal ills. They suffer because there is no father in the home. Do not think that I am “picking on” single mothers. They know this. I have had literally dozens of single mothers work for me and they all wanted (dare I say it) a normal family with a husband/father, wife/mother along with the children. Single motherhood is a social disaster. It is the main cause of childhood poverty and criminality especially among males. (I could go into this in depth, but I am only making a point about marriage and children.)
Every society has sought to honor and protect the unique relationship of marriage because it offers great benefits to society and is actually more important than either church or government. So the question now is: what benefits does society get from the union of two men or two women? None. Society has no reason to give this relationship any special status at all much less make it legally equal to the relationship of a man and woman.
What about “marriage equality”? There is no such thing. The union of two men or two women can never be equal to the union of a man and woman. Their relative contribution to society show that gay marriage is not equal to traditional marriage.
Can “gay marriage” rightfully be called marriage at all? I would contend that it does not. As Chief Justice Roberts told a lawyer who was arguing for gay marriage, you can say that the bond between two of the same gender is marriage, but that is to change the meaning of the word ‘marriage’. He said that if he told his son to go make friends with that boy over there, he might do it but the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has changed.
We live in a society that accepts just about any sort of living arrangement in whatever the relationships among those living there might be. Those relationships are sometimes sexual, but often they are not. People are legally free to do what they want and most people will leave them alone whether or not they approve. Gays are free to do this, but some of them want more than that. They want the government and the church to put their stamp of approval on this relationship. They want to be “equal” with heterosexual and their relationships. But it is not equal.
Notice that I have not even touched on what the Bible says about marriage. I will do so now:

3. What does the Bible say about marriage?
It is very basic and simple. It is the lifelong joining of a man and woman in a covenant relationship. “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” … Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 1:26-27;2:24) It seems that the Bible confirms universal human experience, or vice-versa.
What about polygamy - didn’t they practice that in the Old Testament? Yes, but when the matter of easy divorce came up, Jesus said that some things God allowed because of the hardness of men’s hearts. He then told them to go back to the verse quoted here from Genesis as the truth about marriage. It is not just joining together, it is multiplying as well. There was no polygamy in the beginning. In the Bible, marriage is only the union of a man and a woman. For that reason alone the church should not approve so-called ‘gay marriage’.
4. What are the arguments for gay marriage?
One of the arguments made is why not? What harm does a gay marriage do to others? Well, perhaps none. The point is not whether your relationship does any harm to anyone, but whether or not your relationship deserves the special status of marriage. I think I clearly have shown that traditional marriage offers huge benefits to society without anything comparable coming from gay marriage.
Another argument is the “equality” argument. We like equality, but I have shown that they are not equal except that someone might be personally fulfilled. Personal fulfillment is not the purpose or goal of marriage though it might be the motive of those who marry. The purpose of marriage is the sustaining and propagating of the community. Also, the assertion is made that we heterosexuals can marry whomever we like, but that homosexuals cannot. That is not exactly true. We are all under the same rules/laws and we cannot always “marry anyone we want”. Some relationships are illegal – incestuous, underage, polygamist – and the one I want may not want me. We do not always get what we want. Furthermore, God has not ordained “gay marriage”.
A third argument is made when it is pointed out that no society has ever had gay marriage so why should we suddenly put the label of marriage on a homosexual relationship. This argument has two parts. First the assertion is made that traditional societies (non-Western especially) have condemned homosexuality but that now we are more enlightened. The response is that some societies, like the ancient Greeks, celebrated as well as condoned homosexual relationships. But it never occurred to the Greeks, or anyone else, to call these relationships “marriage”. That leads us to the second part of this argument: in ancient times people did not have the kinds of “good” gay relationships that we have today. I would like to know what evidence they have for this assertion. The idea that ancient people were not as enlightened or as virtuous as we are is nothing but pride and ignorance as far as I am concerned. They were perfectly capable, and no doubt had, any kind of good, or bad, relationship that we have today.

5. What does the Bible say about gay sex?
I realize that there is disagreement among some in the church about the correct interpretation of the Scriptures regarding homosexual activity. However, I think that you would have to have some pretty fanciful ways of interpreting it to get to any kind of approval of gay sex. It does not move me that scholars and ministers have interpreted the Bible in such a way that they end up with making homosexuality a positive good when done in the right context. Scholars have made some really outrageous claims about the Bible and that is not just among the critics of the Bible but among its proponents as well. I wonder if some have come to the Bible hoping that it will say what they want it to say rather than let the Bible determine how they ought to think, believe and act. I am not saying that their motive is necessarily wrong, but we are all prone to self-deception in our desire to have God approve of how we think.
What does the Old Testament teach about homosexuality? “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22-23) Is this not clear? Can it be interpreted as anything else except to show that gay sex is sin? Obviously not, yet there are those who would deny this. They say that this rule only applies to a certain context – either it’s a violent act or idolatry is involved. Let’s look at the context: “You shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her … You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it.” To consistently interpret this passage we must treat all three situations the same. If you say that homosexuality is only wrong in a very specific context (idolatry), then you must apply that to adultery and bestiality as well. When is adultery and bestiality wrong? Always and in all circumstances. We must say that about homosexuality as well.
What does the New Testament teach about homosexuality? “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.” (Romans 1:26-27) To me, this is also crystal clear. Homosexuality is sin (the act, not the feelings). Once again, though, some fancy interpretive work is done to justify homosexual activity. The focus becomes the expression “contrary to nature”. Amazingly, this is seen as referring to the fact that a homosexual act is “unnatural” to a heterosexual, so it is sin for a heterosexual, but not for a homosexual because it is “natural” for a homosexual to have gay sex. So this is supposedly written for heterosexuals and not homosexuals. (You might think that I am making this up but I am not. People, scholars no less, have said as much.) There are two huge errors in what I hesitate to dignify with the term “interpretation”. The first is the fact that the whole orientation issue I discussed earlier is a modern concept, not an ancient or biblical one. They are saying that the application of this condemnation depends on the orientation of the individual and not on the action. There was no such thinking in the first century. What is spoken of is action, not orientation. The second thing wrong here is that the term “contrary to nature” does not refer to how someone feels as in “it’s not in my nature to do that”, but refers to a sex act occurring in a way that does not correspond with how our bodies come together in the sex act. Simply put, the appropriate place for the male organ is the female organ. In male homosexuality, you need one partner to play the female role and use a substitute for the female organ. This is contrary to the natural order. In sex, one naturally needs the male and female, but without one of those a substitute must be used. That is what Paul is saying. Two men do not naturally fit together. Neither do two women. He is showing that homosexuality is not just a sin, but that it goes against the way that our bodies are created.
Additionally, like the Leviticus passage, Paul puts sexual sins in the same category. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Notice that adultery, fornication and ‘uncleanness’ are mentioned together. Adultery is having sex with someone outside a marriage. Fornication is sex between people who are not married. Uncleanness actually refers to homosexual relations that Leviticus put under the laws regarding uncleanness. Some have said that we no longer need the levitical laws regarding uncleanness since Jesus did away with them. But Jesus only did away with some of them. He did not do away with the laws regarding sexual uncleanness. In the above Leviticus passage, Moses calls adultery, bestiality and homosexuality ‘uncleanness’. Jesus did not say that sexual uncleanness was okay. In fact, Jesus raised standards for sexual morality in the Sermon on the Mount. “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Jesus did not preach a loosening of sexual mores but a strengthening of them.
There are many subjects in the Bible where there is legitimate disagreement because of uncertainty of various biblical texts. But the Bible is not unclear when it comes to morality. God made sure that the Bible was clear on the more important issues, like the gospel and morality, though He was less clear about less important ones. We are not disagreeing about whether or not it is right to drink alcohol or on what is the proper mode of baptism. These things we can differ on. Regarding basic morality, we cannot afford to compromise. We must stand with the Bible no matter how we might think that it should not be that way. We must humble ourselves to God and His Word.

6. What has been happening in the United Methodist Church regarding these issues?
I can’t cover it all, but I will summarize the best I know how. In 1972 at the General Conference there was a statement added to the Book of Discipline that said something like ‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ I think it is weak language, but I will accept it. It should read “homosexual activity is a sin”. More could be added to that.
Every four years since then, at General Conference, some activists have tried to overturn this. Progressives want the Book of Discipline to treat homosexual relations, including gay marriage, as if it is not sinful activity and traditionalists want to keep homosexuality in the list of sins and do not want any minister to officiate at a gay wedding.
In 2008, the attempt to overturn the 1972 statement was almost successful. If only the US churches were involved in the voting, the 1972 statement would have been overturned. But 20% of the vote came from overseas, especially Africa where the UMC is growing very rapidly. (In fact, they are underrepresented according to their numbers.) The foreign vote is almost entirely on the side of the traditionalists. The progressives were sure that the 2012 vote would go their way. It did not because the overseas vote was up to 30%. Many progressives were very frustrated and realize that in 2016 the overseas vote could be as a high as 35% or 40%. That would mean that the progressives could never win. They have made “progress”, if that is what you want to call it, in bringing the US part of the UMC to the point of overturning the 1972 statement. On the verge of “victory”, they have been denied, probably permanently.
The reaction has not been completely gracious. Some have decided to simply defy and disobey the Book of Discipline. One minister in Pennsylvania, Rev. Franky Schaeffer decided to “marry” his son and his gay partner. He was (rightfully) defrocked. Then a Judicial Council overturned that defrocking. This was done on a couple of technicalities, but the effect of the decision is to restore him to ordained status. This was the most obvious, but not the only, act of rebellion against the Book of Discipline. Some bishops and ministers, even entire Conferences, have stated that they plan on doing what they term “justice”, rebelling against the decision of the General Conference and marrying same-sex couples.
Another reaction has been the attempt by some progressives to limit the vote of the General Conference to Methodist churches in the US. They want to cut out the African vote. So much for inclusiveness and diversity. In the political sphere, this would have been labeled ‘racism’ but I will not do that. It is a racial injustice, however. It is excluding those they disagree with because their culture agrees with the Book of Discipline. It seems to me that we could learn a lesson from them about morality.
My comment: if these rebels had any integrity at all and believed that the Book of Discipline was unjust in this matter and that it would never be “made right” in their eyes, then they should resign and go start their own church. It is not about them satisfying their own consciences (which I would say were corrupted consciences), but about them forcing their views on the rest of us. Otherwise, they would write a letter to their bishop or the Council of Bishops (or whatever they call it) saying why they can no longer stay within the UMC. They are acting as if it their right to do with the church as they see fit.

7. Since society increasingly accepts homosexuality and many gay people are now legally ‘married’, how should the UMC respond?
A. We should not respond by condoning any sin. Lowering standards of holiness is dangerous and contrary to the gospel.
B. Offer grace to homosexuals. We need to understand the true grace of God. The grace of God saves us from sin. It does not release us from the responsibility of doing what is right. It brings us to repentance and forgiveness, but not permissiveness.“ For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12) The grace of God teaches us to live right.
Years ago, I was in a non-UMC church and a young fellow came into the church and began attending. He was not so much interested in God as he was in a young lady who was also attending. This young man was a drug dealer and, on the surface, a Satan-worshipper. He wore a jacket with all kinds of satanic symbols on it. Nobody responded negatively to him at all. In fact, everyone just loved him and welcomed him. Today, that man is a preacher of the gospel.
C. How should we treat the homosexual? Like anyone else. The Bible tells us how to treat others – with love and respect, not with condemnation. The example of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a perfect example. He told her, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” I am not saying that we tell them to go, but I am saying that while we do not condemn a person, we do not condone their sin or affirm them in it.
D. If we expect homosexuals, along with other sinners, to repent, obviously we will not give those still practicing homosexuality a position in the church much less make them an ordained minister.
E. Regarding our response to the world, are we not to be a light to it and not the other way around? It seems like progressives want to take cues from the world rather than shining the light of the gospel.
F. We cannot compromise with the world with regards to marriage. We can never condone same-sex marriage.

8. Won’t the church grow if we are more inclusive? Won’t marrying same sex couples actually bring more people into the church and show that we are not judgmental towards them?
It might seem that if we reflect the world’s values, then we will be more attractive to the world. But that is not the way it has worked in practice. When Frank Schaeffer performed a same sex marriage in his church, he split the church wide open. He immediately lost half of the members who have never returned. In short, he destroyed the church when he selfishly decided that he knew better than the Book of Discipline.
The Episcopal Church (EC) suffered greatly after ordaining a practicing homosexual as bishop. This man had abandoned his wife and children to live with another man. Instead of defrocking him, they made him a bishop. Attendance fell by 24% and a schism was created that still continues to this day. Many congregations and one whole conference has left the EC. Another Anglican body was created to accommodate those who left.
The evidence is in. Whenever the church compromises with the world and becomes like the world, true Christians often leave and the world figures that it does not need the church because the church is really no different than it is.

[Addendum to the letter: Since the writing of this letter the Virginia Conference of the UMC has passed a resolution saying that it is in favor of removing the above statement in the Book of Discipline that states, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The outcome of the vote on this, while reprehensible, has no effect on the Book of Discipline and changes nothing within the Virginia Conference. All the churches in the Conference are still subject to the Book of Discipline and Bishop Cho has made it clear that he will not accept any violations of it.
In May of 2016, the General Conference will meet again as it does every four years. I believe that this is the last chance that the pro-gay group has of winning this battle. After next year, the foreign vote, which is nearly 100% in favor of maintaining the language, will simply be too large for the US liberals to overthrow. So it seems that 2016 may be a watershed year. We ought to focus our prayers on that Conference.
By the way, it seems that Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, who has been fighting against the liberals for decades in the UMC, agrees with my assessment. He has a guest columnist on this blog writing about this matter. See it online.
https://juicyecumenism.com/2015/07/07/the-next-umc-general-conference-will-be-decisive/
Of course, the website, which has many excellent articles mostly about the UMC can be found at
https://juicyecumenism.com/
For a good article on the growth of the UMC in Africa go to:
http://goodnewsmag.org/2015/06/where-are-united-methodists/
Note: Good News magazine has a slightly different view than IRD does on how conservatives should respond to the liberal challenge within the UMC. Good News takes the view that the UMC should split amicably into two denominations, one liberal and one conservative. IRD does not want any sort of split but wants to keep the church together and fend off the liberal challenge.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Didn't I Think Of That?

It happened this past month to me. I was reading an article in a Christian publication and I said to myself, "I should have thought of that". I have previously boasted of my education in economics and in Bible - an unusual combination. But I was reading this article that takes a simple, well-known principle of economics and applies it to the cross of Christ. So at the risk of plagiarizing, I will essentially repeat what I read. I cannot improve on it.

The economic principle is very simple. Things are worth to us what we are willing to pay for them. Sometimes we say that someone "paid too much" for something. We might mean two different things by that. We could mean that they could have gotten it cheaper, or we could mean that in paying the only price they could have paid for the item that they got a bad deal. The latter only means that we do not value it as highly as the person who bought it. It was obviously worth it to them.

Sometimes old paintings go at auctions for millions of dollars. Even if I had that kind of money, I would not pay anywhere near that much. I do not value them that highly, but those who pay apparently think they are worth it. It's the value they personally place on the painting.

So, how does this relate to the cross? Christ's death on the cross was the price that God paid to redeem us. And He would have paid that same price even if were only you. So that is the value that God has put on you. You are worth the price that Jesus paid to get you. That is what you were worth to God.

Think of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The merchant sold all that he had to obtain that pearl. To me, no pearl would be worth that much. The merchant, however, knew what it was really worth. it was worth - everything.

We are created in the image of God, so we are worth the price that Jesus paid to get us. He values His image that much. Our problem is that we do not think that we were worth it, but we were.

Sometimes I watch these car shows where they buy some old junker so that they can fix it up and sell it. I wouldn't pay five dollars for those old rust buckets. They are so marred and corroded that they are just trash to me. They see it differently than I do. They see what it was and what it can be again. They fix it and make it better than new. They restore it.

God is in the restoration business. He is the best at it. If we allow Him, He will make us better than new. But I also want us to remember that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". (Romans 5:8) That means that he valued us so highly before we were even restored. We mean everything to Him. He means everything to us.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Beginnings

I am not one of those people who watches or reads "the year in review" on TV or in articles. First of all, I consider it a lazy sort of journalism. Certainly there are some current news stories (besides jets crashing in the ocean) that are worth covering. Second, do they really think that we have forgotten what happened this year? And what makes them think that I want to be reminded. I do not want to see the Ferguson riots again or be reminded of who died or recall the horrific things that happened to people. As Jesus said, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Didn't the apostle Paul say that we should be "forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead"?. If bad things have happened we can perhaps learn something from them, but don't want to dwell on them. We can be thankful for the good in our lives, but we don't even to dwell too much on those things either. We can get complacent with where we are in the Lord and not look forward to what God has for us in the future. We all still have plenty of room to grow spiritually. God still has more great things for us.

Now I do want to remember the good things that God has done for me and those I care about. I always thank God at the end of the year for His faithfulness in the past year. Then I ask God about what He has for me in the new year. He doesn't generally tell me too much, but He always has some little word of encouragement.

Some people make New Year's resolutions. I do not. That does not mean that I do not have things that I want to improve on. I do. But what I want to do the most is improve in the areas where God wants me to improve. And I know that any fleshly effort will end in failure. I need His help and guidance. I need grace. A lot of resolutions fail because they are carried out in the flesh without the Spirit of God in it.

At this point you might be thinking that New Year's is not that important to me and you would generally be right. But there was one New Year's Day that sticks in my mind. It was 31 years ago today. January 1, 1984 was a Sunday and we went to church. I do not remember all the preacher said but I do remember him talking about how a new year can bring 'new beginnings'. I heard those two words, 'new beginnings', over and over in my head for the next week or so. It absolutely was God speaking to me.

At the time we were living in Pennsylvania, going to a good church in Ohio, but we had been barely getting along financially for years and I was cut off from my family. I was making minimum wage in a dead-end job and I had nowhere to teach the Bible as I desired to do. Then God spoke this Word into my heart and everything began to change. Within a month, I was reconciled to my parents. In April, I visited my parents who had moved to Chincoteague and my father offered me a job running his new store. We moved to Chincoteague immediately. Soon after we moved, I was asked to teach about the gifts of the Spirit in one Bible study and was asked to start another in another couple's home. These were definitely new beginnings for us.

I don't know all that God has in store for us in this new year, but I know that He has "plans for good and not for calamity." I believe it will be even better than last year though it may have its challenges. As for the bad stuff that happened in the past, forget it.