Saturday, September 1, 2018

Covetousness and Contentment

How does one know if there is some covetousness in them? Is it okay to want what you do not currently have, or is that covetousness? Where do we draw the line?

One of the trickiest areas of determining sin in our lives is with covetousness. The NT says that covetousness is idolatry, and Paul said that when he was young it was covetousness that tripped him up. (Colossians 3:7; Romans 7:7 ff.) So if I want a new car, am I being covetous? Should I suppress that desire? Let's see what the scriptures might say about things like that.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Most of us are familiar with the latter part of the Timothy passage. The expression "the love of money is the root of all evil" is well known not just in the church but in the world. Unfortunately, the rest of the passage is not that well known. And I think that it holds the key to helping define what covetousness is.

I want to note that in both of these passages, covetousness is contrasted with contentment. In other words, a content person is not covetous and a covetous person is not content with what he has. So, contentment is a key factor in not being covetous, perhaps the main one. And we are given a good reason to be content - because God will not forsake us financially and materially. That is what it says in Hebrews. I don't think that most Christians are aware of the fact that the author of Hebrews talks about the Lord "never leaving us, nor forsaking us" in the context of finances.

Jesus Himself said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these [material things]will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) That means we do not have to worry and covet and put material things first. God will meet our material needs if we serve Him first. I think there is another key to understanding our relation to material things. Jesus did not say not to obtain things. Just don't put them first. Put Him first. (Material things might be down the list a ways.) It is okay to desire things as long as it is in its proper place in your life.

Some examples:

Example 1: I know a woman who hated her carpet and wanted to change it. However, things did not work out in such a way that she was able to get a new one right away. She had children in college first and then a major financial setback and then other things happened making it hard to get new carpeting without going into debt.Eventually, she got her new carpeting and she actually got new furniture to match the carpeting and more as well. She was very patient to get all this. She waited for 21 years! That is a long time, but though she really wanted that new carpet, she had other priorities. She was not covetous. She was content with what she had. (By the way, I am not suggesting that it is wrong to borrow money to fix up your house.) She is much better off financially today because she was not covetous.

Example 2: I know a woman whose husband loved and wanted to buy something nice for her - a beautiful necklace. Unfortunately, they could not afford it as it cost $800.00 and they were already in debt. Nevertheless, they went together and bought the necklace anyway. (Some would find this romantic; I find it to be foolish.) It put them into a terrible financial bind and with many other bad financial decisions, they got into debt and bondage. That was covetousness. Some would find it to be romantic and think that God must approve, but I doubt it. Could a poor couple like this be considered covetous? Yes. Poor people can be just as covetous as anyone. Sometimes that is their problem. They can't wait until they can afford something, they have to have it NOW! This couple never made it financially and eventually they broke up. I cannot say why but their mishandling money certainly did not help.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that contentment will prevent covetousness, but that does not mean that one cannot desire material things. We just have to give them the proper priority and also not buy things you cannot afford. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Breath and Inspiration

2 Timothy 3:16 reads, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." NIV

I want you to notice the term, "God-breathed", which is often translated "inspired". We know that the Scriptures are divinely inspired. But there are different theories about the inspiration of the Bible and what that means for us. Some say that the Bible is partially inspired, in other words, some parts came from God and some are just "harmless" human errors. Others affirm that the whole Bible, every word of the Bible, is true.

In recent years, there has been a new view the inspiration of the Scriptures. It is said that God did not speak or write through the human authors, but He inspired true ideas and let them write it out in their own words and with their own limited understanding and their supposedly erroneous history. For example, when we study Genesis 1-11, it is said that this is not history (though it is written as historical narrative like the rest of Genesis) but that God used their faulty understanding of history in such a way so as to convey the correct ideas. So, it is ideas which are the important part of this and not the history.

This causes us not a few problems. What about Christ's resurrection? Is that a historical event or does it just convey to us a correct idea? Some false teachers have put forth the notion that what is actually true is the idea behind the resurrection though the resurrection never actually occurred in time and space. This is the kind of conclusion that one can draw from separating historical truth from thematic truth.

God has revealed Himself in history through the nation of Israel and in Jesus Christ. We see God's action and not just His ideas. God's revelation of Himself is both historical and revelatory and those two exist in a tension that is shown to us in the Bible.

I am not getting into a full-blown discussion of this here, but I want to focus on the expressions "God-breathed" and "inspired" which are translations of a Greek compound word, "Theo-pneustos". Theo = God; pneustos = breath, or breathe out. In other words, God breathed out the Scriptures through the human authors who wrote it down. Examining the term, Theo-pneustos, we can uncover the true nature of divine inspiration. "Pneustos" is a Greek word with a broad semantic range. (The semantic range is the meanings of a particular word in various contexts.) "Pneustos" can mean 'spirit', 'air', 'anger', and 'breath'. It obviously means 'breath' in the context of 2 Timothy 3:16.

A heard a Greek word-study expert teach on the use of 'pneustos' occurring in ancient Greek literature. He noted that one way it was used was to denote the playing of a wind instrument. When someone plays the flute, for example, she breathes through the flute to produce a song. She moves her fingers to play certain notes ultimately making a melody.

This really captured my imagination. (Inspired me?) First, it is clear that divine inspiration does mean that God breathes his Word through "holy men of God who were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20)." But I also got the image that if you have two instruments, say, a flute and clarinet, and they each play the same tune, it will sound different. That's what we have in the Bible. Two human authors, each bringing forth the same truth, but sounding much different.

We find the truth expressed often in very different ways and in different words. The incarnation is a good example of this.

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God … And the Word became flesh. John 1

I had a discussion one time with someone who thought that the whole idea of incarnation was nothing but a conspiracy dreamed up by early Christians to convince everyone that they had had the truth. But if people conspired and came up with an idea like the incarnation of Jesus Christ, then why would they use such different language to express it. No, they would have agreed on the language and would say things the same way.

The fact that they had the same revelation and expressed it individually means that God truly inspired them with the same message. The very words themselves are inspired and true. As Paul wrote:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Abraham Had Two Sons

"Abraham had two sons..." So begins Paul's allegory regarding Israel and the Church, the two peoples of God. Let's look at this allegory from Galatians 4:21-31.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar — for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children — but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:

“Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear. Break forth and shout,You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.”

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Paul had a problem in the churches in Galatia. Some Jews had infiltrated the churches telling the Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised to be saved. They were saying that Gentiles must become Jews in order to become Christians. This is contrary to the gospel. Unfortunately, some Christian ministers even today are trying to put the church under the Law of Moses. Some insist that we ought to keep the Jewish festivals like Passover and others that we need to eat kosher and obey other OT laws that have nothing to do with living a godly life.

At the root of these false doctrines is a misunderstanding of the biblical covenants and the relationship between the (unsaved) Jews and the born-again Christians, the church. One must understand that three covenants are relevant to this question. The first is the covenant God made with Abraham. The second is the Mosaic covenant, or the Law of Moses. The third, of course, is the New Covenant.

God made a covenant with Abraham promising a "Seed" coming forth from his own body. God told him that his seed would be as "the sand of the sea" and the "stars of the sky". Now it is interesting that God gave Abraham two distinct images of what his seed would be. Many commentators believe that this indicates that there would be a natural seed of Abraham (the Jews like the sand of the sea) and a spiritual seed (the church like the stars of the sky). This would correspond with Paul's idea about the "two sons".

There is a covenant that belonged to Israel that God made with them when He brought them out of Egypt:
So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:3-8

This was not a renewing of the Abrahamic covenant but it was another covenant that was needed because Israel violated the Abrahamic covenant. "It was added because of transgressions until the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." (Galatians 3:19) "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'and to seeds' as of many, but as of one, 'and to your Seed', who is Christ." (Gal. 3:16) During the period from the exodus from Egypt until Christ (the Promised Seed), the natural son (Israel) was under the Mosaic Covenant (the Law). Once Christ came and fulfilled the Law, He inaugurated a New Covenant not based on physical descent but on faith in Him. "Therefore, it is of faith that it might be by grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed … to those who of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all." (Romans 4:16)

So, Christ is the Promised Seed of Abraham and because we are in Christ, we are also the seed of Abraham. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:27-19)

Getting back to Paul's allegory, we find that unbelieving Israel is represented by Ishmael (Abraham's son born according to the flesh) who will not inherit with the promised seed Isaac, who was born by the Spirit, by a miracle. Isaac represents the church, the spiritual seed of Abraham. We do not need to be circumcised or to celebrate the "feasts of the Lord" or eat kosher or follow any other law except what we are given us under the New Covenant.

You might be tempted to say, "What about the scripture in Romans 11 that tells us that we are grafted in and the scriptures that say that Jew and Gentile will be "one new man"? Does that not indicate that Jews and Christians are to be one and that Christians should celebrate the feasts, etc. alongside our Jewish brethren?"

This is a misunderstanding. We need to examine scriptures that talk about these things in the context they were written and not isolate them from other relevant passages. It is only by taking into account all scripture on a particular subject can we get a proper understanding of it.

First, let's examine the context where Paul tells us we are "grafted in", Romans 11:17-26
If some of the branches (unbelieving Jews) were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved."
Notice that Paul speaks of some being broken off from, andsome grafted into, the "olive tree". So, we must first determine what the "olive tree" is. Some are claiming that the olive tree is Israel because olive tree imagery is used throughout the OT. But that does not prove that the olive tree is referring directly to Israel or all Jews, because if the olive tree is Israel how could Jews be broken off from it?

No, the olive tree does not refer to Israel and the Jews but to Abraham and his covenant. The key passage in understanding this is actually in the book of Judges. I will not quote the whole passage, but it is written that there is 'the olive tree', 'the fig tree' and 'the vine' in that order. The vine is obviously referring to the church. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches." (John 15:5) The fig tree refers to the nation of Israel. Jesus told two parables about fig tree. In the first, the owner (God) says he will cut down his fig tree if it does not bear fruit. This corresponds to Israel rejecting their messiah and subsequently going into exile again. In speaking about the end times, Jesus uses the figure of the fig tree to indicate that Israel will become a nation again before His return. Israel became a nation again in 1948.

That leaves the olive tree and since it is before the fig tree in Judges, we should assume it came before the nation of Israel. This must mean Abraham and his covenant. We, as Gentile Christians, are grafted into Abraham, not Israel. Most Jews were broken off not from Israel but from Abraham because of their unbelief in rejecting their messiah. Believing Gentiles were grafted in. Eventually, when Christ returns, the remnant of the Jews at that time will receive Jesus and be grafted back in.

This view exactly corresponds with the allegory of Abraham and his two sons. Ishmael was "broken off" from Abraham while Isaac, including Gentiles who are grafted in, remains. The two sons will be reunited when the Jews, as a whole, receive Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Those Jews will be "grafted in" again.

This also agrees with what Paul said about Jews and Gentiles becoming "one new man."
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
This wonderful passage, in context, tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but both are one in Him. It is not saying that Christians need to become Jews. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They are one because they are in Christ and this is possible because that which was between them, that which separated them is gone, that is, the Law. It was the Law of Moses that was the "wall of separation" between Jews and Gentiles. It is not Gentiles who need to practice the Law; it is Jews who no longer need to do so. Christ abolished the law with its commandments. Now, those who are in Christ are not even considered either Jew or Gentile, but as members of the Church. "Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks (Gentiles) or to the church of God." (1 Corinthians 10:32) So, our identities have been changed. In OT times, there were two kinds of people, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). Today, there are three - Jews, Gentiles and the Church. The church is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, but they are really the "one new man" in Christ.

When the Jews, en masse, receive Jesus as Messiah and Lord, then they become part of the 'one new man' or, better, 'the new humanity, the new creation in Christ.' "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation". Our outward, ethnic identity is irrelevant. It is who are in Christ that matters. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation." (Gal. 6:15)

I know that there are some who will disagree with this and quote other scriptures in support of their view. But I think that our basic understanding of the standing of unbelieving Israel and the believing church before God needs to come from the above mentioned allegory. As much as we are desirous to see "all Israel saved", it seems that that is still in the future to be completed when Christ returns to earth. In the meantime, we should be aware that Abraham has two sons and that the son born of the flesh will not inherit with the son born by promise.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Supreme Court and the Bible

Recently, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court. As expected, most liberals whined and most conservatives rejoiced. There was one response that I found to be quite enlightening. And it has to do with the differences in conservative and liberal Supreme Court justices and judges in general. The man said that he was disappointed, not because Kavanaugh was not a liberal, but that he was ideological. He longed for the time when justices had no ideology. (I am tempted to ask when that was.)

He has the mistaken idea that conservative justices today and liberal justices are mirror opposites of each other. They are not. Liberal justices "interpret" the Constitution, bending it to suit their own views on how things should be rather than simply applying the Constitution as it is written. I think we all know this, but many assume that conservatives do the same in the other direction making the Constitution to say something it does not to suit their own agenda.

But that is not the case. Today's conservative justices are not activists like the liberal justices who try to say that the Constitution says something it does not say. The Constitution says nothing about abortion or same-sex marriage yet liberal justices have somehow come up with the idea that the states cannot forbid abortions or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. That is liberal activism in action. It is not applying the Constitution as it is written. However, conservative justices do not do the "opposite". They simply apply the Constitution. If they were activist ideologues, they would not only try to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they outlaw abortion entirely. We used to have conservative activists on the court in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. That is how we got decisions like the Dredd Scott decision and Plessy V. Ferguson the latter which upheld Jim Crow laws.

But that is not what conservative justices do now. They would simply overturn Roe v. Wade and let the states decide what laws they wish to make about abortion. That is applying the Constitution, not imposing a conservative ideology. There is not activism on both sides. Only the liberals are the activists. The conservatives are originalists, taking the Constitution for what it actually says.

We have a similar thing happening with regards to the Bible. Theological liberals want the Bible to agree with their own views on a variety of issues and often corrupt or ignore what the Bible clearly says rather than simply letting the Bible speak for itself. They want to "amend" the Bible to justify things like homosexuality which the Bible clearly condemns as immoral.

The last two verses of the Bible make it plain what happens to those who 'add to' or 'take away' from the Bible. "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Rev. 22:18-19) Liberals are trying to take away the passages in the Bible they do not like. The verses regarding homosexual behavior is only the latest example.

So there is clear comparison between political liberals and theological liberals on how they approach the Constitution and the Bible. They treat it as if it malleable. They believe these documents have a different meaning from when they were written. That is clearly a corruption of these vital texts. Of course, it is far worse to tamper with the Scriptures than it is to tamper with the Constitution.

Having said all that, I want to give a little admonition to my conservative theological friends who are not immune from trying to make the Bible say something it does not say. Conservatives generally take the Bible for what it says, especially in those things which are of great importance. (We may disagree on lesser things which are less clear.) But too many conservative Christians have begun to seek revelations rather than the Lord. This is not good. We should always seek the Lord and not some new revelation. Some have followed after visions and dreams and prophecies. They have shared these things and people have gotten excited and gotten off track with the Lord. In some cases, people have been hurt. Often, though, it is harmless nonsense with people wasting their time and energy with something they think is from God. (Any good historian of the church knows what I am talking about. These things are not new.) It is deceptive especially since people think what they are doing is in line with the Bible. They have a few scriptures which, if read in a certain way, may seem to back up what they are saying. But they have not really studied the matter out and found if it lines up with all of the Bible. That takes study and seeking the Lord in the Scriptures.

Am I saying that I do not believe that God gives His people visions and dreams and revelations and prophecy? No, the Bible teaches that we can experience these things. I believe in them for today, but that does not mean that we can have any true revelation apart from the Bible. We have to test all things and hold fast to what is good. (1 Thess. 5:21)

I do not believe that we are making a good effort testing these things. We especially do not like testing things we get ourselves. We are so sure that they are from God. We can just feel it.

Here is a good example of how to correctly handle a revelation: Kenneth Hagin, a great teacher of the Bible, said that Jesus appeared to him and told him that he had to rebuke an evil spirit since he had the authority to do it. Hagin could not accept that and told the Lord to prove it from the Bible. And he said he wanted two or three Scriptures to back it up. He said that Jesus did not get mad. In fact, Jesus smiled at him and gave him four. This new idea greatly challenged Hagin's theology. He had trouble accepting what we now call 'the authority of the believer'. This was the early 50's and nobody was teaching it.

Now, Hagin could have discarded it, or he could have accepted it. His natural tendency may have been to forget the whole thing as a demonic deception but he decided to test it against the scripture. So, he studied these scriptures the Lord gave him and others and began to meditate on the scriptures. As he accepted this truth and understood it, he applied it in his own life. He proved it by the Bible and by living it out personally. Then he put it into a form where it could be taught. But when he taught it, he sometimes told of his experience with the Lord, but he taught it from the Word.

What he did not do, as many do today, is get a revelation this week and teach it the next. I find that many so-called revelations today have little Bible to back them up and certainly are not proven out in the lives of those teaching it. Reading the NT carefully, you will find that the apostles wrote things, especially the deeper revelations, towards the end of their lives. They taught the Word all the way along, but apostles like Paul wrote after years of reflection and of living out those revelations.

Early in his ministry, Paul was taken up into heaven where he got much of the revelation he got from the Lord. But many of those things he did not write down until decades later when he had a fuller and complete understanding of what the Lord had showed him. Also, the gospel writers did not record Jesus' words for many years until they had a complete understanding of what He had taught.

Today, instead of expounding the Bible, many seem to have a new revelation every week or every month. But when I hear or read what they say I am hardly sure of what exactly they are saying even means. They use new expressions which often go unexplained and it is evident to me that if I asked them they would struggle defining precisely what they do mean. Terms and expressions are thrown around like they are deeply meaningful when sometimes they mean almost nothing at all. It is confusing probably because they are not well thought out. Little scripture is used and when it is used it is often in a cursory way. But we are sure that this revelation is what we need at this very moment. No time is allowed for study and reflection much less applying it to one's own life.

There is even one person, who shall remain nameless, who constantly has revelations regarding Jezebel. That is not the Queen Jezebel in the OT, but the "spirit of Jezebel". (I have been reading the Bible for over forty years and have not come across this so-called "spirit of Jezebel". If you find it, please let me know.) This person has written more than a dozen books on this "spirit" and she keeps having more and more revelations and keeps writing more and more books. She seems to know all about this spirit and how to overcome it. But then she gets more revelations and writes more books. Apparently, this "spirit" causes all kinds of problems in the church. The "spirit of Jezebel" supposedly causes rebellion, idolatry, witchcraft and a whole litany of sins which includes almost every vice one can imagine. This spirit is quite busy. Should I be looking out for this spirit as she suggests? Not from what I read in the Bible. The Bible calls these things "the works of the flesh" not the works of some evil spirit. It is obvious to me that all she does is find a scripture to back up her "revelation" and declare her "revelation" to be all-important. There is not true testing it by the Word, only an admonition to "watch out" and to "act now". There is not real reflection on whether the Bible even teaches us to beware of any spirit. We are supposed to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not on an evil spirit either real or imagined. Her entire focus is wrong so she keeps getting more and more "revelations" and has not tested them by the Word, nor has she lived them out in her life. She couldn't have because she has not taken the time.

We need to listen to those who have, by experience and a thorough understanding of the Word, taught using the scriptures to prove what they say. It is interesting that only two people in the NT tell us that a celibate life is possible in the Lord. One was the Lord Himself and the other was Paul. Both were celibate men who had proved that what they were teaching was true. So, I am not impressed with a revelation received last week that is now available in a new book. I am willing to listen to those who live by the Word and teach what they have lived out.

It was many years before Kenneth Hagin wrote his first book on the Authority of the Believer and it has become a classic work. He studied it out. He lived it out in his life and ministry. He gained a mature understanding of it. And now it is standard teaching in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. It has stood the test of time. And now it is pretty much taken for granted. Most teach it in some way, but most have no idea where it came from. It came from mature reflection and living by the Word. We need the revelation of the Spirit, but we need to put the Word first and the Spirit second. Some have put the Spirit first and have gotten off into a fantasy world they think is some sort of deep spirituality. But all things must be tested by the Word.

So let's use a little caution when dealing with this whole area. There is a lot of deception and a lot of nonsense and foolishness. For my part, I am going to just keep teaching what the Word says. That is the revelation already given to us. Let's not be like the liberals who add to and take away from the scriptures.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Are we allowed to have a conscience?

I have been following with great interest the case of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakes, in his Supreme Court case. He was a baker who had refused to make a cake for a wedding between two gay people. The couple sued him for violation of their civil rights. They claimed he was discriminating against them because they were gay and that this was illegal.

Phillips, however, pointed out that he was not refusing them service because they were gay but because making a special cake for them would violate his religious conscience by forcing him to participate in an activity he believes is wrong. He would be using his artistic talents to support something against what he believed. He noted that he also has refused to make cakes for Halloween as they celebrate something which he finds offensive. He said that he would not have refused the couple if they had bought a cake that was premade.

The Supreme Court came down on his side, but did not really make a sweeping decision in protecting the religious liberties of the people who refuse service for things they do not like. In fact, the Phillips decision has already been quoted by an Arizona court against a similar case! So, there is more to be done to protect religious liberty.

The court should have said that people, even businesses, that provide nonessential goods and services ought to be allowed to refuse service or goods when it would end in supporting something they think is wrong. A very good illustration of this is the imaginary case of a Jewish baker who is asked by neo-Nazis to bake a cake for a celebration of Hitler's birthday. Does anyone think that the baker should be forced to do this? Of course not.

But I also see something a little broader here with this illustration. Why should a baker be forced to participate in such a thing even if they were not Jewish or religious at all? In other words, isn't the conscience of the baker something which should be protected? I do not think an atheist baker should be forced to do this even if he has no religious motivation.

One thing that modern society needs to protect is the conscience of an individual. So, issues like this go beyond just the right of Christians to uphold their biblical values against things to the contrary, but it seems that various judges and bureaucrats and politicians are trying to force their values down our throats. This is nothing but totalitarianism.

We have short historical memories. The Puritans came to the New World to practice their religion freely. They were oppressed in England. Once they established themselves here they refused to allow others, like the Baptists, their religious freedom. Our Founding Fathers recognized that all must have their freedom, especially religious freedom, and put that in our First Amendment. I kind of wished that they had included something more general about the conscience of the individual. It seems to me that really was their intention - maximum freedom for the individual over against those who have power.

Do you want to stand for the powerless? Stand for the Jack Phillips who simply want to run their businesses without being forced to support what they do not believe in. It seems that, as we learn from history, that those who want rights and get them often turn against those who disagree with them. The oppressed (if that's what they even were) become the oppressors.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Are There Apostles Today?

When we think of apostles, we immediately think of Jesus' twelve disciples whom He sent out as apostles. Then we might think of Paul who constantly had to defend his own apostleship. So, a typical view is that the only apostles were the Twelve, minus Judas Iscariot, plus Paul.

But we actually find several more people, including one woman, who are called apostles in the New Testament. At one time, I counted up to 21 people called 'apostle'. Some of those are not certain, but at least 18 definitely have that title. And there were probably more not listed.

What is really controversial is the assertion by some that there are apostles today. The traditional view is that there were only apostles in the first century who bore witness to Christ's ministry, death and resurrection and who established the church. Paul came after the Twelve and did not personally witness these things but he received great revelation along with the other apostles. All of this was written down as the New Testament and handed down to us. Since this was done and there is no further revelation, the work of the apostles is complete so there is no need for any apostles any more. That has been the standard view for centuries.

Others disagree and say that God put the ministry of apostle along with the other ministries and that He never took them out. We may not have any new revelation, but we still need apostles today because there other things they did - like establishing churches and going into new places where the gospel has not been before and building the church. In fact, the apostolic ministry is one of foundation-laying. The church is built on the ministry of the apostle (and prophets).

That comes from Ephesians 2:20, "[The church] having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."

Also, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

These two scriptures, both from Paul, say about the same thing. In Corinthians, he asserts that he established, or laid a foundation, upon which the church rests. That foundation is Christ. No doubt that refers to both the Person and Work of Christ as well as His teaching.

But in Ephesians, he adds apostles and prophets. What does this mean? Does that mean that every church or minister must have an apostle over them to be "foundation" for that church or ministry? Is it the apostles themselves that are the foundation? To find out, we must keep reading in Ephesians. Unfortunately, whenever we have a chapter division, we often think that the author has changed the subject. That is often not the case. Let's read in chapter 3 what Paul has to say about the apostles (and prophets).

Ephesians 3: "By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." So Paul is talking about the revelation that they received which have in the New Testament. He is not saying that the apostles themselves are the foundation. It's the revelation they received which is foundational.

And that makes sense too. Obviously, Jesus with His teaching and work on the cross and subsequent resurrection, are the true foundation as we saw in Corinthians. Yet even as we read the gospels we do not have the full revelation even of the cross. The disciples had no idea that He was dying for the sins of the world. The resurrection was a surprise to them even though Jesus had told them it would happen.

Later, revelation was given to the apostles that explained what actually happened and what effect it would have on the believers. So that foundation that was laid by the first century apostles is what the church for all ages is built upon. (Notice that in Ephesians 2, the church is already built upon that foundation.) When we get off that foundation, God sends ministers to get the church back on it. That is what the Protestant Reformation was about.

Now there are some today who are saying that in these last days, God is raising up a new group of apostles (and prophets) to make a foundation for today's church. Ministries and churches are now supposed to be under the ministry of these apostles. This will somehow make the church what it ought to be. But I do not think that we can apply Ephesians 2 to modern day apostles. We have all the revelation we need. We are built upon the foundation that Jesus and the original apostles laid. This does not need to be repeated.

Those who hold the view that there are no apostles today say that we have the foundation that was laid in the early church and that we need no other. We can only build on that foundation. So there are no apostles today. Some (not all) who say that there are apostles today claim that the Bible teaches that there are apostles and that they must be a foundation since their ministry is one of being a foundation for the church.

Both of these groups suffer from the same error. They do not recognize that there are different kinds, or classes, of apostles. First, there were the Twelve. Yes, one was lost (Judas) but another took his place in the ministry. (See Acts 1:15-26) These apostles are called the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

Revelation 21:10-14 "And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God ... And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." These apostles are in a class by themselves. They were trained by Jesus and they bore witness to His ministry, death and resurrection. They got some teachings from the mouth of Jesus that none others did. So their ministry is unique. And it was foundational. Nobody else can be an apostle in this way, not even Paul. We have their testimony in the four gospel accounts.

Another class of apostle is exemplified by the apostle Paul. We have seen how he received revelation which we have in his letters to the churches he established. Actually, there was at least one letter, Romans, which was written to a church he did not establish. So we have another class of apostle who, in the first century, received the revelation we have in the New Testament. I think that if Paul were teaching Ephesians 2 today, he would say that the New Testament is the foundation of the church since he is talking about revelation truth here, not personal ministry. The New Testament is complete and we are not to add to it as we are warned in the book of Revelation, the last book to be written.

If these two classes of apostles were the only ones, then it seems that the first group is correct. There are no more apostles today. But the NT implies that there ought to be. The apostolic, and prophetic, ministries are listed with those of evangelist, pastor and teacher. "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." (Eph 4:11-12) All of these ministries are given for the same purposes. None is to be exalted above the others. They have different roles and we should recognize all ministries. Nowhere does it say that everyone must be under an apostle.

So, the question is, "Is there another class of apostles besides Jesus' disciples and those like Paul?" Think of the other work that apostles did in the New Testament. They went into the mission field and established churches. Many of our missionaries today are actually apostles though we may not have called them that. God sent St. Patrick to Ireland and converted the whole nation. Is that not the work of an apostle? In the early 20th century, John Lake established some 500 churches in South Africa in places where the gospel was unknown.

God has been raising up apostles right along. We just have not recognized them as such because we have assumed that an apostle would have to be like Peter or Paul. We do not have apostles who are in the classes they were in, but God gave us the New Testament so that we would have the apostles' teaching. But establishing churches in new areas is something we still need to do. We would do well to recognize that many who do great missionary work are truly apostles.

Apostles, however, are not given to rule over other ministers. In fact, sometimes it is a good thing if someone is called as an apostle to the mission field to be submitted to a pastor who is well-established in a church here in America. It grieves when I see some who call themselves "apostles" who want to "help" other ministers by ruling over them. That is not scriptural. If a minister, or other, needs leadership, God can provide that. In fact, the best thing a young, independent pastor can do is to submit to an older, experienced pastor, not necessarily an apostle.

It seems that every time that God starts to restore something to the Body of Christ - whether it is apostles or prophets or some spiritual gift - people take things too far. They try to build the church on their revelation or their ministry. A lot of people are calling themselves apostles or prophets today. It is the 'in' thing to do. I wonder if we do not simply make a fad out of things that need to be kept in balance.

God is not laying a new foundation for the church. He already did that and the original apostles played the key roles in that process. Now that that is done, two classes of apostles are no longer needed, but a third is still around. Once the "apostolic age" was over and we had the New Testament documents, God began to raise up many pastors because the people need someone to care for them who is close by. I believe in apostles but they tend to move from place to place and are often not there when you need personal ministry. Pastors are there for us all the time.

So, pastors now play the dominant role in established churches. Apostles played the dominant role in the churches still being established. One apostle I know of, T.L. Osborne, would hold large crusades and multitudes would come to the Lord. Then he would gather those who were called to pastor and he would take the time to teach and train them for the ministry. I like that. That is a good way to establish the church in any area. He did not wear himself out trying to do everything for all the new churches that would crop up, nor would he abandon those people who just came to Christ.

I thank God that he is restoring lost ministries to the church. I just hope we do not ruin the whole thing by getting things out of balance. "No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Is The Bible True All The Way Through - part 2

In our last episode we learned that there are two ways to study the Bible - with faith and with skepticism. It used to be that believing scholars would approach the scriptures as being completely trustworthy in every respect. When the scriptures spoke of spiritual realities or of historical events, it was assumed that it was all true. The skeptics of the Bible made no such assumption and even seemed to go out of their way to discredit the Bible whenever possible. They developed Critical methodologies to pretty much make the Bible into a good book though riddled with error and myth.

Then a new group of evangelical scholars (those who believe in the basics doctrines of the Christian faith like the Trinity and the atoning death and resurrection of Christ) began using the Critical methodologies to study the Bible, but with some significant differences. They did believe that the Bible contains the Word of God, that it was inspired and authoritative but that not all of it was necessarily true. They generally held fast to the fundamentals of the faith (for example, the Apostles' Creed) while questioning the accuracy of some of the historical narratives.

They also often accepted the Critical idea that some of the historical narrative should not be read as history but as myth. Myth, they say, is not necessarily "false" simply because it has no basis in history. Instead it is like fiction. Fiction does not mean, as some Christians think, something that does not tell the truth, but something made up that is supposed to tell a truth. There is fiction in the Bible. Now before you stone me consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In it Jesus tells us the truth about God's attitude toward those who have departed from Him and returned. He is overjoyed to see them. But the events in this parable did not actually happen. It is not an historical depiction of events that have transpired. A parable is often a form of fiction that conveys a truth the teacher wishes to convey. However, everyone listening to the story knows that it did not actually happen. Yet the parable is truth.

Can the same thing be said about myth, and can certain events in the Old Testament, like the Noahic Flood, be considered truthful and unhistorical at the same time? Is it a true myth? These new evangelical scholars would say "yes". The two most common so-called myths are, of course, the creation story and the flood story. They note that ancient peoples almost all have both creation and flood stories in their traditions. They tell about how their own god or gods made their community and also of a flood that almost wiped them out. The Bible, it is claimed, just has another version, a "true" version of these similar stories. One of them writes:
God adopted Abraham as the forefather of a new people, and in doing so also adopted the mythic categories within which Abraham - and everyone else - thought. But God did not leave Abraham in his mythic world. Rather, God transformed the ancient myths so that Israel's story would come to focus on its God, the real one [as opposed to the false gods of others].
So, according to this scholar the purpose of the creation and flood accounts are not to tell us what happened historically, but to tell us who we should worship. In this view, we should not expect historical truth but theological truth. That is the truth that really counts - in their view.

Skeptics of the Bible had already been saying for a very long time that the creation and flood stories of the Ancient Near East (ANE) are very similar to those in the Bible. They believed that the biblical writer (they don't even acknowledge Moses as the author) simply took the older myths and reworked them. The new evangelical scholars like the one quoted above agree that they basically copied the story, but that they changed who the God was.

Let's examine these claims. First, we should note that even historical legends and myths usually have an historical root even if many additions and alterations have been made. Take the Homeric legend of the Trojan War. Homer wrote about it hundreds of years after the events that were depicted. Scholars used to doubt that there ever was a place called Troy and thought the whole thing was made up. Then an archaeologist decided to look for Troy and he found it. It was right where Homer said it had been. So we realize that legends and myths are not always purely made up but there is something that really happened at the root of it.

ANE scholars have studied the myths like the creation and flood stories of the Babylonians. Their myths were written down before Moses wrote and it is likely that Moses knew about them. He was a very educated adopted son of Pharaoh and likely had learned about them. So, did Moses just copy them and change the God who did all these things? Or did Moses know the historical root, the truth, about the events depicted in Genesis?

How can we tell? It is actually very easy to tell which story is more original and closer to the truth of the events depicted in mythologies. As a story is adopted by one group from its origin, two things happen. All irrelevant details are stripped away, and the story becomes increasingly long and complicated. Which story is short and simple and which is long and complicated. There is no doubt about it. The Babylonian myths are extremely long and complicated. Therefore, they are the newer stories and Genesis has the earlier stories. In fact, the creation story is summed up very simply as "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." There is more but it too is quite simple. So Genesis has by far the earlier stories and along with every Bible-believing Christian, I say they are the original, true-to-history stories.

So this idea of "true myth" does not bear up under close scrutiny. Besides this, the new evangelical scholars also claim that all of Genesis chapters 1 through 11 are mythological while the rest is historical. There is a problem that any language teacher will point out. All of Genesis is written as historical narrative. There is no break or distinction or even change in writing style or genre between the supposedly mythical parts and the historical parts. They are written in the same manner. So there is no grammatical reason to claim one story as myth and another as history.

Besides all this, there is a great danger here. Despite the insistence of the new evangelicals that they firmly believe in the resurrection of Jesus, what is to stop someone from saying that it is one of these "true myths"? One could say, and some have, that if what is inspired in the Bible is theological truth and not historical truth, then how do we know for certain if Christ was raised from the dead. There are already those who say that Christ's resurrection did not actually happen in an historical sense but it is a spiritual truth only. So it is easy to see where such an approach can lead - to the denial of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.