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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Is The Bible True All The Way Through? - part 1

The Bible is a controversial book. Some proclaim it as the Word of God and others deny it. This is not news to most people. Additionally, most Christians have been aware that in our elite academic institutions there are few, if any, scholars in the departments of religion that believe the Bible to be true. They no longer believe in the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus nor that He is the Son of God.

Luke Timothy Johnson in his book, The Living Jesus, says that whether or not you believe that Jesus is alive determines how you will approach the Scriptures. A believing scholar will look to the Bible as revealing to us the truth about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. An unbelieving scholar will bring his own presuppositions to the Bible and tell us what he thinks is true or not true according to his own logic and reasoning. He will develop methods that will try to ferret out, for example, what they believe Jesus said or did not say. What Jesus did or did not do. Some of Jesus sayings they accept as authentic and others they believe have been added by his followers. The miracles, naturally, get short shrift. Of course, to them even if they accept something as coming from Jesus that does not mean that they will accept it as true. These methods are together called the historical-critical method, or simply Critical Scholarship.

I was born-again when I was 15 years old, but did not read my Bible or go to church until I went to college. So for a long time I was unaware of these divergent ways of studying the Bible. Wanting to learn more about the Bible, I took a college class on the New Testament. I had no idea what I was getting into. The class was taught by the chaplain of the college, an ordained minister, a professor in the Religion department. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. The textbook laid out the methods of Critical scholarship which questioned everything written in the New Testament. They questioned whether Paul had written all the letters that bear his name. They questioned whether Jesus said this or did that. They questioned what "really" happened after Jesus died, implying that he could not possibly have been raised from the dead. They brought doubts about the "miracle stories" without even considering that they might be true. While today I could easily defend my faith against this barrage of unbelief, back then it felt like I was drowning. But I did not give in. I simply refused to use the Critical method and I knew that the professor could flunk me as a result. Too bad. I defied him. (And I passed.)

Fortunately, I had help. My youth group at school led me to resources and to believing scholarship that affirmed the truth of the Bible. I read apologists like C.S. Lewis and great Christian thinkers like Pascal. The leadership of our youth group was firmly grounded in the Bible and the foundational truths it contains. I learned much from them and I am very grateful for the foundation they put in my spiritual life.

On the other hand, they were Calvinists. I was introduced to their theology based on notions of double predestination and the denial of free will in salvation. However, I did not simply dismiss their theology because it is so contrary to the way we think today, but I studied it thoroughly and determined that it was wrong in key respects. Their theology regarding the Bible and justification were very good and I accepted that. But they were wrong in what we call Calvinism, the idea that God only chooses certain individuals to be saved and He damns the rest. His is sovereign and He makes all the decisions.

I have to say, though, that Calvinists are nothing if not persistent in their views. They are not really happy unless you become one of them. So many arguments with them ensued. At one point, I ended up having a debate at a lunch table with many witnesses against a world famous theologian, John Gerstner. He was one of the most prominent Calvinist theologians of that day. He was a mentor to R.C. Sproul, who just passed away, and to our adult youth leader.

So I ended up having to battle both an unbelieving professor and my Calvinist friends. And I do mean that I consider them to be friends and brothers in the Lord. I appreciate the firm stand they take for the Bible and for justification by faith. God has used them greatly in this area.

So, it used to be simple. You had the unbelieving skeptics of the Bible who denied the deity of Christ along with His atoning death and resurrection, and you had Bible-believing scholars and church leaders who accepted the whole Bible as God's Word. Unbelievers were interested in the Bible had their scholars; we believers had ours. We tend to stay in our own circles often vaguely aware of each other. In most of the churches I have attended these things did not even come up. We agreed that the Bible was true. We just had to let the Holy Spirit teach us and apply it to our lives while unbelievers tried to figure everything out in their foolish heads.

Those were the good ol' days. Things are more complicated now. Today, we have those who hold to the historic truths of the Christian faith - Christ's deity, death and resurrection - but who use and accept the methods of Critical scholarship. Part of the goal is to show the unbelieving scholars that their methods do not have to lead to unbelief but can even support the things the church has believed right along.

What could possible go wrong? {We will pick this up in the next post.}

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Is What Is "Good For You" Always Right?

One of the best compliments I ever received was when a former pastor of mine told me that I had a very practical theology. Now he was not talking about the field of Practical Theology, but more broadly that I see the Bible, and God, as immensely practical. In my view, Christians often hold views about God and the Bible that are not the least bit helpful to us at all.

For example, I read a comment on 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) that said that it expressed a wonderful ideal if we could reach it, but we cannot as we are bound by sin. To me this is nonsense on two levels. First, we are no longer bound by sin but free not to sin and, therefore, we can walk in love. But on a practical level, it is also wrong. What good does it do to tell us what it would be like to walk in the love of God if we cannot do it. That is impracticable and a waste of time as far as I am concerned. The Bible, the New Testament, tells us what to do and empowers us to do it! That is a practical theology.

On the other hand, we have to be careful not to become pure pragmatists. Americans are very pragmatic people. We believe that if something works then it is a good thing. If something has bad effects it is a bad thing. So the known results of something determine whether it is good or bad. A diet is good if it helps you lose weight and makes your body healthy, and a diet is bad if it does the opposite. It all seems very sensible.

But what seems sensible to us is not always good. Just yesterday, in fact, I was with a group of ladies at work who were discussing losing weight in the new year. (It seems that everyone is planning to lose weight after the fattening holidays are over. I am among them.) One woman was talking about using hypnosis in order to lose weight. They were all talking about it like it was perfectly alright. The only question in their minds was, "Will it work?". That is the question of a pragmatist. The pragmatist does not ask what is behind that hypnosis, but what will be the known practical effect of what I am doing.

One of the ladies, a Christian, asked me if hypnosis was "against Christianity". I was really quite bold. I not only stated that it was wrong, but I told them that it is a demon which causes hypnosis. Some of them heard me, but I am not sure they accepted it. One or two of them ignored me as if I had said nothing, but I hope that some had ears to hear. Then one woman said that 'you have to open yourself to it' for it to work. I said, "Open yourself to what?".

That is the non-pragmatic question. "What are you opening yourself to?" The idea of 'being open' sounds good to us. We are told to have open hearts and open minds, etc. 'Openness' is supposed to be a good thing. That is not always the case.

We are supposed to be open to the Spirit of God and closed to the devil. This woman does not realize that hypnotism is opening up oneself to evil spirits. The devil is glad to do "good things" for you if you open yourself to his influence. We must resist this kind of deception and warn others. Losing some weight is not worth opening yourself up to a demon spirit.

I later spoke privately to the woman who was considering hypnotism to lose weight. I explained that it was not a good thing. She said that she was a Christian and walked close to the Lord, but she was not going to do the hypnosis because she did not think she could be hypnotized. She does not think could open herself up like that. I am happy that she is giving up on this idea, but her reasons were actually more practical than spiritual. I pray that she get more wisdom and spiritual understanding.

Then we got onto the topic of yoga. I told her that some of the ladies used to do yoga before work hours. She said that the ladies were talking about that earlier. Then, I told her that I had rebuked the evil spirit behind it and it stopped.

Many Christians, unfortunately, are not informed about why yoga is wrong. They say it is healthy and makes one feel peaceful. They do not realize that this "peace" they get is deceptive. The devil can counterfeit the peace of God and make people temporarily feel better as a result.

But we have to understand what yoga is. It is worship of Hindu gods. The mantras that are repeated are names of gods. That is worship, false worship. And the music is praising these same gods. It is idolatry. But Christians, thinking that it is just a technique, are unaware of what they are doing. I do not think that God is mad at them or that they will go to Hell or anything, but we need to quit being so gullible where these things are concerned. We should know what something is really about, what its origins are, before we practice them. Instead, we just use it if it seems to make us feel better or lose weight or become healthier.

The apostle Paul ran into a similar thing at the church in Corinth. He became aware that some members were attending pagan temple services. Pagan temples served both a social and religious function. Obviously, they were places where idols were worshiped. But they also were places where people met together, ate dinner, and did business. Some Corinthian Christians did not see anything wrong with going there. They had learned that there was only one God. There were no other gods so going to the temple of a god who did not exist would do no harm.

But Paul explained that the idols, which are not true gods, are inhabited by demons who receive the worship being offered to the idols. Eating dinner with idols was having fellowship with demons. So, the Corinthians who thought they were wise in eating in pagan temples were actually foolish since they opened themselves to evil influences.

Some Christians who practice things like yoga think that since they don't believe in Hinduism and all their gods are not doing anything wrong. Or they do not even realize that yoga is a form of pagan worship and believe it is only exercise. Like the Corinthians they need to be more fully informed. We live in a world full of evil spirits and we must be careful not to open ourselves to them.

Many Christians think that as long as their hearts are right, everything is fine. They are not trying to worship demons so it doesn't matter what they do. But they open themselves up to the devil when they practice such things.

The devil knows that we are suckers for things that appear good and have good effects on our minds and bodies. He has devised things that "help" us feel better and look better so that he can gain some kind of foothold in our lives if possible. So, let's "be wise and understand what the will of the Lord is".

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Born in sin

I am discussing in this post what is called the doctrine of original sin. Basically, it is the idea that all who are descended from Adam (that would be all of us) are born in sin. Part of that doctrine means that we have inherited the corruption of sin from our father Adam. On this point, it seems that most Christians are basically in agreement. Our sinful tendencies are inherited.

The question is, does this mean that we are born spiritually dead; are we born sinners? I used to think so. After all we had certain verses in the Bible, especially in the book of Romans, that seem to say exactly that. We will examine some of them shortly.

First, we must define certain terms. One is obviously the word, 'sin'. Sin, in the singular, does not always refer to an act of sin but to the sin nature in us that causes us to sin. The word 'death' often does not refer to physical death, but to spiritual death. Physical death is the separation of our spirits from our bodies, it does not mean the cessation of existence. Likewise, spiritual death means separation as well, the separation of our spirits from God. The Bible says that before we were born-again, our spirits were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). We were alienated from God. When we are born-again, we were made spiritually alive. "Even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:5)

So our salvation means that once we were sinners, spiritually dead, separated from God and now in Christ we have been made alive. Our spirits have been born from above, we have passed from death to life. (John 3:3; 1 John 3:14) {Notice here that I am defining what a sinner is. He is one who is spiritually dead, in bondage to sin. Being a sinner does not mean just someone who sins. The Bible does not define a sinner that way. A sinner is one who has not received eternal (spiritual) life, but one dead in sin. Believers are called righteous. But that is another lesson.}

So, back to our original question: are we born spiritually dead? The church has generally said, "yes". The idea that we are born in sin, with a sin nature, seems to naturally to lead to the conclusion that all are born spiritually dead. Certain scriptures seem to suggest that.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. Romans 5:12
For if by the one man’s offense many died ... For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Romans 5:15-19
From these verses, it does seem that we are born sinners, spiritually dead. However, when we formulate a doctrine we must take into account all relevant scriptures. If our interpretation of a scripture is contradicted by another scripture, our interpretation, no matter how reasonable our conclusion seems, must change. So, let's look at another scripture in Romans that suggests that the way that we die spiritually is not simply by being descended from Adam.
I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Romans 7:9-11
In this passage, Paul is telling us what the effect of the law was in his early life. Rather than justifying him, the law condemned him. In fact, Paul goes further than that in saying that before "the commandment came", he was alive. That means that when Paul was a young boy, he did not have a revelation of the law in his heart though he may have heard it from his parents or others. He had not yet reached the age of accountability, the time when an individual becomes personally responsible to God to obey the law. But when he understood in his heart that God had commandments that he must do, then he became responsible. The problem was that the law stirred up "sin", or the sin nature. That sin nature in his flesh caused him to trip up and disobey the law. That is when Paul died spiritually - not when he was born. Before that he was alive to God.

So the "sin" that was stirred up was not in his spirit, but in his flesh. We still have a sin nature in our flesh though we ourselves are alive to God having received eternal life in the new birth. Paul also told Christians to not "allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies" (Romans 6:12). So, this "sin" which was stirred up in Paul was in his flesh, not his spirit. No wonder we have to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts."

Now let's look at Romans 5 a little more closely. We need to read verse 12 in the light of what is said in chapter 7. "Through one man [Adam], sin entered the world" means that the sin nature in the body is inherited from Adam apparently through the male seed. (Otherwise, it would have mentioned Eve.) Only a person not having a natural father (Jesus) could escape this corruption. Jesus was only in the likeness of sinful flesh. (Romans 8:3) Our spiritual natures do not come from our natural parents. Our spirits are created by God. When we knowingly commit an act of sin, we die spiritually. "Sin entered the world and (spiritual) death by sin, and thus death spread to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED." All sinned, not in Adam as theologians have said, but they all sinned in the manner of Paul in chapter 7 of Romans. That's when they died spiritually.

So, young children are not little sinners, but they do have bodies with a sin nature. When they are old enough to understand the law of God, they become accountable to Him. They then will yield to the flesh and knowingly sin. If they have not already accepted Christ, they will die spiritually. If they die before reaching the age of accountability they go to heaven. Jesus said of little children, "of such is the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:14)

Now we can make more sense of Paul's statement about "many". He says, "For if by the one man’s offense many died ... For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners." Why many and not all? Because not all reach the age of accountability. Not all die spiritually because not all live to the age of accountability. The doctrine that teaches that children are born spiritually dead led directly to infant baptism. Women were afraid that if their babies died, they would go to hell. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church taught that an infant is regenerated (born-again) at baptism. To go to heaven, a child must be baptized. This is unscriptural. Children do not need to be baptized to go to heaven. They are already alive to God and they rest in peace.

In theological terminology, I do not believe in original guilt, which holds all guilty of Adam's sin. That causes all to be born spiritually dead. I believe in original corruption, specifically the corruption of our bodies. We have a sin nature in our bodies, our flesh, that will be gone when we are resurrected. Our spirits are born of God and we are alive to God with His own life and nature. Thanks be to God!