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!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Do Levitical laws apply to us today?

There is an argument, which is specious at best, that Christians do not need to keep any of the Levitical laws. Some make such claims because they want to justify their unscriptural beliefs about the practice of homosexuality or other things the Bible labels as sin. Of course, some of the laws regarding "uncleanness" clearly do not apply today. The kosher laws in particular are mentioned several times in the New Testament as not binding on the church.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. 1 Timothy 4:1-4
The kosher laws are in Leviticus 11 along with some other uncleanness regulations in chapters 11 and 12. What is the nature of these laws and why do we not need them today? (I am referring now to the uncleanness laws in these two chapters. We will consider other laws shortly.) Let's look at a couple of other uncleanness laws here.
By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening: The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean. Lev 11:24-27
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. Lev 12:1-4
The first thing that we should notice is that these are not violations of the moral law, they are not sins. Touching a dead body is not sin. Having a baby is not sin. However, they were considered unclean as far as going into the sanctuary was concerned. In the case of touching a dead body, one had to wash and be unclean until evening. In the case of the woman who has borne a child, she would have to bring a sacrifice after a period of days.

But since God gave these laws in chapters 11 and 12, why do we not have to obey them today? The answer is clearly laid out in the New Testament.
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary ... the priests went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. Hebrews 9:1-8
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22
Jesus' sacrifice has opened up the way for all who receive Him to enter the divine sanctuary. We are all clean! It's not just the high priests but any priests (we are all priests, you know) can come into His presence. So the uncleanness laws of Leviticus 11 and 12 are no longer applicable under the New Covenant.

But what about the other laws of uncleanness. Have they been done away with as well? There is another list of "uncleanness" in Leviticus 18. They have to do with sexual sins - incest, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. It is odd that some have tried to say that homosexuality, because it appears in Leviticus, no longer applies to us so-called "enlightened" Christians in the 21st century. I do not hear them say (yet) that incest and bestiality are okay.

Another thing we need to see is that this kind of uncleanness has nothing to do with the sanctuary but has to do with sin.
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Leviticus 18:24-29
These uncleannesses does not affect the sanctuary but the land. It says the land will "vomit" the Israelites out if they do these things. Those before them in the land of Israel were judged and expelled because they did the things listed in Leviticus 18. There is no such judgment on those who have babies or touch dead animals.

So, what does the New Testament say about the laws of uncleanness in chapter 18? Are they still unclean?
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Paul is saying that we ought to know these things. We should also notice that Paul uses the word 'uncleanness' when speaking of some sexual sins.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness ... Galatians 5:19 (KJV)
"Uncleanness" in this passage obviously refers to sexual sins. No doubt that Paul is referring to Leviticus 18 which lists homosexual activities as unclean acts.

The list of unclean activities in chapter 18 is very different from those in chapters 11 and 12. To mix them together and treat them both the same is the result of a failure to understand basic distinctions in Levitical law. It also leads to deception by those who wish to justify sexual sins. It seems that today, like the first century, there are those who "twist the scripture to their own destruction".

[Note: I cannot take credit for the insights into the Levitical laws here. The credit goes to Peter Leithart, a great scholar who often talks way above my head. It is he who pointed out in his blog the difference between encleanness regarding the sanctuary and the uncleanness regarding the land.]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Creation and Evolution, part 5

This is the fifth and final post in this series on creation. We could not possibly discuss all the issues and nuances involved in this important subject. I think it is safe to say that nobody has a monopoly on the truth though I think that Evolutionary Creation just accepts whatever the latest hypothesis so-called objective science hands us, and then baptizes it and pronounces it as God's truth. Now true science is God's truth as all truth is God's truth. But when we are evaluating claims about what happened in the distant past we need a little humility about what science is actually able to discover. That is why we need special revelation in the Bible. It tells us how we were created and why.

The issue for Christians is knowing what the Bible says and what things are essential and what things are not. And though I believe in literal 24 hour days for the six days of creation, I do not think it is essential to true faith. On the other hand, believing in a literal Adam and Eve are essential both for Christian theology and for maintaining the integrity of the New Testament witness. This leaves out the Evolutionary Creationist view and brings into question the Intelligent Design view despite its brilliant criticism of pure evolution.

That does not leave us only with Young Earth Creationism, however. There is a fourth view, the one I hold to, which is called the Gap Theory. Now the name is most inelegant but the concept is intriguing. It asks the question, "What if there is a "gap" between verses one and two in the first chapter of Genesis and what if there is a long period of time between the creation of the heavens and the earth and the 'six days of creation' in the rest of the chapter?"
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Gen 1:1-2
The heavens and the earth are created in verse one. That is the beginning. The six days say nothing about the heavens and earth themselves being created. Verse two says that the earth was (or became) formless and empty. The six days describe the earth being given form and then being filled. What is interesting is that Isaiah 45:18 states that God did not create the world "formless and empty". "The Hebrew for formless and empty is 'tohu' and 'bohu'. These two words are only put together in Genesis 1:2 and Isaiah 45:18.

So the suggestion here is that something happened between verses 1 and 2. This would allow for a long period of time from the original creation event and the creation of Adam and Eve. Is this biblically possible or just wishful thinking? The Gap Theory has been criticized as just being a compromise between "fundamentalists", who want to maintain a literal reading of Genesis, and secular scientists who insist on a very old heavens and earth.

Does a literal reading of the 'six days' be reconciled with this view? How about the fact that in most translations, verse three says that light comes on the "first day"? If it's the first day followed by the second day, etc., then how can there be so many days before that? The Hebrew does not actually read "the first day", "the second day", etc. Verses three to five ends with "one day". Verse eight says "a second day" and is in a different form than "one day". In other words, we can read this as a series of six days and not necessarily the first six days.

Some will complain then that the sun and moon are not created until the fourth day. But the word "made" is not the Hebrew word 'to create' as in verse one. The word for 'create' is only in verse one and then the creation of animal life (vs 20-21) and human life (vs 26-27). So it seems that the sun and moon existed already but were only made to appear from earth's point of view on day four.

Let's look at what the New Testament says:
Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 2 Peter 3:3-6
Reading this carefully, it does not seem that there is any reference here to Noah's flood, but to the state of the earth in Genesis 1:2. The heavens existed "long ago" does not seem to indicate a creation that, at the time of the writing of 2 Peter, was only about 4000 years old according to the Young Earth Creationists. It seems to indicate a much longer period of time followed by a flood which wiped out the world that existed before. We still live in the same world that Noah and Adam inhabited. Noah "saved the world" by building an ark.

This would explain when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Young Earth Creationists not only claim that dinosaurs existed on earth from Adam to Noah but that they went on the ark. After all, Noah took two kinds of every animal. This would include dinosaurs. So where are the dinosaurs now? Young Earth Creationists say that they died out shortly after the flood because the oxygen content of the earth dropped so that dinosaurs could no longer get enough to live. My objection should be obvious. Why bother to put dinosaurs on the ark only to have them die when they get off? The reason for the ark was to preserve the lives of humans and animals, not kill them off later.

No, the dinosaurs lived in the previous world as did other animals and plants. God then wiped it all out and started again with Adam and Eve in a renewed earth. We can only speculate as to why God did this. It's His business, not ours.

So it seems that there is a little more flexibility with our literal interpretation of Genesis 1 than we thought before. That does not mean that we have to accept whatever secular science tells us as to what happened in the past. Neither does that mean that we have to dismiss it out of hand. We can accept some findings of science - apparent age of the earth and the heavens - without buying into their theories designed to exclude the possibility that there might be a Creator and that He might have revealed facts about creation in the biblical record.

We can accept the Bible as literal truth and seek true scientific knowledge as well.