Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tim Tebow and the New Legalism

It's funny that many of those who denounce legalism are often guilty of it themselves. Of course, they do not know it is legalism, because legalism is always something that other people do. It is very easy to see legalism in one who makes rules forbidding attendance at movies or the wearing of makeup. That's easy to spot. What is harder is to see our own legalism.

But before we get to that, we ought to define what legalism is. In a Christian context, legalism can mean two things. One kind of legalism has to do with one's eternal salvation. It is thinking that any kind of good works are necessary for salvation. Wars have literally been fought over this issue, and we must admit it is of supreme importance.

The other form of legalism is one that Protestants are more prone to. It consists of extra-biblical rules of behavior that are supposedly necessary to please God. I gave a couple of obvious examples above.

Another example of this kind of legalism is when one makes certain rules about witnessing for the Lord. Some have made the rule that one must witness at every opportunity and basically shove it down everyone's throat. They feel it is their duty to do this even if it is highly inappropriate. This is another obvious form of legalism.

Now for the more subtle variety. It goes in the opposite direction. It is seeking to prevent any Christian from 'public displays of faith' that seems to them to be inappropriate. A current example of this is the discussion over Tim Tebow and his public displays of faith. When interviewed he thanks his "Lord Jesus Christ". On the sidelines he noticeably prays.

Some don't like this. I do not mean some atheist nut who objects to anything but a completely private faith; I mean many who are sincere evangelical Christians. (I am not criticizing those who simply do not like it, but those who actively object.) They say that he should not do this and that nobody should.

To me, this is making a new law that binds Christians to a standard of behavior nowhere put forth in the Bible. I call it the new legalism, though it has been around for a while. In other words, it is just as legalistic to say that someone cannot express their faith in a certain way publicly as it is to say that one must do so.

In either case, we are making extra-biblical rules that all Christians must follow. But what does the Bible say? "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:18) This means that we should not be making a lot of rules for others to follow. Maybe God is leading Tim Tebow to do what he is doing. If that is the case, then to criticize what he is doing is to criticize God. (I have found that this is not a wise thing to do.)

If you don't like the way that someone witnesses or expresses their faith, then pray for them. Don't criticize. "Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it." (James 4:11) It is not for us to judge our brother.

We need to give our brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom to be led by the Spirit, even if they miss the mark sometimes. God knows who He wants to use in particular ways. It is not for us to judge these things. For all our talk about how we all have different gifts and callings, it is amazing how rigid in our thinking that we can be. We still think that things can only be done in certain ways.

Let's loosen up a bit. If someone 'steps in it' then then help with the cleanup and quite criticizing and start praying, teaching and encouraging one another.

Let's stop this new legalism before it spreads out of control.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why tongues?

If you have have not read my previous post, I encourage you to do so now. It explains the fact that all born-again Christians can have the gift of speaking in other tongues. In this present post, we will explore some reasons why you might want to.

But first, I want to counter a couple of ideas about why some do not want to speak in tongues. One thing that I have heard some say is that they want nothing to do with this tongues business because they have seen or heard about some people who misused the gift and acted foolishly.

My response is this: I have known of some people who have suddenly become millionaires and they have acted foolishly. Should we then turn away a gift or inheritance of a million dollars because of that? I wouldn't. It makes more sense to make sure that one uses the money wisely rather than foolishly. Any gift, even those from God, can be misused. We just need to use them wisely.

Another common objection to speaking in tongues is that tongues itself is foolish. After all, you cannot understand what you are saying and it seems to be nothing but gibberish. Its value is not immediately apparent.

The problem with this view should be obvious to us. Why would God give a gift to the church that had no value? God is not foolish, is He? No, He gives gifts to the church so that the church may grow and be blessed and be a blessing to the world.

I mentioned in the previous post that there is such a thing as a ministry gift of tongues and interpretation which is the equivalent of prophecy. Since prophecy is given for "edification, exhortation and comfort", so is the gift of tongues with interpretation in the public assembly. (1 Cor. 14:3) However, since not all ministries are given to everyone, you can only use tongues in this way if you are called to it.

But we also find that the gift of tongues has private uses as well. "If there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God." (1 Cor. 14:28) So someone can use tongues apart from the public ministry of tongues and interpretation.

"He who speaks in tongues edifies himself." (1 Cor. 14:4) Tongues is a means of edifying oneself, or building up oneself, spiritually. Do you ever need to be built up spiritually? I do. Now I can get that in church or in times of fellowship with other Christians, but I often need it when they are not around. I am glad that God has provided this supernatural means of edification.

Paul says, "I will pray with the spirit (tongues) and I will pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit (tongues) and I will sing with the understanding ... [by doing this] you give thanks well." (1 Cor 14:15,17) Also, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and they all began to speak in tongues, others heard them declare in their own languages "the wonderful works of God." They were praising God for His wonderful works.

I have noticed in my own life when I wanted to praise God that I often had trouble fully expressing myself to Him. I used all the adjectives that I could think of, yet my spirit was unsatisfied. Now, when I express praise toward God in tongues by prayer or singing, my spirit is free to fully express itself toward Him. So I am satisfied when I leave the place of prayer. I can praise God more fully.

In the above verses, Paul also said that he prayed both in this own language and in other tongues. We need both kinds of prayer. I think the reason should be obvious: we don't know everything, but God does. "We don't know what to pray for" in most instances. (Romans 8:26) That is why Paul says, "Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, be watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:18) We have to pray in tongues because the saints have many needs that we don't know about. Tongues allows us to pray about these things. It helps us overcome a great weakness we have as human beings - a lack of knowledge about what is needed. Even when we know about a situation, we often do not discern the real need. Only God knows it perfectly. And He will give us the words to pray that meet that need. Wouldn't you like a gift that gives you the ability to pray for loved ones whose needs you cannot anticipate? How wonderful that is!

There are more reasons that I could give for desiring the gift of other tongues, but I think that these should be sufficient for our purpose. I hope that you can see that speaking in tongues is of great value to any believer. I also hope that you will see that God would not give this precious gift to just a few of His children and leave others without access to it.

Remember: We cannot have all the ministry gifts, but supernatural manifestations, like prophecy and tongues, are available to all.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"That's Not My Gift"

Thirty-plus years ago, when I first gained an interest in the subject of spiritual gifts, only Pentecostal/charismatic Christians really believed in them. Most evangelical Christians were cessationists, believing that spiritual gifts were only for the early church. Today, things are very different. It seems that cessationism has largely ceased and most evangelicals acknowledge at least most of the spiritual gifts today.

While I rejoice that this is the case, I find that there is little good teaching about the gifts. What has been positive is the encouragement that Christians receive to find their place in the body of Christ, ie., what God has called us each to do. Many are indeed finding their place and are not discouraged that they do not have the same gifts that others have. They have their distinct callings and ministries. All are needed in the body of Christ.

Along with this, however, there seems to be some confusion. Gifts are often treated all the same way, as if they all belonged to the same category. I hear certain catchphrases that have enough truth in them to be plausible but without placing different kinds of spiritual gifts into their appropriate categories.

There are four lists of spiritual gifts in three books of the New Testament: Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. What we have done is take everything in these lists (and added some of our own) and mix them up all together. Then we treat them all the same. When I have told people that God wants us all to speak in tongues, I hear things like this, "You have the gift of tongues and I have the gift of showing mercy - God has given us all different gifts".

This is a confusion of categories. The gift of showing mercy is in Romans and the gift of speaking in tongues is in 1 Corinthians. The list in Romans has only ministry gifts. The first list in 1 Corinthians is talking about "manifestations of the Holy Spirit". These are not ministries, but supernatural manifestations that are given at the moment by the Spirit.

Let's take the gifts of healing as an example of a supernatural manifestation. The Spirit can anoint anyone with this gift as it is needed. Jesus, in John 5, healed the man by the Pool of Bethesda and left a bunch of other sick people without healing. Why? The gifts of healing, as evidenced in Jesus' own ministry, only operate as the Spirit wills, it is not a permanent gift. Otherwise, a person with this gift would go to the hospitals and empty them.

In contrast, a person with a ministry of mercy could go to any hospital and bring love and care to all who were there. Why? Because they have a ministry gift that can be used at any time. Similarly, I have a teaching gift and I can use whenever I please. If I decide to teach on Monday or Wednesday, I can do that. But I could not decide that I would go heal a bunch of people on Monday or Wednesday. So I hope that you can see that different kinds of gifts cannot be treated in the same way. We are instructed to 'rightly divide the word of truth'. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Let's look a little deeper. When I tell others that God wants them to speak in tongues, they might raise another objection from the latter part of 1 Corinthians 12.

"All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they?" (1 Cor. 12:29-30)

Now this may seem to put the nail in the coffin of my idea, doesn't it? Not quite. We must examine the context to find what Paul was actually saying. Now I agree that not all are apostles, prophets, etc., but what are apostles and prophets? Are they supernatural manifestations or ministry gifts? They are ministry gifts. Paul is saying that not all have the ministry of an apostle, or a prophet or of tongues and interpretation.

Yet in 1 Cor. 14:31, Paul writes regarding the prophecy as a supernatural manifestation and not a ministry: "You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted". But did not Paul already say that not all are prophets? Yes, but he was talking about ministries, not manifestations of the Spirit. All may have this manifestation of the Spirit, but not all have the ministry gift that goes by the same name. Likewise, all may speak in tongues though they do not have a ministry of tongues and interpretation.

You might say now that I have proven that all can prophesy, but not that all can have the gift of tongues. Okay, I do not have a plain statement like I have regarding prophecy.

But what is prophecy? Prophecy is a message directly from God, inspired by the Spirit in a language known to the speaker. What is tongues? It is a message directly from God, inspired by the Spirit, in a language unknown to the speaker. It's essentially the same thing. Tongues is the gift of prophecy in its varied form.

Also, we can look at the Day of Pentecost. (They do not call us Pentecostal for nothing!) "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." (Acts 2:4) Notice that they all were filled with the Spirit and all spoke with tongues. That was the whole church at that time.

Did Paul think that only a few can speak in tongues? He writes, "I would to God that you all spoke with tongues." (1 Cor. 14:5) I do not think that Paul was simply expressing his own desire here. The opinion was inspired by the Spirit. I believe it is God's desire as well. And it is mine.

{Next time: why should we want to speak in tongues.}

Monday, November 28, 2011

Do I need a Theology for that?

Like many of my posts, this is about something in the church world that bothers me. What bothers me is the attempt by many to turn everything into a theology. Now I know that many of you probably do not like the term 'theology' because it seems like something done by academics who do not live on the same level as normal people. (I sometimes agree.)

I have to say, however, that we all make theologies (ideas about God and what He expects of us) all the time. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we often trot out our theology to explain why bad things happen. (They must have sinned, God is testing them, etc.) You know how much I dislike that.

However, someone near and dear to me, who also was a minister for over 60 years and had his doctorate in sacred theology, asked me a question several years ago. He asked me what my theology of helping the poor was. My initial response I did not verbalize. I thought, "I didn't know I needed one". It struck me as odd that any theology was required simply to do what God has told us to do.

That does not mean that we do not need to think about it or study the scriptures on it, but I hesitate to make a theology out of every subject. I like what James, the Lord's brother, had to say, 'be doers of the Word'. Isn't just doing the Word sufficient? Do we have to make some sort of theology out of it? When the Bible says, 'You shall not steal', is a theology necessary for us not to steal? When the Bible says 'visit the widows and orphans in their affliction', should we not simply do it? I know that God may lead us to do more, but why make a simple command more complicated than it is?

Does simple obedience fall short of what God asks of us? Think of how the Catholic Church has built a theology around the confession of one's sins. They want you to confess to a priest instead of going directly to God. Then the priest will give you some works that you must perform - Hail, Marys and all that - then you can receive absolution. More than that there is the difference between mortal and venial sins. It gets very complicated.

I am sure a faithful Catholic will tell you how it benefits them. But this is not "doing the Word" because the Word says just to confess you sins [to God] and He will forgive you. (1 John 1:9) How simple. And not just simple, but it works. He forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Somehow we do not feel that doing the Word is enough. God somehow wants more. But is this not like what the Pharisees did? They added requirement upon requirement until their requirements even prevented them from doing the Law they were trying to uphold! "You make void the Word of God through your tradition."

There are many today who are saying that helping the needy is part of the gospel. Others disagree, saying that though helping the poor is necessary, it is not part of the gospel. My response is this: it makes no difference how you view it. It only matters that you do what the Bible says.

So my theology of helping the poor is this: just do it.

(Note: Nike did not sponsor this post)

(Note: To my Catholic friends - please do not consider this post to be some sort of Catholic bashing. You know that I take the Protestant position on matters related to salvation, the sacraments, etc. My Protestant friends are as much a target of this post as my Catholic ones. They are probably worse at developing theologies at the expense of simply doing what the Bible says.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Divine Inspiration and a TV show

You might be wondering what a television show has to do with divine inspiration. And I am not talking about some inspiration that you and I might receive, but I refer to the divine inspiration of the scriptures. The television that I refer to is the new show "Unforgettable". It is about a woman detective who has perfect memory. She remembers absolutely everything in her life. She goes to crime scenes and remembers even the most insignificant details that later turn out to be the key to solving the case.

The show is based on a piece done by Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes. She interviewed five people who are known by scientists to have this ability. They remember every detail of their lives and can recall in vivid detail everything they have experienced. Remarkably, Lesley Stahl had a friend who she said also was like this. They tested her friend and now there are six people known to possess this ability.

Now they admit that this ability is both a blessing and a curse. Not only do they remember all the good things that have happened, but the bad as well. This can be very painful. They are unable to forget terrible things that have happened to them. The rest of us bury these things deep within to protect ourselves. They cannot do this.

While reflecting on this, I thought about what it will be like in the resurrection and we have new, perfect bodies. Will we all have this ability? I think we will. Yet I think it will be much better since "the former things", the bad things in this life, will not be remembered. We will only remember the goodness of God in increasing measure throughout eternity.

Then again, I began to think about something that Jesus said to his disciples. "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I have said. (John 14:26) So one of the reasons that God sent His Holy Spirit was to allow the disciples to recall exactly what Jesus had said. In the light of what we now know about the possibilities of human memory, we ought to realize that the disciples would remember perfectly what Jesus said. Certainly, the Spirit of God can give a person perfect recall to anyone as well as reveal information previously unknown to that person.

By means of divine inspiration, Jesus' words could be recorded with fullness and exactness. That is what we have in the four gospels. How different this is, though, with modern theories about what we have in the gospels.

The higher criticism, as it is called, claims that we do not always have Jesus' exact words, but we have altered versions of what actually took place. Supposedly, the gospel writers had traditions passed down and edited them according to the theological point they wanted to make. But in order to accept this, one must accept the notion that the gospel writers were neither the disciples of Jesus nor those who had done careful interviews of those same disciples.

The historical evidence passed down from the church fathers and accepted by biblical scholars until modern times is that two of the gospels writers were among the twelve disciples and that two were close followers of the Twelve. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, and Mark wrote based upon Peter's teaching. Luke explicitly says that he wrote what eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry told him. And since we know that Luke is considered by even secular historians as the most accurate of ancient historians, we have no reason to disbelieve him.

Now I want to say that I do believe that the gospel writers had a theological purpose in what they selected to include their respective gospels. John himself said, "There are also many other things that Jesus did; which, indeed, were written one by one, I supposed that not even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." (John 22:25) So instead on one really long gospel, we have four gospels that tell us all we need to know about Jesus' ministry and teaching.

A further note about who the gospel writers were: If we believe in divine inspiration (at least of some kind), it seems hard to believe that God would not use the Twelve or their immediate followers to write the New Testament. Why would God use someone who used oral traditions and secondary sources? Were the disciples theologically challenged or something? Could only later generations truly interpret Christ?

NO! When we read even the undisputed writings of the apostles, we see that they were quite able to interpret these things. Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would lead them into ALL the truth. I think He did so. Later generations just followed the apostles the best that they could.

Absolutely, the Holy Spirit can bring to remembrance whatever Jesus has said to us. I believe this promise even in my own life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trials - how we should react to them

It is unusual for me to blog twice within a week, but I feel compelled to comment on something that has come up in two consecutive bible studies. And that is the subject of 'trials'. We all go through trials yet there seems to be little good Bible teaching about how to approach them.

What most of us have seemed to develop is sort of a 'blanket theology' that seeks to explain each and every situation, but leaves us no better off. Let me put forth two approaches that fall well short of what the Bible says concerning the trials of life.

The first originates in the book of Job where Job's "comforters" tell him that his afflictions must be the result of sin in his life. They reason that God is just and that He would not allow bad things to happen to the righteous. Bad things come about because of sin. This is nothing more than a 'blanket theology' that seeks an intellectually satisfying explanation for all bad things that happen.

What Job, and his friends, did not know is what we know from the first chapter: he has an Adversary, Satan, who is testing Job and trying to get Job to blaspheme God.

Aren't you glad that the church today has left this old theology behind? I wish. This past Friday I was speaking to someone who has recently gone through cancer treatments and told me about a fellow patient whose church told her that her cancer was the result of an unforgiven sin. (I would have found a new church.) Now most of us are appalled and disgusted by this, especially since Jesus clearly taught that not all sickness or infirmity is the result of a particular sin. (See John 9) However, some of our theology regarding trials is not much better.

Yesterday, I heard someone discuss an approach to trials which is common today. Once again, it is a blanket theology where one can lump all trials together and approach them all the same way. I am sure you have heard it before. It is "God will not put more on us than we can bear". Now I have heard this for a long time but I now realize that this is more than just a way of explaining all trials; it is a wholesale manner of dealing with trials. It is used to not in conjunction with other scriptures that deal with trials, but a substitute for anything else the Bible says about them.

For the record, the Bible does say something like this in 1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." There are two things that we should notice here. First of all, it may not be talking about 'trials' at all, but about temptations to sin, although it is true that the Greek word for trials and temptations is the same. Second, we leave out the part about God 'making a way of escape'.

What we have done is taken a partial scripture, lifted it out of its context and made it say something it does not say. It does not say, as my friend suggested, that God does not put more on us than we are able to bear. First of all, God does not put this stuff on us in the first place. "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights above, with whom is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17) God never varies from that which is good and perfect. James directly says that God tempts, or tries, nobody. (1:13) Jesus said, "The thief (Devil) comes not, but that he may steal, kill and destroy; I came that you may have Life, and that you may have it abundantly". (John 10:10) Also, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil." (Acts 10:38)

In Sunday School, we are studying the book of James. It contains general principles about how to handle any kind of trial. James tells us what to do when faced with any kind of difficulty. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials." (1:2) This means all kinds of trials. The main key to our approach to trials of any kind is in verse 5. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally." (1:5)

Wisdom! That is what we need in the trials of life. We do not approach them all the same. If we could, then we would not need this advice. We would simply apply some blanket theology or formula given to us. But there is not a single approach or 'good explanation' of the trials we face.

Wisdom can mean two things. First, it means the 'big picture' or overall understanding of what is happening to us. Since we know that Satan, and not God, is the source of our problem, we know that God will make a 'way of escape' for us. Then we need to know what to do in the midst of the trial. Sometimes we think we know what to do when we don't. We need to humble ourselves and seek his wisdom. If we are overwhelmed by the situation, then we should seek the aid of others who can pray with us.

Another thing: you might have to go through a trial without an adequate explanation or understanding of what is going on. After God rebuked Job and Job repented for blaming God, God still did not explain to him what had happened to him. We will not always know in this life why certain things have taken place. There is, however, some wisdom from God that we can use that might shorten, lessen the effects of, or deliver us from the trial.

God is not the source of your trial, but He is the solution.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Myths That I Used To Believe

One of the reasons that we should study history is to explode the myths that so many of us have. We tend to think of myths as something believed by less educated and enlightened people, especially if they lived long ago. But I have found that although we do have better scientific and historical knowledge than people in earlier times had, we seem to acquire new myths - especially regarding the past.

I would say that the most persistent historical myth (actually found in many science textbooks) is the idea that people in Europe in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat and that if one went too far out into the Atlantic that he would fall off the edge of the world. I read it in textbooks in school, heard it from teachers and discussed it with friends. There is only one problem with this notion: it is not true.

You cannot find a half dozen authors in the Middle Ages who thought that the earth is flat. In fact, scholars in the Middle Ages followed the Greeks who believed that the earth was round. Now you might want to tell me that people opposed Columbus's trip across the Atlantic because they believed that he would fall off the edge of the earth. But the historical record is quite different. Columbus claimed that the earth was much smaller than others said. Those opponents of Columbus followed the calculations of Eratosthenes, the Greek who calculated the circumference of the earth within 2 percent. They said that Columbus and his men would die before they reached the Far East. And if there had not been two continents in between Europe and the Far East, he would have. (You can read up on this in Wikipedia's article on Columbus.) [Some of you have realized by now that this myth is actually about what myths that Medieval people were supposed to have had, but did not.]

There is another myth that I used to believe about old age. It came up in Sunday School recently. We were talking about how Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived a very long time. (They lived 175, 180 and 147 years, respectively) One of my students had a confused look on his face and asked 'didn't people die at about age 25 in this time?' The answer to this question is unequivocally, no!

The idea that people in past ages died much earlier than we do comes from what we call 'life expectancy'. Life expectancy means that a person born today on average lives 'x' number of years. We know that in the Middle Ages people had a life expectancy of 35 to 45 years. In fact, two hundred years ago, it was about 45. We have misunderstood, however, what life expectancy means. It does not mean that people die of old age at this time. It means that many people die well before they reach old age. They died of diseases that we can cure now. They died of infections obtained through wounds, accidents, poor environmental conditions, and illnesses. Once we had antibiotics and better sanitation we began to live much longer. Many more people reach old age today.

Historical records clearly indicate that in all times and places there were some who reached the same age we can expect to live. In early biblical times, they lived even longer. One of the reasons for this is probably a higher oxygen content in the atmosphere. Scientists have found ancient air bubbles trapped in hardened liquids that show that in dinosaur days there was a lot more oxygen in the atmosphere than there is today. The higher oxygen levels allowed dinosaurs to grow to great sizes. It would cause us to live much longer and to be able to do greater things. (Build pyramids?) Before Noah's flood, people lived for hundreds of years. After the flood, people began to die sooner and sooner. It may have been because the oxygen levels were dropping over the whole world after the Flood(evidence that it was a worldwide catastrophe). By the time we reach Moses' day, old age sets in earlier and life expectancy is 70 to 80 (except for the early deaths that I mentioned above - sickness and accidents).

People during the Middle Ages in Europe lived shorter lives than they did in antiquity because health conditions were so bad. We should be careful about extrapolating. What is extrapolating? It means to reason like this: If people today live about 75 years and if they lived about 45 years in previous centuries, then people who lived in ancient times lived even shorter lives. So, the reasoning would be that the longer ago you lived, the shorter the average life span was. That is extrapolation. It generally does not work well. It leads to a poor understanding of things in the past.

So do not believe everything you hear. It is a modern error to always think that we are smarter or better off than in any time in the past.

One thing is not a myth: I am thankful for my wife just like she is thankful for me as she wrote on her Facebook wall.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Truth in Labeling

I have a little proposal I would like to make. I want all those who minister or write in the name of Christ to be labeled properly. I mean that it would be nice to know where a person is coming from when he/she makes some statement regarding the Bible or the church.

I found out early in my Christian life that not everyone who claimed to be an authority on the Bible, for example, was approaching it the way that it should be approached. I learned that there were supposed experts on the Bible who denied the divine inspiration of the scriptures and the deity and substitutionary sacrifice and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It would be nice if I knew that before I wasted a bunch of money on your book or listened to one of your sermons.

I used to go to Christian bookstores and skim through a book looking for clues as to what this author might believe. After a while, I got good at knowing not just certain authors' views, but what publishers I could or could not trust.

Now I have applied my principle to those who are orthodox and those who are heterodox, but it should apply to subgroups as well, because I not only want to know whether or not you actually believe the message of the Bible, but I want to know what Christian category you fall into. Are you orthodox or heretic, Calvinist or Arminian, Pentecostal or cessationist or something in between, dispensationalist or covenantal, inerrantist or not?

Right now when you pick up a Christian book and look at the back of it you see the author's bio. It might read:
Dr. I. M. Smarterthanyou, distinguished professor of all knowledge at the University of Whatever. Dr. Smarterthanyou has every degree in biblical studies know to humankind.

I have to say that this is not all that helpful. I do not need his curriculum vitae. I need to know what he believes about the Bible. How about something like this:
Dr. Smarterthanyou grew up in a fundamentalist home, but was ruined at an apostate seminary and now teaches that God does not really care what you do as long as you are tolerant and not a fundamentalist.

Okay, I am making a joke, but I am making a serious point. What I would actually suggest is something useful and informative. For example:
Dr. Hubris is a Calvinist and dispensationalist who believes in the inerrancy of scripture, but will have nothing to do with anything charismatic or Pentecostal.

Another example: Pastor Allthingstoallpeople is senior pastor of the largest church in the known universe. He's basically orthodox, but is not in-your-face about it. He is charismatic, but never preaches it in public lest he turn certain people off. He has some good things to say, but does not like to step on anyone's toes. He prefers secular language to biblical or religious language while remaining in historic Christian tradition.

I would find this much more useful. I want to know what he believes about the Bible and about Jesus and how he views the scripture. It does not mean that I will not read his book if I disagree with him, but it will help me to make a decision about it.

Are you catching my drift? I just want to know where you are coming from.

Another, less serious, but important suggestion - let ministers and people who minister in the name of Christ carry an authenticated Christian ID card. Now I know that I will hear it from the crowd who oppose ID cards because it is too "Big Brother" or too world governmentalish for them. But hear me out. I am limiting it to certain people.

I have long been aware that "false brethren have crept" into our churches who do not believe the Bible is the Word of God and who secretly "deny the Lord who bought them". In other words, there are even ordained ministers and bishops who say that they are Christian, but who are not even orthodox in their beliefs. Others commit evil and call it good. Just this past week, a practicing, admitted homosexual was ordained in a Presbyterian denomination.

I am just saying that it would be nice if we could have a brief rundown of what you believe (and practice) before you speak in church without my trying to discern it by listening carefully and reading between the lines or asking others who know you well.

Am I suggesting a new inquisition? No, just a little honesty. When you buy a product in the store, it has to include certain information on the label. We should not have to eat it to find out that it contains something we are allergic to.

All right, I know that this is not going to happen and I know there would be fraud and all that, but think about it.

I will start this whole thing off, hoping others will follow my example.

Regarding the Bible: Inerrantist, preferring a more literal reading than most scholars today. I like formal equivalence (word-for-word translations).
Fundamental Doctrines: Perfectly orthodox - Apostles' Creed and all that.
Tradition: Protestant - Pentecostal branch
Specifics: Full Gospel - belief in divine healing in the atonement and God's promises to meet our every need - spirit, soul, body, family, finances, etc. Salvation for the whole person (Shalom).
Eschatology: Pretribulational, premillennial, dispensationalist - but not gloomy (somewhere between classical and progressive).
Sacraments: Regarding the Lord's Supper - Anglican; regarding baptism - Baptist
Holiness: Wesleyan emphasis on grace and perfection; anti-legalistic.

I realize that this is too much information to start with. The first two or three categories should be enough to start. I reiterate that this information should be used with discretion. I read those who are orthodox but not inerrantist. I have benefited from their works and sermons. I have benefited from some Catholic works as well. But I like to know that they are Catholic before I read or listen. Yes, it will change the way I hear them, but it might help me to see something positive in Catholicism that I had not seen before.

Do not let my plea fall to the ground. Join today in this crusade. What would you put on your ID card?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Does God have two wills?

I know that this may seem a strange question to some, but it actually is a very pertinent one. It may seem obvious to us that God can only have one will. He cannot will two different things at the same time. He cannot will to save and not will to save us at the same time. But that is what some actually teach as a doctrine and many others believe unwittingly.

Many Calvinists (those who believe that God alone determines who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell) hold the Doctrine of Two Wills. That is, that God has a stated will in His Word, but another will that He actually carries out. They say that God does say that He "desires for all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" and is "not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance". That is His revealed will. However, they also believe that God has a secret will that determines what actually takes place. In this superior, secret will God decrees that only some will be saved and that others will perish. Now if this sounds contradictory, it is.

Now you might be thinking that you are smarter than that and are glad that these Calvinists are in a small minority. But, as usual, we must examine this issue more carefully. If you observe most Christians today, I think that you will find that many unknowingly hold to the same basic idea.

Christians often pit what the Bible promises us against what God "actually" does. All we have to do is look at some of the 10,000 promises of God in the Bible, especially those that are well known, and ask ourselves if this is the will of God for us. If the answer is no, then we hold to the doctrine of two wills. God's promises are God's stated will. If we say that God has another will for us, then we hold that He has two wills - same as the Calvinist idea.

We must see God's promises as His will for our lives. Now those promises often have conditions that must be fulfilled for them to come to pass for us, but they are God's will nonetheless. Otherwise, why would He have promised them.

For example, let's say we take the promise in Proverbs regarding the spiritual state of our children. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it." There is a condition here. We must train our children in the way of the Lord to partake of this promise. On the other hand, if we do what this scripture says, then we should expect God to fulfill His promise. This is not presumption, but faith. (Presumption is expecting God to do what He has not promised or expecting Him to do what He has promised without fulfilling the conditions.) Faith expects God to do what He promised He would do.

Most of us, however, tend to drop any expectation when we do not see the promise manifested in our lives. We assume it must not be God's will. We think that God's will is different from what He told us. This cannot be. It would be duplicity on God's part. He is not double-minded. If He did not want us to have it, He would not have promised it to us. We must not judge what God's will is by what we see. We do not see all saved, so Calvinists say that it cannot be God's will for all to be saved; otherwise they all would be saved.

This is wrong thinking. Many of us who believe that it is God's will that all be saved, but leave room for human response (free will). Yet we become Calvinists when it comes to the other promises of God besides salvation.

Now some of us may realize that God does truly promise many things but are unsure that God will actually do it because we are unworthy. But you will notice that no promise of the scripture mentions 'worthiness' as a precondition to receiving His promises.

So, with confidence, let's base our petition on the promise of God, fulfill the conditions stated in the Word needed to receive the promise, and dare to expect God to do as He says He will do.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God." Let's please God by expecting Him to fulfill His will in our lives.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The New Penance

I hope that my Catholic friends do not take offense at what is written here, but I am taking a stance against the practice of penance. For uninformed Protestants and other non-Catholics who might happen to read this, penance is a sacrament of the Catholic Church whereby a person shows their true sorrow and penitence by performing certain kinds of works. It begins with confession of the sin to a priest and ends with absolution once all the appropriate works are performed. (Protestants just confess their sins to God directly and receive forgiveness by faith.) These works generally include prayers and fastings, but used to include acts of public humiliation, which are rare today. Absolution is complete only when the prescribed works are done.

But I am not writing about the value of the Catholic rite, but rather about its secular counterpart. I guess we could call it something like "politically correct penance" though I am sure that those, especially in the news media, who promote this practice would object to any such terminology as, well, politically incorrect.

What do I mean by this? I mean that when a person, especially someone in the public eye, makes certain remarks, he is called upon by the media to do a kind of penance. Take, for example, Tracy Morgan, the comedian, who recently had a rant against homosexuals. Now I do not know the exact content of all that he said, but apparently he was quite nasty. And I agree that an apology would be the right thing to do.

But as you probably know, that is not all that he did, nor is it all that is expected of him. He must do some works of penance. He did the right thing in apologizing to a crowd in Nashville where he made the remarks. (To me, that should be sufficient for our forgiving this rant.) Then he went on an 'apology tour' where he confessed over and over again his terrible sin. After that he went to a homeless shelter for homosexual teens. (Why do they need their own shelter?) Finally, it seems that the media is satisfied that Tracy Morgan has done all of penance and can now be given absolution, and we all learned a valuable lesson.

I personally think that this is all ridiculous. First of all, I know that people like comedians to say things that are politically incorrect, but we know that many are thinking it anyway. Rants are heard about all kinds of people and groups and much of it is truly offensive. This kind of talk is unacceptable for Christians and we should all expect appropriate apologies when they occur.

But we know that in a politically correct environment, it is not the fact that you said something bad about someone, but the fact that you said it against certain select groups. Kobe Bryant, the basketball player, cursed out a referee a while ago, and in the midst of the cursing used a homosexual slur. The media pointed out the slur and the league fined him for it. Why was that singled out? - Because it is politically incorrect. Now, it is okay to point it out, but does not the disrespect shown to a referee count for more? In my mind it does. That is what he should have been fined for and what the media should have focused on.

What have we taught our youth here? That using slurs regarding homosexuality is wrong, but gross disrespect to referees and foul language is not as bad. This is wrong. Morgan in another venue, on a sports program, made a sexually crude remark about Sarah Palin. The network apologized, but it seems that no penance was required. No public confession, no apology tour, no rehab, no media outrage. I guess it was just not a mortal sin, but only a venial one. If I knew that he spoke to her and personally apologized, that would be good, but we are unaware of any such thing.

The media obviously plays the role of the priest. (It's amazing how they can act in concert.) The 'sinner' is the one who violated the commandment against politically correct diversity or whatever. Multiple public confessions and humiliations replace a single private confession. Going to rehab or 'diversity training' or speaking to or in support of a special group is the works. Only when these are complete will the media grant absolution.

It's funny that the media, which loves to bash Catholics among other Christians, would unwittingly adopt one of their sacraments. For me, as Protestant as I am, I would take the Catholic sacrament over the new, secular one every time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Harold Camping - how to deal with false prophecy

You will notice in the title that I said 'false prophecy' and not 'false prophet'. Now that the fervor regarding Camping's prediction that the Rapture will occur last May 21st, I feel it is time for some reasoned analysis. By that, I mean, reasoning according to the scriptures.

Whatever damage may have been by Camping's prediction, I think that there has been an overreaction by some in the church. None of wants the church,or the gospel, to be ridiculed because some goofball spouts off this way. We are rightfully concerned that the church and the Bible will be made a laughingstock by false predictions of the Return of Christ or the Rapture or whatever. Some, however, have too harshly judged and condemned the man for his foolishness.

That being said, we now must go back to the scriptures to see how the church ought to handle these things. First of all, I want to admit to not knowing a whole lot about this Camping fellow and what he preaches. I am unsure of exactly what he teaches nor his motives. So I will use the information that I have and go from there.

Based on incomplete information, I am not comfortable, at this point, calling him a false prophet. (Some of you may be upset with me at this point, but please keep reading.) You might ask, 'Doesn't his making a false prediction, especially regarding a future event in the Bible, automatically make him a false prophet?'. The answer to that is no.

Let me explain: If a person predicts something will happen based on his own study of the scriptures, they are not technically prophesying. They are teaching. I am not sure if Camping is basing his prediction on the Bible (wrongly interpreted) or if he is saying that he has had a special revelation from God. A prophecy is an inspired utterance. It is not the result of Bible study. If Camping is teaching in error, then he could be a foolish teacher and not a prophet at all.

But let's say that he is prophesying. How should we approach it? Many of us would turn to the Old Testament to find what it would say about false prophets. Deut 18:20-22 "The prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

According to Deuteronomy, a false prophet was to die. I realize that nobody is suggesting such a thing for Camping, so we agree that we are not to respond to false prophets in the way that they did under the Old Covenant. We should not, however, be afraid of him. He is not speaking in the Lord's name.

Let's look at Deut. 13:1-3a “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams." There is something different going on here. The point that Moses makes is that the coming to pass of the prophecy is not the most important issue, but whether or not the prophet is leading people away from the Lord.

This, I think, is the real key to calling someone a false prophet. Does their prophecy bring people closer to God or further away from Him? This puts a new light on this issue. It is too simplistic to say that Camping was wrong and, therefore, he is a false prophet. Is he leading people away from Christ? I honestly say that I don't know since I do not know all that he is teaching. If he is teaching heresy then he is a false teacher/prophet. If not, he may just be a confused believer. If his general teaching is orthodox, then we must consider him a brother in Christ even if some people discouraged from following Christ because of his error. (Have we not all done damage to the Kingdom of God because of our sin or foolishness?)

We need to go to the New Testament to find out what Christians ought to do with prophecies, both false and real. 1 Thess. 5:20-21 "Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Apparently there was a misuse of prophecy in the church in Thessalonica. Paul, instead of banning all prophecy or condemning those who abused it, gave us sage and reasonable advice. He said to test all such things. Keep the good and throw away the bad.

He says nothing about making fun of false prophecies or excoriating those who do this. He tells us to simply judge the prophecy. Seems rather simple, doesn't it? No ranting about those who make foolish predictions. Rather the believer is to judge the prophecy, and those who give the prophecy must be humble enough to submit their prophecy to judgement without becoming haughty or offended.

So then, how do we judge prophecy? First and foremost by the Word of God. Does the prophecy line up with the Bible? If it does not, then the prophecy is easy to judge. Camping's prophecy falls under this category. Jesus said that we would not know the day nor the hour of His coming. Therefore, all such predictions are false.

Other prophecies are more difficult to judge. A prophecy may not contradict the Bible, but still be false. The next criteria is whether that prophecy gives glory to the Lord, or does it tend to draw us away. Many false prophets and teachers have used the Bible to exalt themselves and make themselves the center of their little group. We need to judge that as well.

Finally, does the prophecy bear witness with our spirits? All born-again believers have the inward witness (Romans 8:14) to help us know what is of God and what is not. We need to develop and cultivate the inward witness and become sensitive to God's Spirit. Just because something seems spiritual or exciting does not mean it is of God. (It's probably not the Devil either, but only the flesh.)

We need to remember as well that Paul also tells us to hold fast to that which is good. If a prophecy is from God, we have to embrace it. This is not, however, putting even a true prophecy on the level of scripture. All prophecy is subordinate to the Word of God. God may speak a true Word to you, but even that must be examined in light of scripture. Do not make some personal revelation into a doctrine. It could just be a Word for you and nobody else. We cannot expect others to follow what the Lord has shown you, unless you are in a position of authority and that Word is for the whole group. Then it still must be judged.

The person who gives a prophecy must not be haughty about it, and neither should those who judge the prophecy be haughty against those prophesying. None of us is perfect and we have all missed the mark regarding what the Lord has (supposedly) shown us.

Friday, April 22, 2011


The word 'atonement' is used as the term regarding what Christ did on our behalf by His death and resurrection to free us from sin and Satan. Theories of the atonement try to explain exactly how that atonement was accomplished.

The most common theory of atonement is what is called Penal Substitution. The idea is that Jesus satisfied the demands of justice by suffering for our sins, thereby relieving us of sin's penalty. This means that God was justifiably angry at our sin and that it must be punished. Jesus took our place in judgment so that we could be justified. I think that most of us agree on that. It is standard evangelical teaching.

But there was a theory, dominant in the church for many centuries, called the Ransom-to-Satan theory. It said that our sin put us in bondage to Satan and that Jesus, by his sacrifice, bought us out of this bondage. Jesus defeats Satan and frees us. Jesus' sacrifice is, then, a kind of ransom paid to Satan rather than a satisfaction of divine justice.

Now to many of us this will seem to be a strange theory not even worth considering as a proper theory of atonement. But I would caution the church not to throw out the baby with the bath water. I certainly do think that it is mistaken to consider Christ's sacrifice as a ransom paid to Satan, but there is something here that we will miss if we are not careful. The idea that Satan has mankind in bondage and that he must be freed is quite scriptural. Let's look at some scripture:

Hebrews 2:14-15 "Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives."

Colossians 2:13-15 "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them in it."

It sure looks to me like Jesus in His atoning work defeated Satan as well as satisfying the demands of justice. Our transgressions are forgiven because our debt is satisfied. Then Jesus disarms (spoils) the demonic powers freeing us from bondage. But some would have you to believe that this is not necessary. All that is needed is forgiveness of sins.

Apparently, forgiveness of sins alone is not enough to free us from Satan. Satan must be personally defeated. And that is what Jesus did after He had finished satisfying the demands of justice.

Here is a natural illustration: Suppose someone offends a king and part of his punishment is banishment. He goes to another country where the ruler puts him in chains. But the king wants his old subject back, but not without punishment for his sins. The king then allows another to take his place in judgment. Another will suffer in the offender's place. The substitute suffers on the offender's behalf. Wonderful! Can the former-offender go back home now? No. He is still in bondage. The substitute (or someone else) must defeat the ruler of the other country. Only then is the former offender truly free.

Too often in the church we are led to believe that if we accept one idea that we must reject another. This is not always the case. We need to study all ideas and keep the parts that are true of each theory and discard the rest. We certainly do need to make the idea of penal substitution the centerpiece of our atonement theology. However, we must often blend ideas together to explain all the biblical evidence. We must be careful not to adopt an 'either-or' mentality.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sit, Walk, Stand

A friend of mine had a book by Watchman Nee called "Sit, Walk, Stand". He could not figure out what the title meant until he read it. It was a commentary on the book of Ephesians. 'Sit' refers to Ephesians 2:6 that says, "[God] raised us up with Christ, and made us sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus". 'Walk' refers to chapter 5, verse 2 which says, "Walk in love, as Christ also loved you, and delivered Himself up for you, an offering and sacrifice to God for an odor of sweet smell." 'Stand' refers to chapter 6, verse 11-12 which says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil; because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers..."

First of all, I want to note that these three words also are prominent in the first psalm. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of the sinner, nor sits in the seat of the scornful." Unlike the Ephesians passage, this psalm tells us how not to sit, walk or stand. The message here is a warning about how not to be, while Paul's message is positive.

What the psalm and Ephesians have in common, though, is the fact that the three words relate to each other. What I mean is that in the psalm, the psalmist is warning us not to sit, walk or stand in the way of evil. These things are related. If you do one, you will do the others. A person who walks in ungodly counsel will commit sin and develop a generally scornful attitude.

Paul, in writing Ephesians, no doubt had in mind Psalm 1 when he wrote to the Ephesians. He meant for us to relate these three words together in his epistle. First, we are told about how we (the church) are seated with Christ in Heaven. I am betting that most of you have never heard a sermon on this subject or know much about it at all. But Paul thought that it was so important that he prayed for the church at Ephesus that God would give them "a Spirit of wisdom and revelation" so they could understand this great truth. It is not something that we can figure out in our heads, we need a revelation of it by the Spirit.

So what does it mean to be seated with Christ? It means that positionally we are ruling with Him. He is seated at the right hand of God. That seat is a throne by which he rules. Are we ruling with Him now? Are we not going to reign with Him in the future? The answer to both questions is yes. We share in His authority in one aspect now, and it will be fully consummated in the future.

Ephesians 1:20-21 tells us that God "raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities, powers, might and dominion, and every name that is named." The expression 'principalities and powers' refers to the demonic powers in this world. These are the same demonic powers in that we read about in Ephesians 6:12. Jesus has absolute authority over the Devil and his demons. He has delegated that authority to the church.

"All authority was given to Me in Heaven and on earth." "Go into all the world ... in My Name cast out demons." (Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:17) These are the words of Jesus to the church right before he is seated at the right hand of the Father. He delegated authority over the Devil in this earth to us. This brings new light on the meaning of Ephesians 6 that says that we must stand against the Enemy. We do not have to defeat the Devil. Jesus has already done that for us. We do not have to try to get God to get the Devil off of us. We have authority over him in Jesus' Name. Jesus' Name is ours to use in our combat with the Enemy.

In order to stand against the Enemy we must first realize that we are seated with Christ. We cannot stand if we do not realize that we are seated with. We do not cry out to God for deliverance from the Devil. We must bind him and limit him and cast him out of our lives. Our dominion over the Devil is part of our redemption in Christ. We must realize our dominion and take advantage of it.

One more thing. It is also crucial that we walk in love. We do not wrestle with other people (flesh and blood) but against the Devil who is behind the evil that they try to inflict upon us. Failing to walk in love allows the Devil to defeat us. But if we walk in love, we walk in the light and darkness cannot overcome us.

If we want to walk in victory over the Devil we must sit, walk and stand.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Error Can Help Us

Anyone who has studied the Christian heresies in the early centuries of the church is aware that the many errors that arose in the church actually helped the church to define who Jesus is. In the long run, the church was actually helped by being forced to better interpret the Bible.

A recent error (I will not call it a heresy) is called Christian Reconstruction or Theonomy. It is the notion that the OT civil laws should be adopted wholesale by all nations today. They say that only the sacrifices and feasts have been fulfilled by Jesus and are the only part of the OT Law that has been abrogated. Hence, the civil aspect of the Law is still in force and God expects us to obey it.

Most Christians disagree with this, saying that only the moral aspect of the Law is still valid today. They say that the laws that God gave to Israel were only for them though we can learn principles of wise and just government from them. I agree with this latter approach.

It is a small minority, almost a fringe element, that holds that to Theonomy but many others use Theonomic principles when it suits them. Let's take, for instance, the issue of immigration in America. We have laws restricting immigration though there is controversy both about the laws themselves and the enforcement of those laws.

Many want firmer measures to enforce those laws; others have tried to use to the OT laws to support the opposite position. They want an open door policy on immigration. The OT does say to welcome aliens and strangers and take good care of them. There was definitely an 'open immigration' policy in Israel.

So, they say, the US should adopt the same policy and let multitudes to remain in this country who have not followed legal immigration procedures. You can make this argument based in OT law, but are you willing to be consistent? Will you apply all OT laws and punishments? Are you suggesting that Theonomy is the solution to immigration but not to anything else? Do you want to stone adulterers and homosexuals? I doubt it. When Uganda recently passed harsh laws forbidding homosexual activity, Christians said that this was wrong. Some of these same Christians are supporting open borders based on OT law.

When we say 'let's examine what the Bible says about X,Y or Z' should we not have a clear understanding about why certain OT laws existed? (And let's not condescendingly attribute a lack of mental and moral development to ancient peoples.) One of the main purposes that Israel existed was to bring the revelation of the true God to the world. They did not go out and evangelize. Rather they were to welcome all to come and learn about Him.

The call of the church is to make disciples of all nations, going out into the world to preach the gospel. It is the church that has to have an open door policy, not the nation in which it resides. The most proper application of the OT law regarding immigration is towards the church and not secular governments. The purpose of the law is to propagate the knowledge of God. That is now done by the church, not the nation of Israel.

Now some will say that the NT always leans on the side of compassion rather than justice and that our laws should be compassionate. But is that the purpose of law, any law? Laws are to establish justice, not compassion. Mercy ought to be shown sometimes in the administration of the law, but the laws themselves exist to give order to a society and to punish wrongdoing. When a person enters the country illegally then he has done wrong. Expulsion is not too harsh a punishment.

Governments administer justice; the church administers mercy. We need to remember this "separation" of church and state functions. There is no contradiction between the church feeding and clothing an illegal immigrant and the government arresting and deporting the same person. Both ought to be done. It is no different from prison ministries. We go to prisons to minister to those who are suffering, though some of that suffering is caused by the government enforcing the law in their case. We do not suggest that they be let out of prison because the Bible teaches 'compassion'.

So if we want to make a case for an open immigration policy we must make it on other grounds. We must be careful not to use the OT law in a inappropriate manner. Paul warned against those who would be "teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully." (1 Timothy 1:7-8) There is a proper use of the Law. Let us use it wisely and not for merely promoting our own politics.

Monday, March 21, 2011

23 minutes with Rob Bell

Two books have recently become best-sellers in the Christian book trade, both on the subject of Hell. Most people have heard about Hell and have an opinion about it. Upon reading this post, I trust that you will have a good idea of my own view on Hell. but even more you should have an idea of how I think that we should approach the subject.

The first book written was by Bill Weise and it is called "23 Minutes in Hell". It is a disturbing tale in which Mr. Weise tells of experiencing Hell for 23 minutes. He depicts Hell as a real place where people consciously suffer unspeakable horrors. He uses this testimony to get people to think seriously about Hell in the hopes that all will repent and avoid it.

The second book (which I confess I have not read) is by a pastor named Rob Bell. It is called "Love Wins". According to the reviews of this book it is an attempt by the author to bring up some troubling issues about Hell. However, since I have not read the book I will only comment generally on some of these issues.

There are a couple of ways that we can, as Christians, approach the subject of Hell, or any other Bible subject. We can study what the Bible says about it and accept it regardless of whether or not it seems right or good to us.

Or we can hope that the Bible 'really' says what we think is good and just. We may want to believe what the Bible says, but we subject the Bible to our own moral sensibilities. Then we try to make the Bible fit our own idea of what is true. That way we can say that we believe the Bible without actually submitting ourselves to it. We interpret it accordingly.

This inevitably leads to self-deception. We need to renew our minds to what the Word actually says. Some seem to be saying that the fact that God is love means that whatever the Bible says it cannot mean that good people will go to Hell. Richard Mouw, a supporter of Bell's views, says that he knew a nice rabbi who prayed for him everyday. When the rabbi died he hoped that Jesus would accept that rabbi into Heaven. I, too, hope that he made it to Heaven, but it does not seem like the man believes in Jesus as Savior. It seems (only God knows his heart) that he ultimately rejected Jesus. That is worse than any other sin one can commit. That is worse than genocide or torture or anything else a person could do. Why do we Christians take it so lightly?

I read one commentator who said that Ghandi, the peaceful liberator of India, must certainly be in heaven today. Why? Because of his good works? Has this commentator read the epistles of Paul? Good works do not earn us heaven. Only faith in Christ saves us. Ghandi,a Hindu who understood the New Testament quite well, almost certainly never committed himself to Christ.

Now that does not mean that God did not use Ghandi to free India. But it does not make him eligible for Heaven. God also used Cyrus, the Persian king, to free the Jews after the Babylonian Captivity. That would not qualify him for salvation either. God does not save people because they have done good, or even great, things. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

You might be agreeing with me on these points though you may be thinking, 'yes, but how do we present this to others - should we threaten everyone with fire and brimstone? Should we not make the gospel attractive to others?'.

I think the Bible answer here is very simple: speak the truth in love. We cannot leave out either part. We must always minister in love, but this does not preclude stern warnings about Hell. "On some have compassion ... and others save with fear." (Jude 22) A friend of mine in college was saved while he was in youth group. I asked him what convinced him to give his heart to the Lord. He said that he did not want to go to Hell. Some would say that this is not a good motive. Jude has no problem with it at all.

I actually find that having your sins washed away in the blood of the Lamb and escaping Hell to be a very attractive gospel. It's far better than wishy-washy notions of 'generous' orthodoxy.

Final point: I think that it is counterproductive, and even dangerous, to publicly say that we are not sure that all unbelievers are going to Hell. If we are not sure, then the world will think that they can reject the gospel without consequence because God is "generous". We should not equivocate on major doctrines like Hell and let the world think that God will let them into Heaven because they do not 'deserve' Hell.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Evangelical Self-flagellation

Have you ever noticed, like I have, that evangelicals, when examining the church, seem to indulge in a bit of self-flagellation? Oh no, you say, self-flagellation is for some extreme ascetics in the Catholic Church or something, not for us who believe in salvation by faith alone! We do affirm sola gratia, all right, but we still see ourselves as sinners. I think this affects our view on the church.

Let me illustrate what I am saying. When a church grows very large and builds big buildings we have the tendency to assume that "they are all about numbers". We love to put down those who are very successful. It is assumed that the gospel is being watered down and the people are not being challenged.

Is it really right to draw this kind of a conclusion if we do not know the hearts of the leaders or the people of these congregations? Do we know for a fact that this is the case, or do we think that it must be this way for one reason or another?

It kind of reminds me of Hollywood's view of big business. A big corporation is often assumed to be successful because it is greedy, unscrupulous and even ruthless. But do these negative assumptions actually make sense? Why would others do business with those who are unscrupulous? I never did. When I ran my business I avoided the unscrupulous like the plague and so did other business people. You do business with others because of mutual benefit. Bald-faced greed will get you nowhere.

We have a prejudice against the big and successful. We Americans root for the little guy, the underdog.

Then again, we also have the opposite tendency, once again on the negative side. When we see declines in churches we assume the worst once again. It is because the ministry is not doing its job or the people do not want to commit to the truth. Once more, we should not jump to conclusions based on our general impressions. They are more often wrong than not.

I propose a measured approach to these things. First, let's not make unwarranted assumptions - either good or bad. Unless we have personal, and correct, knowledge of a situation, we should assume nothing. We need to realize that, in general, growth is a positive thing and decline is negative. But every case needs to be judged on its own merits. Churches go up and down for various reasons.

Some of those reasons are demographic. A church of largely old people is probably going to decline. A church where there is decreasing population will probably decline; a church where there is increasing population will probably increase. The Southern Baptist Convention (the largest denomination in the US) is declining. There has been speculation as to why this is the case. It might simply demographic. Southern Baptist churches are mostly in rural areas and older cities of declining population. Other churches may be growing rapidly because they are in places of growth.

I do not want anyone to think that I view the church with rose-colored glasses. I know that there are many problems in the church today. But let concentrate on helping and blessing the church we are in rather than unfairly criticize other churches we most likely know nothing about.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Revelations

Many people, excluding myself, make New Year's resolutions. As I do not make them myself, I offer little in the way of advice in making them. I do say that if you make them that you should keep them. It is better not to make a vow, even to yourself, than to make one and not keep it.

I would caution, though, that these resolutions can become too focused on "me" and what "I" am going to do - for myself or for God - and less on what God may really want. But the idea behind this blog is a little different. It is more about what God has for us in the new year than what goals we set for ourselves.

Many churches and individual Christians will pray in the New Year (instead of partying) or will be praying around the new year regarding what God has planned for us in the next year. God may reveal to us what the new year will be like.

I specifically remember the new year 27 years ago in 1984 when God gave me an idea as to what that year would bring. Since Christy and I were married in 1980, we had received wonderful spiritual and biblical training, but had no ministry and had greatly struggled financially for a long time. I also was separated from my whole family, especially from my parents.

On the first Sunday in 1984 (I believe it was the 4th), our pastor began his sermon with the words 'new beginnings'. He said that some would experience some 'new beginnings' that year. Those two words rung in my ears for weeks after I heard them. I knew it was the Lord telling me about what 1984 would bring.

Three weeks later, my parents show up out of the blue (they had been living in Chincoteague and we were in northwest Pennsylvania) and we were reconciled immediately. They invited us to vacation in Chincoteague and we did so when I had vacation time in March.

While we were there, he offered me a job and paid me to move here. Immediately, I was making double what I had been before and was developing much needed skills. I also began my teaching ministry that I have been doing ever since on the Eastern Shore.

So in that year, my career began to blossom, my ministry got off the ground and I was reconciled to all my family. That little revelation from God laid the groundwork for what God wanted to do in our lives. "For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)

This year the Lord has given me a word and a Word. What does that mean? It means that He has impressed a concept and a scripture on my heart about this upcoming year. I wish that I could share it with you, but it is between me and the Lord.

So I encourage you to spend time in God's presence and asking Him about His plans for us this year and not just declare our resolutions and our plans for this next year.