Sunday, February 20, 2011

Allah: Who is the god of Islam?

This is the first in a series of articles that are designed educate Christians about the nature and essence of the god and core teachings of the third great religion of the world, Islam. Efforts will be made to treat this subject solely from a spiritual perspective and to resist the urge to politicize the issues. As a conservative, reformed believer in the Christian community, I am primarily interested in helping fellow-believers arrive at a basic understanding of the teachings and claims of the Muslim faith. The content of these articles begins with a description of the god in Islam, Allah, and moves from there to the history of Islam, its teachings, its challenges, and the evangelistic strategy for reaching Muslims.


The name of god in Islam is Allah. Etymologically, the word Allah or Al Lah means the same thing as the English word God. The Arabic meaning for Allah is ‘the Divinity.’ Even when Christian Arabs say the word God in Arabic, they say Allah. Norman Geisler, in commenting on the etymology of the word Allah says, There are twenty different views as to the derivation of this name of the Supreme; the most probable is that its root is illah, the past participle form, or the measure fi’al, from the verb ilaho = to worship, to which the article was prefixed to indicate the supreme object of worship.” Therefore, we should understand that when a Muslim says Allah, he is simply saying god in Arabic. Now this does not answer the question, “is this the same God of Christianity?” For that we will have to understand how the Islamic faith describes and defines the nature and essence of Allah.

As Geisler points out, Sura 112 is dedicated to answering the question, ‘who is God?’ It reads, Say: He is God alone. God the eternal! He begetteth not; and He is not begotten; And there is none like unto Him. This definition describes a god who is both eternal and absolute. Like Judaism and Christianity before it, Islam is expressly monotheistic. In fact, it can be said that the entire point of Islamic faith is the expression of the unity of the one true God. However, as far as Muslims are concerned, Christianity is polytheistic. We will return to this issue later. Suffice it to say that Islam is staunchly monotheistic in it’s understand of God. The consequences of this view amounts to an outright rejection of the Christian Trinitarian formulas of God. God is not three persons in one being according to the tenets of Islam. There are numerous differences in how Muslims understand God and how Christians understand Him. This is to be expected since the sources for God’s revelation for the two religions are fundamentally different and diametrically opposed to one another.

To the Muslim, God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-merciful, and all compassionate. He is one. He was and is supreme (Rausch & Voss. World Religions: Our Quest for Meaning. 180). While there appear to be similarities between Christianity and Islam, there is a huge gulf between their respective understanding of who and what God is. For instance, “Islam has God divorced from His creation, so unified to Himself that He can not be associated with creation. His transcendence is so great that He acts impersonally (McDowell & Stewart. Handbook of Today’s Religions. 393). This view of God would reject the Christian doctrine of immanence.” One Muslim scholar writes, “He is unique and nothing resembles Him in any respect.” (Geisler) It is also said that God’s speech is an eternal speech that does not resemble the speech of created things. (Geisler) Geisler points out that Muslims insist on learning and remember the following thirteen attributes of God: “Existence, Eternity, Perpetuity, Dissimilarity, Self-Sustenance, Unity, Might, Will, Knowledge, Life, Hearing, Sight and Speech. There is clearly an issue with how Islam knows these attributes about Allah since it also asserts that God is unlike anything we know in the created order. For instance, humans understand “will” to refer to a person’s volition, their desires carried out by acts. If God’s will is entirely different from our will, what can Islam offer as a referent for understanding how God wills? After all, if God’s speech, being eternal and entirely different from all created speech, is so unique, how then can we hope to understand what God means when he says “will?” Claiming that Gabriel provided Mohammad with this divine communication fails to provide a rational explanation. After all, angels are created beings and by Islam’s own admission, cannot understand God’s eternal speech any more than created humans. We will return to a more detailed evaluation of Islamic beliefs later.

The absolute unity and transcendence of God leads to a kind of agnosticism in the Islamic religion. After all, the real aim of Islam as we will see later is not to know Allah, but to submit to His will. For the Muslim, submission to the will of Allah is the ultimate function in life. In fact, one of the greatest and most distinctive differences between Christianity and Islam is located here. Islam denies that God has revealed Himself to mankind. According to Islam, God cannot reveal Himself to man. He can only reveal His will. Hence it follows that in Islam man cannot really know anything about God Himself, but only His will. (Al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Dialogue Consultation (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), 47–48.) Christianity takes a fundamentally different view of God’s revelation. Geisler remarks, This is a fundamental point of difference between Islam and the Christian faith (as Al-Faruqi has also pointed out) in regard to their doctrine of God. We must not easily pass over this tension. The logical outcome of Orthodox Islamic theology is agnosticism in regard to the character of God. For Islamic theology, God has willed and has acted in many ways, but these actions in no way reflect the divine character behind them.

In summary, Islam denies any plurality in the being of God by denying that God has essence. God is absolute unity. Of course unity, by definition implies plurality. Otherwise, how can we speak of unity? Unity is, after all, unity of something. What Islam means by absolute unity is better understood as absolute oneness in my opinion. Islam holds to such an extreme view of transcendence that it leads to a form of agnosticism. The Qur’an is a revelation of God’s will, not of God Himself. According to Islam, we really have no way of knowing what the character of God really is. We can only know His will. And from that we cannot deduce what God is actually like. For God is unlike anything we know. There is nothing like Allah. Moreover, the Christian doctrine of immanence is rejected by Islamic theology. This means there is no such thing as God’s covenant presence in human relations with God or anyone else as far as that goes. In conclusion then, Allah is absolute oneness, and so transcends creation that we cannot know anything about Him because He cannot reveal Himself to creation. He is not personally involved in relationships with mankind as Christianity asserts. Humans have a mechanistic duty or obligation to submit to the will of Allah above all else. That is our duty. Of the 99 names listed for God in Islam, not one of them is father. That God should have a son is unthinkable.

Jesus says, “from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” John 14:7 He also prays, “That they may know you, the only true God…” John 17:3 John writes, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” 1 John 2:3 John also says, “I have written to you children, because you know the Father.” 1 John 2:13 Clearly Christianity teaches that we can and do know God. Moreover, Christians relate to God as Father. The Lord’s prayer demonstrates this without ambiguity. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Matt. 6:9 Christianity holds to the God of Scripture who is both sovereign over all creation and intimately involved in their lives. This stands over against Allah, the god of Islam.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Churches and Mosques: Can We All Just Get Along?

Lauren Green of Fox News has reported that two Christian Churches have opened their doors to Muslims. Well, aren’t all churches supposed to be open to all people? Yes, but this is a different kind of “open doors.” According to the report, Heartsong Church in Cordova, TN and Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA have decided to allow Muslims to use their building for worship purposes. Before you go blowing your stack, or flipping your lid, take a deep breath and think about this first. That is what I tried to do. My first response was predictable. I thought such a practice is absurd. My second thought was regarding the “kind” of churches that would engage in this behavior. I decided to think about the principle(s) in back of this behavior. Doing so required me to try and understand what kind of thinking would lead someone to engage in such a practice. I tried to place myself in the shoes of the people in these churches before summarily dismissing the idea. Is it a good thing to lay out an olive branch to an opposing religion? Will it forge relationships that can later be leveraged to share the gospel? What kind of message does it send the world? Most important, of course, is the question of Christian ethics. Is it ever right to extend such an arm of friendship and fellowship to outspoken enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ? And then there is the question of consistency. Would we be just as alarmed if these churches were allowing Jewish worship to take place? Before we go spouting off at the mouth, perhaps we better give this practice some serious thought in light of what Scripture teaches. Is it really a big deal? After all, it is only a tent made of wood, brick, and mortar? There are literally dozens of questions to be asked, the answers to which are momentous.


Yes, to answer my last question, I believe it really is a big deal. But I am not sure that it is a big deal for some of the reasons that others do. Alex MacFarland is quoted in the article saying,

“We as the church are called to show love, we're called to help. But to let a building simultaneously be used for the activities of a mosque and also the activities of Jesus Christ, it's just incompatible. And I think it's one more example of political correctness and hyper-tolerance gone awry.”

But could someone argue that it isn’t really incompatible? Sure and I bet you the folks involved do exactly that. So what is wrong with this practice? Is it kind? Yes it is kind. Aren’t Christians supposed to be kind? Yes we are. Is this a demonstration of Christian charity? Well, now that is a million dollar question. Those who endorse it answer in the affirmative. I think it is not and I will come back to my reasoning later. What I want to do here is help the reader understand why this is wrong so that they can put forth the best argument against the practice without being embarrassed by its proponents. But beware, because consistency will demand consequences later on.

First I asked the question “is this kind?” And I answered that it is kind. And it is at least by the world’s standards of kindness. This is a nice gesture by a Christian church to open its doors to another religion. However, is it kind in terms of being biblically kind? Secondly, would it be unkind not to allow it? If it is true that Muslims and any other religion that opposes the gospel of Christ (and all other religions do) are enemies of the faith, then how can aiding a group whose actions will lead untold millions to hell be kind? Therefore, biblically speaking, this action tends toward being unkind more than kind because it supports actions of deception that are designed to lead people away from the one true God. The Muslim message is a lie. It is fundamentally false. It is a reflection of autonomous, unregenerate men, deceived in their sin, projecting a god of their own liking. The Muslim message will damn billions of people to hell. It is evil to assist in such an endeavor. And helping Muslims worship a false god is not kind. Moreover, it is not unkind not to allow such a practice. Muslims and any other group must take responsibility for their own worship facilities and it is not the duty of the church to open its doors to people whose core mission is the destruction of truth through the propagation of evil teachings that are in every way opposed to our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Is this a demonstration of Christian charity? Not in the slightest! Christian love can never be divorced from Christian truth. Christian truth can never be sacrificed by genuine displays of Christian love. If Christian truth is compromised, then it wasn’t genuine Christian love at work. It was human love tainted by unregenerate thinking and emotions. Christian love demands the passionate and radical defense of Christian truth. And just in case you were wondering; there is only Christian truth. There is no other truth outside of Christian truth.

This idea is not a bad idea because sharing a physical building ipso facto is a contradiction. It is not a bad idea because the people are Muslims. It is not a bad idea because of 9/11. On the other hand, it is not a good idea because it is kind. It is not a good idea because it is charitable. It is neither kind nor charitable from a biblical perspective. It is a bad idea because the message of Islam strikes at the heart of the gospel and seeks to dethrone the very God of the universe. It is a bad idea because the Church, perceptively any ways, is actually helping a religion that is an open, sworn enemy of Christ, to prosper and grow. This is not unlike taking your children to a professed pedophile for baby-sitting services or holding an AA meeting down at the local tavern. This would be like the United States sharing quarters with the Russian Army during the cold war and allowing them to use our training facilities because it is too cold to train in Russia in the winter. This would be like a local church allowing a local university to use their facilities to train the next generation of God-hating atheists.

Finally, this is not a good idea because it will help the church forge relationships with Muslims so that they may leverage those relationships later on to share the gospel. That kind of thinking places man in the driver’s seat when it comes to salvation. It is a man-made strategy and demonstrates extremely weak, if any faith at all. Salvation is of the Lord. God can convert an entire mosque over night if He has decreed to do so. All our relationship building efforts in the world won’t matter if in the process we find ourselves aiding and abetting the enemies of the gospel so that they can continue to deceive the masses with a false and hell-damning message. We feed and cloth Muslims and all other humans when they are in need and we do so unapologetically in the name of Christ. But we do not help them become more successful in deceiving others. That idea is the antithesis of Christian truth because it undermines the very foundation upon which we are built.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Islam, Christianity, and Freedom

The latest crises in the middle east has more than a few folks up at arms. The fear that an Islamic fundamentialist regime will replace the most recent, and more moderate displaced regime is very real. We observe the goings-on and wonder what this means to the region, to Israel, to freedom and democracy, to Christian missionary work, and even to those of us living in the West. Well, to be honest, I have no earthly idea what this means to any of those mentioned above. I am tempted to be anxious just as much as the next freedom-loving person. I am tempted to worry about how this could hinder the gospel in that part of the world. I am tempted toward anxiety around how this may impact the nation of Israel. I am sure many share my concern and uncertainty. However, while I am tempted to fear and worry, by grace I resist these temptations. I know that my God is in complete control of all of the events around to globe to include this one. He not only knows what is going on in the middle east, he is the primary cause. Now does this view mean I am fatalistic when it comes to how Christians should respond to geo-political events around the world? Not at all. I think we have a responsibility to address these issues and react to them in a way that reflects the teaching of Scripture and subsequently promotes the health and well-being of Christianity all around the world. But that answer merely begs the question, what does that reaction or address look like?

We have not been given the charge to politicize Christianity. We have been given the charge to make ardent students, disciples from all nations of the earth. I am convinced that if we busy ourselves with this cardinal concern of Christianity, many of these other issues will take care of themselves. They will either be directly impacted by such disciple-making activities or we will be so distracted by our work in that area that these things will be of little concern to us. Either way, the anxiety will take care of itself. So why do we work outselves up into a frenzy over these issues? There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is our temptation toward autonomy even in ruling our own roost. We are a voice crying in the wilderness! Nothing more and nothing less. That being said, let us not take up the sword, politically or otherwise and let us not shut up our voice at the other extreme. What I mean is that God is working His plan in this world and we should acknowledge this, trust it, and concern ourselves with His revealed will for us and let the chips fall where they may. We make a serious mistake when we think that part of God's agenda for the church is the preservation of individual and religious freedom in the West. Where is this found in Scripture? Am I arguing that we should not influence in that direction? Of course not. I don't want to lose my freedom any more than the next person. But I am not willing to make that item one of my top agenda items in the Kingdom. I am concerned with obedience to God's word, with discipleship, with worship, with teaching Scripture, with spiritual growth, with shining the light of the gospel with our lives as well as our mouths. I am concerned that the world see Christian love for all it is so that God is honored and glorified in all the earth. The trouble is that if we spend all our time on these spiritual issues, we have little time to spare for the political ones. And so we have to choose. Which one is more important? I choose the latter and contend that if we focus our time and attention on spiritual matters, there is no greater influence that we can have on the political ones than that.

What do I say about Egypt? I pray for that country and the people there. I pray for the region and for peace. I pray for the spread of the gospel in that area of the world. I condemn oppression of any kind because God condemns it. But my focus is on obeying God's word and doing all I can to impact the world for Christ, not for individual freedom. If I do the former, then hopefully the latter will be a natural by-product of the former so long as God has willed it to be. Let us not get the cart before the horse. Focus on the spiritual for it is here that we have the greatest influence of all. A spiritual focus has the greatest chance of any other method to influcence the political events and happenings around the world and that includes Egypt, Israel, Iran, England, the United States, Germany, and wherever else you may want to list.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Factious Man: Exegetical Treatment of Titus 3:10

For purposes of this article, the historical and authorial problems of Titus will be deliberately omitted. This decision is not intended to treat these discussions as unimportant, but rather to preserve the purpose of the article which is more concerned with the immediate instructions given by Paul to Titus in the specific pericope referenced in the title. The article intends to lay out a proper exegesis of Titus 3:10 in hopes that it will help churches, pastors, and elders deal with heretics and divisive persons within the visible Christian community in a Scriptural manner. First, it is certainly the case that believers, being sinners converted to Christ but yet still possessing a sin nature, may engage in heretical or divisive behavior from time to time and hence need loving correction. For the confessions says as much, “Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; (Matt. 26:70, 72, 74) and, for a time, continue therein.” Second, there are false teachers, unrepentant and unregenerate men, who have gone out into the world parading about as teachers of Christ, whose doctrine is vehemently opposed to the true gospel of grace revealed in Scripture. Both, heretics and those falling pray to heretical behavior require special attention from church leaders. God has graciously provided church leaders with clear guidance for such a task through the writings of Paul as he instructs his colleague in the ministry, Titus.


Those who hold to the view that the history of Titus fits within the Acts story would date it prior to AD 63. Those who hold to the second imprisonment theory date it somewhere between c. AD 64-67 depending on the date of Paul’s death. While Paul penned Titus for the specific purpose of summoning his colleague to meet him in Nicopolis (3:12), evidently he thought it necessary to provide some guidance around methods and procedures for governing the church at Crete over which Titus had been given responsibility. Titus was a very trusted colleague. He undertook several difficult assignments in Corinth as Paul’s representative, including both the collection (8:6) and the responsibility of dealing with the tense situation that arose between Paul and the Corinthians (7:6, 7, 13-15; 12:18). Titus’ responsibility in Crete is seen early in the letter. He was to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” (1:5)

Paul is concerned that qualified men be appointed to oversee and shepherd the churches in every city. These men must be above reproach, not womanizers, have believing children, not accused of living with reckless abandon or wild living, not guilty of autonomous behavior, that is refusing to be subject to authority, not stubborn and self-willed, not quick tempered ( as Herodian said, quick-tempered persons lose no time being angry, and so with those they ought not, over things they ought not, and far more than they ought), not one who drinks too much, not someone who simply wants to jump from one fight to another, not shamelessly greedy for money, but someone who is a friend or kind to strangers, a lover of good or compassionate, prudent-thoughtful-self controlled, pleasing to God, pious, having their impulses under control, having a strong attachment to the word of God. Moreover, an elder must be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it. These are the men Paul is looking for to the lead the churches in Crete. The problem is that many men have gone out who desire to teach and lead the churches who do not meet these criteria. Paul is concerned that many rebellious men have gone out and that these men are upsetting entire houses.

Titus has three problems on his hand in Crete. First, he has the problem of identifying qualified leaders to lead the churches in every city. Second, he has the problem of these false teachers who have gone out to teach false doctrine with debased motives. Finally, he has the problem of Cretans immoral conduct. The Cretans have problems with deception, are characterized by Paul as being vicious (evil beasts), and lazy gluttons. After covering his objectives with Titus, Paul launches into some very practical instructions for Titus and the believers in the Cretan church. Paul issues instructions for older men, older women, younger women, young men, and slaves. He points to the gospel and what a trustworthy statement it is.

The passage in question seems to represent the pinnacle of Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Removing the factious men will go a long way to purifying the leadership pool, aid in helping Titus to purify the rest of the church through sound doctrine, and refute false teachings that some in Crete may have been prone to accept. The entire letter seems to build to this crescendo in 3:10. The immediate context can be seen to begin in 3:5 as Paul encourages Titus with the words, “These things are good and profitable for men.” (3:8) The Greek particle de appearing here is used to establish a strong contrasting conjunction between what has gone before with what is about to follow.

9 μωρὰς δὲ ζητήσεις καὶ γενεαλογίας καὶ ἔρεις καὶ μάχας νομικὰς περιΐστασο• εἰσὶν γὰρ ἀνωφελεῖς καὶ μάταιοι. 10 αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ, 11 εἰδὼς ὅτι ἐξέστραπται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ ἁμαρτάνει ὢν αὐτοκατάκριτος.

One may refer back to 1:10 to identify the religious orientation of these teachers. They are “those of the circumcision.” These are Jewish men who have gone out to spread false teaching in Crete and who, based on verse 9, love to engage in stupid (foolish) controversies, genealogies, strife, and disputes about the Law. These teachings are upsetting entire houses in the churches at Crete. It is in the context of appointing elders in every city that Paul prescribes a solution. Basically he instructs Titus to recognize leaders both positively and negatively. On the positive side, appoint elders in every city while at the same time rejecting these factious, self-appointed teachers after a couple of warnings.

Verse 9 is clearly a mandate from Paul to Titus to stay out of these silly discussions or debates, primarily because they are useless and unprofitable. The word controversies means questioning or speculations. Those of us who are prone to engage in these sorts of arguments would do well to reflect upon Paul’s words and practice a bit of self examination to determine if we are guilty of ignoring them from time to time ourselves. The word avoid here means, to place around, to go around so as to avoid; to step around, to stand aside, to turn oneself about; to avoid, to shun. Paul commands Titus to stay away from such engagements because they are both useless, and futile.

Paul then makes it clear how Titus is to relate to those men who are schismatic in their behavior. It is clear that this schismatic behavior is identified in the previous verse. The men who are engaging in these foolish controversies, genealogies, strife, and disputes regarding the law are engaging in schismatic behavior. They are upsetting whole families. It is of the highest import that we understand exactly what a schismatic is not only so that we may address the issue according to Scripture, but so that we may avoid false charges against those with whom we may have doctrinal differences that are not essential to the Christian faith.

“The adjective airetico" (a NT hapax) is used here of one who has chosen to follow the false teachings and practices described in v. 9 over against the apostle, Titus, and others in the Christian community who embrace the true teaching and its good deeds.” [Knight III, George W. NIGTC: The Pastoral Epistles, 354.]
“To shun foolishness is only part of the answer (v 9). The person spreading foolishness should be confronted, and if there is no repentance, then that person should be avoided.” [Mounce, William D. WBC: Pastoral Epistles, 454.]
“The αἱρετικός*** is a person who holds sectarian opinions and promotes them in the church, thereby causing dissension in the congregation. The reference is to the kind of person described in Rom 16:17. Cf. Holtzmann, 502: ‘Within Christianity a heresy is, as the etymology indicates, a form of thinking according to an egotistical choice and inclination, associated with a tendency to separation and party spirit.’ Thus the elements of holding doctrines at variance from those of the congregation and of causing divisions over them are both present (Lock, 157).” [Marshall, I. H., & Towner, P. H. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (337). London; New York: T&T Clark International.] Calvin writes,
“for, by the term “heretic” he describes not only those who cherish and defend an erroneous or perverse doctrine, but in general all who do not yield assent to the sound doctrine which he laid down a little before.” [Calvin, John. Commentary on Titus, 341]

Yet Calvin stresses due care in this regard, saying,
“But we must exercise moderation, so as not instantly to declare every man to be a “heretic” who does not agree with our opinion.” [Ibid, 342]
“While Paul stood squarely against false teaching (1:13; 2:15), his use of the term “divisive” indicates the destructive nature of those promoting error among believers (cf. 1:11). [Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (2001). Vol. 34: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (328). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]
“As Fee points out, “unfortunately, all too often in the church the ‘orthodox,’ in ferreting out ‘heretics’ (i.e. people who hold different views from mine), have become the divisive ones!” (211) The believer must differentiate between personal preferences and the essentials of the faith and ministry.” [Mounce, BWC: Pastoral Epistles, 455.]

By all accounts this schismatic man is engaging in the behavior condemned by Paul in v. 9. The heretic, in this context, is someone who is causing division within the church. Before you run out and begin to pronounce everyone a heretic, due care must be given to the particulars. First, what makes a heretic divisive is not simply his disagreement with Paul and Titus. It is the nature of his disagreement with them. Barnabas disagreed with Paul and he was not pronounced a heretic. Their disagreement was so sharp that they ceased working together. And yet Barnabas was never pronounced a heretic. Mere disagreement does not equal schismatic behavior. We should take care not to engage in malicious and slanderous practices by pronouncing those who have mere disagreements with us to be heretics or divisive. After all, Paul says in 3:2 that we are to malign no one. This word is the same word that is translated “blaspheme” and it means to speak about someone in a disrespectful way that demeans and denigrates them. It means to ‘hurt’ the reputation or smite with reports or words. To speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation. As believers, we are commanded not to engage in such treatment of the world and certainly of one another. Hence, it follows, that great caution should be exercised before pronouncing someone as divisive, schismatic, or a heretic. It should be noted that in order for slander to be true, the behavior has to be false. In other words, a heretic cannot charge others with slander if he is guilty of divisive teachings. It is only when his teachings do not meet the standard that one runs the risk of malicious slander. This is a subtle, but very important point.

The nature of the divisiveness had little to do with opinion. The heretics in Crete were men who were causing division by refusing to submit to the authority of apostolic teaching. This can also be seen in the qualifications listed for elders in chapter one. Recall that the elder must also not be a self-willed kind of man. These teachers are certainly demonstrating that they are both rebellious and self-willed. They are refusing to submit to apostolic teaching. So one should recognize that rejection even of certain ideas that a local elder board may hold does not make one divisive. Congregants have the right to disagree with elders teachings so long as those teachings are not essential to Christian doctrine. Calvin says as much when commenting on this text,

“There are some matters on which Christians may differ from each other, without being divided into sects. Paul himself commands that they shall not be so divided, when he bids them keep their harmony unbroken, and wait for the revelation of God. (Philip. Iii. 16)

Hence one has to recognize that when the criteria are met, division in the body that leads people away from the truth of Scripture, upsetting entire families is a serious matter and should be treated seriously. Had the church been faithful in this regard, no doubt we would not see the thousands of sects that currently prevail in the Christian community. A schismatic is not one who has a disagreement with a local pastor, elder board, or even local church. For the pastor, the elder board, and the local church may be the party that has abandoned apostolic teaching. Or it may be that the local body has adopted views that are not essential to Christian doctrine. A schismatic is one who rebels against God by rejecting apostolic authority and doctrine and engages in teaching false doctrine and collecting others to set up his own sect. None of us agree entirely on everything we believe. Church leaders are in place to protect the flock from false doctrine that brings harm to them. They are not in place to stop the mouths of everyone they disagree with. Such behavior is abusive and uncharitable and takes us back to the dark ages.

How then is the factious man to be managed? Paul provides unambiguous instructions, μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ. The schismatic man is to be given two attempts to correct him. The word means, admonition or warning. It is the attempt to cause a person to correct his wrong by warning or counsel. [Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 511]
Calvin writes, “He does not mean any “admonition” whatever, or that of a private individual, but an “admonition” given by a minister, with the public authority of the Church.” [Calvin, Commentary on Titus, 342]

There can be no question regarding the nature of the sin involved and no ambiguities regarding the nature of the admonition that is taking place. When a person’s soul is at stake, there is no room for obscurity. Love demands clarity about the offense, clarity in the instructions, clarity about the goals, and finally, clarity regarding the consequences.
“The two admonitions are obviously intended to turn such a person from his or her error, as in 2 Thess. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:25-26, and are a pastoral attempt to reclaim.” [Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 355]
The admonition is composed of both instruction and warning. Never should an offender be approached with the mere threat of punishment. Such a strategy departs from the whole concept of a shepherd going out to reclaim his straying sheep. When a child is lost from her parents, great fear is produced in the heart of the parents. Panic sets in as the parents fear for the safety of their own. This fear is produced because of the love they have for the child. But when the child is finally located, the parent does not threaten the child with discipline or punishment as a first response. The first response is love, joy, and happiness. It is after that the parent sternly warns the child never to do this again and may even exact a degree of discipline on the child for their reckless behavior. Even in the world of business, when an employer seeks to correct an employee in how they execute their duties, they do not do so by issuing one threat after another. They provide encouraging instructions and the antecedents required to carry out those instructions. With those instructions come expectations around rewards for success and consequences for failure. If a warning is necessary, it is issued in writing with a plan for improvement and usually a time frame to go along with it. This is how we influence and correct human behavior. These practices are borrowed from Christian Theism. It is the way of human behavior. At this point Paul has clearly identified the schismatic behavior, and has issued clear instructions on how to address such a person. However, there are instances when the individual creating the division does not respond to the instructions or warnings. What is Titus to do in these circumstances?

παραιτοῦ is the Greek word used here for reject. It means to purposely keep away from, to have nothing to do with. Here we see that the strategy of social ostracism is to be deployed. This harkens back to Matthew 18:15-18. If your brother sins go to him and after several attempts, if he remains obstinate, he is to be put out of the fellowship and viewed as a target of evangelism. The man who refuses to submit to apostolic teaching is to be rejected from the Christian community. Notice that it is not the man who has mere disagreements with us as if our doctrine were somehow authoritative. The man is deliberately and knowingly refusing to obey the apostolic teaching. Such a position is clearly indicative of one’s spiritual condition. This alone does not indicate that the person’s faith is disingenuous, but it does require that such a question be raised and that their behavior be monitored until it can be determined if God will grant them repentance or if they are of those who have gone out from us because they were never really of us. However, as far as the Christian community is concerned, they cannot be allowed to partake of the public table of fellowship which is limited to genuine believers. Paul says in verse 11 that such a person is perverted, sinning, and is self-condemned. That is to say that such a person is condemned as a result of his own actions.

The issue in Titus 3:10 unambiguously concerns false teachers who are spreading false doctrine throughout Crete. The remedies for this are to appoint godly elders in every city, instruct and warn those who are guilty of this behavior no less than twice, and purge them from the Christian fellowship if they refuse to submit to apostolic teaching. The division is doctrinal and is of central importance to the Christian faith. Separation over non-essentials and pronouncing people to be heretics over minor differences is to be avoided by all who desire to live according to Christian charity. The Corinthian church had several issues with division, and they were rebuked by Paul for their carnal behavior. However, Paul stopped short of pronouncing any of them a heretic and urging the community to excommunicate them. On the flip side, when a person has been found to be teaching things fundamentally contrary to apostolic teaching, the instructions are unambiguous. We do not have the authority to permit people in the churches to instruct believers contrary to the apostolic teaching.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Heart of Conflict

So we all experience it on a regular basis whether we want to admit it or not. Conflict. What is it and where does it come from? Why can't we live without conflict? Remember the words of Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?" Well? Why can't we all just get along? Why is it that we experience conflict at home, at work, and even in our churches? The reason is really quite simple: sin. We ALL have hearts that are prone to idolatry. We desire to run our own life our own way. We want to have our proverbial cake and eat it too. We think our opinions are more important than the opinions of others. Our boss thinks our work was substandard while we think it was impeccable.

We live in a culture that has become more and more averse to confrontation. But in a fallen world, is such an aspiration wise or even possible? I think it is not. Sin makes conflict unavoidable. Any idea that postulates that conflict can be erased from the scene of every day living is seriously detached from reality. Conflict is a fact of life just as much as death itself. It is impossible to live life for very long without some sort of conflict arising. If this is true, then the question arises, "how do we deal with conflict?" In order to deal with conflict, we must first have a firm handle on the heart of conflict. The heart of conflict is the human heart. The human heart, in its fallen condition is the heart of all human conflict. One desire is placed over against another desire and conflict is born. James says, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" (James 4:1) There you have it. Read the entire 4th chapter of James for an more thorough understanding of the cause of conflict. Doing so will help you understand why you may be experiencing the frustration you are.

Conflict is the direct result of our own personal lusts or desires. These desires may be unholy or holy. That is not the point. The point is that conflict is produced by competing desires within us and within the body of Christ. In order to determine whether or not you are sinning, you must examine, as honestly as you can, the nature of your desire. This requires a great deal of personal honesty. Don't lie to yourself. You know why you desire the things you do. First, if your desire contradicts God's clearly revealed will in Scripture, then your desire is sinful. You can stop there. The examination process need go no further. You are in sin any time your desire contradicts God's revealed desires. But there are times when that is not the case. Sometimes your desires and God's desires are the same. For instance, you may desire that your spouse communicate with your more openly. Or you may desire that your church remain faithful to Scripture in certain areas. And you may note that things in those areas are not going as desired. Now you must decide how to respond. Either way, your response must take into account God's sovereign control over all things. Joseph was cast into prison unjustly, against God's character, and still it was firmly within God's design. Joseph was responsible for responding rightly. This is just as true for you and I today. Even when we are catching the worst of it, when our desires are clearly biblical, and still we experience terrible disappointments, our main concern must be with the godliness of our response to the situation.

Churches split and are torn apart because people have conflict. Most of the time, the conflict involves sin on both sides. In some instances, it involves sin on the part of individuals. In some cases, leadership within the church is in the wrong. I know. Blasphemy you say. Some church leaders would have you believe that they are above being charged with sin or error. I know, I have experienced that first hand. How dare you accuse a pastor of sin, I heard. Really? Are we serious? Do we really think that a pastor or elders are somehow different than the rest of us sinners? Aren't pastors and elders just as dependent on grace as the rest of us? Are those who fill these offices not the same "kind" of sinners we all are? Okay, while most of you can see the stupidity of such thinking, that doesn't seem to be as apparent to some. So conflict is the result of unmet desires on the part of EVERYONE within the church. No one is exempt. What is the answer? The answer is in searching your heart first and foremost to make sure that your desire is in accord with God's word. In the process, be honest with yourself. Why do you REALLY want what it is you want. Secondly, be willing to accept the fact that you may not get your way because God may have decreed otherwise. Accept God's sovereign control over the situation. Finally, above all else, no matter what else happens, LOVE your fellow brother and sister in Christ. Regardless of the nature of the conflict, NOTHING is more important than Christian charity. Do not allow your desires to cause you to engage in hateful or unloving behavior toward those with whom you disagree. Manage your emotions. Do not allow your emotions to manage you.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three Reasons to Choose Biblical Counseling

Produced in collaboration with Craig Day of Caleb Ministries

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26-29 KJV)


Pastors who engage in counseling or refer congregants to a counselor should have two basic reasons for doing so. First and foremost, they should be interested in the spiritual validation of the congregant. In other words, they are seeking to discover fruit meet for repentance. They want to know that this person has a genuine relationship with Christ. If the person does not know Christ, then the prescription is readily apparent; they need to repent and follow Christ. In addition to this, and no less important, they are interested in the sanctification of the congregant. Specifically, they want this person to grow spiritually. As a pastor, your number one goal is to produce spiritual growth in your congregation. Few things afford the kind of opportunity for spiritual growth as Biblical counseling. Prudent pastors recognize this and take every advantage of this wonder ministry to help believers in their care to grow in their knowledge of and sanctification in Christ.

Pastor when you refer a congregant to a counselor, you have not delegated to another, the responsibility God has placed on you for the spiritual well-being of that person. In fact, it is precisely the spiritual well-being of that person that the counselor must be concerned to treat. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”(Hebrews 13:17) “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) As a pastor, God will hold you responsible for engaging in His prescribed behaviors that are necessary to provide the guidance and support believers require to progress along their spiritual journey. Moreover, this support should help Christians grow in their sanctification and develop spiritually healthy lives that reflect the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in their heart. This is the fundamental duty of the shepherd/pastor/elder. If this duty were eliminated, the pastorate would be insignificant, unnecessary, and quite frankly, obsolete. The office of pastor was ordained in the body of Christ to equip the saints for service, to build people up, to move us to unity in faith, to help us mature spiritually, to protect us from false doctrines that are destructive to our spiritual well-being. (Eph. 4:11-14) Hence it follows that if you, the pastor, aren’t spending the majority of your time engaging in these activities, you are likely spending your time indiscreetly. For this reason, it is extremely important that pastors are absolutely certain their goals are compatible with the counseling team’s goals (and vice versa) prior to referring congregants for counseling.

Three Reasons for Biblical Counseling

1. Biblical counseling discovers the right diagnosis

2. Biblical counseling reaches the right destination

3. Biblical counseling produces true discipleship

Discovers the Right Diagnosis

It is impossible to provide sound counsel to someone if you are not able to correctly diagnose their problem. Oftentimes what looks like a problem in reality, is really the symptom of a problem or the indirect result of another problem lurking just under the surface. How does psychology and Christianity differ in their diagnosis of various life problems? Psychology does not tie human behavior to how one thinks about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and how that sovereignty is worked out providentially in our lives. Psychology views life problems as random events we all have deal with. Things just happen. Notwithstanding, Christian counseling seeks to help the believer understand that oftentimes, our problem is that we are not thinking biblically about God, his sovereign control over creation, our role as His subjects, and the fact that He is the author of the circumstances in our life and that the circumstances are designed by Him for His glory and our good. Our spiritual growth is indelibly connected to how we respond to unrealized expectations in relationships and circumstances. Moreover, the very barometer for one’s spiritual well-being is how they respond to these unrealized expectations, or perceived unmet needs. If psychology is occupied with locating the cause of our problems elsewhere, as the proverb says, it begins an inch off the mark and has no chance of ending but 1,000 miles off target.

It follows that attempting to integrate psychological method with Biblical counseling in diagnosing life-problems is ineffective and unnecessary. Psychology contends that life-problems are the result of genetic and physiological factors, social and environmental factors, or the social milieu of the individual. Biblical counseling focuses entirely on our sinful responses to these factors as the real culprit of the problem and not the factors themselves. In fact, Biblical counseling contends that God deliberately placed us in the particular lot we find ourselves in for his glory and our good. Our primary concern as Christians is to glorify God in how we relate and respond to those circumstances. Psychology fails to take such concerns into account. Healthy living begins with healthy thinking. Apart from thinking God’s thoughts after Him, and recognizing His supreme control, healthy thinking will always prove evasive. And if healthy thinking is not achieved, counselees are unlikely to realize healthy living. If you help your congregant think biblically, it may drastically reduce the number of life problems they perceive over the course of their lives. But if every life problem is treated as one more random, preventable event that needs remediation, a vicious cycle of dependency could be the result. And that is spiritually, mentally, and emotionally unhealthy. It follows that if Scripture is completely sufficient for life and godliness, and that it is the goal of the pastor as well, then introducing methods outside of Scripture run the risk of diminishing, not enhancing, the effectiveness of counseling.

Reaches the Right Destination

Psychology seeks to help human beings find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life outside of God. Psychology is entirely focused on ‘self.’ Psychology has no interest in helping man arrive at proper thinking about God, creation, man, and how one may conform to the image of Christ. Psychology’s fundamental presupposition is that humanistic reasoning is adequate to address man’s spiritual problems and faith in a supernatural being is unnecessary. The goals of psychology focus on things like self-esteem, love, acceptance, and feeling significant. Biblical discipleship or Biblical counseling on the other hand, has different aspirations – holiness . “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2) The chief end of every human is to fear God and keep his commandments. This is the whole duty of man. What that looks like today is living a life that is being transformed by right thinking about God and all that God has to say about who and what He is, creation, life, and humanity. In short, it looks like a life that is attempting to mimic the life of Christ as revealed to us through Holy Writ. The goal of Christian counseling is transformation. But what does this transformation look like? Counselees are advised to transform from their present state into a desired state. They need help understanding what the desired state looks like. God, who is Lord over all creation, has revealed this desired state to us in Scripture through the incarnation of Christ. Moreover, God’s self-disclosure in Scripture provides specific direction for counselors and counselees alike, not only on what the desired state looks like, but how to achieve it.

The destination of Biblical counseling as opposed to secular psychology is Christian conversion and/or spiritual growth. Nothing is more suited to this end than the revelation of Scripture. Humanistic psychology has no interest in God, conversion, or sanctification of believers in Christ. In fact, most of the proponents of modern psychology are not only dispassionate about God, many of them are outright hostile to God. The unbeliever suppresses the truth of God and exchanges it for a lie. (Rom. 1:25) In fact, it could be said that no one is even dispassionate about God, but that all who are not a friend of God are enemies of God. (Matt. 6:24) When it comes to religious knowledge, there is no such thing as neutral ground. Those who attempt to merge psychology with Biblical Counseling make a grave mistake by thinking that such neutrality exists. Scripture unambiguously and unequivocally teaches that it does not!

Produces True Discipleship

Once you understand what issues are confronting the counselee, that is to say you have made the right diagnosis of their present condition, and you have determined the right destination, you are now in a position to come up with a plan for how they can reach that destination. We call this plan, discipleship. Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) Pastor, you are not in the business of professional secular counseling. You are in the business of making disciples. In my secular work we have what we call a professional development plan. In the kingdom of God, Biblical counseling is what we might call a discipleship development plan. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes.

Being a disciple of Christ means the unconditional surrender and sacrifice of the whole life of the individual. This means every part of the human person is given over wholly to God. The intellect, the emotion, and the will are now captive to the Master-Teacher. Jesus said anyone who loves mother, father, daughter or son more than me is not worthy to be his disciple (Matt. 10:37-39) What does that look like? Anytime pleasing someone else, including oneself, becomes more important to a person than pleasing God, serious examination of the Master-disciple relationship is in order. There are times when we have lapses in this goal. And it is precisely to this end that Biblical counseling is designed to address. Lapses in behavior are one thing, but patterns of thinking that determine patterns of life that reflect overt disobedience to God’s expressed will is a different matter altogether.

Pastors are in the business of making and training disciples, from among whom, some will go out to make and train more disciples. In short, pastors are in the business of advancing the kingdom of God through discipleship. It would be a mistake for you to think that your end goal is to “fix a person.” That is the secular mindset. That is the aim of psychology. Psychology is not the least bit interested in the advancement of the kingdom of God. Biblical counseling understands that its true cause and ultimate purpose is the advancement of the kingdom of God through meaningful discipleship.

Pastors are looking for change. Specifically the change they are seeking is biblical change. Moreover, biblical change equals Christ-likeness. We are to be transformed into the image of Christ and we do this through discipleship in the church. In brief, pastors are looking for the kind of Christ-like change that brings glory to God. This is exactly the aim of Biblical counseling and this is what sets it apart from psychology and other methods that may attempt to integrate psychology into “Christian” counseling.

Biblical counseling asserts that God is the designer of all human life and that He has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness and that these things are revealed to us in His word. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) Biblical counseling contends that Scripture alone is sufficient and as such is the sole authority for helping believers address all matters pertaining to life and godliness. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

CONCLUSION

Pastor, as a shepherd leader before you even start a sermon, project, goal, or church initiative, you should understand what you want the end state to look like. Doing so will help you devise a plan or road map to get there. In counseling and discipleship, the same holds true. It is critically important that the counselor and counselee know the desired state, the present state, and what the road map between the two looks like. It is here that Christian counseling is quite distinct from psychology because it has a unique starting point, a unique road map, and an entirely unique objective. Before referring their congregants to a counseling team, pastors should be familiar with the philosophies and methods that team employees as it seeks to help people move from where they are to where they should be and how that journey will progress along the way. Paul says, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:14-15)

The Goal of Counseling and the responsibility of pastors within Christianity is spiritual growth. Moreover, the only source given by God for true spiritual growth is the Bible, properly exposited through preaching teaching, counseling, and personal study. Consequently it follows that Biblical counseling is sufficient to produce effective spiritual growth and as a result healthy living within the Christian community. If I were to ask you, pastor, to give me the details of your discipleship development plan in your church and how you execute on that plan, would you be able to launch into an intimate explanation of deliberate actions you have taken as a pastor to install and supervise such a process? If I were to ask you if you are aware of the philosophies of those to whom you refer members for counseling and discipleship, would you be able to answer? Perhaps its time for some due diligence around a discipleship development plan and a review of any outside counseling services you currently use. Technically, you should conduct such reviews no less than annually to make sure there are no unexpected philosophical shifts taking place. This is extremely healthy for you and your congregation.

Notes
Carl Jung, wrote, "The psychologist, in as much as he assumes a scientific attitude, has to disregard the claim of every creed to be the unique and eternal truth...he is concerned with the original religious experience quite apart from what the creeds have made of it." [The Teachings of Carl Jung]



Based on key presuppositions centered around the inherently good "inner nature" of man, he draws this conclusion and stakes his claim:


"Observe that if these assumptions are proven true, they promise a scientific ethics, a natural value system, a court of ultimate appeal for the determination of good and bad, of right and wrong. The more we learn about man's natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to love, how to fulfill his highest potentialities." [Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, p.4]


Freud hated Christianity and made every effort to launch attacks on its central teachings and practices, supposing that he could "explain" religion by means of his psychoanalytic theory. Freud is described as a "convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist" who considered himself as "godless Jew." [Exposing the Roots – Freudian Frauds, Christian Discernment Ministries]


The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. In Koine Greek, a disciple was one who was a student, or an apprentice; one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views. Mathetes always implies the existence of a personal attachment which shapes the whole life of the one described as mathetes, and which in its particularity leaves no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power. [Kittel] A man is called a mathetes when he binds himself to someone else in order to acquire his practical and theoretical knowledge. [ W. Bauder in NIDNTT] The almost technical sense of the word, which implies a direct dependence of the one under instruction upon an authority superior in knowledge, and which emphasises (sic) the fact that his relation cannot be dissolved, controls the whole usage, no matter whether the reference is to the winning of technical or academic information and skill. [Kittel] There also appears a definite kinship between the Greek mathetes and the Hebrew talmid. The linguistic kinship is confirmed by the fact that the Rabbinate itself spoke of the Talmidim of Jesus. [Kittel] W. Bauder comments, “Therefore learning means primarily that the talmid appropriates the knowledge of his teacher and examines it critically by comparing it against the Torah. Moreover, learning means the process by which the past experience of the love of God is translated by the learners into obedience to the Torah of God (cf. Deut. 4:14) [Bauder]


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

DOKIMADZETE THE SPIRITS - 1 John 4:1

It is commonly held that the apostle John was dealing with a very specific heresy related to early Gnosticism when he penned his manuscript late in the first century. And the evidence for this view is very strong. For the sake of argument, we will assume that John was in fact dealing with this heresy and therefore, when we read his letter, we will look through that grid. As we approach this pericope, we observe a sobering call to his audience that they are not to believe every spirit, but rather, they are to test them to see if they are of God. The very existence of this commandment presupposes the fact of absolute truth. Otherwise, why would we bother to test the truthfulness of something if truth doesn’t exist? Moreover, this commandment also precludes an agnostic approach to truth. For, it must be said, how can we even begin to determine the truthfulness of a teaching if we are not able to really know the truth? Hence, we can deduce from John’s commandment the metaphysical reality of truth. Not only this, but we can also presuppose the epistemological preconditions necessary for knowing truth. In one sentence the apostle John debunks skepticism and agnosticism as plausible positions relating to the existence of truth. In addition, we can conclude, based on the language of this text, and that not only does truth exist, and not only is it knowable, but it is apparently important for us to become familiar with it.


The Greek word DOKIMADZETE appears some twenty-two times in the Greek New Testament. This makes it well-attested. John is primarily concerned with false teachings invading the church leading to radical misunderstandings in the nature of the person of Jesus Christ, not to mention the practical impacts these teachings are having in the believing community. In short, this teaching is leading to overt heresy in doctrine, and to either extreme legalism or antinomianism in daily living. It seems to me that for John, doctrine mattered. Antinomianism is a word used to describe living without law. It means that Christians were completely ignoring the Christian ethic in their daily behavior. All three of these results were clearly unacceptable in John’s view and he condemns each one in its own right. It is this condition that leads John to urge these believers to be more discerning in their thinking. In other words, John commands these Christians to be critical thinkers. I have written about this recently. Critical thinking goes as far back as the existence of mankind, primarily because it originates in the very nature of God. He created us to be critical thinkers. Hence, John is calling on these believers to engage in this practice so that they can counter teachings that lead to contrary views of Christ and behavior that is antithetical to the Christian ethic.

DOKIMADZETE means to make a critical examination of something; to determine genuineness; to put to the test; examine. John, in dealing with an early form of Gnosticism, was urging the Christian community to test these ideas that were being postulated by these false Gnostic teachers. The fundamental proposition: everything that is of this natural world is evil. Fleshly bodies are of this natural world. Therefore all flesh is evil. The consequences of this view on Christology: Jesus Christ was God, and entirely good, therefore He could not have come in the flesh. He only appeared to be in fleshly form, but in actuality was here in spirit form. The consequences of this view on Christian praxis: legalism in the sense that anything that brings pleasure to the flesh is sinful and must be prohibited. Alternatively, antinomianism, in the sense that we cannot escape the flesh, therefore we will serve God with our spirits and with our flesh we will do whatever pleases us since we cannot escape the evil flesh after all. In other words, every Gnostic held a heretical view of Christ. Moreover, they were either extreme legalists or extreme libertarians. Suffice it to say that for John, Gnosticism posed a serious threat to the Christian worldview and he had to act with urgency to counter this ungodly philosophy. His response was to mandate a standard of critical thinking for every believer in the faith community. This would provide the kind of defense he was hoping for. But this was not just any critical thinking. It was distinctly Christian in nature. This was reformed critical thinking. Critical thinking necessarily brings a standard with it by which all propositions are critically examined and evaluated to determine the truthfulness of their content. It is only if the standard of critical thinking is God’s standard that such thinking can be deemed successful. Paul said it this way, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

The Greek word dokimadzete appears 22 times in the NT. The word was used by Christ to rebuke the religious of his day for not being able to discern the times (Lu. 12:56) and in a parable when one man excused himself from following Christ because he had just purchased oxen and he want to try them out. (Lu. 14:19) Peter and John use the word one time respectively. The remainder of usage is located in the writings of Paul. Alice Paul even uses it to admonish the believers in Corinth to test themselves in order to see if they are in the faith. In another instance, the Corinthian believers are instructed whomever they approve among themselves to carry the offering to Jerusalem. Nowhere in the NT is this word ever used in the context of testing the genuineness of another’s faith. It is used in the context of sending monetary gifts. (1 Cor. 16::3) It is used in the context of service. (2 Cor. 8:22) It is used for those who are to be ordained as deacons. (1 Tim. 3:10) Never is the word used to say that we can actually discern the genuineness of another person’s faith in Christ. The only safe way for us to ever draw conclusions about the genuineness of another person’s faith is the process of biblical correction outlined in Matthew 18.

Two things emerge here as John urges the believing community to test the spirits because of the prevalence of false doctrine. The first is that we are to examine every teaching in light of Scripture to determine if it is true or false. The existence of this mandate signifies that the practice of careful examination of doctrinal instruction is important. Those who contend that doctrine really isn’t important are left with some explaining to do regarding John’s mandate. If doctrine isn’t important, then why does John command us to carefully examine every single spirit? Why is John so concerned about false prophets if true doctrine really isn’t important?

Practice is built on theology. People practice what they actually believe. Therefore, practice is also open for critical examination. If your church practices something that isn’t biblical or worse, that seems to contradict Scripture, you have a duty to question it after careful examination in light of Scripture. You do not have the luxury that so many in Western cultures desire to have or simply shrugging your shoulders and convincing yourself it isn’t any of your business. God made it your business. God made it all our business. Refuse to carefully examine everything and speak up when you see injustice or false doctrine and you and I will be answering to God for such lazy cowardice.

Finally, the one thing we do well, that we really should not do well is to convince ourselves that we can determine when someone’s faith is genuine. I know of a case where a pastor told a young man that he thought the young man was lost even though the young man had not been through any steps of the corrective process outlined in Matthew 18. I know of people who think they are so spiritual that they can discern the motives of other Christians. I know Christians who think they can discern the heart and intent of others either because they are just that good or because they have mystical gifts that others do not seem to possess. If we spent half the energy investigating the word of God and loving one another as we do judging each other, the church would still be turning the world upside down.

The only time an apostle instructs us to test the salvation of someone else it is our own salvation that is the object of such scrutiny. It is never the salvation of another. Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” He said by your standard of measure, it will be measured back to you. He went on to say, “Why do you look at the speck in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Augustine comments here, “we are taught nothing else, but that in the case of those actions respecting which it is doubtful with what intention they are done, we are to put the better construction on them.” [Morris, Leon. PNTC Matthew, 164]

Calvin comments, “These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves and every man asses a severe censure on others. This vise is attested by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults…This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says Judge not…In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.” [Calvin, John. Harmony of the Evangelists, 346-347]

Balance is indeed difficult to maintain in a fallen world filled with people who possess a sin nature. We distort, contort, twist, ignore, destroy, and abandon God’s instructions and mandates at just about every turn. We refuse to examine doctrine critically, preferring to believe that doctrine isn’t important. At the other extreme, we subject one another to the most painful of critical examinations, calling one another’s very faith into question as if we had the ability and the right to engage in such practices. I know of one incident where a pastor said to one of his members, “if someone accused me of not being saved the way that I just accused you of not being saved, I would fall down on my knees in tears.” Does anyone understand the arrogance and pride necessary for a person to think this highly of themselves? Unfortunately for that pastor, the man he said this too was a mature believer who had spent years in the word. And fortunately for that man, he had enough of God’s word in him that he recognized the foolishness of such a statement right away even though it came out of the mouth of a pastor. Indeed, we are all sinners and this makes discernment with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the standard being God’s word, critical. At the same time, it means that we must avoid the sinful desire to tear one another to shreds when someone dares to violate our personal standards of right and wrong.

The Bully Pulpit and a Culture of Intimidation

On the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made...