Friday, September 30, 2011

Cussing Pastors and Insulting Apologists

An Indictment of Rank Hypocrisy

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

A couple of very important observations about the truth revealed in this text are in order. First, the people who are in error, who are in opposition to the truth of God are described as in the “snare of the devil.” They are in serious trouble, being held captive by Satan to do his will. Second, God, being sovereign must grant them repentance. Repentance is not something they are free to engage in themselves, being held captive by Satan to do his will. If they are free, why does Paul refer to them as being help captive? If they can simply repent, why does Paul say “if perhaps God may grant them repentance?” Finally, God has ordained the method outlined in this verse as at least one means by which people that are held captive by Satan may be granted repentance and subsequently, their freedom. What is that means you ask? It is the truth delivered and the method by which it is delivered that the Lord Himself has ordained that His slave use in order to accomplish that end.

The first characteristic that stands out is the prohibition against being of a quarrelsome disposition. The servant of the Lord MUST not have a propensity to fight, verbally or otherwise. God forbids it.

First: quarrelsome behavior is strictly forbidden. “de” is the contrasting conjunction used to begin the sentence. Actually in the Greek it is a post-positive. At any rate, contrasting false teachers, the servant of Christ must not be quarrelsome. What does this word mean? Since we are commanded to NOT to do, perhaps it would be a good idea to find out. This word appears four times in the NT.

John 6:52 - Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?”

Acts 7:26 - On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, “Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?”

James 4:2 - You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

Every time this word appears in the NT, it means to engage in combat, either physical or verbal. It appears 24 times in the LXX and only once is it not used to depict fighting, contending or struggling of some sort. BDAG says it means to engage in physical combat, to engage in heated dispute, without use of weapons, fight quarrel, dispute. According to Louw-Nida, the word carries the idea to clash severely, either physical or non-physical, but clearly intensive and bitter, to clash severely. Kittel points out that this word is never used in the NT to refer to the Christian warfare. All MACHESTHAI is rejected as inconsistent for the Christian. The Hebrew word for quarrel is RB, and the range of meanings is somewhat broader: judge, argue, complain, increase, reprimanded, strive, dispute, quarrel, plead, and contend. On the negative side, the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome.

On the positive side, there are four things he is commanded to do. 1) be kind to all; 2) be able to teach; 3) patient when wronged; 4) gently correcting those in opposition.

First, be kind to all. The word HEMIOS Is a hapex legomenon and it means to be kind or gentle. Paul says we were gentle among you as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (1 Thess. 2:7) That is the picture. The servant of the Lord must passionately defend orthodoxy against all enemies, but without being a fighter. As Paul wrote about the overseer, he said that an over must not be a PLEKTES, a pugnacious person, bully, something that is contrary to a generally recognized standard. The servant of the Lord must NOT be quarrelsome, but must BE kind. See the contrast?

Second, the Lord’s servant must be able to teach. The context demonstrates a style of teaching that is the opposite of fighting and strife, and that is consistent with being kind. An ability to teach and influence as a servant of the Lord is essential. Derisive methods and pugnacious rhetoric laced with insults about people rather than statements of fact about biblically revealed truth made in love with the goal of change in mind are two completely different things. The former is condemned by God while the latter is His command.

Third, patient when wronged. The idea here is gentle forbearance. Your whole goal is to witness repentance and transformation. You will not accomplish that by calling people that disagree with you stupid or morons. You provide skeptics with all the ammunition they need to accuse all Christians of being unloving hypocrites. No one can defend your behavior to the skeptic if this is how you choose to conduct yourself. Paul says we are to be patient when we are wronged, not if we are wronged. One gets the sense that Christians will suffer poor treatment, the only question is when.

Finally, he is to gently correct those who oppose. Not with harsh and insulting words. Be kind. Be patient. Be gentle with those who may attack you. Focus on truth, not them. The word for gentle is PRAOTES and it means not being overly impressed with a sense of one’s own self-importance. This gentleness is an inward grace. It begins with a right understanding of what we are before a holy God. Once we understand that, it is much easier for us to be gentle with one another. How could I adopt a condescending attitude toward others when I know myself to be a sinner? That is the idea.

In addition to this, we have instructions from Paul regarding the use of foul language or any language that is not edifying to the hearer. We have pastors like Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll and others actually swearing in the pulpit. Perry Noble actually played the song, “Highway to Hell” during an Easter service with the goal of upsetting “religious” people. Mark Driscoll has long been known for his cussing and swearing. There is an internet apologist at Tekton Apologetics (tectonics.org) who justifies calling people stupid, idiots, and morons in his apologetic method. He makes use of Social-Science Criticism, the honor/shame value of Mediterranean cultures couple with his view that Jesus engaged in the challenge/riposte style of debate that was popular in His culture to justify name-calling. He contends that Scriptures like the one above and the ones below do not apply to public debate. Well, nothing in any of these Scriptures indicates that there is ever a time when they would not apply. But that is another post for another time.

Eph. 4:29 says, Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to the those who hear.

The word SAPROS means of such poor quality as to be of little value. The idea is that this language is harmful as opposed to words or language that is good for edification. You can say things that build people up or you can say things that can tear them down. Paul is saying NEVER use words to cut and tear down. Sometimes words of truth do cut. They convict us of sin. That is not the same thing. Paul is talking about motives that are specifically designed to hurt. They are not geared toward confronting actual sin with the hope of producing sorrow that leads to repentance. I once had a pastor say to me that I say things “to cut” people. He was wrong! I say things to confront people with sin, especially if they have already been confronted and refuse to repent. I have been confronted with sin over the years. I know what it is like. We are all sinners. So there is a difference between fighting and slandering people with unwholesome words and confronting people with unrepentant sinful behavior. As Hoehner puts it, “Since PAS is before an anarthrous substantive, it means, “every, each” word that comes from the mouth is to be wholesome. SAPROS is actually used to describe rotten wood, withered flowers, and rancid fish. I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of anything worse than rancid fish! On the flip side, your goal is edification of your fellow brothers and sisters. You cannot accomplish that by calling people stupid or referring to them as morons when they disagree with you. That is how a cult leader behaves. He bullies and intimidates people. He uses his position of power and privilege to manipulate others to do his bidding. Those who are good at this will have others thinking they are taking a stand for the kingdom! Of course, the lack of critical thinking skills makes it all the more easy for these hirelings to do their work.

Objections

Detractors will often cite Matt. 21, 23, and Gal. 5:12 as justification for this their audacious and insulting behavior. I will provide a very brief response to this approach.

Jesus cleanses the Temple in Matt. 21:12-13, driving out the money-changers because of the corruption. People who engage in abusive and insulting speech refer to this passage to say, Jesus did it, so can I. As God with full right and authority to do so, Jesus cleansed His temple. We are not God and we do NOT have the authority as individuals to purge the church. Jesus did a number of things we cannot and should not even try to do.

In Matt. 23, Jesus pronounces numerous woes on the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them all sorts of names. First, these were oppressive, religious hypocrites who were experts in the law, and experts at perverting it. Second, Jesus was fulfilling His role as prophet and in His prophetic voice he pronounced the judgment of God on the religious hypocrites of His day. Finally, to say that this exchange fits the challenge/riposte style of the culture is a serious stretch. This fits into the category of a prophetic rebuke by God of the religious leaders of Israel. One has to look no further than the OT prophets to see the same style employed there.

Gal. 5:12 is a very interesting verse that many have misunderstood in my opinion. Paul uses the Greek word APOKOPTO, which means to cut off, or castrate. Those who employ the insult rhetoric refer to this verse to justify their tactics as well. In response, Paul was not addressing the ones that were troubling the Galatians, but the Galatians themselves. He was saying this about them, not to them. Secondly, self-castration works if indeed we should interpret the verb as a middle-voice verb. While the prevailing view does exactly this, not all scholars agree. Some take this verb to be in the passive voice. In that case it would mean that Paul was wishing that “they would be cut off” as opposed to cutting themselves off. Even if we take the verb as a middle voice verb, the end hope really is the same. What was Paul hoping for in this case? Did Paul really desire to see these men castrate themselves? What good would that do? Would that solve the problem? I cannot see how self-castration would solve the problem in and of itself. So what was he getting at? Paul was getting at Deut. 23:1, which says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” It seems that the end-result is the same; these men would be cut off from the community. That is the desire of Paul. He wanted them cut off and excluded from troubling the Galatian believers any longer. At a minimum, one should not build a model on a verse such as this one because there is more than one interpretation of Paul in this case.

It does not follow that the existence of challenge/riposte in Jesus’ culture necessarily means he engaged in it. Moreover, there is nothing to preclude that Jesus may have engaged in riposte while making slight to significant modifications to the practice. The existence of a practice in a culture must first be subjected to the Christian ethic. The mere presence of a cultural practice does not itself mean that Christ adopted it. It was a cultural practice for Jewish men to marry. Jesus went against that practice. Some cultural practices were, in and of themselves, evil and violations of the law of God. Divorce is one of them. How did that culture view divorce? Did Jesus adopt His culture’s views on divorce? I think not! I am not seeking to naively dismiss riposte or Social-Science Criticism here. I am saying that it is somewhat naïve and uncritical for anyone to assume that such criticism ipso facto has a place in hermeneutics. In addition, I am saying that to assume Jesus adopted every practice of his culture just because it was a practice of his culture is extremely naïve. Perhaps it is possible to read cultural practices into the text where they actually did not exist. Yes, I think that is quite possible. Finally, even if insult rhetoric is valid from a NT perspective (and I do not see how it could be), it seems to me that it would best be reserved only for the most antagonistic of skeptics and not to those who are more open to civil dialogue. Additionally, it seems especially inappropriate for dialogue within the Christian community.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mike Licona, The Resurrection, and The Chicago Statement of Faith on Biblical Inerrancy

The following post concerns Mike Licona's view that the resurrection of the holy Saints mentioned in Matt. 27:51-54 should be understood as apocalyptic or poetic language. The implications for hermeneutics and inerrancy are significant. This blog deals with the issue and asnwers the question if Licona's view violates the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

Licona’s basis for assigning Matt. 27:52-53 to Jewish Apocalyptic language or poetic device is incongruent with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy for two fundamental reasons. It abandons the grammatico-historical method and it uses external pagan sources resulting in the dehistoricization of the biblical text.


The temptation for each of us is to lean upon something other than Scripture to explain events or teachings in Scripture that threaten our highly prized trophies. For me, it seems the temptation for Dr. Licona is to find a solution to “the strange little text” in Matthew leaning “mostly” on his trophy of a purely historiographical method. I am not casting stones at the method at all. What I am saying is that this method also has an ethical component and since it is a Christian scholar employing it, he is obligated to subject even that method to the Christian ethic. I have read Mohler’s, Geisler’s, and Holding’s response to Licona’s treatment of the passage. I side with Mohler and Geisler in their view that Licona’s exegetical method is not in keeping with a proper view of Inerrancy, especially the one outlined in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

The first problem I see with Licona’s treatment of this event is that it is not guided by the grammatico-historical method. There is no good reason not to begin with historical narrative in this text. After all, one third to one half of these phenomena are recorded in the other gospels. Would it make sense for Matthew to mix in actual historical events with poetry without any literary distinctions whatever? There simply is no good reason to read Matthew as recording anything other than historical narrative in this text.

Secondly, Licona seems to elevate historiography to a place he should not: a place where all historical narratives mentioned in Scripture must be provable using its methods to maintain fidelity. Otherwise, we may just have to abandon the grammatico-historical method for something that does not threaten our trophy. Just as the scientist refuses to believe what science cannot explain and the rationalist rejects anything that does not comport with his theoretical framework, the historian has trouble accepting anything that cannot be proven using the historical method. Scientists may worship the scientific method. Rationalists worship reason. Historians can be guilty of worshiping historical method. I am not saying that Licona is in fact guilty of this. However, I am saying that his language and method of interpreting this text run perilously close to that appearance. I think this is the slippery slope Geisler frets about and rightly so. After all, it is not as if we have not seen it before. When the scientist encounters anything in Scripture that threatens his trophy known as the scientific method, he revises Scripture to harmonize it with his trophy. When the Scripture confounds the rationalist, he does the same. We have also seen the historian revise Scripture time and again so that it comports with his ultimate commitment to the historical method.

Finally, to answer the question regarding Licona’s violation of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy we turn to the Statement itself. Article XVIII of the Statement says, We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

It seems to me that Licona wonders from the GH method in his exegesis of Matt. 27:51-54. It also seems clear that Licona does call on external sources to dehistoricize Matthew’s record, which the GH method would understand as simple historical narrative and therefore a literal resurrection of saints. Licona refers to Raymond Brown’s own reference to the reports of the death of Romulus and Julius Caesar. This seems to be the very thing the Statement on Inerrancy condemns when it denies the legitimacy of going to such sources that lead to this dehistoricizing that Licona engages in.

R.T. France comments on this text, “We can only speculate on what a cinecamera might have recorded, and on why the appearance of “many” dead worthies to “many” people left no other trace in historical sources. As with many of Jesus’ scientifically unexplainable miracles, Matthew is not interested in satisfying our natural curiosity or answering empirical skepticism.” [France, R.T. NICNT, Mathew, 1081]

Even N.T. Wright comments, “But it remains the case that the events Matthew describes in 27.51-3, as well as being without parallel in other early Christian sources, are without precedent in second-Temple expectation, and we may doubt whether stories such as this would have been invented simply to ‘fulfill’ prophecies that nobody had understood this way before. This is hardly a satisfactory conclusion, but it is better to remain puzzled than to settle for either a difficult argument or the possibility. Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms, there is no way of finding out.”

This last sentence in Wright seems to me to be the most plausible explanation for Licona’s interpretation of Matt. 27:53-54. Since Licona is predisposed to historical method, the temptation is to rely on that method too heavily rather than the simple record of Scripture itself. Scripture was not written to satisfy our every curiosity. There are theological implications in this event that Licona does not address. I do not find fault in this fact because it is not the purpose of Licona’s work to provide a theological treatise of the resurrection. However, Scripture was not simply written to provide us with a record of redemptive history. Even historical narrative serves to transform our hearts and renovate our philosophy and worldview. This event in Matt. 27:51-53 looks forward to a coming resurrection of all those who place their faith in Christ. Because he lives, we too shall live forevermore. Even historians should account for this purpose in the biblical text when seeking to harmonize historical narrative with historical method.

Licona violates the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy because he permits his overreliance on historical method to cause him to deviate from the grammatico-historical method in his exegesis of this passage. Secondly, he introduces external sources that, in the end, result in a dehisotiricizing of the text in question. These movements violate the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, article XVIII. Moreover, an overreliance on the historical method to the subjugation of the grammatico-historical exegesis logically lends itself to a denial of inerrancy, or at a minimum, a far more liberal definition of it. The starting point once more brings us back to the question of authority. Is the Bible the Word of God because it passes the test of the historical method? Conversely, is it the Word of God because it is self-attesting, produced by God Himself? If we rely on anything other than the Word of God to demonstrate that the Bible is the Word of God, then authority necessary resides outside Scripture. The implications for inerrancy in this case are enormous.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mike Licona and the Resurrection in Apologetic Method


Mike Licona has created no small stir in his book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” In that book, Licona introduces a seriously problematic hermeneutical method for interpreting Matt. 27:52-53. This text describes a resurrection of other saints along with the resurrection of Christ. For some reason, Licona alleges that Matthew uses apocalyptic language here, denying a literal resurrection of these saints as recorded by Matthew. From a literary standpoint, there is no good reason for Licona to retreat to this position. I wonder why he does so. Worthy question! What Licona does by employing such a hermeneutical method is provide precisely the knock-out blow his opponents need to answer his own defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If THIS language is merely apocalyptic and should not be understood literally, then who can we say that Christ’s resurrection is any different? This is a very serious problem for Licona on several fronts. The two most significant fronts are the resurrection defense itself and his view on the inerrancy of Scripture. However, I want to consider another perspective. I want to explore the risks of leaning entirely on the resurrection event as a defense of the Christian worldview.

The resurrection of Christ as a demonstration of God’s existence and power, not to mention Christ’s own divinity is only valid if one presupposes a God who is, and who can work such miracles to begin with. In other words, the resurrection does not prove that God exists. The resurrection only proves that something unique, something mysterious, something that we do not understand happened at the tomb of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. If a person refuses to believe that God is, they will in turn come up with a number of possible explanations for the resurrection event even if those reasons are extraordinarily implausible. Some will challenge the historicity of the event itself. They will claim it did not happen. This is where Licona’s book answers that challenge most effectively. Some people simply deny the resurrection event from a historical standpoint. The question for people that deny the historicity of the resurrection concerns the methodology that serves as the basis for their denial. Is the denial based on historical method or is it propped up by a philosophical presupposition, such as an anti-supernatural bias. For example, a naturalist or materialist may deny the validity of the resurrection on the ground that miracles do not happen and are not possible. From this perspective, you help the materialist recognize that if the resurrection of Christ is treated with the very same historical method that other events from history are treated, it passes the test. If a historian is consistent in their methodology, they will have to accept the historical account of the resurrection as valid. If they reject the resurrection event, they will be left to reject a lot more from history than many people imagine. Of course, we are not willing to be that radical in our conclusions about history for fear of a loss of credibility. What we would rather be is irrational, accepting Alexander the Great on the one hand, and rejecting the Historical Jesus on the other. That is what sin does to the human mind. Claiming that the resurrection is a religious event does not make it any less of an historical one.

Others, however, do not take this approach to the resurrection. They do not deny that Christ’s immediate disciples believed He rose from the dead. In fact, some are fine accepting the fact that Jesus was dead and somehow experienced something very, very peculiar. He was apparently revived from the dead. However, they contend that this unique event does not necessarily mean that God exists or that Jesus is His Son. All it means is that something very strange happened and science cannot yet explain it. Hold the phone, they say. Give science enough time and we will eventually be able to explain what happened at the tomb.

Every position is a faith position to one degree or another. Every perspective comes with a worldview in back of it. This is unavoidable. The atheist has unbelievable faith in human reason and scientific method. She considers both to have nearly unlimited capacity. If we give it enough time, reason and science, can and will solve our problem of knowledge. “To say, therefore, that we can investigate other historical claims in a neutral or objective fashion, but that with the resurrection an element of subjectivity inevitably creeps in, is to ignore the fact that all historical work consists of a dialogue between the historian, in community with other historians, and the source materials; and that at every point the historians’ own worldview-perspectives are inevitably involved.” [Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. 29] The resurrection demonstrates to the believer that Christ was the Son of God, that His payment on the cross was accepted and approved by the Father and that we shall live with Him throughout the endless ages of eternity. That knowledge is based on faith in the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. The underlying presupposition is that God exists and that God, as Creator, revealed Himself to humanity in the person of Christ. Moreover, the belief that the Bible is trustworthy as the inspired and infallible Scripture also serves as a foundational commitment within the Christian community that supports the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead some 2000 years ago just as Scripture teaches.

As for the skeptics, unbelievers, critics, and cynics, they are in a very difficult place. If they deny the resurrection event entirely, they have a difficult time rescuing all historical knowledge. If they attempt to say the reports were forged from a historical standpoint, the psychological implications are arduous to say the least. Credibility remains under serious threat in that scenario. If they hold the view that something unique happened, they just don’t know what it was, then reason and science, to date have demonstrated a miserable inability to help us explain what happened on that day. The Christian can gladly inform the atheist that their faith in reason and science is indeed impressive. What basis do they have to reject God since they readily admit that the reason for that rejection is that science and reason cannot fully explain the Creator either? If they can accept the unique event of the resurrection, then they have lost their ground for rejecting God. They must either go back to the historical denial which would result in the loss of all historical knowledge. However, they would never do that. They could claim it was all forged. But in that case, they would be left trying to provide psychological proof that such a thing is even plausible. Again, we are back to the credibility problem. Perhaps it is best to just accept the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and rose from the dead 2000 years ago proving that He was indeed who He said He was. In this view, we have historical evidence to support the claim. It is a highly logical conclusion so we don’t have to worry about irrationalism. We also get to keep historical knowledge. True, it requires faith to accept, but so does every other position regarding the resurrection of Christ.

There is a definite place for the resurrection in the defense of the Christian worldview. However, one should always recognize that even historical evidence is filtered through biased worldviews that are built are faith positions no different from the Christian worldview. Some have amazing faith in science, others in human reason. Christians place their faith in the God of Scripture. He is that one true God that is.

People live what they believe; EVERYTHING else is just noise!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Divorce and Homosexuality: Moral Equivalents


I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of the hypocritical judging that goes on within the church. We pick and choose what we will judge as if somehow we have the authority to do so. We do not! Some people are utterly alarmed by the shift in liberal ideologies in our culture but sit in our local churches and allow the most outrageous hypocrisy to take place right before their face and do absolutely nothing about it. They sound the alarm over government intrusions on religious liberties, but for some reason they cannot even confront the sin sitting right beside them. They talk about love and social causes, but don't love the person sitting in front of them enough to help them put off known, visible, scandalous sin. I wonder why that is. I wonder how they justify that behavior in their mind.

The issue of homosexuality and the reality of sinful divorce is a perfect example of hypocrical judging that takes place in the church. We condemn homosexuality with a degree of vociferousness that would make one think it is the worse sin imaginable. If our local church were to permit homosexual membership, we would be gone quicker than one could recite the Lord’s Prayer. Moreover, if a current member were to come out of the closet, the cost would be high indeed. We would remove this person from the membership rolls and discipline them without hesitation. I also dare to say that such discipline would be swift. To be sure, if we undertook all these actions in love and a spirit of genuine humility, they would be absolutely in accord with Scripture. This is precisely what God would have us do. In addition, we would do it with zest. However, would we do it with zest because this is what God would have us do? Alternatively, would we do it with zest because we have a personal issue with the sin of homosexuality? That is where the hypocrisy slithers in. We categorize sin and ignore it or focus on it according to our own biases and prejudice. We simply do not deal with sin that we don’t think is a big deal. One pastor, in talking about hate told me that people in his own church hate him, therefore, why should we deal with people who have a hateful spirit toward others? Is this what we have been reduced to in the church? Are we so numb to certain sins that we simply don’t see them as serious as the Bible does any longer? I am afraid that is the case in some situations. Sin is so prevalent and so many people in the Christian community have taken up sinful practices that some pastors and elders have just given up on dealing with it. When the apostle John writes “anyone that does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother,” (1 John 2:9) and we simply take those words with a “grain of salt,” what does that say about us? It says we do not take the word of God seriously. That is what it says. How can I follow a leader who does not take the word of God seriously? Christian leadership carried out like a Christian is one of the hardest jobs a man could ever do. It is exhausting in every way. The reason it is exhausting is because Satan walks around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And if that isn’t enough, the sin nature is the most spiritually self-destructive component we possess as fallen sinners and it is constantly getting us into trouble. The elder/pastor has to contend with that 24/7.

The sin of homosexuality is a serious one and merits correction from the church. We confront that sin in a spirit of humility and love. We love the person, hate the sin, and do all we can to help them overcome their sinful desires. What we do NOT do under any circumstances is lead them to think that because they really don’t like what they do, that God understands that this is just who they are and He loves them and accepts them along with their sin. God is in the business of freeing men from the bondage of sin, not understanding why it is that men claim to love Him but do not do the things He says. If a person is unwilling to repent of homosexual sin, we cannot receive them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We love them, but as we love any other unbeliever.

The sin of illicit divorce in the Christian community is no different from the sin of homosexuality even though we indubitably treat it differently. We create all kinds of outrageous interpretations of those texts of Scripture that deal with divorce in an attempt to justify the sin. We come up with multifarious explanations for why God understands our circuitous behavior of illicit divorce. Some will say that abuse is grounds for divorce and then define abuse so loosely that just about anyone has grounds to divorce if they so choose. Others will say that there were things prior to the marriage that once learned after the marriage is legitimate cause for divorce. Still others will say that if a person was mentally down or very emotional when they married that this altered state contributed to a major mistake in getting married in the first place and as such this is grounds for divorce. In our culture, it is enough for some to say that they are just not happy and God wants them to be happy, therefore, they should find a companion that makes them happy. The hypocrisy that surrounds the practice of illicit divorce in the Christian community is glaring! Accepting this practice is no less evil than accepting the practice of homosexuality or cohabitation. Just because you see it as different does not mean it is. I once conversed with a pastor who said that my view that homosexuality and illicit divorce were moral equivalents was ridiculous. He said, “of course their different.” I asked, how? He had nothing to say. I said to him, “I am sorry pastor, but I cannot accept your view that they are different just because you say so.” The Bible makes no distinction between the sin of homosexuality, cohabitation or illicit divorce. Scripture prohibits every one of them and treats them as serious sins. Therefore, so should we.

What do we say about the excuse that some things done prior to marriage can serve as grounds for divorce? Some people think God is quite sympathetic under such circumstances. Is this position legitimate from a biblical perspective? First, all marriage must be viewed as God joining the couple together. Marriage is a divine and binding covenant between one God, one man, and one woman. God could have prevented it but He did not. In fact, God ordained it or it never would have happened. That ought to be our starting point. If you do not begin with sovereignty, you end up in a world of incongruities. Think about it. If I can say that God did not join us together because of “x” reason, then what is to stop another person from saying the same thing only with a different reason? For example, what if a particular wife says that God did not bring them together because she did not like and could not tolerate the way he snored, therefore, she can divorce him. Another wife says, “God did not bring us together because I thought he made more money when I married him.” Yet a husband might say, “God did not bring us together because I did not know she would gain so much weight over the next five years.” Since there is no absolute standard for what would serve as a valid reason to invalidate a marriage, anyone could come up with any reason for why he or she can divorce. That is, if it is possible to marry without God ordaining it from eternity past. In other words, if people can marry outside of God’s decretive will. However, nothing happens outside of God’s plan. Such a view is extreme subjectivism and contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. God ordains everything that happens and this includes all marriages, even the ones that come with complex situations. What if a man was a convict and he did not tell the woman. He marries her and later she finds out that he has a felony on his record. Can she divorce him? Of course not! What if this man gets into legal trouble and ends up in prison for a time? Can she divorce him? There are no such provisions in Scripture for doing so. How should she look at her circumstances then? She should recognize God’s sovereign control over all things and that He is using these circumstances for His glory and her good. She must ask, “How am I to respond to this situation?” To answer that question, she cannot turn to modern culture. She must turn to Scripture. Life is not about her own self-gratification. It is about her finding her greatest pleasure in God. God ordained a temporally unjust prison sentence for Joseph according to his plan and own good pleasure. Who are we to demand that God do things according to the way we want them? This may mean remaining married to a man even if he turns into an alcoholic. It may mean remaining married to the most unpleasant woman you could imagine. However, neither unpleasantness nor drunkenness serve as legitimate grounds for divorce. Marriage is about God first before it is about us. God tells us clearly what He expects from us around our sexual behavior as well as our marital relationships. We are not free to pick and choose what we will perform and what we will neglect. Such thinking may be perilous to the soul.

In some cultures, marriages are arranged and even take place at very young ages. The couple has no say in their future spouse. The parents of the children make all the arrangements. In fact, in some cultures, so-called “love marriages” are deemed scandalous. How do we counsel a woman that is married to a man that she had no choice but to marry? Since she really did not consent to the marriage, or had no say in the marriage decision, would God understand if she wanted out? On the contrary, our counsel would begin with God’s sovereignty over all things and His regulations for husbands and wives. Even in arranged marriages, God is sovereign. He is the one who arranged the marriage from eternity past. What matters now is how we honor and glorify Him in that marriage. The means by which people become husband and wife vary by culture. However, the commandments of God do not vary by culture and therefore we must be prepared to adopt views that are congruent with Scripture when approaching the subject of marriage and divorce in every culture. It is frightening to think that many westerners act as if God wrote the Bible in western culture and in modern times. That attitude never ceases to amaze me.

Another way we behave hypocritically is with regard to these kinds of sins is that we demand real change from some sin but not others. For instance, we demand that homosexual acts cease. You cannot continue to have homosexual relations and repent of homosexuality at the same time. The same holds for cohabitation. We would not allow a couple to claim that they have repented of cohabitation while still cohabitating. However, we treat illicit divorce entirely differently. I have actually conversed with two pastors that think a spouse can divorce their husband or wife, and even though the other spouse seeks reconciliation, they can be truly repentant without reconciling with their spouse. In other words, I can divorce my spouse and repent of that divorce in God’s eyes without reconciling with my willing spouse. How can a wife know that her husband desires reconciliation for the relationship, and repent of divorcing him and remain divorced? What does repentance mean? What does it look like when we repent of our sinful behavior? Godly sorrow is the basis for repentance. (II Cor. 7:9-11) Paul says that the Corinthians were made sorry to the point of repentance by the will of God. Then he says the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret that leads to salvation. Repentance is a real desire to turn away from the sin. If that desire is not there, there is no repentance. You can be sorry about it all you like. However, unless that sorrow is of the godly kind, you will not repent. You will continue doing what you have been doing: your thing not God’s thing! This is another place that this hypocritical spirit operates in our churches.

We have no right to treat homosexuality and illicit divorce differently in our churches. If we have been guilty of that in the past, now is as good a time as any to correct that kind of behavior and thinking. If we are to take the Bible seriously, then we must take Christianity seriously. If that is the case, then to be a member in the community of faith is not just a tremendous privilege it is a huge responsibility. Let us put away the hypocrisy in our midst, and bind ourselves to the truth of God’s word and display with our actions just how deeply we are convinced that His word actually does have authority over every aspect of our lives. We think like the world when we think that God’s plan in our lives has to equal our own personal happiness from a temporal perspective. God may bring us the most difficult marriage in the world, but He does so for our spiritual good, to demonstrate the power of the gospel, and for His own glory. You may have a strong sexual desire to engage in sexual behavior with the same sex. You may have to live with that temptation all your life. However, you are not free to fulfill your sexual urges or temptation if you are truly a slave of Christ. His grace is sufficient for us to remain in that marriage and to resist sexual temptation and even to help us as a church confront people that desperately need our help in turning from either of these sins. Only let us make sure we never engage in Satan’s work of calling evil good and good evil. Let us find our hope and confidence in Him. To Him be the glory, and the power, and all praise throughout the ages.

Excuse me if I seem to be terribly direct in this particular blog. When I say I am exhausted with hypocritical judging, I really do mean it. Nevertheless, a friend sent me a very encouraging saying just the other day: "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke I am sure glad he didn't say "perfect men." The church is in dire need of reformation and a spiritual renewal. This must begin with leadership. Where are our leaders? Randy Travis and George Jones sang a country together a few years ago called, "Whose Going to Fill Their Shoes?" I wonder who is going to fill the shoes of the great preachers of the past who thundered God's word without fear or hesitation. Who will do that today? Who will stand up for truth rather than falling down on the excuse that "it's just not that black or white." Or, "it's just more complicated that than." And even, "your dealing with human emotions and you have to consider that when dealing with these very delicate situations." I wonder if God thinks that outright obstinance is a "delicate" situation. Good question!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to Deal with Obstinate Divorce in the Congregration

Now that we are have synthesized Paul's teachings concerning divorce in 1 Cor. 7:10-11, we need to be prepared to deal with those professing believers that want to claim Christ on the one hand and ignore His commandments concerning marriage and divorce on the other hand. One of my favorite methods for teaching is using case studies. I think the church should do this regularly because it makes the concepts and teachings of Scripture feel more real. A case study takes real life examples, or a hypothetical and walks through them step by step in order to understand exactly how to help people who find themselves blinded by sin in certain areas. Moreover, it helps churches purge unbelievers from the membership roles. One of the greatest problems in the church today is the number of unbelievers that are actually on the membership roles and who have a say in the business of the church. For purposes of this blog, I will use a case study that is actually real. We will talk through the historical facts without providing too much detail. What I want you to see is how mishandling these kinds of situations can devastate people's lives and destroy the credibility and testimony of the Christian community as well as result in hampering the future effectiveness of leaders within the church.

A woman and a man, both in their forties, members of the same conservative Calvinistic church decide to marry. A few short months later the woman decides that marriage was a mistake and forces the man to leave. There has been no abuse and no marital infidelity. This actually happened in a good conservative church that claims to believe the Bible and holds itself out as a very conservative evangelical body. What should the church do? What should her closest friends do? What should her leaders do? How do we deal with people who want to divorce their spouse without biblical grounds contrary to the commandments of Christ and of His apostles? There is an answer and it is quite unambiguous.

For this answer we turn to Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1.This brings us to the subject of church discipline. The reformers held church discipline to one of three marks of true church. In other words, John Calvin believed that failure to practice church discipline indicated that the church was not a true church. When a Christian decides to exit their marriage, the entire Christian community is affected. Divorce is highly visible. It is not one of those sins that takes place in private. The entire community is watching. This makes divorce very problematic in the Christian community. If the Christian community does the wrong thing, the entire community sees it. This goes a long way to impact the testimony of that community AND everyone else in it. By association, we are guilty. In other words, when our church does not do the right thing or is caught up in controversy, it isn't just the reputation and testimony of the church that is in play. It is the reputation and testimony of everyone in that church. This makes divorce a very scandalous affair, not only for a church, but for the individuals in that church. If you love God and you care about your church, you will care about the behavior of the people in it. Their behavior can help or hurt your ability to maintain a godly witness to the outward community. Not only this, the kind of love that Jesus exhibited gets involved and stays involved in other people's lives. We see them sin, we respond in love to correct and help. We go after them!

Matthew 18:15-18 is the most detailed text in the entire Scripture that deals with the process for correction or what is known as the doctrine of church discipline. Jesus says that if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. Every Christian who sees another brother sin is obligated to do to that person and help them see their sin. The idea of go and show means that you need to make a case for why the actions of this person are sinful. In our case study, everyone who is aware of this woman's behavior has a godly obligation to go to her and help her see that she is sinning. That is the first step. Note that this confrontation must take place in private! Jesus commanded that we do this in private for a reason. It is an act of mercy and protection to approach the person in private. Unfortunately, the case I mentioned above has not taken this path. In fact, just the opposite has taken place. This poor lady has had supposedly Christian friends telling her she is OK, that God understands, and that her husband tricked her into marrying him to begin with. They have held that he married her for wealth even though she has none. But that is the angle they have taken. Yes, evil surmising indeed! And yes, leaders are well aware of this behavior and of the hatred and contempt they have for her husband. One pastor, when asked about this actually said, there are people in my church that hate me, so what. AMAZING! Step one is to go to the persona and help them see their sin. If they repent, you have won your brother.

Step two takes place if the person refuses to hear you. This woman has refused to hear her husband regarding the sin she is in. The next step is to take witnesses.

If the person refuses to hear the witnesses, the entire church is to be told of their behavior so that they can go to this person in love and urge them to repent. This is step three. Yes, the entire church is now informed that this person is in sin and that they are obligated to call her and visit her and urge her to turn to Christ from her sin. What happens if she still refuses to listen to the church?

Step four: let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. In other words, this person is now excluded from the Christian community because of a contumacious disposition. They have refused to repent of their sin even though they have been warned in private, by witnesses, and even by the entire church.

Isn't this unloving? Doesn't this just make things worse? What if she leaves the church? Then she will never get the help she needs. That is not for the church to decide. Jesus' instructions and commandments are clear. No one has the right to ignore the commandment of Christ. Just before this section of Scripture, Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep. This is one method of how the Shepherd goes after that one lost sheep. This is love. It is unloving and ungodly to support someone in their sin. You are never more an enemy of God than when you conspire with Satan to destroy God's children by supporting their rebellious behavior. Such a practice is evil at its core and yet, we have people doing that very thing in the name of love and mercy and grace. This is a fool's game because it places that person at odds with the very Lord they claim to serve.

Paul did not play games with hypocrisy in the church. A church that refuses to act in cases of discipline is arrogant. Paul says, you have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. He goes on to say that he has decided to deliver this person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh in hopes that their soul might be saved. People in Corinth were actually boasting about their freedom and God's love and grace in this immoral situation. Paul then said that it only takes a little leaven to spoil the entire lump of dough. Someone will accuse us of judging if we do this. How do we answer? We quote Paul who said in 1 Cor. 5:12, Do you not judge those who are within the church? This is a rhetorical question of course. Paul's language around dealing with serious sin in the church is urgent and swift. He does not mince words.

Again in Gal. 6:1 Paul tells the saints that if anyone is caught up in a sin that the spiritual ones in the church are to go and restore that person in a spirit of gentleness, each one considering themselves so that they will not be tempted. The right attitude is critical. We are all sinners! We all sin. Not one of us is perfect! We have all failed our Lord and we do in one way or another every day. We are to go in love, not condemnation. We are to treat the person like we would treat ourselves. Our goal is not to criticize. Rather we are to confront in love and help the person see the sin and repent. This is what Christ would have us do. We are no different from anyone else. I once had a pastor tell me that his sin was different from my sin! God sees his sin differently than he does my sin. I was speechless. Anyone who knows me knows that it takes a lot to leave me speechless. Brothers and sisters, we are all sinners before and perfectly holy God. That is the reality of things. Pretending it is not true does not make it true. We all deserve the same eternal punishment but for grace, but for mercy, BUT FOR CHRIST! When we approach one another for this purpose, we must keep this in the forefront of our mind at all times. The person must get the sense that you really are trying to help them out of love, not out of a judgmental and critical spirit. Now let me say this. Some people will classify everything you say as pugnacious rhetoric when it threatens their dearly held beliefs or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do about that. Not every person is going to respond positively to your correction. True believers will eventually respond positively. Those who continue in their sin and reject admonition after admonition are only showing that their faith and commitment to Christ is suspect. Such people should be shown grace by treating them as targets for evangelism and not as true believers. This is the most loving thing in the world you could ever do for them.

The two grounds for divorce are adultery and abandonment according to Matthew 19:1-10 and 1 Cor. 7:12-15. Outside of these two reasons, no Christian has any right whatever to divorce his/her spouse. If they choose to ignore God's word on this point, the consequences should be serious. No one has the authority to circumvent the words of Christ! People who calmour about homosexual marriage and tolerate unbiblical divorce in the church are playing the hypocrite. Both ideas destroy the authority of Scripture and deviously sin against a holy God who is the designer or marriage to begin with.

The entire church corporately as well as individually are responsible to confront sin when they see it in an attempt to lovingly correct and recover those caught in its grip. They are to do so without arrogance or a self-righteous disposition knowing that they too are sinners. However, make no mistake about it: this is not just a task for pastors and elders. It is a task for everyone who is spiritually maturing in Christ. To claim we love someone while refusing to confront them with their sin is simply being disengenuous. Moreover, the allow an element of open hate to exist in situations like this is frankly inexcusable. People who engage in hate and claim to love God are liars according to John. They are still in darkness. To allow people to practice such evil without being willing to confront it and correct it is not leadership. There is nothing more cowardly than to allow evil men or evil women to have free reign in the church opposing God on the issue of divorce while remaining passively silent. God have mercy on us all and help us to understand what agape love really is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Divorce and Remarriage According to Paul: Understanding 1 Cor. 7:10-11

It is no secret that divorce is a problem in our culture. It really isn't divorce that is the problem, rather it is our view of marriage that is the real problem. This cultural trend of the great downgrading of marriage has made significant inroads into the church. 1 Cor. 7:10-11 is a text that has been terribly misunderstood by many people and this misunderstanding has resulted in devious behavior toward the marriage covenant by many professing Christians. Having worked through this text, I would like to share my considerations and inquiry with those of you who read this blog. Here is the text in the NAS:
10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
There are three different interpretations of this text that predominate in modern culture. Some see this passage as dealing with legal separation. They contend that Paul allows a wife to separate from her husband without sinning as long as she does not divorce him. She has two options at her disposal they say. She can reconcile with her husband or, if she prefers, she may remain single without the possibility of remarrying another. Exegetically speaking, this view fails to rightly define the Greek word translated separate in this text. The word χωρισθῆναι from CHORIDZO in the context of marriage in the NT unambiguously means "divorce." Moreover, the historical context does not support this interpretation of the text because this culture was completely unfamiliar with our modern practice of separation. The Corinthian Christians would never have understood Paul to mean "legally separate" in the sense that we understand it because such a status did not exist at this time. If a wife separates from her husband against his will, she is engaging in wilful sin. Finally, the mandate given throughout Scripture that wives are to submit entirely and completely to their husbands as head of the home would be completely nullified. Paul would never extend permission for anyone to sin. This same Paul wrote, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord." (Eph. 5:22) And again, "Wives be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." (Col. 3:18) "encourage the young women to love their husbands." (Tit. 2:4) "Be Subject to their own husbands." (Tit. 2:5) Peter wrote, "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands." Peter actually added that wives should do this even if their husbands are disobedient to the word. Paul wrote once more, "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. (1 Tim. 2:11) This same Paul wrote in this very same chapter in v 39, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord." Paul was so convinced of this that he repeated in elsewhere, saying, "For the Married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living." (Rom. 7:2) The idea that Paul is allowing a wife to separate from her husband against his will in this passage is contradictory to everything else Paul wrote about the role and disposition of the marital relationship. If a woman can ignore the binding nature of the marriage covenant in her submissiveness, then it would seem there are no limits to her libertarian freedom. The idea of submission collapses into absolute freedom. The Bible itself becomes indefensible as a reliable source of ethical values, brimming with self-contradictions. Hence it follows that this interpretation does not pass the test of the analogy of faith. It wrongly defines the word separate, imposing a modern definition in place of the one the Corinthians would have understood. Finally, it ignores the historical context of Paul's instructions, failing to recognize that legal separation did not exist at this time.

A second interpretation of this passage holds that Paul is allowing a woman to divorce her husband as long as she does not remarry. At least this interpretation gets the meaning of the word "separate" correct. However, it has little more than this to commend it. The idea is that a woman may divorce her husband, but only if she agrees to remain permanently single or reconcile with her husband. She can never remarry. This view does nothing to hold the idea of marriage in the right perspective. It is not remarriage that is the problem. It is the ungodly view of marriage that is the problem.  This view fails for all of the same reasons the first view failed. In order to understand this, a review of Jesus' own view of marriage should help.

In Matthew 19:1-10, we find the two schools of Hillel and Shammai approaching Christ on the issue of divorce. The school of Hillel claimed that one could divorce their spouse for the smallest of reasons while Shemai held that divorce could only occur for major transgressions. The Pharisees asked the question if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all. Jesus immediately referred to the very beginning of marriage in the Garden of Eden and retorted that man is not to separate or divorce what God has joined together. In other words, marriage is permanent. The Pharisees then questioned, why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce. Jesus retorted that Moses PERMITTED divorce and only because of the hardness of man's heart. This however, is NOT God's design. Then he thunders, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Why? The reason you commit adultery when you remarry is because the divorce was not permitted to begin with. The only way the divorce is allowed is in cases of sexual immorality. This is Jesus' view on divorce. Now to demonstrate that the disciples got this right, they responded that if this is what the relationship between the man and wife is like, it is better not to marry at all! Jesus said, you are correct, but not everyone can accept that lifestyle. Jesus' view on divorce is clear. Marriage is permanent and only sexual immorality can provide grounds for terminating it. Remarriage was assumed. The idea that a man would remain single was unimaginable in Christ's day.

The final view on this text happens to be the one that I hold. It is impossible to rightly interpret 1 Cor. 7:10-11 unless you understand what Jesus Himself taught about divorce. Why? Because Paul references Jesus' teaching on the subject in v. 10. He says, to the married I give instructions, not I but the Lord. That is to say that Paul is quoting Jesus on divorce. We have seen what Jesus said about divorce. Contrary to what some liberal scholars think, Jesus' teaching on divorce is unambiguous. These same scholars will try to tell you that you can't know anything for sure. I'm sorry, but that is simply not the Christian worldview. First, Paul says that a Christian woman and a Christian husband are NOT to divorce their spouse. That is a commandment. We also saw that the wife is commanded throughout Scripture to submit to her husband in all things. These are commandments. The husband is commanded to love his wife like Christ loves the church. Divorce violates all of these commandments! Who can argue that a husband that divorces his wife is NOT loving her like Christ loves the church? Moreover, who can argue that a woman who divorces her husband is not loving him and submitting to him as Scripture commands? These are not the only sins that divorce involves. Therefore, the next clause, the parenthetical clause cannot possibly mean what many people think it means. Paul says if a woman divorces her husband, she must remain single or reconcile with him. Many interpret Paul's instructions to mean that if she does divorce him, she has a choice. She can reconcile or remain single. They think Paul is neutral here. He leaves it to the woman. Okay, don't divorce, but if you do, then remain single or be reconciled to your husband. Such a view contradicts the teaching of Jesus which strictly forbids divorce except for immorality. Therefore, Paul cannot be saying what many people think he is saying. How should we interpret Paul then? First, we should understand that Paul is writing to a church that does not have a Bible, yet! He is in the process of giving them one. Divorces are already taking place for all kinds of reasons. This is a period of transition. Unless you recognize that, you are already in jeopardy of not understanding Paul. If a woman has divorced her husband, she must either remain single or if possible, reconcile with her husband. The only plausible interpretation of this verse is that if a woman has divorced or husband, she must either remain single or reconcile. If reconciliation is impossible because the husband has moved or remarried, then her only choice is to remain single. If reconciliation is in fact possible, Paul expects her to reconcile with her husband, thus, correcting the wrong. Unless we understand Paul in this way, we end up with serious contradictions in Scripture. We end up saying that even though Jesus said NO DIVORCE except for sexual immorality, we can divorce as long as we don't remarry. Such a view undermines the permanency of marriage and mocks Christ's point regarding the design of marriage from the beginning.

We know that Jesus unequivocally condemned divorce for any reason other than immorality. We know that wives are bound to their husbands for life. We know that wives and husbands are commanded to love one another. We know that wives are to submit to their husbands. These things we know without question. The parenthetical phrase in 1 Cor. 7:11 must be interpreted in light of everything else we know about divorce and the marital relationship. Since that is true, the only way to understand Paul here is that divorce between Christians is prohibited except on the ground of immorality. If a Christian has divorced their spouse without grounds, they must reconcile where it is possible. If reconciliation is impossible, they must remain unmarried. Paul even commands Christians NOT to divorce their unbelieving spouse if they are content to dwell with them. How much more must Christians not engage in the evil practice of divorce.

In my next blog, I intend to deal with the question of how to deal with a professing Christian that has divorced their spouse without biblical grounds and how the leaders should deal with that person. How does one repent of an unbiblical divorce?

"People live what they believe; everything else is just noise!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Authenticity

I was asked earlier this year what I thought had to happen in order for executives to lead a particular firm through significant and expeditious change. What is the one trait that leaders need in order to attract followers? I answered with one word: authenticity! Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What did he mean by this? I think that question is a good parking lot candidate that we will come back to later. I do not wish to get into the abstract complexities that surround authenticity as a technical term either psychologically or philosophically. I wish to talk about authenticity at a more practice level. What does authenticity mean and what does it look like in the life of leaders? While this question was posed to me in a business environment, authenticity is of extreme import in the church. If business executives must be authentic in order to be effective leaders, how much more should those leaders in the church be authentic? I am not talking about authentic leaders here. I am talking about authentic people. We are human before we are leaders. Authenticity is one trait that a leader cannot do without if he is to be an effective leader. We can measure a leader’s effectiveness in the business world with metrics, goals, and even 360 surveys. However, how do we measure effective leaders in the church? Good question!

What is authenticity? If you look up the definition in the dictionary, it means not false, or copied, genuine, real. Authentic carries the connotation that a thing is what it claims to be. Take art for example. We could say that this is an authentic Rembrandt sketch or it is a fake, that is, not authentic. Think of the Rolex watch and all the fakes that exist. Think of currency. This is an authentic $100 dollar bill, or it is a counterfeit $100 dollar bill. When we apply this to a person and we say that this person is authentic, we are saying that they really are how they present themselves to be. They are who they say they are. They mean the words they speak. They actually do what they tell others they should do. The try to live by the standard that they say they try to live by. If they are an executive, they do not say that layoffs are not coming when they just left a meeting determining how many people will be losing their jobs. People may not like the news, but at least they respect the one bearing it. And they will follow him because they can trust him. When he says something, they honestly know that he means it. He is genuine. He is authentic.

Authentic leaders examine themselves all the time. Am I who I say I am? Do I really believe what I say I believe? Will I really stand up for what I say I will? Am I the kind of person who means what he says? Do I really try to do the right thing and live by the standards I say I do? Can people believe me? Is internal integrity more important to me than even my job, my family, and everything else I hold dear? Do people get the sense that I am genuine? Am I just another utilitarian leader who searches for the easy path, the path of least resistance and takes it? Do I say what I think people think I should say, rather than what I really believe? If you are an authentic leader, then people get what they see. In other words, you do not just talk about loving others; you do it. Authentic leaders regularly ask themselves, “Why should anyone follow me?” Are you pointing men to Christ or drawing men to you? Are you concerned about the kingdom or about your church?

The opposite of authenticity is hypocrisy. HUPOKRTES is the Greek word for hypocrite. It appears some 18 times in the NT. In essence, hypocrisy means playing a role, playacting if you will. You are pretending to be something you are not. The hardest thing for hypocrites to see sometimes is their own hypocrisy. The reason the world holds contempt for the church in western culture has just as much to do with the hypocrisy they witness as it does anything else. The church reminds them of Washington politics. No one is actually what they say they are. At least that has been their experience. We need authentic Christians that want to be authentic light to a very dark world. In order to do that, unconditional obedience to God’s word is required. That unconditional obedience begins when people in the faith community love one another the way Jesus loves us. Where there is no love, there is no Christ!

Paul describes authentic Christians in Eph. 4:25-32:
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are  members of one another. 26 Be angry, andt do not sin let not the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Pastors, elders, teachers and other leaders, the only way to foster authentic Christianity in your local assemblies is for you to demonstrate it in every aspect of your life, not the least of which is how you lead. Preaching sermons or teaching Sunday school lessons on authenticity without actually leading people with authentic behavior yourself is the most effective way to ensure that your people will continue to live counterfeit Christian lives. It may make you feel good about things, but it will only make a bad situation worse. It is a mockery of Christianity to parade around the idea of authenicity while at the same time tolerating what you know is outright ungodly behavior in your congregation or in your fellow brother or sister and do nothing about it. We don't need more sermons about authenticity. What we need are more authentic leaders with the courage to stand up and do the right thing out of a love for doing the right thing. That will give sermons and lectures far more weight and credibility when the time comes to address the lack of authencity in our communities.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Put Away...All Malice [Charles Spurgeon via Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs]


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The Following excerpt is from "Purging out the Leaven," a sermon delivered Sunday morning 11 December 1870 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. here are forms of evil which we must peculiarly watch against, and one is malice.


Is a Christian man likely to be malicious? I trust in the strong sense of that term we have done with malice, but, alas! I have known believers who have had a very keen sense of right, and therein have been commendable, who have too much indulged the spirit deprecated here; that is to say, they have been very severe, censorious, and angry—angry with people for not being perfect. Though not perfect themselves, and though they know that if they are better than others, the grace of God has made them so, yet they are bitter and untender towards the imperfections of Christian people, and they cherish feelings of prejudice, suspicion, and ill-will.


They do not seek the improvement of the faulty, but their exposure and condemnation. They hunt down sincere but faulty people, and denounce them, but never by any chance offer an excuse for them.


In some believers there is too much of the leaven of unkind talking; they speak to one another about the faults of their brethren, and, in the process of retelling, characters are injured and reputations marred.


Now harsh judgments and evil speakings are to be put away from us as sour leaven. If a man has injured me, I must forgive him; and if I find him to be faulty, I must love him till he gets better, and if I cannot make him better by ordinary love, I must love him more, even as Christ loved his church and gave himself for it, "that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." He did not love her because she was without spot or wrinkle, but to get the spots and wrinkles out of her; he loved her into holiness.
I think there isn't one among us who should not pause, ponder, and pray for God to show him or her mercy in this sin. This is an evil blight on the church and we need to do all we can to confront it every where it exists. The call has to be for repentance! Genuine, heartfelt, sobering repentance. This is not simply, "I feel bad," or "I am sorry IF I hurt you." No! That will not do! It is the kind of repentance that says, I did you wrong, I was evil, I am very sorry, can you please forgive me and help me make it right! It is hating the thing we did so much that we make no excuse for it and nothing matters but being restored to our brother or sister regardless of the cost. THAT IS BIBLICAL REPENTANCE! Everything else is just an easing of the conscience! If you know anyone in this condition, you have a moral obligation to go to them and help them reach this place of repentance if possible. You cannot turn your head and look the other way. Christ does not permit it! He lays on YOU the responsiblity to go and show your brother their sin. So go, and God be with you.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Neutrality and the Self-Attesting Nature of Scripture

The most dangerous thing that could happen to the Bible is for a human being to pick it up and read it. Yet, that is precisely what God had in mind for the Bible: that human beings would read it. There are two very foundational problems with reading the Bible. The first challenge concerns the nature of the person reading it. I am a sinner with prior commitments to various views that support my sinful worldview. My outlook on life is a combination of cultural conditioning and community practices as well as personal experience. Moreover, sin has desperately affected my intellect, and it is itself, the very enemy of God. Deep in my heart, I want to hold on to my sin to one degree or another. The second challenge concerns the purpose of the Bible itself. God provided the Bible in order that it would transform the reader. Its goal is to change us, to transform us in the most radical manner possible. The Bible wants to deprive us of that which we hold dear: self. The Bible wants to take the thing we value the most, above all other things, away from us. Yes, the single aim of the Bible is to destroy self. Reading the Bible is a threatening experience on two fronts. First, the Bible does its work in our lives only when it threatens us. Second, we are not the only subject threatened when we read the Bible. We threaten the Bible every time we read it. Not only does the Bible transform us, too often, we transform the Bible.

The idea of neutrality has been around for some time. Neutrality is the view that a person does not take sides on a subject a priori. Neutrality is consistent with the conception of tabula rasa. Tabula rasa holds that we are all born a blank slate and over time, life experience writes information on that slate. Neutrality is antithetical to the biblical teaching of inherent sin. That is to say, that tabula rasa would deny a predisposed state existing in humans at birth. The idea is that humans are born morally good. The Bible on the other hand teaches that humans are born inherently evil. (Ps. 51:5) The idea that humans learn how to be evil only begs the question, where did evil come from in the first place. If evil is here by observation, how was it ever observed initially? The Bible contradicts the notion of neutrality and the point of view known as tabula rasa.

Everyone begins a philosophical discussion with prior commitments. The believer must begin every philosophical discussion with biblical commitments. It is hazardous to the faith for any Christian to begin a discussion about God, the Scriptures, or faith and life without biblical commitments. Moreover, it is unethical for the Christian to set aside his/her biblical commitments for any reason. We live in an age of egos. We want to feel good about ourselves. Academicians are drawn in by various idolatrous views in science and the arts in order to appear academically respectable. The academy places tremendous pressure on scholars not to engage in practices or hold to views that are simply naïve given the wide-sweeping philosophical commitments in that community. As for the believer that has no relationship in the university the pressure comes from the culture in general. “The modern mindset claims neutrality as its general operation assumption, and two influential applications of contemporary thought evidence this: evolution and deconstructionism.” [Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis, 8] Today, if you reject evolution, the culture considers you an unenlightened simpleton and quite frankly, a religious fanatic. A person in the academy jeopardizes their very reputation, credibility, and even their career. “Deconstructionism is the principle of modern language analysis which asserts that language refers only to itself rather than to an external reality.” [Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis, 9] Deconstructionism destroys any possibility of a set or fixed meaning in a text, including Scripture.

The two areas of evolution and deconstructionism serve as perfect examples of how neutrality imposes its will on a culture. One does not have to look too far to see how these views impact biblical theology. The theory of evolution is challenging the gospel at its very foundation by denying a literal account of creation. Neutrality claims that we should all approach the scientific evidence without any prior commitments and allow the evidence to speak for itself. The problem is that sinful men are not neutral and it is impossible to let the evidence simply speak for itself because there are no brute facts. The notion of tabula rasa also assumes brute facts. However, since all interpretations require prior commitments of some sort, brute facts do not exist. The world pretends they do. Evolution insists that the world is billions of years old. It rejects that idea that God created the world instantly with the appearance of age. Science cannot prove that this claim is false. Rather, it assumes it is false. This is not neutrality. This is a betrayal of neutrality, all the while claiming neutrality. This is clearly a prior commitment held by most scientists. Deconstructionism is worse. This philosophy finds its beginnings in the writings of French philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Deconstructionism is a poststructuralist way of approaching the text and it is devastating to biblical theology. “This approach to reading texts meant that the text had no secrets to yield to the gaze of mathematically inclined readers. On the contrary, texts tended to become mirror images of the readers who assumed into their textual readings their own values as explicit modes and strategies for their reading process.” [Carroll, Robert P. Poststructuralist approaches: New Historicism and postmodernism in The Cambridge Guide to Biblical Interpretation, 50]

The modern theory of evolution attacks Scripture directly and at its very foundation by claiming that the Genesis account of origins must be false in light of the scientific evidence. This lacerates the credibility and therefore the authority of Scripture. If Genesis 1-11 is not true, how can we rely on the rest of Scripture to be factual? If there was no historical Adam that sinned in the garden, how can the message of redemption of all men in Christ be legitimate? Make no mistake about it, modern evolutionary theory threatens the gospel at its nucleus. Deconstructionism and other poststructuralist approaches to biblical hermeneutics take a more subtle tactic. These range from a soft agnostic approach to understanding the text to more radical forms of reader-response theories. In the guise of humility, the deconstructionist asserts that it is sheer arrogance to claim to understand what the Bible teaches. Since we really can’t know due to cultural filters, the best we can do is make the text meaningful to us. The author must die in order for the text to continue to live. The text means whatever the reader reads it to mean. Neutrality clambers the hill of hermeneutics in the name of academic respectability. We uncritically accept philosophies from men like Derrida, Kant, Hume, Gadamer and others because it would be an over-simplification and naïve to do otherwise. While I do not maintain that we have nothing to learn from these men regarding literary analysis, I do contend that the prior commitments they introduce to the discussion are foundationally idolatrous and for that reason, great care must be taken in their study. Deconstructionism destroys the authority of Scripture by placing the meaning of text in the subject hands of the reader. In deconstructionism and other poststructuralist approaches to interpretation, the reader has sole authority over the text.

Christians respond to evolution and deconstructionism in different ways. However, does the Bible speak to how we should respond to these modern claims to knowledge? In other words, is there an ethical imperative in Christianity for how we should answer those who hold to scientific and literary theories that contradict Scripture? The answer is a resounding yes. We are not at liberty to set aside Christian ethics in the area of apologetics and use whatever method we please. We are obligated to remain fully committed to Christian thinking from the beginning to the end of every discussion. Jesus said, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mark 12:24) In other words, understanding Scripture corrects error. Frist, in order for this to be true, Scripture must be completely reliable and trustworthy otherwise Jesus could not view it as the reliable source to clear up erroneous views. Second, Jesus believed that we are able to understand Scripture contrary to the poststructuralist approaches that such claims to knowledge are arrogant and impossible. Jesus says that erroneous thinking is the result of not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God. The Scriptures are self-attesting. Any and every view that contradicts Scripture is ipso facto wrong! It is simply a matter of discovering where and how it is wrong.

John Murray writes, “This means simply that the basis of faith in the Bible is the witness the Bible itself bears to the fact that it is God’s Word, and our faith that it is infallible must rest upon no other basis than the witness the Bible bears to this fact.” [Murray, John. The Attestation of Scripture in The Infallible Word, 8]. We cannot rescue the Bible from science or human reason. The reason is simple: such rescue is unnecessary. Science and human reason along do not threaten the Bible. Rather, it is ungodly philosophical commitments behind both, science and, the arts that contradict Scripture. The sooner Christians understand this, the better off we will be. Murray’s point is that the basis of our faith is science or human reason. Therefore, why would we call on either of these to establish the truthfulness of Scripture? The basis of our faith is the claims of the Bible itself. Murray goes to say, “If the Bible does not witness to its own infallibility, then we have no right to believe that it is infallible. If it does bear witness to its infallibility, then our faith in it must rest upon that witness, however much difficulty may be entertained with this belief.” [Ibid.] Jesus said in John 10:35 that Scripture cannot be broken. In other words, it is impossible to undo, tear down, or destroy Scripture. Scripture cannot be reduced to ruin. It is impossible according to Jesus Himself. Jesus said that not even the smallest letter or stroke can pass away from the law until all be fulfilled. (Matt. 5:18) He followed that up with another statement saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 5:35) “The testimony of the Holy Spirit is more excellent than all authority: therefore the same Spirit can best persuade us that it is God who spoke in the scriptures.” [Whitaker, William. Disputations on Holy Scripture, 345] Ps. 119:89 says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” The Bible is its own best defender against attacks from science and the arts. Men do not come to saving faith in Christ, nor do they arrive at the position that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative word of God through human means. Such a state is the result of divine grace in the activity of the Holy Spirit on the human heart.

James White writes, “How one views Scripture will determine the rest of one’s theology. There is no more basic issue: Every system of thought that takes seriously the claims of the Bible to be the inspired, authoritative Word of God will share a commitment to particular central truths, and that without compromise.” [White, James R. Scripture Alone, 43] This is where we are today. Expect more attacks at the heart of the authority of Scripture. The unregenerate are hostile to the things of God. They are God’s enemies as we once were. They have no compunction to attack the revelations of divine Scripture whatever. Unfortunately, weak faith, little conviction, and desired acceptance have resulted in many within the visible Christian community succumbing to compromise on subjects like evolution and poststructuralist approaches to interpretation. This behavior is resulting is more and more damnable heresies springing up in the ranks of the seminaries and churches that are supposedly evangelical. Members in the Christian church must realize, sooner than later, that the only choice they have if they want the Church to remain what it has been for 2000 years, is to stand up and demand that people hold to the authority of Scripture or face excommunication from the community. The West Point military academy has a very simple creed: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Jesus Christ has higher standards and He lays them out in Matt. 18:15-18. It is time that leadership in His church either submit to the authority of Scripture and do the hard work of spiritually leading God’s people into God’s truth or resign, get out of the way, and follow those who are willing to do just that.



Debate Review: Hernandez & Zachariades v. Flowers Pritchett

There has been some attention given to the recent debate on the subject of free will between Dr. Sonny Hernandez, Dr. Theodore Zachariade...