Friday, March 30, 2012

Concerning an Appreciation for the Gravity of Sin

Here is a question for me: do I appreciate the gravity of the nature of sin? In short, do I really understand what it means to sin? Do you? Take the person who has lived on this earth since the beginning of time who had the very best appreciation for the gravity of sin, multiply that appreciation times one-thousand and it still falls infinitesimally short of the mark. There can be no question that the appreciation for the gravity of sin has been severely diminished, almost to the point of utter and complete extinction in western culture. One of the quickest ways to become marginalized in our culture is to use the word “sin” in a conversation. Try it and see what happens. With the world, you will be immediately dismissed as a fool, which is to be expected. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. However, use it with many or even most professing Christians and you will be accused of being harsh and judgmental. Yes, use the word sin with one group and you are immediately dismissed as an unenlightened, uneducated, old-fashioned, antiquated ignoramus. On the other hand, use it with most in the visible church and you are equally dismissed as a judgmental, critical, mean-spirited, harsh, and unloving person hung up on antiquated tradition that most educated enlightened folk have long since abandoned. When we lose a healthy appreciation for the gravity of sin, serious consequences follow. For one thing, it provides fertile soil for sin to flourish. We no longer take our actions as seriously as we once did. While sin used to cause us great angst and consternation, now it is little more than a mistake that everyone engages in now and again. Sin really isn’t a big deal! You should not beat yourself up over sin! Your daddy in the sky loves you and He understands. We have convinced ourselves that God is cool with our sin and that He completely understands we just miss the mark sometimes. But is this the attitude that a God-loving, fire baptized, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, redeemed Christian should have?

The independent, entitlement attitude of the American mindset is, in numerous ways, antithetical to the attitude of a healthy flourishing Christianity. No human behavior is ethically neutral. Either we do the things we do for the right reason and with a pure heart or we do not. This fact is just as true for the scholar, theologian, and pastor/elder, teacher, as it is for the believer not called to those offices. In short, it is true for the entire society of Christ. Out attitude toward sin is directly proportional to the life of God that lives in our hearts. The true believer has a holy hatred of the sinful. Genuine faith produces a godly attitude in the hearts of those in whom it resides.

The act of sin is an act of hatred toward God. To sin is to dishonor God. The Lord says those who honor Him, He will honor, but those who despise Him will be lightly esteemed. Sin is hatred of the law of God. It is to despise that which God loves and to love that which God despises! After David had committed adultery with Bethsheba, and covered it up, murdering her husband and covering that up as well, God asked him “Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing this evil in His sight?” [II Sam. 6:9] In the next verse, God equated David’s hatred for God’s word with hatred for God when he said, “Because you have despised me, the sword will never depart from your house.
The Hebrew word used in II Sam. 12:9-10 to describe David’s sin with Bethsheba is bzh. It is pronounced bazah. This particular word appears 33 times in the Hebrew OT. Of those 33 occurrences, it is translated contempt once, disdain twice, and despise thirty times. James Swanson gives us a good sense of the word: show contempt for, think lightly, i.e., pertaining to feeling of contempt for an object, because it is regarded to be bad, or of little value, often with behaviors toward the object (including speaking scorn and ridicule) which correspond to that contempt. [James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains] The sense seems to be that a thing is despised when it is held in low regard. Where God is concerned, violation of His commandments demonstrates that man holds Him in low regard. In other words, when we break God’s commandments, we place little value on Him as our Creator. When we do that, by God’s own definition, we demonstrate hatred for Him. To the western mindset, this seems strange because hate for us is more closely associated with an emotion.

Numbers 15:31 once again reinforces God’s view that to violate and break His holy commandments is to despise His word. The person who does this shall be cut off. Esau despised his birthright when he held it in such low regard that he traded it for a bowl of stew. A good example of this attitude is located in the account of David’s batter with Goliath. Goliath looked at David and disdained (despised) him, because he was young and he was small. In other words, Goliath held David with very little regard. When we sin against God, at that moment in time, like it or not, this is how we look at God. He becomes exceedingly small and unimportant to us in the moment of sin.
While the Church has attempted to correct the confusion surrounding the emotion of love, tying it to action as opposed to feelings, she has not given the same amount of attention of its opposite, hate. Perhaps we can begin to focus our attention on how we can avoid the ugliness of hating God by holding Him in such low regard with our sinful actions.

Jesus Himself said that you cannot serve two masters. You will always love the one and hate the other. Couple this with the teaching that loving God always means keeping His commandments and it becomes easy to connect the dots. If keeping God’s commandments is loving Him, and loving two masters is impossible, it only follows that breaking God’s commandments is hating Him. Sin is the breaking of God’s commandments. When we sin, we hold God’s word in low regard. Our pleasure, at that time, is elevated over and above God’s pleasure. It becomes more important to us to please ourselves than to please God. Hence, rather than hating our own sinful nature, we express love for it by adoring it so much that it is exalted to a place more prominent than God. When we behave in this fashion, we love ourselves, our own lives, our sin. Moreover, since we can only love one master, it follows that we hate God when we behave this way. We become our own master whom we love and according to Jesus, we hate God. It is only when we hate ourselves enough to die to sin that the love of God comes shining through. This raises the question, how can a sinful creature such as I love a perfectly holy and good God? After all, an unholy, ungodly sinner not only won’t love God, not only can’t love God, he is not permitted to love God even if he could. He is exceedingly wicked and God is infinitely pure. There is no universe in which such a love would be permitted. How dare such a wicked person even begin to approach such a pure and perfect Being! Ah, enter the grace of an eternally merciful God.

The modern mindset in the visible Church regarding sin has reached pitiable levels. Modern Christianity in western culture seems to all but have abandoned the biblical teaching on sin. On the very first page of his book on Holiness, J.C. Ryle comments, “The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind.”[1]

John commanded his readers “Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (I John 2:15) Somehow, this once popular verse has become so infrequently quoted that it deserves a spot on the endangered species list. When I first converted, I heard this verse repeatedly as a young believer. Perhaps there was a component of legalism involved where I came from, but that does not detract from the truthfulness and proper application of the text. John’s letter is a letter of antithesis. You cannot practice sin and have God’s seed in you. If you love the world, you hate God. If you hate your brother, you cannot love God. If you walk in darkness, you do not have the light. I hope this blog has provoked a renewed interest in how you think about sin. I hope it causes you to renew your hatred of sinful behavior. Only then, can we better appreciate and understand God’s love, grace, and mercy. If sin really is not that bad, then God’s grace really is not that profound. The great downgrading of sin necessarily downgrades the grace, mercy, and love of God along with it. After all, if I am not really a wretch, then loving me is not such a profound act of grace after all. When you take the wretch out of me, you also take the amazing out of grace. In an attempt to make God more loving by removing sin, we actually make Him less loving. That God loves a sinner such as I, is a mystery beyond all mysteries. Oh the wonder of the majesty of the mercies and grace of God, that He would save sinners so undeserving of His love!

[1] J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001), 1.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and Respectable Gossip

The incident of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is indeed a tragedy. One young man lost his life and the other may lose what is left of his freedom. I am going to come at this subject from a purely Christian perspective. This blog is not about what happened that night. It is not about who was right or who was wrong. It is not a cry for justice. Instead, this article is about Christian conduct as it relates to this story and every other story that makes its way into the media. As far as I am concerned, I have no specific opinion about what happened that night or what should happen because of that night. You see, I was not there. I am not an eye witness. I do not know what happened, nor can I. I do not know anything about the witnesses that were there and about those who are passing on their account. I know this: every story that involves the potential for racially-charged emotions always brings out those biases with it. My concern is entirely around Christian conduct. How should a Christian think about this incident? How should they conduct their speech toward the two young men involved? What does Scripture say? After all, it is Scripture that provides the norm for how we should relate to incidents like this one.

Those who are indicting Mr. Zimmerman without having been there to see for themselves what actually took place are committing the worse kind of slander. They do not know Mr. Zimmerman. They are better off not saying anything about his character or reputation. Maybe he is culpable. Maybe he killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood. Maybe it was legitimate self-defense. That is the job of the police department to determine. Someone might suggest that the police department is failing to do its job. Maybe it is. However, it is not the mission of the church or the society of Christ to impose its will on the police departments of the world so that they are acting in accordance with the law. That job belongs to someone else. Who? I cannot say who. What I can say is that Scripture nowhere lays this burden on the church.

Those who are now painting Trayvon Martin as a troubled young man just looking for a fight are no less guilty of slander than the ones painting Mr. Zimmerman as a racist and cold blooded killer. They do not know this young man. They do not know that he did anything to provoke Mr. Zimmerman. They were not there. The young man’s past has nothing to do with what happened that night. If you are engaged in slandering this young man for any reason, you are guilty of the worse kind of malicious gossip. You do not know Trayvon Martin and you certainly were not present the night of that terrible tragedy. Your words of disdain and attack are just as sinful as they would be if you were slandering someone you do know. Just because there are media reports about this incident, that is not justification to speculate about what actually took place. As a member of the Christian society, you have no right to comment about the character of men you know nothing about. Silence is the best response in this case.

The news media and "tell-all" publications provide an excellent vehicle by which Christians engage in malicious gossip without even thinking about it. I know, I have done it numerous times. It was not until recently that I began to think about this and wonder about my own behavior. A friend of mine and I were discussing Tiger Woods’ personal coach and the terrible things that have been said about Mr. Woods. This was as recent as last week. I cannot say what the catalyst was that has caused me to begin considering this behavior. All I know is that I realized that these people are real people whose lives are being affected by all kinds of stories. The truth is that we just don’t know anything about them. We don’t know if these stories are true, and even if some of them are, how shameful it is for believers to speak about them openly. Instead, we should commit these people to prayer. We should pray that God grants them the gift of repentance and the subsequent peace it produces. We should not waste time sinning by talking about matters that we really know nothing about. We should prayer for comfort for Trayvon’s parents and especially for their salvation if they are not believers. If they are believers, we should pray that God provide them the grace necessary to accept those things they cannot change along with the ability to respond to them in Christ-like manner.

Racism is an ugly behavior. It is unloving and sinful. We should certainly preach and teach against it just like we do other sin. But we do not teach and preach against it because it is the worse sin a person could commit. We condemn it because God condemns it. We refuse to engage in it because it displeases and dishonors God. The church needs to divorce the culture. For a long time now, she has been enamored and enchanted with the culture. It has been a love feast unlike anything you could read in a romance novel. The sad truth is that most American Christians are far more loyal to America and American ideology than they are to Scripture. If revival is ever to come to western culture, the church must divorce America. The truth is that America’s influence on the church has been far more damning than most care to admit. Preach the gospel. Proclaim the truth. Evangelize the world and make disciples. That is the business of the church. What have we to do with marches and protests against social injustice and political causes?

The very best way to influence these kinds of changes in the culture is to evangelize it! That kind of change is real and lasting change. So what! You end racism or abortion. If you don’t give people the gospel, still we have a number of people who are no longer racists or murderers, but nevertheless are on their way to certain eternal damnation. Nice job.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Christians, Muslims, God, and Allah: Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Only those steeped in postmodern culture could propose that Christianity and Islam are actually much closer in theology than traditionally believed. It seems to me that anyone with a basic, simple understanding of the two religions would necessarily reject even the slightest hint that the two are actually religious cousins, so to speak. Yet, there is a stir among many within the respective religions regarding our commonality. In the article IO87: Chrislam for Human Flourishing?, Dr. Peter Jones reacts to Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale, who contends that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Volf admits that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are not identical. One wonders then how Volf can say with one breath that both religions worship the same God and then say in another place that they are not identical. How can I be the same as me without being identical to me? If I am not identical to me, then obviously I am not the same as me. I wonder just how far from identical one can move before they cross the line of sameness. Is it an inch? Perhaps a foot. As long as you are within a foot of sameness, you can be the same but not identical. I also wonder who was in charge of working such a system out. Who was the person vested with the privilege to determine how far from “sameness” identical can move before it becomes “another?” As Rob Bell might say, “good question.”

Volf observes that God’s love is much less obvious in the Qur’an than in the Bible. This admission is quite puzzling. First, Volf is correct! In fact, it is a gross understatement to say it this way. The description of God in the Sacred Scriptures is predominately immersed with love. God loves the world! God loves His own! God loves His sheep! God is love! He that does not love does not know God! Repeatedly, the recurring theme of love is laced throughout the text of Scripture. On this point alone, one could easily see that the Qur’an’s description of Allah and the Bible’s description of God are remarkably different.

The attempt to bring Christianity and Islam together is a product of postmodern thought. It is an attempt to disregard distinctions because, after all, distinctions are built on the arrogant idea of right and wrong. Even worse, distinctions, especially religious and ethical distinctions are the product of the kind of antiquated thinking that believes one can actually know truth. From such reasoning, people can deduce what is not true. This kind of philosophical praxis is off-limits in postmodern culture.

At the foundation of “Chrislam” as some refer to it, is the age-old philosophy of pantheism. In this view, everything is God. If pantheism is true, then all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. Pantheism is far more comfortable in a postmodern culture than the exclusive religions of Christianity and Islam. Hence, it only makes sense for a postmodern professor to attempt to flatten out any distinctions between the two largest religions in the world and have them serving the same God. If Volf can pull that off, it will be much easier to do with the smaller religions. The real problem for the true church is the attempt on the part of some to move in this direction in the name of missions and evangelism.

The idea is to avoid offense in your delivery of the gospel. Offense, according to some, guarantees that evangelism fails. However, Jesus came with the very intent of bring offense. He said, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” [Matt. 11:6] Then again, Jesus said, “Do you suppose I came to bring peace on the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51] The exclusive truth claims of Scripture, which reveal a triune God, are inherently offensive to the Muslim religion. In Islam, God is not three persons eternally existing in one God. Islam views this description of God as blasphemy. One must take Christ out of Christianity in order for a discussion of this nature to take place. Not to worry, many are unwittingly doing that very thing. They are taking Christ out of Christianity by making his entire existence and mission completely unnecessary and irrelevant to salvation. His virgin birth, some argue is not necessary. His penal-substitutionary atonement is no longer necessary. His deity is a matter open for debate. His resurrection may be viewed as myth, an apologue if you will. His words are not at all authoritative and many think we have no idea what He actually said when He was here. Man has become the measure of all things, even in our churches. In postmodern, pluralistic soil like this, is it any wonder that theology professors at Yale or anywhere else for that matter can make the absurd proposition that two religions with fundamentally antithetical views of God, actually worship the same divine being?

What can we do about this crisis of truth? A survey by George Barna indicates that most Americans already believe that all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they may call that being. One thing we can do to correct the problem is to begin with the simple truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Michael Horton writes, “Among the false assumptions “killing the ministry” today are that “Americans have a firm understanding of the basic tenets of Christianity.”[1] We must concern ourselves with how we handle the truth rather than unbelievers. We must be less concerned about offense and persecution and more concerned to accurately communicate the gospel.

[1] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 32.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of Jesse Johnson’s “Way of the Master” Seminar – Shepherd’s Conference

I want to keep this review as short and to the point as possible. I listened to Jesse Johnson’s take on evangelism and Ray Comfort’s WOTM method. I agree entirely with some of the points Jesse makes. However, there are other points that make me a tad uncomfortable. From my vantage point, I heard two fundamental points in Jesse’s lecture. First, I heard Jesse decry the idea of method in evangelism. The main idea is that the NT does not use a method for evangelism nor does it instruct us to adopt one. On this point Jesse is correct on this point. The NT does not endorse a method of evangelism nor does it provide examples for one. The NT also does not endorse the ideal of method in evangelism. However, is this truth alone enough to criticize the ideal of method in evangelism. I am not so sure that it is. The NT does not speak to a specific method for doing church either, but one would be hard pressed to find one that did not use a method. The only hint of a worship structure is that we should do all things decently and in order. We have music pastors and youth pastors, none of which are mentioned in the NT. Yet, these offices are built on a very specific method for doing church ministry. On the one hand it seems to me that to avoid the idea of method or the concept of some sort of method in evangelism is impossible. Even if we say that our method is simply to introduce people to Jesus Christ, that is still a method. Moreover, even if we say that that approach requires a high degree of fluidity, that is still a method. It seems self-defeating to me to dismiss even the idea of method in evangelism.

On the other hand, Jesse is right to correct the thinking that evangelism can become more successful if only we can find just the right method. The right method for evangelism is to confront people with the person of Jesus Christ and the revelation of God that He delivered. The goal is to give men and women the truth of the gospel as clearly and as accurately as we can without regard for how they will respond to it. It is when we concern ourselves with results that evangelism and methods begin to run afoul of Scripture. This is the major problem with method in evangelism in modern, western Christianity. Methods are established that are designed with human response in mind as opposed to effective and accurate presentation of the truth. Jesse also mentioned that evangelism methods tend toward arrogance and condescension. I think this is irrelevant. It isn’t the method that is to be faulted here. It is the person. There is no logical connection between method and arrogance. This could be just as true for those not using a canned approach. Eliminating method does not guarantee the removal of arrogance.

Secondly, Jesse criticized Ray Comforts use of the Law of Moses in evangelism and some of his misuses of Scripture. I think Jesse is right on this point. The Law of Moses was never given to Gentiles in general. Therefore, it is inappropriate to specifically reference the Mosaic Law when confronting unbelieving Gentiles with their sin. However, I do think Jesse’s point is a bit over-stated. First of all, I think it is unfair for Jesse to go off on the tangent he did regarding the numerous uses of the word nomos in the NT. I do not think Ray Comfort believes that nomos always refers to the Mosaic Law. This was a bit over-blown. I do not think this portion of the lecture added much value around the specific subject of evangelism. Confronting people with their rejection of the greatest commandment to love God with all their being accomplishes the very same thing. What does it mean to love God with our whole being? It means we do those things which are pleasing in His sight. Moreover, the ethical components of the Mosaic Law are clearly drawn from the overarching Law of God. The command not to commit adultery is applicable to all men, not just those under the Mosaic Law. With a few tweaks, one can engage the unbeliever without referencing a Law that was never given to them even though the morality of that Law is identical to the one that exits in their conscience in many respects. Romans two makes this point unambiguous.

Finally, after listening to the lecture and agreeing with most of what Jesse had to say, I was still left with mixed emotions. I wondered if this was such a big problem that it required a resource at a conference like this taking this kind of time to deal with something that seems quite low on the list of priorities. In other words, I wonder if this time could have been better spent on something more significant than Ray Comfort’s errors here and there in his evangelistic ministry. Maybe this is a good question, maybe it isn’t. But it is a question I have and I do not think I am alone.

In summary, I have said that it is invalid to criticize method in evangelism on the basis that the NT does not use a specific method nor does it teach one specific method. This fact does not ipso facto nullify method in evangelism. What it does is call into question any view that would be overly restrictive or insistent that one specific method be employed to the exclusion of other methods. What it does is support the argument that a variety of methods may be used in evangelism. In this regard, Jesse makes his case even if he may take it a bit too far. I have also argued that the most important aspect of evangelism is a biblically accurate introduction of the individual to Jesus Christ and His mission and revelation of God the Father. It is when we become concerned with the impact of this introduction on those to whom it is made that we begin to encounter problems. While Ray Comfort may be misguided in his method by imposing the Mosaic Law on those to whom it was never given, this error fails to reach egregious levels. I do not fault Jesse for making the correction whatever. All error is worth correcting. In the end, I think Jesse would have been much better off making a case for evangelism from a positive standpoint rather than selecting the most popular reformed evangelist our country has known in modern times and offer a critical review that accomplished little more than correct an error that is far less harmful than most of those confronting the church today. I appreciateJesse's concern for truth and for biblical evangelism. We agree on more than we disagree in terms of his critique of WOTM evangelism.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Foul Play of the American Atheist

American Atheists, in an attempt to run a PR campaign against the Bible paid for this billboard in Harrisburg, PA. There are a number of problems with the AA’s methodology, not the least of which is the incredible lack of a cohesive morality within their worldview. At the most fundamental level, Atheism requires naturalism in order to remain a viable worldview. Naturalism denies the existence of God and by definition could never affirm the existence of something as abstract as morality. Moreover, naturalism would necessarily deny objective meaning at worse or at best, it would have no basis whatever for contending it does.

The AA must establish that truth exists, that it is knowable, that objective morality exists and that human beings have value and hence, it is possible to devalue them and such devaluing is objectively wrong, that it is absolutely true that it is wrong and that we can know with certainty that it is wrong. In other words, the only way that AA’s can condemn slavery is to adopt an epistemology, ontology, and ethic that is remarkably similar to that of Christianity. Atheism has no basis for believing that absolute truth exists, that it is knowable, that human beings have value, and that life has any meaning or purpose, or that objective morality exists.

In order for slavery to be wrong, human beings must have inherent worth. It must be possible for humans to commit evil against one another. Yet, naturalism has no basis for thinking such evil actually exists, let alone is possible. If all matter is the product of time + chance, then life has absolutely no meaning, no purpose, and no value. This billboard is put up by people who have spent the last few decades arguing that truth does not exist, that there are no absolutes, and that morality is really a convention of society. In other words, why should we bother to pay much attention to a group whose own beliefs call into question their own reason for existing in the first place?

The billboard is referencing the apostle Paul’s instructions to slaves. Slavery was a common practice in Greco-Roman culture. It was a reality with which the very small church at the time had to face. However, that the slave-master relationship within the Christian community even at the earliest stages of the church was far different from the images we have of American slavery cannot be denied. The goal of the American Atheists is to imply that Christianity along with the House of Representatives endorse or approve of the tyrannical practices that slaves experienced in American history. This implication is outrageous, unethical, and injudicious. The Bible specifically condemns mistreatment of slaves by their masters. In Eph. 6:9, Masters are warned not to use threats against their slaves. They are also warned against showing partiality. In Col. 4:1, Paul commands masters to dispense justice and fairness among their slaves. The American Atheists fail on both fronts. Their naturalistic worldview has no coherent basis from which to condemn slavery. Secondly, Christianity in no way endorses the kind of treatment that the mention of slavery conjures up in the American mindset.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Goal of Christian Instruction

Human behavior is a fascinating subject. Why do we do the things we do? A large work of study seems to indicate that human beings behave the way they behave because they value the consequences that particular behavior affords. A man may spend a great deal of time watching his professional sports team because he derives a sense of satisfaction from watching his team engage in that competition. When his team is engaged in a competition, you can count on him to observe the match so long as it is within his power to do so and, providing there are no other behaviors available that may provide for him a more valued reward. This is the nature of human beings and of human behavior. Not only is this true for non-Christians, it is equally true for Christians. This is also true of the apostle Paul who himself had a goal in mind when he sent his letters to a particular audience. Clearly, Paul valued his work and he deeply enjoyed the rewards of his behavior. Of course, the difference between what one actually values and enjoys versus what one should value and enjoy are two entirely different matters.

In I Timothy 1:5 we find the following revelation: τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη ἐκ καθαρᾶς καρδίας καὶ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς καὶ πίστεως ἀνυποκρίτου. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith. Initially two things jump off the page when I read this verse: 1. Paul was instructing Timothy. 2. Paul’s instructions had a very specific goal. The Greek word paraggelias appears five times in the NT. Paul uses it three times while Luke accounts for the remaining two. The word is a derivative of the Greek word paraggello which means to order, to command, and to proclaim. Luke uses this derivative in Acts 17:30 when he says that God is declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent. This indicates that Timothy would have understood “instruction” in a much differently than we do in modern times. To us, instruction has nothing to do with imperatives either implicitly or otherwise. For us, an imperative is always a kind of instruction. However, we seldom think of instruction in and of itself as an imperative. When we read this verse in our modern English translations through the grid of our culture, we tend to weaken the meaning of Paul’s words. The Greek word paraggelias is translated command twice, commandment once, and strict orders once. Out of the five occurrences, only once is it translated instructions. The general thrust of this word is an instruction, command, or proclamation given by someone in a position of authority. In other words, we take for granted that the person receiving the instructions will comply. For Paul, the possibility that Timothy would not receive his instructions did not exist. The presumption was that Timothy would acknowledge and appropriate his authoritative instructions. This is remarkable different from how most professing Christians view Paul’s instructions today.
Secondly, Paul had a goal for his instructions. He was not aimlessly writing Timothy to transfer information. The Greek word telos signifies the purpose of an event or state, viewed in terms of its results. Paul was not interested is merely passing along some information to Timothy. He had a goal in mind for his instructions. Telos appears some 40 times in the NT. It is translated end sixty percent of the time. The word enjoys wide usage by numerous NT authors. It appears in every gospel. Six times the word is translated “outcome.” In Rom. 6:22 Paul says, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” The idea is that Paul has a very specific end that he wishes to accomplish by issuing these instructions to Timothy. He sends the message to Timothy with clear deliberateness. What is the goal for Paul’s instruction? Paul does not leave us at the mercy of sinful speculation. He tells us expressly that his instructions should result in three specific behaviors.

Paul intends his instructions produce the kind of love that can only find its source in God. He says, “Love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith.” The idea here is to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard – to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love.” [Louw-Nida 25.43] Modern American Christians hardly understand the nature of the love discussed in Scripture. In modern America and the west, love is most often confused with emotions. The romantic fantasy only serves to add extreme perversion to the true nature of godly love, which is, true love. In Greco-Roman culture, love was a bond or an attachment to a group or a person. It may or, may not have been accompanied by emotions or affection. [Pilch & Malina, Handbook of Biblical Social Values] At the same time, the Mediterranean culture had and has issues of its own in terms of recognizing the relationship between love and act. Jesus was constantly tying love to actions. This was unusual for that specific mindset. Nevertheless, it is clear that one does not meet the obligation to love by feeling a certain way about someone. Action is the underlying theme of love in the NT not to mention throughout all of Scripture. To love someone is to have a certain disposition toward that person. While it includes acting to help when a need arises, it is more than that. Paul told us we could actually give all our goods to feed the poor and still lack love! That is a foreign concept to the Western mindset. We think that philanthropy equals love. Obviously, it is not: at least not according to Paul.
Love is much more than outward doing and even inward feelings. Primarily, this love is ground in a pure heart. The Greek word katharas concerns a ritual purity. The idea is “pure in the eyes of God.” Ritual purity is far more complex than this blog can treat. Suffice it to say that New Testament purity differs remarkably from the concept of purity in Western culture. David deSilva writes,

A second prominent line urges us to abstain from polluting the church, keeping the holy congregation without blemish. Christians are put on their guard against defiling the body of believers with their own persistence in one sin or another, or with bringing the lies of the world into the church, thus defiling its vision, hindering its mission and muting its witness. Since disruption of the (social) body is a source of defilement, it is also incumbent on each believer to abstaining from the murmuring, the grumbling, the wrangling and the power plays that pollute a congregation.[1]
The idea is that the kind of love Paul is hoping for is one that comes from a heart that God says is right! Only a regenerate heart is capable of such love. Regeneration then, is a prerequisite for this love. However, such regeneration does not guarantee that we are necessarily there yet! What it does provide for is the necessary framework and presuppositions for one to move to this kind of love. On the other hand, rejection of this idea and behavior that clearly demonstrates this love is absent, hasn’t even begun, could be a clear indication that Christ also is absent. Read John’s first letter if you want to know more about that.

The second characteristic of God-approved love is that it emanates from a good conscience. The Greek is quite simply, “suneideseos aagathes.” This word conveys a sense of moral sensitivity. The word appears 30 times in the NT and 29 of those times it is rendered conscience in the NASB. In some languages, it may be rendered ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart.’ The term conscience in this case should cannot rightly be separated from the Greek term agathos.

b) As a t.t. “good conscience” (1 Tim 1:5, 19; cf. Acts 23:1; 1 Pet 3:16, 21; Heb 13:18) belongs to the late period of the NT. Reacting against Gnosticism, the Pastorals call for conduct that corresponds to a faith that takes creation seriously and to the love commandment (1 Tim 1:14). “Thus the traditional parenesis with its household codes, lists of virtues and vices, and its emphasis on the value of marriage and family and on the indispensability for communal life of the normal virtues of good citizenship. Thus the demand for ‘good works’ (1 Tim 2:10; Titus 2:14) and the good or pure conscience (1 Tim 1:5; 3:9)” (P. Vielhauer, Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur [1975] 234).[2]
That a good conscience refers to good in a moral sense in this context is unquestionable. Paul uses the same construction in 1:19 where he says the opposite has resulted in disaster for some. Throughout the pastorals in nearly every other instance he uses the word agathos, he does so in reference to works. Paul is seeking the kind of love that emanates from a “good conscience.” This is a conscience of the highest moral quality.

Finally Paul seeks the kind of love that has a sincere faith at its substructure. Rather than focus on pisteos, which is the Greek word for faith, I will spend some time on the word anupokritou. This word appears six times in the Greek NT. It stems from the same Greek work for hypocrisy with the addition of the Greek preposition anti which means against. Quite literally, this is a faith is that is “not a play acting” kind of faith. It refers to being with pretense. It is a faith that is real. The word means that which is genuine and sincere, and hence lacking in pretense of show. Of this six occurrences in the Greek NT, it is rendered sincere three times, without hypocrisy twice and genuine once. Two-thirds of its usage occur in Paul and twice in the pastorals. The idea is that genuine faith is the necessary basis for the kind of love God approves. Genuine faith produces fruit, good deeds, and a clean heart with godly intentions.
The goal of Christian instruction is love. It is the God kind of love. Standing at the very head of this love is a love for God. From this love for God, this love from a pure heart, a moral conscience, and a genuine faith, flows love for the Christian group, the community if you will. Love begins in regeneration, visible at first only to God for God is the one who implants it. But like a volcano, it cannot be held invisible. It is active and her deeds, as she grows within the heart of the believer, only become more and more obvious to those around her/him.

[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity : Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 314.
[2] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, vol. 1, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-), 7.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Franklin Graham on the Faith of Barak Obama

Is it my imagination or are we constantly living in multiple controversies simultaneously in the Christian community these days? The latest flap is Rev. Graham’s Santorum versus Obama on the genuineness of their individual Christianity. Graham was asked if he thought that Obama was a Christian. He was clearly unprepared for the question. His response seemed to lack conviction and it showed. This is not necessarily all bad. What born again leader could say that they accept Obama at his word without a degree of discomfort on their face? In all fairness to Graham, he was attempting to avoid self-righteous politics which all too often Christians are guilty of. However, in the end, Rev. Graham fell victim to the very thing he seemed to want to avoid. A better response than to waffle around and take Obama at his word would have been to ask the interviewer why he was asking such a question of Graham to begin with. Did the interviewer really want to know, sincerely, what Graham believed and why or did he want to create some controversy and drive up ratings? You decide.

Gospel ministers are not in the business of making pronouncements on the faith of political leaders, good, bad, or indifferent. Gospel ministers are in the business of promulgating the gospel. This does not mean that they ought to remain silent when given the sort of platform that Rev. Graham often finds himself occupying. This interview was one more opportunity for Franklin Graham to preach the gospel, as offensive as that may have been. After all, did not Paul himself tell us that such preaching of such a message would only be greeted by offense? (I Cor. 1:18) Paul said he determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is the business of the gospel preacher.

We entangle ourselves in unnecessary and grievous distractions when we busy ourselves in the affairs of politics and mere social concerns. Behind every social ill there is a spiritual deficiency and it is that deficiency that ought to concern us. It is simply wrong for any gospel minister to publicly praise the faith of any political candidate if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance of pernicious politics within the Christian community. The business of gospel ministers and apologists is to proclaim the gospel and defend the faith, not to serve as defenders of the political party they deem closest to that faith. When Franklin Graham asserts publicly that one candidate is a believer while claiming that the president is not, he opens not only himself up to the criticism of partiality and hypocrisy, but the rest of the Christian community with him. If Rev. Graham should apologize to anyone, it should be to the Christian community for the embarrassment he has caused us all.

Is Barak Obama a Christian? Is Rick Santorum a Christian? Is Mitt Romney a Christian? In the promulgation of the gospel, what difference does it make? It makes not one iota of difference if these men are true Christians or not. What matters is the opportunity this questions provides in the publication of the gospel. This is a chance for us to address what it means to be Christian. And that we cannot answer that question without answering first “what is the gospel?” A person who is in fact a Christian is one who is a true follower of Christ in everything He commands. Can a man be a Christian and at the very same time adopt the lifestyle of defending, protecting, and promoting the murder and butchery of innocent babies whether in or outside the mother’s womb? Christians certainly have eternal life abiding in them. Yet John says that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (I John 3:15) Hence, it follows that since abortion on demand is the wholesale murder of babies, no person who endorses such a practice, who protects, defends, or excuses such a practice can possibly be a Christian. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. Scripture explicitly teaches that He is divine. No man who denies that Jesus Christ is God is a Christian. The entire gospel hinges upon this truth. Without it, Christianity is another man-made cult doomed to die or become as irrelevant as the next one.

Questions about politics, along with most other questions can provide us with the opportunity to present the gospel. When we get lost in the question itself and forget to think critically and strategically, we miss the opportunity as Franklin Graham did recently. Franklin Graham as far as I know is a godly man. I am reasonably sure he is not pleased with how this incident unfolded and ended. As far as the NAACP is concerned, no gospel minister should feel an ounce of obligation to answer to this group. They hold no sway or authority over the church of Jesus Christ nor should they. No one within the Christian community owes the NAACP anything above and beyond the typical courtesy any other non-religious group deserves. For the NAACP to get involved at all demonstrates their usual desire to intimidate and manipulate all for political gain. Gospel ministers should pay such a group very little mind.

Christians should refuse to give any of these intimidation tactics any place in their conversations. It would be best to ignore any hints of the race card, be it with Barak Obama and the NAACP or T.D. Jakes, not to mention the hysterical use of the homophobia card. I pay little attention to such nonsense because anyone with their wits about them knows full well these tactics are little more than attempts to intimidate those with whom they disagree and desire to silence. Nothing infuriates them more than simply ignoring them and focusing on the real issue of the day. And what is that issue? That issue is Jesus Christ and the revelation of God in Him! He is the gospel!

Gospel ministers must be about the business of preaching the gospel and making disciples. They must spend their time on being acquainted with the Scripture, preaching and teaching from the Scripture and setting an example for the believer to follow. I am convinced that ministers are as confused as ever about who they are and what it is they are to be doing. This should ever be part of our prayer: God teach your ministers to be YOUR ministers.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Chaos in Christianity – Rick Warren, Islam, and Allah

In his classic book, “Authentic Christianity,” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote,
“There can be no more urgent question at this present time than just this: What is Christianity?”[1]
There seems to be no shortage of controversy and chaos these days in the Christian religion. One name that seems perpetually to be at or near the top of that list is Rick Warren. Recently Warren has initiated a campaign to “bridge the gap” between Christians and Muslims, along with other religions. These groups will search for common ground and seek to build relationships and coordinate common goals within the framework of those broadly agreed upon principles and values. Groups that participate in this initiative or network or effort have agreed not to proselytize from one another. According to Warren they are modeling Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor.” However, one cannot help but ask, “Is this what Jesus meant when He informed us of the second greatest commandment?” Is this what Jesus had in mind when He sent the disciples out in Matthew 28? Finally, did Paul really think the Athenians were worshipping Jesus with their sign “to the unknown god?” This is precisely Warren’s message when he claims that Islam’s Allah is Christianity’s Yahweh. Finally, what are the implications of Warren’s practice to the gospel and what does a responsible and dutiful reaction from the Christian society look like?
First, what is the commandment to “love you’re your neighbor as yourself” actually commanding us to do? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all three mention this commandment in their records. Mark’s account takes place during one of many challenge-riposte games typical of the Mediterranean culture and in Greco-Roman times. In order to appreciate the story, we need to look back to Mark 11:27 in order to understand the antecedent to “they” in 12:13. The chief priests, scribes, and elders sent some Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus specifically to play the challenge-riposte game in hopes to shame him. The religious leaders were very displeased because Jesus was conducting himself as one with authority and this was an obvious threat to their political agenda. Jesus plays the challenge-riposte game with the Pharisees and Herodians, and then with the Sadducees. Jesus wins both challenges, creating a bit of a dither. Finally, a scribe, which is a person that is an expert in the interpretation of the law, decides to issue his own challenge. He asks Jesus, “which is the greatest commandment?” It is in this context that Jesus informs us that we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus answers the challenge brilliantly.  It is significant to note that before Jesus issued this commandment, He harkens back to the first line in the Shema. The Shema is found in Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41. The central concern of the Shema is the one true God of Israel and her duty to acknowledge Him all her behavior. Within the context of Deut. 6, the commandments of Yahweh should make anyone who desires to cooperate with those who worship a false god quite uncomfortable. The LORD says, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you.” The LORD follows this commandment by instructing the Israelites that it is both good and right in the sight of the LORD for them to drive out their enemies from the land. These enemies are those who worship false gods, the very gods that Yahweh has warned Israel not to follow.
In order to help us understand better what this commandment actually means, Jesus employed the use of a parable that Luke recorded. The parable of the Good Samaritan serves as Jesus’ prime example of what it means to love one’s neighbor. The illustration is perfect because Jesus used the one ethnic group that the Jew hated above all else, the Samaritan. Of all people to set an example of what genuine love is, Jesus picked a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite both failed to stop and provide any care whatever to the injured man. The Samaritan exemplified the love of God more than the religious leaders because he actually took action in the situation. However, this love for neighbor cannot exist in a vacuum. The fact that Jesus embeds this commandment into the Shema is an indication that loving the one true God is a prerequisite to loving your neighbor as yourself. No one would ever have accused Paul of not loving the incestuous man and woman at Corinth. Yet, he did not hesitate to remove this man from the community because of his immoral conduct. Godly love involves godly compassion within the context of the gospel of repentance. Godly love does not seek to provide solely for the needs of a person from a temporal perspective. The believer provides temporal assistance within the context of giving that person the gospel. This same Jesus who commanded His disciples to love their neighbor as themselves, also commanded those very same disciples not to give what is holy to dogs nor to throw their pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces. This commandment and others like it seem to be totally lost in Rick Warren’s strategy. A partnership with wicked men who worship a false god comes dangerously close to violating this commandment. Loving your neighbor as yourself involves setting aside personal bias and offense and meeting temporal needs within the overall framework of meeting the eternal needs. Neglect of the latter circumvents the entire purpose of demonstrating love to one’s neighbor. Moreover, even if one could love their neighbor as themselves without first loving the one true God, what good would it do them? These two commandments are the greatest and the second one is subsevient to the first. So what you are loving your neighbor as yourself, you are also breaking the greatest of all the commandments by not loving the one true God of Scripture!
According to the news story, there will be no proselytizing between groups within the initiative. One cannot help but wonder why Christians would want to be involved in any initiative that forbids them from pursuing converts. When Jesus sent His disciples out at the great commission, he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He did not say go and form groups that include those who worship false gods, find common ground, and do lots of social good. He commanded His disciples to produce converts who were dedicated to following Christ in every way. Rick Warren seems intent on marking himself off as something other than a gospel preacher, as something other than orthodox. While many have written Warren off as a heretic, this is not true of all and perhaps not of most in evangelicalism. However, Warren seems to think he can continue to push the outer limits and remain within the Christian community’s good graces. This move may shift opinions of Warren dramatically. Christ did not call Christians to give up producing disciples for the sake of some common good shared by adherents of false religions. He called us to proclaim the truth and make Christian disciples every chance we get.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about Christians creating partnerships with unbelievers. He had this to say: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever. [II Cor. 6:14-15] The Greek construction for the prohibition is me genesthe, and this is the strongest negation one can construct in the Greek language. It would be the difference between saying, “don’t do that,” and “you better absolutely not even think about doing that.” It is the same construction used in Romans 6 when Paul asks if we should continue to sin in order that grace may about? Absolutely unthinkable! One major concern in the Christian society is this loss of separation. It would seem that an extreme reaction to the legalism perpetuated by errant fundamentalist thinking has produced, in turn, an extremely casual view around the idea of biblical separation. One should keep in mind that while the fundamentalist movement may have went too far, this does not mean that the entire idea of separation was wrong. It is not. Quoting Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones once more,
“Today people no longer recognize the category of the moral. Modern men and women say, “We have a new morality.” But that is simply a repetition of what the devil has suggested before. He puts an idea back into some cupboard and brings out another one, and everybody forgets the old idea. He lets a century or two pass, then brings the first one out again. “Brand-new!” people say. “A new morality.” But it is as old as Adam in its sinfulness! Nothing new at all, nothing original in any sense whatsoever. All perversions and all foulness are described in the Bible as well as in the pages of secular history.”

In our attempt to correct extremes, the greatest danger is to introduce new extremes. We see it all the time and nowhere is this more obvious than in modern Christianity. In part two of this topic, I will tackle Rick Warren’s claim that Allah and Yahweh are the same God, that is, the idea that the god of Islam is the God of Christianity. I will also discuss the implications of Warren’s view to the gospel and how the Christian community should react to Warren’s views.

[1] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, 1st U.S. ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000), 5.

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

With all the rage over feminist issues going on as a result of the #MeToo movement, it isn’t shocking that pastors and professors holdi...