Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Enemies of the Cross: They Really do Exist

It is not popular to speak with direct and plain criticism in American culture these days. One of the most offensive behaviors we can engage in according to societal standards is direct and plain criticism. Postmodern thinking has aided the culture in removing the sting of truth by removing even the possibility of a metaphysical nature of truth. Without the existence of truth as truth, no one may engage in direct and plain criticism of views that are supposedly false. While this all seemingly works well on paper, it doesn’t seem to play out quite the same way in the real world. The experiment that was postmodernism seems to have had a much bigger splash in academia than it did in the world of reality. It was a nice idea as far as ideas go. However, human beings are created in God’s image, who is Himself the very source of all that is true. As such, we humans have been hopelessly unable to remove the imprint of truth from the conscience. Since truth is, it behooves us to once more, take up her relentless pursuit. It is on the basis of the reality of truth that I proceed with the rest of this article concerning the fact that the cross of Christ is real and that this cross actually has real enemies, whose detection is not so easily recognized these days.

The letter of the apostle Paul to the Philippians is a small and dulcet letter, filled with many theological nuggets and a great deal of practical guidance for Christian living. Like most of his other letters, Paul is concerned with false teachers and Christian living. It is a very common theme in Paul. It has been a common theme throughout the life of the Church. This begs the question why modern Christians should be so shocked that it continues to be a modern theme among us. All too often concerns about doctrine are portrayed as divisive and teachings on sanctification and holiness are labeled as hateful and legalistic. Take heart Christian, it has been this way for 2000 years and Scripture clearly tells us it will get worse before it gets better.

In his opening prayer, Paul hopes that the Philippian Christians are filled with knowledge and discernment. He sees these traits as necessary in order for the Christians there to live a life that is blameless. From this prayer he immediately is occupied with false teachers. Then again later in Chapter two he returns to his concern that the Philippians live a life that is worthy of the gospel. He then immediately talks about the false teachers once more, this time referring to them as opponents. It is clear that Paul is concerned with how the Philippian Christians conducted themselves as well as with the presence of false teachers. Such conditions could never exist if postmodernism were a valid worldview. The fact that they existed then and exist today is enough to thoroughly debunk the foundations of a worldview that is better described as the worldview of unbelief than it is anything else.

Paul continues to express concern for how the Philippians conduct themselves and at one point refers to their opponents, the false teachers, as dogs. The metaphorical use of the term “dogs” is serious. Paul sees these people as wicked and perhaps it could mean perverted. Either way, the idea is that Paul is classifying these men among the vile of his day. The Americanization of Christianity actually labels what Paul does as sinful, hateful, and intolerable. The American Christian will actually use the same writer’s own words in I Cor. 13 to indict him without realizing it. Because Paul refers to false teachers as dogs, which in essence means wicked and vile perverts of the truth, I think it is perfectly acceptable for us to share Paul’s words with those who are indeed false teachers, men of unbelief who pervert and corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only let us take care in what that looks like and how one becomes a pervert of truth properly so-called. Suffice it to say, such men exist today and it is the duty of the Church, especially leaders within the Church to provide constant reminders to the body of the dangers these men pose to the gospel and the Christian community.

Fellow Imitators

This brings us to the heart of the matter, which is Paul’s words in Phil. 3:17-21. Paul issues a divine imperative to the Church that they are to become fellow imitators of him. Paul knows that if the Philippians follow the model of his living and teaching, this will aid them in both of his concerns: praxis and truth. In other words, if the Philippian Christians pay attention to Paul’s model of life, and imitate it, they will insulate themselves against ungodly behavior as well as false teachers!

Συμμιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί. Become fellow imitators of me, brothers! Ginesthe is in the imperative mood, indicating that Paul is commanding the Philippian Christians to become fellow imitators together of Paul. He speaks to the body in community, as one and many.

σκοπεῖτε τοὺς οὕτω περιπατοῦντας. Pay careful attention to those who are walking in the same way. In other words, study in great detail the lives of your fellow companions who are walking in the same way as we walk. The Greek word houto often refers to what has just preceded it. In this case it would be Paul’s imperative to be fellow imitators of himself. The next phrase reinforces this understanding.

καθὼς ἔχετε τύπον ἡμᾶς. Just as you have our model. Paul points to his life and teachings as the model by which the Philippian Christians must live their life as well as beliefs. By following Paul’s example of living, the Philippian Christians ensure their spiritual growth and progress in knowledge and discernment; two things that Paul has already revealed to be at the top of his prayer list on their behalf.

Imposters Abound

πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν οὓς πολλάκις ἔλεγον ὑμῖν. The postpositive, gar, functions as an epexegetical in this case, explaining the reasons why Paul is issuing this particular commandment. He says the reason is that “many” are walking around (doing otherwise). Who are these “many” Paul references?

νῦν δὲ καὶ κλαίων λέγω. Paul goes out of his way to get the attention of the Philippian Christians. He says he has told them about these “individuals” before. And now he is telling them about them again weeping. This Greek word, klaion, is more than just shedding a few tears. The focus of this word is on the lament, the loud cry. In most contexts, it clearly indicates a deep emotional response to a situation. Paul is clearly emotionally invested in the truth, in the growth of these believers, and even in the state of these false teachers. I am reminded of his instructions to the Ephesian elders where he said he warned them for over three years in tears. Clearly, these things mattered to Paul. What was the last time you spent some energy confronting sin, false doctrine or false teachers with the truth in a state of deep conviction and emotion? I am amazed at how often Christians are surprised by this emotional display when others defend the truth. Clearly, they are uncomfortable with this approach. Clearly, Paul was not. It is his model we are to follow.

Enemies of the Cross

τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Paul calls them, “the enemies of the cross of Christ.” We do not write like this any longer. We no longer speak like this today. And, when we do, even in conservative churches, we are called arrogant. I once had a pastor tell me that some people have said that when I teach, I teach like I am right and everyone else is wrong. I asked the pastor if he ever preached anything that he thought he was wrong about. He said of course not. I then asked if he it was fair to say that he preaches on things that some disagree with. And he said yes. I then asked him if he thought they were wrong or he was wrong. He becomes visibly upset with me but it was too late. Finally I asked him if I should teach everything as if it were up for grabs and that regardless of the subject, I could be wrong. While such an approach is very consistent with our culture of tolerance and agnosticism, it is foreign to Scripture as well as the history of theological inquiry in the church. In short, such an approach is ineffective and absurd. Jesus did not teach like this. His disciples did not teach like this. The great theologians and pastors of church history did not teach like this. Paul gave us his example: let us do our best to follow it, even here.

Paul acknowledges that these men he is talking about are “enemies” of the cross. Why are we so afraid to call men enemies of the cross? Why do we allow men who are clearly consumed with unbelief to participate in the Christian community under the guise of scholarship? The second a man begins to question the trustworthiness of Scripture, he should be pulled in for discipleship. If he refuses to believe, church disciple should ensue, scholar or not! If he insists on his position of unbelief, he should be excommunicated from the body and excused from the discussion, PhD or not! I am reminded of the Greek phrase hoti apheis, that you tolerate (Rev. 2:20). God was rebuking the church at Thyatira for their tolerance of false teachings and immoral behavior. They were forgiving things without repentance. To forgive evil without repentance is to tolerate evil. Paul says false teaches exist. He calls them dogs. He warns the Philippian Christians about them in sackcloth and ashes so to speak. And now, he calls them enemies of the cross. Men who oppose the teachings of Paul are opponents of the cross of Christ. They must be acknowledged as such.

Their Future

ὧν τὸ τέλος ἀπώλεια. Paul begins with the future state of these false teachers. It will be destruction. This speaks of eternal judgment. As far as Paul was concerned, doctrine has eternal significance.

ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία. Who god is their physical appetite. Men have abandoned God in preference for physical pleasure. This is no less true for imposters of the faith than it is for the obviously unregenerate. The health and wealth gospel represents the most wicked and pernicious form of doctrinal perversion driven from physical desires in the visible church. Moreover, any desire contrary to godly desires would fall into this category. Whatever pleases us, we tend to worship and exalt. This is particularly dangerous to the soul because often times we tend toward blindness of our own self-gratification.

ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν. Whose glory is in their shame. This is an interesting phrase. O’Brien comments here, “The majority interpretation takes δόξα as equivalent to ‘pride, boast’, or ‘the thing in which one boasts’, with the abstract noun phrase ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν referring to ‘conduct that should be considered shameful’. It designates excesses of all kinds, especially sexual ones. These enemies of the cross of Christ boast of their liberty and freedom. They behave as they choose, and their immoral practices are shameful.”[1]

The idea is that what these men boast about, what they brag about, their freedom to do these things, are the things that in reality are shameful. Homosexual behavior comes to mind. What these individuals boast about the most, and call love and exult in is in reality, vile and shameful before a holy God. Of course, this is true not just of homosexual behavior, but any behavior that man exults in that God deems wicked.

Paul closes out his argument with one more contrast. He reminds the Philippian Christians that their citizenship is actually in heaven, from whence they eagerly await a Savior. The focus of the false teachers is here, now, and earthly. Having studied the Emergent Church movement in my doctoral project, I was amazed at how often the writers criticized evangelicals for their emphasis on the eternal reward to come. They seemed to think our focus and emphasis must be on the here and now. Paul tells us that this is how false teachers and enemies of the cross think. They focus on the temporal to the neglect of the eternal. They are interested in what pleases today.

The best way to spot a counterfeit is to study, pay attention, and know the genuine. Since Christian living and doctrine have eternal consequences, Paul tells the Philippian Christians to pay particular attention to the model he gave them. This is the right model and there is only one right model. Any model that contradicts this model can safely be called a counterfeit. What are we to do? We must study Paul and interpret him rightly!

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [2]

According to Paul, it really does matter.

[1] Peter Thomas O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 456-57.
[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Php 4:8–9.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Confusing the Issue: What Homosexuals Really Want (demand) from the Church

Recently there have been a rash of conversations, blogs, and articles written regarding the church's failure to love gay poeple. There seems to be no end in sight of well-respected preachers coming out to rebuke the church for her lack of interest in and love of gay couples. In fact, certain prominant men have accused the church of being unloving toward homosexuals. Why is this happening, and why is it happening now? These are leaders within the church making these observations. Most of them have been leaders in the church for over two and three and even four decades. Why, all of the sudden, are they coming out saying these things to the church?

First of all, most of these leaders are making these comments, not to the church, but to unbelievers in unbelieving forums. It is as if these leaders think it is their job to somehow repair the image of the church. So, there seems to be no shortage of men who want to, in one way or another, apologize to the gay community for not loving them in the way that the gay community defines love of course. My question to these leaders, if they really believe what they are saying about how terribly the church has mistreated gay couples is this; "where have you been?" Isn't the church the product of your leadership? If the church has not been loving gay couples the way it was supposed to, then doesn't it falls squarely on the shoulders of the men who are now out parading about rebuking the very church they produced as if they had nothing to do with her present condition. I call this rank hypocrisy. If these leaders should be doing anything about repentance in this area, shoudn't they should be apologizing to the church for ministry malpractice and to gay couples for their leadership? To blame the church is both hypocritical and refusal to accept ownership for the problem. Why does the church need to repent and the leader gets to stand up and say so as if he his hands are somehow clean?

Now, to be clear, I don't think the church owes gay couples an apology for not loving them. You have to understand that to most gay couples, refusing to allow them to marry is hateful and oppressive. Refusing to allow gay clergy is discrimination. Refusing homosexual membership in the church is viewed as unloving and cruel. The problem with the Homosexual-Christian relationship is that there seems to be no solution without one entity ceasing to exist. The Church cannot tolerate homosexual behavior in her community. Hence, homosexual behavior ends. If the Church tolerates homosexual behavior in her community, she ceases to exist.

Does the homosexual movement simply want the church to be nice to them? Is that really all they are asking? It would seem that such a position is radically naive. Look around you. Listen to the news media. Read the publications. Watch entertainment. Engage people outside the Christian community regarding the subject. I lost another unbelieving friend over this issue recently. He was not arguing that the church or conservatives be nicer to homosexuals. He was arguing that homosexual behavior was normal and that gay marriage should be permitted and anyone who disagrees with him is a hateful bigot. That is the position of the gay movement. I have yet to read about homosexuals legitimately complaining about not being loved or treated with respect. They are uncomfortable in the church because they feel guilty regardless of whether or not anyone says anything to them.

The real problem is that homosexuals do not think the church has the right to judge their lifestyle as unnatural and sinful. And the church has no choice but to make these statements because they are God's unambiguous revelation regarding that behavior. Secondly, how the homosexual community demands to be loved is not the biblical definition of love. They define love on their own terms and anyone who does not meet those standards is deemed hateful and bigoted.

If church leaders really do feel that an apology or repentance is in order, they need to address their own repentance first. If they insist on apologizing, then apologize to the gay community, but don't forget the Christian community as well. Leaders have a responsibility to shape the community after a particular fashion. Scripture is clear on this. If they fail to engage in the activities necessary to equip the body adequately, God will require this behavior at their hands. I am not saying that leaders need to apologize to the church or to the gay community at all. My point is simply that leadership must accept responsibility first before they start pointing at others. Outside the fact that the Christian community is a community of imperfect sinners, she has nothing specific for which to apologize to the gay community about. In addition, it may be the case that some Christians have behaved unlovingly toward gay individuals, this does not justify indicting the entire church for the sins of some.

The only thing I have to say to those in leadership is this:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tim Keller on Homosexuality

I wanted to say just a couple of things about Tim Keller's answer to the question, "Is homosexuality a sin?" First I want to say that Tim made a couple of excellent points. He said that greed is condemned by Christ far more often than sexual sin and he is right. He is also right that many, many Christians are blind to the fact that we are guilty of this sin without realizing it because of our propensity to compare our greed to others. Keller was right to point out that in some cases, Christians are not the most loving people in the world and we should be. We often shoot our wounded. Rather than come to the aid of a struggling believer, we gossip and slander and pile on. It is indeed very ugly behavior at times in some quarters of professing Christians.

However, I thought that Keller's comparison between a Pharisee and their attitude toward Samaritans was misplaced. The Pharisee had a racist attitude toward the Samaritans. Their attitude had nothing to do with what the Samaritan DID, but with what they WERE without any choice of their own. This was not a fair comparison in my mind.

Keller also seemed to continue to be overly concerned with being too direct. His answer was very soft, shifting the conversation away from the real problem with the homosexual challenge. If there are greedy people in the church who continue to practice greed and who are viable members in the community, why can't a homosexual serve and participate as well? This is the big question that needs to be answered, and it needs to be answered directly.

The questioner comments before his question that he is appalled by the oppression that exists in America against homosexuals. I am not familiar with the book but the first question I have concerns documented facts of such oppression. What does his kind of oppression look like? Some would say not allowing gay marriage is oppressive. Saying that homosexuality is a sin is oppressive. So, what does it look like for someone to oppress a homosexual. We cannot allow that statement to stand without qualification. But Keller disappoints in this matter. He did not bother to ask the interviewer to explain what he means by oppression to verify that we are indeed talking about oppression and not differences of opinion regarding homosexual behavior.

The actual question asked of Keller was "What do so many of the churches have against homosexuals?" First of all, here we go again with this wild-eyed imagination about the church being obsessed with homosexuals. Keller does not challenge the assumption underlying the question. I think he should have. There is no obsession in the church regarding the homosexual movement. The reason we continue to talk about it is because the homosexual movement continues to insist we abandon the gospel and admit them into the community. They fail to realize that only God elects into the Christian community. This should not come as a surprise to us.

My biggest issue with how Keller answers the question is that he seems hesitant to represent Christianity, and prefers to talk about "his" church. What should be discussed is the truth about homosexuality and Keller had a platform from which he could talk about that, and while he got many things right, in my opinion, he disappoints in his statements about homosexuality. His desire NOT to offend is clearly evident and that is disturbing on a number of levels. Keller says the Bible has reservations about homosexuality and that it isn't God's "original" design for human sexuality. So does this mean that it isn't so bad? If I have reservations about something, that is much softer than saying I am diametrically opposed to it. If it wasn't God's original design, does that mean it is his design now? Kinda like divorce, right? God's original design was til death do we part, but since sin entered, divorce is permissible on the grounds of adultery and desertion. At a minimum this introduces unnecessary confusion around the issue at a time when the church desperately needs conviction and clarity.

Keller says the church does single out gay people and does not love them like they love others. I wonder what he means by that. Keller provides no examples. It is regrettable that Keller goes way out on the limb to avoid being direct, as direct as Paul was on the issue. Keller says the reason things are a sin, in essence is because it does not help human flourishing. Greed does not help human flourishing and nor does being gay. Keller could not be more wrong. Sin has nothing to do with human flourishing, and everything to do with rejecting the authority of God to rule over our lives. Sin has to do with autonomy and independence from God. It is the refusal to acknowledge God's right to rule and be worshipped and to acknowledge our dependence on Him in all things. Sin is to reject God in preference for self in the slightest degree.

What is the answer? The answer is for the church not to get bogged down and distracted by categorizing sinners and then coming up with different strategies for how she will love them. It is the gay community that has insisted on being "different" from all others based on their behavior. The church should respond with the gentle but firm refusal to play ball. The church must be concerned with loving and ministering to sinners, giving them the truth as God has given it, in love of course. There should be no regard for offense. We know the world hated Christ and killed Him because it hated Him and His message. We should not be shocked when others hate Christ and His message. The church needs to fasten herself to the cross like never before, and pledge herself to preaching and living and purity of the gospel to a lost and dying world, all of them. For we were once darkened by sin, blind, carried away with our own lusts, and under the wrath of God as well. The gospel is the good news that Christ died for those who did not deserve it. He imparts life to those whom He has called to this marvellous gospel. Christ saves the homosexual the same way He saves the adulterer, liar, and the gossip: through the preaching of the gospel.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Intolerance and Bigotry

Bigotry, as defined by Webster is the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. As we break down the definition, the first step is to understand what the words “stubborn” and “intolerance” mean. One definition says stubborn means “unreasonably obstinate.” Well, this introduces the question of what one considers “reasonable.” The definition has a good deal of subjectivity attached to it. But don’t all definitions? By this standard, everyone could be “reasonably” considered a bigot. But is that idea itself reasonable? I don’t think it is. Let’s move on to our next word. In my mind, it seems to best way to understand “intolerance” is to begin by examining the word “tolerate.” What does the word tolerate mean? Webster says it is an act or instance of tolerating, especially of what is not actually approved; forbearance: to show toleration toward the protesters. It is also defined as “permission by law or government of the exercise of religions other than an established religion; noninterference in matters of private faith and worship.” The word comes from the Latin toleratus. It means forbearance, sufferance. The word has roots in the 16th century. The religious sense is from the “Act of Toleration” status granting freedom of religious worship in England to dissenting Protestants in 1689.

Here is the elephant in the room that so many of us miss: if there were no disagreements, tolerance would not be possible. Tolerance depends, for its existence, on disagreement. If we all agree on everything, then tolerance becomes impossible. The only way tolerance is possible is if you and I disagree on a matter. I decide to tolerate you, to respect you, even though I may not agree with your view. Here is the second point: disrespecting your opinion is not the same as disrespecting you. I can respect you, extend to you the highest degree of courtesy while at the same time having little to no respect for your view. For example, I cannot respect the view that asserts there is no God. I can say to an atheist their view is wrong, that I disagree with their view, that their view is even pernicious or wicked without actually disrespecting them as a person. I am not asserting that we have to respect all men the same. I am not even saying that respect always looks the same. That is not my point here. My point is that disrespecting a person’s view is not the same thing as disrespecting the person. An objector may assert that disrespecting a person’s view is a form of disrespecting the person. However, that is not an easy case to make. If that is true, then logically, hating a person’s actions is the same as hating the person. Who actually believes that? Ask any parent whose child has committed a crime or engaged in serious rebellion and you are sure to discover it simply isn’t the case and wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so. In short, tolerance is only possible if disagreement exists. That being the case, let’s move on to intolerance.

Since tolerance is forbearing with someone who disagrees with you, intolerance means “not” forbearing with someone who disagrees with you. Intolerance takes many forms. Modern culture does not seem to recognize that what they call intolerance is nothing more than disagreement. Today, if you disagree with me on an issue, you are intolerant. You are especially intolerant if you think my view is wrong and yours is right. Since we know that tolerance is to put up with those you disagree with, intolerance must mean to “not” put up with those you disagree with. Intolerance is an incapacity or indisposition to bear or endure. While tolerance ends with disagree, intolerance translates into action. Intolerance inherently brings consequences into the relationship. When a boss says to an employee, I will not tolerate your tardiness any longer, it means consequences are coming. If there are no consequences, then the boss is tolerating the behavior. Think about it! That has to resonate with you. When you allow your children to do certain things, you are tolerating their behavior. You might disagree with it. You might even hate it. But you are tolerating it. The minute you introduce consequences you have not become intolerant. The church tolerates disagreement with the world on, well, almost everything the world thinks. The church tolerates homosexuals. She tolerates adultery, lying, murder, and a host of other wicked behavior in the culture. She tolerates these things because Jesus commanded her to. Where? You say!

Matt. 13:25-30, 36-43 is an excellent parable of this truth. The wheat represents the sons of the Kingdom while the tares are the sons of the evil one. The field is the world. Jesus is saying to the church, it is not your mission to root out the evil from among you in the earth. In other words, we must tolerate the sons of the wicked one until the time of the harvest. When harvest comes, He will separate the tares from the wheat. However, tolerating evil men in the world is one thing, but tolerating them in the church is altogether a different story. Within her community, the Church is forbidden from tolerating wickedness. In Matt. 18:15-18 Jesus Himself tells us to put wicked, unrepentant people out of our midst. In I Cor. 5, Paul commands the Corinthian Church not to tolerate immoral behavior in her community because it will spread like cancer. Intolerance and discrimination are not ipso facto bad things. After all, do we tolerate murders walking around on our streets or do we lock them up and even put them to death? This is an example of how the Church should think today.

There you have it! Modern culture has redefined tolerance as agreement and disagreement as intolerance. In so doing, it has actually made tolerance impossible by insisting that we all agree on everything. In the end, intolerance actually becomes impossible because tolerance no longer exists. Discrimination is not ipso facto evil. The Church has to be very discriminating concerning her members. Society is discriminating regarding the type of people she allows to roam about freely. Universities are discriminating concerning their students. Employers are discriminating concerning their employees. God is discriminating concerning who enters His kingdom.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Should the Church Love Gay Couples? Response to Part 2

Jeff Schapiro, columnist or the Christian Post has continued his work on how the Christian community should love gay coulples. Once again, Schapiro turns to someone outside the community in order to create a model for how Christians can love gay couples: Justin Lee. Justin Lee is the executive director of Gay Christian Net, an online community of people who have made the decision that they can be gay and Christian. This should come as no surpise to those in the Society of Christ. Since the very beginning men have desired to identify themselves as Christian without actually being Christian. Jesus Himself warned His followers of this fact in Matthew 7 when He said, "Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven."

The fundamental problem with Schapiro's method is that it violates Scripture. Ps. 1:1 says, "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." If it is true that those who practice or endorse homosexual sin are wicked individuals, and I believe it is, then it is true that Schapiro has actually sought the counsel of wicked men on the subject of how the Christian community should behave in the area of loving gay couples. Before we even get out of the box, we have a fundamental issue. Specifically, Jeff Schapiro has erred by seeking the counsel of Justin Lee by asking him to define for the church what Christian love toward gay couples looks like. Justin Lee is not qualified to speak about Christian behavior in any sense whatever. He is a wicked man, whose lifestyle and beliefs contradict his Christian claims just as Jesus said in Matthew 7. Hence, it follows that he is hopelessly affected by his unregenerated heart. He is outside the Christian community and has no right to be involved in a conversation regarding Christian ethics. Why Schapiro thinks it is a good idea to ask unregenerate men what regenerated love looks like is puzzling.

In Lee's own view, homosexual marriage is a legitimate expression of genuine love. Scripture refutes this position without ambiguity contrary to Lee's thoughts. Scripture forbids homosexual behavior in any and all circumstances whatever. In other words, there are no contexts in which homosexual behavior is acceptable, good, or viewed as an act of love. Everywhere homosexual behavior is mentioned in Scripture, it is in a very negative context.

Another problem that emerges in Schapiro's article is the suggestion that the church somehow respond differently to gay couples than it does to other sinners. He may not say so, but the underlying current is hard to miss. This, of course, is very consistent with homosexual methods in the rest of the culture. You can murder someone for insulting you but if you do it because they are gay, well, that's worse. The taking of an innocent life is wicked because God places value on human life. That should be enough.

The article says that members of the gay community have been told that they are sinful, but haven't heard much about grace. Perhaps they weren't listening to that part! It is an interesting phenomenon how human beings tend to focus on the negative things that are said and never hear the positive. The fact that this never happens with a homosexual listenting to a sermon is almost laughable.

There is yet another problem with the feedback from the gay community. If you were to listen to a homosexual talk about their experience in church, you would think the pastor preaches against homosexuality almost every weekend. This is absolutely rediculous! I can't even remember if I have ever heard a sermon devoted to the subject of homosexuality in my 33 years as a Christian. In fact, I can't remember the last time I heard a pastor devote even 5 minutes to the subject. It simply isn't the glarring problem within the Christian community that some make it out to be and therefore pastors spend their time on issues that are far more relevant. The inference that homosexuals are afraid to go to church because the church is always harping about gay sex is a figment of someone's imagination. It comes back to the psychological effect of guilt. When you are engaging in an activity that is wrong or that you think others around you think is wrong, your mind can play hyper-sensitive tricks on you. Every reference suddenly becomes a reference to homosexual sin. Everyone is looking at you because you are gay and they don't approve of your lifestyle. These are the kinds of things that naturally flow through all our minds when we are in such a state. But to imply that most Christian communities spend a lot of time talking about homosexual behavior is a sure indication that the people making the accusation have likely not bothered to go and are rather speculating about what it would be like if they actually did attend service.

Schapiro contradicts Ps. 1:1 when he consults with those in the homosexual community to seek their counsel on how to love them. Homosexuals who call themselves gay Christians fall into the category Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7: the ones who call Him Lord but who are clearly not His servants because they do not do the things He said. Everywhere homosexual sin is mentioned in Scripture, it is clearly condemned. Unregenerate men are not qualified to tell us how we should love them. For that answer, we turn to Scripture. Gay couples should be treated no different than any other sinning couple: as sinners who are to be evangelized with the gospel which includes the loving command to repent and believe in Christ. Finally, the Church is no obsessed with homosexuality. The world is. The world is obsessed with forcing the Church to accept homosexual behavior as a normal, healthy expression of love. The Church is bound by Scripture not to do that very thing. In fact, she is bound to do just the opposite. Contrary to what you read in these articles, churches are not running around pounding on the homosexual issue week after week. If there are churches doing that, they are in such a small minority that it would not register on the scale. Don't believe the hype you read in these articles. It is likely part of the secular strategy to use the homosexual issue to intimidate and manipulate the Church into compromising her position on the issue. Stand strong and stay true to Scripture. Stay true to Christ!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Convergence of Hermeneutics and Exegesis – Part II

Vern Poythress writes, “We need color vision when we read the Bible. God needs to open our eyes. Let me put it another way. When God works powerfully in us, we may feel that we have passed through the door of a wardrobe into a new and marvelously different world. The Bible appears different. And through the Bible we see that the whole world appears different.” [The Supremacy of God in Interpretation, pg. 2] If you have ever been to a 3-D movie and removed the glasses during the show, you know the image on the screen is terribly blurred. In order to see the 3-D show, you must wear 3-D glasses. In order for your eyes to see the divine revelation that is Scripture, divine activity must enable the eyes. The art and science of hermeneutics serves as the foundation for biblical exegesis. It is the 3-D glasses through which you may see the images on the screen so that you can begin to interpret the movie.

Hermeneutics and exegesis have the same goal: to know the truth. However, hermeneutics serves as the guardrails upon which exegesis runs. Everyone does hermeneutics, but not everyone does exegesis. Your hermeneutic will determine how you engage in exegesis, or even if you engage in it at all. Your hermeneutic may result in radical eisegesis rather than biblical exegesis. Eisegesis is reading things into the text rather than out of it. For instance, if you deny the principle of sola scriptura, your exegetical process will certainly be impacted. A denial of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture opens the door to all kinds of exegetical malpractice. Perhaps an example of what exegetical malpractice looks like in real life will be helpful.

A few years ago I had, what turned out to be, an upsetting exchange with a female minister who was a Methodist. I was not upset, but she sure seemed to think my view was upsetting. She had received her doctorate from Duke Divinity School. For whatever reason, we were discussion the merits of female ministers. When I pointed out that Paul prohibited this practice in his day and that the universal reference to Adam and Eve precluded his comments from being limited to a local problem, she become quite annoyed. Her response was that Paul’s instructions were the product of the culture in which he existed. In other words, that culture had a bias against women leaders, Paul inherited this bias, and it was this bias that accounted for Paul’s prohibition, rather than God’s inspired teaching. In order to exegete the text in this manner, this woman had to reject the principle of verbal-plenary inspiration.

The minister’s philosophy concerning the text of Scripture is the foundation for her hermeneutic. In her world, the Bible may contain God’s word but it also contains the words of men, and hence may contain errors. Since this is the case, she may exegete or eisegete I Tim. 2:12 differently from someone who accepts the verbal-plenary principle. She ran into a major issue when I discovered she was against homosexuality. I asked her if it was possible that the NT writers wrote from a position of bias against homosexuality, much like they did when instructing the church on women leadership. In other words, I was asking her how she could reject Paul’s instructions regarding women leadership on the ground of cultural bias but not his teaching on homosexuality on the same ground. She became quite incensed and abruptly ended the conversation.

Another example is Bultmann’s demythologizing approach. If one presupposes a naturalistic worldview, denying the possibility of miracles, then each miracle occurrence in Scripture can be reclassified as a literary device simply created to emphasize a point. It is easy to see how one’s hermeneutic is magistrate over their exegesis. The question everyone must ask is, “what is magistrate over our hermeneutic?”

We can extend the example to liberation theologies, liberalism, and a host of other hermeneutics that have been conjured up in an attempt to explain the text of Scripture. That is the goal, after all, to explain the text of Scripture. What we often fail to realize is that our explanation very often is an attempt to harmonize Scripture with prior commitments and beliefs.

If I believe that God is pure love, as I define love and I attempt to exegete a passage of Scripture, then I must harmonize that passage with my previous commitments about who and what God is! Let’s say I do believe that God is pure love as I define love and I am attempting to understand Rev. 20:11-15. Since, in my view of love, God could never literally send someone into eternal torment, I have to come up with a device or rule to help me explain this text so that it harmonizes with my previous understanding of love. I may say that these people burn up immediately and are no more. On the other hand, I may say that the fire is symbolic, representing separation from God. What could be worse than that? The point is that my presuppositions shape my hermeneutic and serve to legislate my exegetical process. The whole exercise of reading the Bible becomes an attempt at self-affirmation rather than a genuine discovery of truth. Yes, that’s right: it is one more way for me to validate my autonomy. This is a very serious problem for anyone wanting to understand the text of Scripture. And every Christian should want to do that.

In summary, hermeneutics concerns your foundational beliefs about God, man, knowledge, reality, and ethics. These beliefs frame up your hermeneutical method, which in turn guides your exegesis of the text. When your hermeneutic is poor, your exegesis ends up calling historical narrative poetry because that is the only way you can harmonize your reading of Scripture with your prior commitments. We all have this problem. It is the basic challenge in interpreting Scripture. The way the process should work is as follows:

Our hearts are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. The new birth begins to open our eyes to our sinful hermeneutic for what it is. We recognize the authority of Scripture and read it as such. Scripture clarifies our ungodly commitments and beliefs causing us to begin abandoning them, helping us to better understand Scripture which helps us to abandon more erroneous beliefs which helps us to better understand Scripture which helps us to abandon more erroneous beliefs, etc. This process begins at the new birth and continues until we are present with Christ. However, the sin nature never gives up so easily. The temptation to hang onto our prior commitments is great.

Vern Poythress issues a sober warning we would all do well to heed: “The most obvious form of autonomy is blatant blasphemy and hatred of God. But other, more subtle forms exist. With a most refined self-deceit, we may twist God’s truth in order to cover up an almost invisible longing in our heart for an area of self-sufficiency. The attempt to be god characterizes both the most blatant self-assertion and the most subtle.” [Ibid. pg. 38]

Hermeneutics deals with one’s philosophy of language, how they view the nature of Scripture, God and His activity in creation, the nature of man and his ability to hear God and understand Him. Exegesis is more concerned with understanding the language text, as it was originally written. It is concerned with a process and method for getting to the meaning of an author. It deals with things like textual criticism, grammatical and lexical analysis, diagramming, genre, literary devices, etc. Hermeneutics and exegesis serve the church in the preaching of the gospel and the sanctification of her members. They are indispensable to both of these goals. Without the Holy Spirit, both are beyond our reach. With the Holy Spirit as our Master-Teacher, the hard work of both hermeneutics and exegesis can at least begin.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: How the Church Can Love Gay Couples

Paul Stanley, a Christian Post reporter recently wrote an article entitled, “How Should the Church Love a Gay Couple? (Part I) To answer this question, Mr. Stanley says his method included the following: “To help answer these questions, The Christian Post sought out individuals who previously had been involved in homosexual relationships, pastors and noted Christian leaders who could provide a glimpse into what effective care looks like from their personal and professional experiences.” Now, when Stanley uses the word “should” he is asking an ethical question. In other words, bound up in the word is the idea of imperative. It follows that Mr. Stanley’s question is a question of morality. He is not wrong to frame the question this way. Moreover, there is the assumption that the Church should love gay couples. That is a given. The only question is how should the Church love gay couples? That is a good question and one the Church needs to think about in modern culture. However, gay couples and the Church have both been around for a very long time. Is it possible that no one asked or sought an answer to this question prior to the twenty-first century? Such a scenario is indeed highly unlikely. What then, is different about gay couples or the Church that we are asking such a question today?

Fundamentally, two things are different. The Church is different and so are gay couples. The Church has lost her moral anchor or at least is on the brink of doing so, and gay couples, in general, insist that homosexuality is God’s design for humans the same as heterosexuality. In short, the Church has grown arrogant in her handling of biblical revelation, and gay couples have grown arrogant in their attitude toward their own sexual behavior. Both, in their own way, have displayed disdain toward the authority of God. In autonomous fashion, the Church wants to use selective hermeneutics to decide what she will acknowledge as divine imperative and gay couples wish to honor the creature, despising the Creator who is blessed forever. With this in mind, let us continue our review of Mr. Stanley’s suggestion for how the Church should love gay couples.

First, Mr. Stanley consulted with individuals who engaged in the homosexual lifestyle, as well as some pastors and noted Christian leaders and developed some common themes around their experience. Mr. Stanley does not tell us why this method is superior to others. He offers no justification for why this method versus an alternative. This leads us to believe that we are in the best position to determine how we should be loved by the Church. This thinking is a product of American culture. There is nothing biblical about consulting sinners to see how we can best love them. To answer this question, Mr. Stanley would have been better off consulting Scripture. John has a lot to say about loving God and others. Immediately then, I have a serious problem with Mr. Stanley’s method.

Mr. Stanley then admits that Christians must confront and deal with the sin of homosexuality. However, he refers to Allen Hildreth who says that the first thing we must do is find out where the gay couple is in their relationship with Christ. Well, this seems pretty easy to ascertain. They are right in the middle of rejecting Christ and His commandments. The assumption is that gay couples have a relationship with Christ. That is a very bold assumption. Is this possible? It is possible if anyone in the relationship recently came to know Christ through faith and is now in a place where they must separate from the lifestyle. It is not possible if the couple has professed Christ for a lengthy period and simply refused to give up the relationship. It seems quite difficult to imagine that a gay couple in this day, and age would be oblivious to the fact that there is strong opposition in the Church to the idea of being Christian and being gay at the same time. Conversion would place instant stress on the behavior and over time this stress would only intensify. This is how the power of God that saves sinners works, unless of course we are talking about the American Christian gospel of therapeutic, moralistic deism.

Allen Hildreth believes that the approach we take with gay couples is the determining factor in whether they stay in the Church or leave it. And Arminians wonder why we Calvinists argue that their view of the gospel has seriously damning consequences in many cases. True converts called by God into the body of Christ will NOT leave the Church for any reason. Hildreth’s method is more of the same old pragmatic approach that has long been practiced in the seek-sensitive movement and the psycho-babble that characterizes the counseling method of most integrationists in Christian counseling. On the other hand, Hildreth is right when he argues we should not treat them any differently from any other sinful couple. We should be warm, receptive, inviting, caring, asking questions and listening intently for the answers. Gay couples are sinners like any other unbelieving couple. Is that really the issue? Do gay couples want to be treated just like any other “sinning” couple? Is that what we hear and see every day in the news media, from our unbelieving friends, and from pseudo-pastors who are caving in on the homosexual issue?

Stanley does a good job of at least getting us closer to where we should be on the issue when he admits that homosexuality is a sin and as such, it must be confronted. He says that pastors have to deal with the issue from the pulpit head-on. Homosexuality is sexual sin.

Once we have interacted with gay couples, showing concern, interest, and care, the next question concerns their role in the Church. What kind of role can gay couples have in the church? Hildreth is right when he says that after counseling, if a couple persists in the gay relationship, church discipline is the next step. Gay couples need saving from sin the same as the rest of us. Yes, we are called to have fellowship with one another, but that fellowship is the fellowship of believers, not unbelievers. We love gay couples by showing concern and by giving them the word of God in a loving way, the same as we give it to anyone else. If they refuse to accept God at His word, the Church has no alternative but to enact discipline in the hopes that God will grant repentance.

Our hope is that all sinners, not just gay couples, will repent of their sin and come to faith in Christ. We recognize that God saves sinners through the loving presentation of the gospel. We understand that the Church is not built with the methods and ingenuity intellectuals or gifted individuals. Jesus Himself is the one who builds the church, not man. He said “I will build My church.” He builds it and she is His! God saves sinners with a foolish message, using a foolish method, through foolish men so that He receives all the glory for the miracle of salvation. Salvation is, after all, of the Lord! This is why boasting is precluded from the Christian community. The curse of God is lifted by God through God and for God!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Idolatry: Image Worship

Jesus Christ Largest Statue in the world lightning picPaul first uses the word εἰδωλολατρία in his writings to the churches in Galatian around the late 40s A.D. Paul classifies this practice among the deeds of the flesh, literally, ὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός. The word does not enjoy good company. It is found among other words like, immorality, impurity, sensuality, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, and carousing. I don’t know about you, but when I read through the list, I find words that I think are not really that bad, not really, at least not to me. Others, to be honest, I do find really, really disturbing. My hypocrisy remains a constant threat to spiritual growth. However, these characteristics are not my creation. These words describe behaviors of the sinful nature. They are as serious as the word itself. It does not matter if I find all of them equally offensive of serious. What matters is that God does. οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν. This Greek phrase literally says “the ones practicing these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This Greek participle is from the word prassw and it appears approximately 39 times in the NT. It is used here as a present active participle denoting the imperfective aspect which indicates that Paul sees behavior as “in the act,” or “happening as we speak.” The idea suggests a way of life, a present manner of living.

The next reference Paul made regarding the word “idolatry” was to the church at Corinth. Paul commands the Corinthian church to flee from idolatry in I Cor. 10:14. Paul writes this command in the middle of ethical instructions around Christians behavior even to the detail of how the Corinthian believer should relate to idol worship and meat sold in the market place that had been sacrificed to idols. In this context, idolatry is found in the company of immorality, tempting God, and grumbling. This is not the best company.

The next use of the word Idolatry is located in Col. 3:5. Paul says, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” The Greek phrase does not translate “which amounts to idolatry.” The Greek phrase, ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρία translates to “which is idolatry.” Douglas Moo comments as follows:

Clearly, then, we are dealing with a customary cluster of terms and ideas. Jewish writers habitually traced the various sins of the Gentiles back to the root problem of idolatry; and especially was this true of sexual sins. Putting some other “god” in the place of the true God of the Bible leads to the panoply of sexual sins and perversions that characterized the Gentile world. Paul reflects this tradition here: sexual sins arise because people have an uncontrolled desire for more and more “experiences” and “pleasures”; and such a desire is nothing less than a form of idolatry. It is not necessary, then, to suppose that the Colossian Christians were particularly guilty of such sins. Rather, the list reflects the kinds of sins to which Gentiles who came to Christ were generally prone.”[1]

Paul more forcefully says to the church at Ephesus 5:5 that an idolatrous man has no inheritance in the Kingdom of God. It seems obvious that idolatry has several forms. It is equally clear that idolatry is an egregious behavior that stands condemned by God in all its forms.

The final mention of idolatry is found in I Peter 4:3. There, Peter uses aqemitoiV. This adjective relates to the laws of canonical or accepted decency. Once again, the word is located with words like sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, and drinking parties. Peter is praising the believers for not running in these circles any longer and encouraging them to press on.

It is clear that idolatry comes in several forms. It is also clear that all idolatry is condemned by the God who created us. Moreover, idolatry is among several vices in the NT that even people with questionable morals might shun. In short, idolatry is unacceptable behavior and any person who lives in idolatry has no part in the kingdom of God.

Since idolatry has so many forms, it is a good idea for us to recognize what idolatry looks like in modern culture. Romans 1:21-25 gives us a great picture of idolatry. Idolatry involves refusal to honor God as God, to adopt futile speculations about God, to have a foolish heart darkened in understanding, exchanging the glory of God for an image in the form of corruptible man, birds, and animals. Idolatry is exchanging the truth of God for a lie, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. The New Testament was penned in one of the most idolatrous cultures in history. Sad as it may seem, American culture has become a not-too-distant competitor.

When we refuse to honor God as the Creator and Sovereign Lord that He is, we commit idolatry. We do this when we adopt theories about creation that deny God His proper credit. When we invent theories that run contrary to Scripture, to God’s revelation about how things really are, we commit idolatry. When we adopt views on life that are contrary to the Created order, we commit idolatry. We are guilty of idolatry when we adopt views on sex that are contrary to God’s design. A discursive survey of American culture reveals that it is not at all a Christian culture, contrary to what it claims and contrary to what the rest of the world might think.

On the issue of Creation, most Americans believe in the theory of evolution, robbing God the credit due Him for His marvelous handiwork. On the issue of marriage, most Americans place little value in the marriage covenant, abandoning it for all sorts of trivial reasons. On the issue of sex, most Americans pursue and engage in illicit sexual behavior rather than reserving this practice for the marriage bed. In addition, an alarming number engage in illicit affairs. This behavior despises God’s most intimate institution and the most intimate act, which He designed to honor Him in a very specific way. When it comes to life, American culture trivializes life through the murder of unborn children. God created man in His image and man responds by butchering the innocent. In so doing, man considers his opinion of life more important than God’s design, and commits idolatry. We also commit idolatry when we adopt views of knowing, reality, and ethics that are contrary to what God has revealed in Scripture. When God says we can and must know truth and man says we cannot, we displace God through our own arrogance and commit idolatry.

The second commandment contains the prohibition against Idolatry. The Hebrew word is פסל. The idea is an image that is set up for man to serve and worship. The issue is that anything other than God can be an idol. It isn’t the wood or the metal or even the position we take literally before the idol that constitutes wickedness. It is the heart attitude that indicts us long before we build the statue or reshape out body before it. Anything that replaces God in any area of our life is an idol. Anytime we abandon God’s ways, His thoughts, His words, His knowledge of how things really are, His revelation, we commit idolatry.

When we move God from His rightful position, something inevitably takes His place. Make no mistake about it; America is not a Christian nation. She is a godless society. Idolatry is the practice of replacing God with an image we believe to be superior to Him in some way. We unavoidably commit idolatry when we think our ideas and ways superior to what the Scripture reveals about God. When our thinking deviates from God’s revelation, we consider our thoughts higher and ways better than God’s design. Every believer is saved out of the sin of idolatry, to serve the living God. When we look at the world, we must see ourselves. For we are all a bunch of idolaters saved by grace.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 258.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Did the World Love Jesus? Responding to Andy Stanley’s Compromise on Homosexuality

By now, you have probably read about the controversy at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. According to the Christian Post, a man left his wife and began a same sex relationship with someone else in the church. These men wanted to serve as volunteers in the church while engaging in a homosexual relationship even though the one man was still married to his wife. The Post reports, “The "messy" story, as Stanley described it, ended with the gay couple, the first man's ex-wife and their child, as well as her new boyfriend and his child from another relationship, all coming to worship together at a service in the church. Christians, he said, are called not only to hold on to the truth, but also to grace, which includes forgiveness and love.”

In short, a man who abandons his wife and child for another man, the wife grabs a boyfriend who has a child from a previous relationship and all these professing Christians end up worshipping in church together as one big happy family in the name of Christ. Andy Stanley, rather than address the sins of illicit divorce, homosexuality, and fornication, took the opportunity to refer to traditional Christian beliefs on this issues and those who hold them as follows:  “Christians, he said, are viewed as being "judgmental, homophobic, moralists" who think they are the only ones going to heaven and who "secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell." I have never met anyone that even approaches the description of “secretly relishing the fact that everyone else is going to hell.” This kind of polarizing rhetoric is not only helpful, it represents judging of the worse kind. Stanley is clearly showing his hand on how he views homosexual behavior. In fact, he is clearly showing his view on biblical sanctification.

Stanley argues that every other command must be filtered through the two greatest commands of loving the Lord our God with our whole heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. However, the problem with Stanley’s assertion is that he assumes a very particular view of what it looks like to obey the two greatest commandments. In other words, without showing us what these commandments look like when done biblically, he assumes a view that he fails to prove. In fact, he doesn’t even attempt to make the effort. If one reads Stanley correctly, the implication is that we must accept this homosexual relationship “if” we are loving our neighbor as ourselves. Otherwise, we are homophobic moralists who are secretly happy that they are going to hell. Why he makes this assumption remains a mystery. Perhaps we could ask Stanley why accepting the homosexual relationship but not the adulterous one is the loving thing to do. After all, if the prohibition against homosexual sex should be run through the “love” filter, why not the prohibition against adultery? Why is sex between two men acceptable and adultery unacceptable? Why is one love and the other not? It seems painfully obvious that such reasoning is schizophrenic.

The Post continues: God, Stanley added, does not want us to use His law "to unnecessarily hurt and disenfranchise people." Why is it acceptable to remove the men from service over the issue of adultery and unnecessarily hurtful to do so over the issue of homosexual sex?

Stanley went on to say, “Jesus' movement was all about "how you love," but over time it became "what you believe," he said. "If we would simply do what Jesus did … instead of arguing about what he said, the world would change, the reputation of Christ's followers would change, the influence of the church would change. This is easy. This requires nothing … just a brand new worldview."

So, according to Stanley, the content of Christian belief was not important from the beginning. Rather, it was all about loving one another. Being in the Christian community was about “love” and not about beliefs and certainly not about prohibitions or law. How does Stanley’s view compare to the NT writings? In fact, how do they compare with history? It is fascinating to me that Stanley offers no exegetical evidence to prove his claim. In addition, he provides not a shred of historical support tracing how and where this emphasis changed over time.

Stanley makes three important moves in how he handles this new controversy. First, he paints a picture of harmony, peace, and happiness with all the parties involved attending worship together like one big happy extended family. This strategy works in a culture where critical thinking and beliefs have been abandoned and replaced with pure emotion, not to mention experientialism. The scene is so surreal. Second, Stanley polarizes traditional Christianity by engaging in ad hominem arguments. He categorizes opponents of gay sex as homophobic moralists. This is not an argument. It is a tactic, and not a very good one at that. Finally, Stanley contends that we must filter every other commandment through the grid of the two greatest commandments. These three tactics represent the strength of Stanley’s position. Where is he going with this response? He has promised the Christian Post the possibility of a response (whatever that means). If a response is coming, it seems Stanley is preparing the Christian community for what that response might be.

In response to Stanley’s three tactics, it is important that we turn to Scripture. The idea among so many younger, popular evangelical pastors is that Jesus was revered by the world, that the world loved Him and followed Him and that He was their buddy, their pal, the one with whom they could really connect and feel accepted. This is the sense we get when we hear these men preach or when we interact with the typical modern American Christian. Is there any validity to this claim? Does this modern picture accurately reflect the reality of Christ in ancient Palestine?

In John 6:26 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” In other words, you seek Me because your bellies were full. You were satisfied. Jesus was making the point that the catalyst for these seekers was their own lustful appetite. In this case, it was their appetite for food. Jesus was perceived to meet a need and they reasoned that following Him meant that their needs, at least this one, would continue to be met. Hence, they followed Jesus for their own selfish reasons. Is it any wonder that we see the very same pattern in contemporary times? When Jesus gave these people the truth about following Him and what would be required, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (v. 66)

Does the world love Jesus? Jesus Himself said the world hates Him because He testifies of it, that its deeds are evil. Jesus Himself confessed that the world hated Him because He confronted it with its sin. The world does not love Jesus. Again Jesus said you cannot have two masters because you will love the one and hate the other. The world’s master is not God. The world is hostile to God. The world hates God. (Rom. 8:6-8) Jesus said we are blessed when people insult us and persecute us, and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of Him. We should rejoice and be exceeding glad for our reward in heaven is great. In John 15:18 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” The antithesis could not be clearer. Not only does the world hate Jesus Christ, it hates His disciples. Jesus speaks about this in language that clearly indicates such hatred is unavoidable for those who are His true followers. If you truly love Jesus, get ready, you can expect insults, persecution, and a lot of hatred from the unbelieving world. They hated Jesus and they will hate us. Stanley and others who imply or outright assert that the world should love and respect us seem oblivious to Jesus’ own words on the subject.

How is it that so many of these pastors, so-called, imply that the church should be pals with the god-hating culture? Why do they lead so many Christians astray with their uncritical, experiential, emotional rhetoric and empty talk? They convince us that the world should receive us and be glad to hear us when Jesus said just the opposite. Paul said that everyone who desires to live godly in Christ will suffer persecution. The message of Christ is offensive and foolish to the world. America says it loves Jesus, but by all accounts, it sure hates His morals. I could say the same thing for much of the evangelicalism today. People sure do love God, and they love Jesus, but they have no use for this ethics. How does this work?

Stanley fails to address serious problems in his sermon. He neglects the glaring problem of illicit divorce, not to mention the sin of homosexuality. In so doing, he abandons one of his primary duties as a minister of the gospel: the promulgation and publication of biblical truth. The blood of Stanley’s entire congregation will be required at judgment. When men engage in this kind of ungodly nonsense, they place themselves in grave danger of perilous eternal judgment.

From this, we can see that Stanley’s first two tactics fail. In fact, Stanley ends up joining the world in their insults of true Christian dogma. By accusing those who hold the biblical position on homosexuality of being moralist homophobes, Stanley persecutes people squarely within the body of Christ. Such persecution should disqualify Him from ministry straight away. Rather than stand up for the truth, Stanley joins the unbelieving crowds by attacking and demeaning it.

Stanley’s argument that all commands should be filtered through the two greatest commands is a gross exaggeration. Nowhere does Scripture view other commands as filters. Stanley’s analogy here is the product of his own warped view of how he looks at Scripture. From those two commands flow all the other commands. What does this actually mean? It means that the way one obeys the first command is by obeying all the others. The way we love the Lord is by keeping His commandments. Stanley wrongly separates loving God and obeying God. Scripture is oblivious to such a perspective. Jesus said to love the Lord our God with all our being! Then He said, if you love me, you will obey my commands. Loving God IS obeying God. Not obeying God IS hating God. Disobedience is an act of despising God! Stanley does not seem to recognize this truth.

Finally, Stanley is wrong when he contends the ancient church did not focus as much on belief as it did on love. The truth is that belief informs love and love fuels belief. It is a false dichotomy to set love up over against belief. You cannot dismiss one without dismissing the other. I had a college professor who said, “Christian love never diminishes Christian truth.” We are to speak the truth in love! One has to ask if it is loving to allow a person who has made the homosexual choice to think God receives them just as they are when we know better. How is it right to leave a man in a burning building when we could help him escape?

The contemporary Church is on the verge of being capsized by the homosexual issue. She has lost her convictions regarding the clarity and authority of Scripture on the issue. The truth is that she has bought into the culture. She does not want to be persecuted for her beliefs on the issue and as a result, she compromises with a god-hating world. She wishes to insulate herself against insult and criticism. She is more concerned with what the world thinks of her than she is with God’s eternal and unchanging truth. Andy Stanley’s position is just one more attempt to be a man pleaser. It has little to do with the actual truth of Scripture and more to do with pop-culture and public image. It is very unpopular to be on the wrong side of the homosexual issue. However, if the church is going to continue to be the church, she must always be on the opposite side of the world. The world and the church simply do not mix.

The homosexual behavior between these two men should have been cause for immediate discipline. The man who left his wife should have been informed that he had no such right, outside of adultery. Counseling should have ensued along with discipleship training for the couple. The homosexual man should have received the same kind of attention. Repentance from the entire group is the order of the day if they wish to be identified with the Society of Christ, the Church. Jesus said it is not those who hear my words that will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who hear and do His words, they will enter. Pastors who fail to point this out do so to their own peril. God makes no exceptions and teachers will certainly be subjected to the greater judgment.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Folly and Irrationality of American Pop-Philosophy

I will get back to hermeneutics part II within a few days. But for now, I rant!
By the term “pop-philosophy” I mean popular philosophy, that is, the prevailing philosophy that seems more common than not in American pop-culture. In case you missed it, two major atheist groups (as major as a group within a community as tiny as that as the atheist community can be) have decided to compete with the day of prayer by announcing an annual day of reason. The implication is that reason and prayer are antithetical in nature. This kind of thinking seems to be gaining rather than diminishing in popularity. It would be helpful and encouraging to see Christians better equipped to respond to this kind of pop-philosophy.

The continuous dripping of a view through the use of media is highly effective in American culture. This culture uses the drip method with a variety of issues. One issue is the intelligence level of Christians and the supposed irrationality of faith. Christians are depicted is superstitious crack-pops in movies and on sitcoms at just about ever given opportunity. The national news media only calls attention to a “Christian” when they engage in the most reprehensible behavior or stir up the most extreme controversy. This, however, is to be expected. It should come as no surprise to the Christian community that the world hates biblical Christianity. Yet, for some reason, it seems to. We are shocked that the world would portrait us in such light. We are even offended when the world falsely accuses Christianity of things which it is not guilty. We should remind ourselves that Jesus Christ Himself talk us in no uncertain terms, unambiguously, and emphatically that the world would hate us because it hated Him before us. The world is an enemy of the faith, hostile to God, and views the message of Christianity as offensive, scandalous, and foolish. It is not as though we have not been warned! We have been warned by Christ, and by the writers of the NT Scripture. Therefore, it is a fruitless endeavor for genuine Christianity to pursue friendship with the world. They are natural enemies and the only way that will change is if the world changes or if Christianity changes.

It is critical that we understand this naturally hostile relationship between Christianity and the world if we are to maintain a healthy attitude toward the actions of God’s enemies. It is true that some of these enemies are elect and will be called out of that condition just as we were. Nevertheless, they are the enemies of God, the cross, and of the society of Christ. These enemies will sometimes organize their efforts to de-thrown God and replace Him with themselves. They are natural born idolaters after all. Idolatry comes as natural to them as eating and breathing. Recently, two groups of God-hating atheists have decided they will opt for an annual day of reason in competition with religion’s national day of prayer. How should we react? We should welcome a national day of reason, confessing that simple logic and rational thinking have been misplaced in recent times. We should welcome this move as an opportunity to explain the relationship that exists between human reason and faith. We should take the time to explain that Christians are not opposed to reason. In fact, we are very reasonable in our beliefs. Human reason is not ipso facto opposed to religious beliefs or faith. It is the effects of sin on human reason that creates the problem.

The crux of the problem with reason is that we attempt to set it up as the magisterium over all things, including faith. This kind of reason is autonomous in nature, seeking and insisting on independence from the Creator. This kind of reason, in the end, eventually reduces to irrationalism, which is the very thing it seeks to avoid. Human beings are rational beings for a reason (no pun intended of course). A rational God created us in His own image according to His own likeness. Therefore, we are by nature rational. This, of course does not mean that we always act or think rationally. We do not. Sin has had many horrific consequences, one of which is on the human thought process. I would like to interact with some philosophies in pop-culture to illustrate this phenomenon.

Take, for instance the homosexual argument that modern pop-culture makes every day ad nauseum. Sex is actually an act of love and two people should be able to love whoever they want regardless of their gender. At the same time, most people that make this argument, out of the other side of their mouth argue for the wholesale acceptance of evolutionary theory as if it were an irresistible, established fact of science. This reduces morality to a meaningless system of rules enforced on others by people who possess the power. In other words, evolutionay theory produces the illusion of morality at best. In addition, most of these same people, when polled on the subject of adultery, or pedophilia strongly disapprove of those behaviors. This kind of thinking is irrational at its foundation.

If it is true that all sex acts are acts of love and people should be able to love whomever they want, why cannot a man love a woman other than his wife? Perhaps one would argue that he made a promise and now he is breaking it. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But who says that breaking that promise is wrong! Why is it wrong to break a promise to begin with? Autonomous human reason leaves itself without a rational and coherent basis for genuine morality.

Why is homosexual behavior being normalized and rape and pedophilia are not? Well, the answer comes that rape and pedophilia is harmful. But harmful to whom? Who says the rapist should not be allowed to express his love toward others by forcing himself on them? Why deprive him of that pleasure? Are there not a plethora of studies documenting the harmful behavior of homosexual intercourse both medically and psychologically? Why is it acceptable to reject these facts and sweep them under the rug while using the same argument to condemn other sexual behaviors?

Recently, my son found himself in the unenviable position of being in a physical altercation at school. It turns out a kid twice his size (my youngest son is the smallest of my litter) decided he would push him around and my son being twelve years old, and being my son, he reacted like most normal twelve-year old boys would and like my other sons would (not sure where they got that from). He defended himself. However, it does not matter what circumstances led to the scrap, my son was expelled automatically without question. There was nothing I could do about it. I did not ask this question of the administration at the time for various reasons. But here is my point: a twelve year-old male is wired, engineered, built to react to physical threats by physically defending himself. That is definitely in his DNA. Yet, the school policy is to expel boys for behaving in a way that is totally natural. It is a basic human instinct to protect oneself under those conditions. At the same time, the same school will teach children that homosexual behavior is normal and instruct our children not to reject such behavior because some people are born this way. It is part of their genetic code! In one instance, the school denies what is scientifically documented as natural human instinct while at the very same time accepting as scientific fact what science has given up trying to prove!

Reason serves as faith’s minister, not her magistrate. Christians have nothing to fear from reason except reason alone! We do not have a reasonable faith. Rather, we faithful reason. I use these types of events to introduce people to the gospel by asking questions that I know the unbeliever cannot answer. But I do no in a way that is not demeaning or condescending. Once we agree that they cannot answer these questions, we move to the next question: would you like to hear some alternatives? Then I share the gospel with them. At best, we have a great conversation and I get to publish the gospel. What a blessing! At worse, however, even if they do not engage far into the conversation, they realize that Christians are not ipso facto irrational, uncritical people willing to believe anything anyone puts in front of them.

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...