Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Unavoidable Truth of Christian Distinctives

“A member’s attention to keeping the physical boundaries intact and impermeable in a number of areas safeguards the boundaries of the group, keeping them distinct and visible, and keeps its social ethos intact by stressing the distinctiveness of its values.”[1]

It is the observation of many pastors and theologians that Americanized Christianity refuses to admit that anything resembling boundaries or distinctives exist within the Christian community. In Americanized Christianity, you actually cannot tell the difference between non-Christians and Christians. Literally, I really mean that most American confessors of Christ take offense by the mere implication that there are real distinctives that separate the Christian community from the non-Christian community. In fact, on a recent Amazon review discussion, I had a brief chat with an individual who took issue with my statement that false Christians, pseudo-Christians, in fact, imposters of the Christian faith really exist. What is the usual response of people in modern American Christianity when one raises the idea of Christian imposters? Many will say something like, “everyone who doesn’t agree with your views of Christianity are false Christians I guess.” It is as if they don’t have a fixed idea of what Christianity is and those who claim to have such an idea are, well, arrogant. The truth is that they DO in fact have an idea about what constitutes true Christianity and, they think that everyone one who defines Christianity differently from how they define it is wrong. The real issue comes down to Scripture’s definition of the Christian community. If there are distinctives that the Christian group follows in order to be, by definition, Christian, then we must make inquiry as to what they are.

Receiving the gospel is what makes one pure, and those who do not believe can never attain purity: “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted” (Tit 1:15).[2]
It seems readily apparent that the early Church had an idea that such distinctives exist between the Christian and the non-Christian. The sense here is not that something that might be unclean becomes clean when a pure person does it. Rather, those who are pure are wholly concerned with engaging in nothing but that which is pure. In addition, those who are unclean predominantly pursue unclean things. The problem enters when the church receives unclean persons into her membership, as is often the case in American Christianity. Unclean, unregenerate, Christians label the distinctives of the Christian faith as legalistic or as “lists to keep” as one previous pastor put it in the most derogatory sense. (Here I intend to refer to confessing Christians who have not truly been born again.) The desire seems to be the utter destruction of any distinctives between the Christian community and the world even though the NT is replete with language that clearly teaches such distinctives are what makes the Christian group what it is.

The American version of Christianity wants nothing to do with holiness, with distinctives, with anything that requires separation from the unbelieving world. Such thinking is criticized as legalistic, out dated, old fashioned, naïve, and unsophisticated. Many even label it as unloving and hateful. Yet, we find such language throughout the NT writings. “Being holy, the Christians must also observe the boundary between themselves and those who still embrace the lifestyle of their unsanctified past.”[3]
Paul instructs the Corinthian Christians not to be bound together with unbelievers. Paul goes on to point out that believers and unbelievers have nothing shared between them. I once had a conversation with a lady who admitted to the fruitlessness of further discussion because we would never share the same ground. Repeatedly the Scripture refers to Christians and non-Christians as light and darkness, living and dead, seeing and blind, hearing and deaf, children of God and of the devil. This clear teaching of Scripture appears lost on American Christians these days. Immediately, the person who recognizes that such distinctions exist is accused of making sinful judgments, displaying a critical spirit, or of being arrogant. The truth is that they are simply recognizing what Scripture teaches as absolute truth.

The boundaries of the group are always permeable to those who would enter by receiving God’s favor extended in Jesus, but the boundaries must remain high and impermeable to the influences of the world and those who persist in opposition to the gospel.[4]
By definition, a group is exclusive. Otherwise, it cannot exist. What is necessary in order for the Christian group to exist is a set of commonalities. This is true of any group. Take a family for example. They share the same lineage, the same blood and flesh, the same last name, the same genes, etc. The Christian group also shares in some very fundamental commonalities. However, from the outset, the writers of the NT were extremely concerned with preserving the group. They recognized that the culture would attempt to win the members of the Christian back over to the culture with its shared values by way of pressure, shame, and even persecution. The same is true and becoming more apparent in terms of how American culture relates to the Christian group. God has called out the Christian group/church for His own good pleasure, determining the limits and make-up of her membership and defining through divine revelation the commonalities or values that this group shares. Man has attempted, from the very beginning, to change God’s definition of the Christian group. Those attempts have become intense and too numerous to count since the Protestant reformation some five-hundred years ago. Boundaries between the Christian group and the world, which include those who take the name of Christ in vain, exist and it is the duty of every member within the Christian group to preserve those boundaries.

We preserve those boundaries by holy living. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”[5]
Despite decades of cheap grace theology and its view that what makes one a Christian is a simple confession of the mouth, the true Christian group is extremely concerned with holy living. We preserve the group by living righteous, holy, sanctified lives as individual members within the Christian community.

Secondly, we preserve those boundaries when we confront sin not only in our own lives, but in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.[6]
We also see these explicit instructions from Christ in Matt. 18:15-18 as well as I Corinthians 5. The idea is first and foremost to help a fellow believer recover from sinful behavior. We need one another, we rely on one another to help one another in this regard. Away with the pride that gets in the way of confessing and admitting this unavoidable truth. We still have sinful tendencies that require serious effort in purging them from our lives and from the group.

Finally, we preserve those boundaries by recognizing and removing imposters from among us. I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.[7]
Paul, in dealing with the man who had taken his Father’s wife, in essence his step-mother, instructed the Corinthian church to put the man out immediately. Paul’s concern was with the damage this behavior done to the group in the eyes of the culture and with the leavenous nature of sin in the group. Sin has a tendency to spread among members if left unchecked. The group’s very existence was being threatened by its presence. Sin represents values that are not in keeping with group identity. Hence, if it is allowed to exist in the group, the group’s existence is at risk. In other words, if the group adopts values other than those prescribed by divine revelation, it ceases to be the group defined by that revelation. It becomes a different kind of group. Think of how Paul framed up the false gospel that threatened the existence of the Galatian churches. He said it was not another, but instead it was a perversion of the gospel. To permit false doctrine and sin to exist in the Christian group is a perversion of the group. It subverts the values that make the group what it is. Metaphysically speaking, the group ceases to exist and becomes a different group altogether. This is precisely what we have in Americanized Christianity. We have a perversion of Christian. We have a subversion of true Christian values and dogma and the final result is that we have many different groups that wear the Christian label without actually being the Christian group as defined by divine revelation.

Where are we? Boundaries between the Christian group and the world really exist. The values, distinctives and commonalities of the two bodies are clearly delineated in Scripture. We are responsible to recognize those boundaries and do our part individually and corporately to preserve them. The American version of Christianity is an aberrant deviation of divine revelation, a reflection and product of radically sinful and autonomous men desiring to have it their way as is always the case with the sin nature. The Christian group must stand up to the pressure of American culture and the numerous false Christian groups as she proclaims the gospel of Christ and focuses her time on making disciples and strengthening her members in the faith.

Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.[8] I Cor. 5:8-13

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.[9]

A final remark from deSilva will serve well in closing, “We cannot compromise our mission to extend God’s love and healing to the world around us. At the same time, we cannot compromise our commission to be a distinctive people “holy to the Lord.” From what are we to remain separate? The authors of the New Testament writings provide rather clear and detailed instruction on this point, and we need only to pay attention to the lines they draw.”[10]


[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 297-98.
[2] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 299.
[3] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 299.
[4] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 300.
[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Pe 1:14–16.
[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ga 6:1.
[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 5:5–7.
[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 5:8–13.
[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Pe 5:10–11.
[10] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 313.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Perry Noble on Why He Believes Marriages Fail: A Christian Critique

In an article in the Christian Post, Perry Noble observes that marriage is in trouble. Apparently, Mr. Noble has conducted an analysis and come up with a solution to the issue of marriage failure. Mr. Noble says the reason marriages fail is because, “Couples are thinking that the momentum created by yesterday's romance will be enough to carry them into an amazing future.” (READ MORE)
In case you are wondering if I am joking, Mr. Noble goes on to say, “Seriously, that’s it.” Marriages are failing because they lack romance! All we have to do is get the romance back in the relationship and marriages will no longer fail! I am not a marriage counselor, nor am I credentialed in any field of human psychology. However, I do have the text of Scripture in front of me. According to the teachings of Scripture, marriages do fail for one reason and that reason is not as complicated as many pretend it to be. It is sin. Now, that being said, the reason marriages fail is that somewhere in the situation, sin is permitted to grow like a cancer. My view of my relationship with God is revealed in my view of marriage. In other words, the issue of failed marriages within the Christian community is indicative of the nature of our relationship with God.

The first question that we should ask is what about this “romance” question that Mr. Noble brings up? Should we examine this particular view of romance in light of Scripture to make sure that it is true? It does not that follow that because Americans are enamored with a particular type of romance, most of which is the product of Hollywood’s worldview, that this means it must have originated with God. In other words, we need to ask if our idea of Romance is on par with God. Mr. Noble, rather than demonstrating that it is, seems content to make that assumption. This is quite problematic because now we have a standard established against which relationships will be measured. If my relationship does not measure up to “this” standard, then my marriage is obviously deficient. What is worse is that many counselors and pastors will counsel couples that if they want to please God, they will aim for this standard of romance. The implication then is that if a husband is not as romantic as the wife thinks he should be (according to this standard), then she is tempted to become dissatisfied. I suggest that such thinking leaves out a huge piece of analysis and critical thinking from the start. I do not believe that Scripture knows anything about the sort of romance that American culture has established as the norm for healthy relationships. The American standard is so rigid and demanding and selfish that no one can live up to it in any consistent way whatever and this is very unhelpful for the Christian wife and husband. It focuses on the wrong thing. It focuses on my happiness, which is tied to a “norm” that is manufactured by a godless and hedonistic culture. If my happiness is misplaced, then my entire mood becomes the product of misplaced desires.

Secondly, it ignores the covenant and divine purpose in marriage in its entirety. When we read that wives are to love and submit to their husbands and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, we often read the idea of Western American romance into those passages. The wife thinks that if he loves me, he will bring me cards, flowers, gifts, nights out on the town, etc. etc. The husband thinks the wife will always be there ready for intimacy at his beckoned call, with a rose in her teeth nonetheless. If you love me, you will do “X” is the prevailing idea. The church has bought into this thinking via the study of love languages. Insofar as I can tell, that study is little more than a veiled selfishness cleverly designed to manipulate your spouse into giving you your demands, but in a very nice way laced with Christian words.

The church has allowed a godless culture and a godless psychology to define what a good Christian spouse should be rather than allowing Scripture to inform these views. Mr. Noble does nothing to counter this really, really bad ideology. In fact, he adds to the confusion by linking healthy marriage to godless ideologies that are clearly the product of a radical individualistic hedonism. Moreover, this worldview is the obvious outcome of an American culture that has become increasingly hostile to anything resembling a righteous view of marriage.

One man and one woman joined together by God to honor and glorify Him in their respective roles of husband and wife is the product of the divine Mind. God joins men and women together for His glory and our good. Regardless of the state of the marriage, whether you think your spouse measures up or not is not for you to say. You are to love your husband or wife without reservation or hesitation. If they refuse to live up to your expectations, your love is to remain immoveable, steadfast, and steady. In other words, it is to mirror God’s love for you and I. How often do we sin against our Heavenly Father? Has He yet to cast us to the side? Has He forsaken us? His love is a steadfast love! Our conduct toward our spouse should be aimed, first and foremost, to please our Father who loves us. The marital relationship is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of God to the world, and especially to those closest to us.

Divorce does not happen in the Christian community, visible that is, because of failed romantic expectations. That has nothing to do with it. Divorce happens because God’s word really doesn’t matter to us. Placing God first and dying to self is not a priority to us. It isn’t even a lack of commitment to the marriage that causes the problem. It is a lack of commitment to God. Our relationship to God is not that important to us, and therefore, our relationship to our spouse isn’t that important to us. If the men of God in Scripture and throughout history can glorify God in prison, in unjust persecution, and in some of the most despicable of circumstances, surely we can endure a little trouble in the flesh. If you can’t, well then, you need to ask yourself just how important it is for you to please God. If pleasing God is not the most important thing in your life, in your mind, in your thinking, then you do not know God. That is the reason divorce is so prevalent in American culture and even in the visible Church. Genuine Christians do not run out and divorce one another without the biblical grounds of unrepentant adultery or abandonment. The reason is because God’s word is clear on this matter, and that matters to the believer.

This article should not be construed to communicate that husbands and wives should not work through their respective sinful tendencies together through healthy communication, prayer, and bible study along with the support of the Christian group. The article aims to address the real cause for divorce and dissatisfaction in the marriage in general. It is a matter of focus and priorities. God focused marriages that place God’s word at the top will thrive. Those that don’t are at risk.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Apostasy of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell

Recently, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell said two things more clearly than they have said them in the past. For years, both McLaren and Bell have had serious issues with biblical Christianity. They have found the teachings of biblical Christianity offensive, distasteful, and outrageous. Having completed my dissertation on the hermeneutics of the emergent church, I have been convinced for some time now that these two men were imposters of Christian ministry, apostates from the faith.

λύκοι βαρεῖς is the term Paul uses in Acts 20:29 to describe the elders who would enter into the Christian community or who would even rise up from among that community. The wolf was used metaphorically to describe a vicious person. The latter term is a term used to describe someone who is vicious, fierce, or cruel. What prompts Paul to use the term “savage wolves” to describe these men? Put differently, how does one become a “savage wolf” in the eyes of the great apostle Paul, or more accurately, in the eyes of God? Paul uses the term λαλοῦντες διεστραμμένα as one of the things a man can do, and in fact these men will do in order to reveal their status as “savage wolves.” They will speak things that cause others to depart from an accepted standard of oral or spiritual values. The word belongs to the same semantic range as ἀποστρέφω, which is the word for apostasy.

For years, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have been telling us how wrong the Church was in its received dogma. They attacked everything from the atonement to eternal punishment to the exclusivity of the gospel. The evangelical church embraced these men as brothers even though she had some issues with some of the views they expressed in their books and sermons. For a long time, these men were intentionally vague in how they worded their views. The seemed to have a strategy to become as accepted and liked as possible before removing their mask. The Church sat by and did little to discourage this tactic. It is true, some pastors and theologians sounded alarms, but these men sound alarms all the time. The noise they make has simply become part of the rest of the noise that evangelicals hear every day and so, it went unnoticed for the most part. Now Mr. McLaren and Mr. Bell have finally graduated to a place of greater clarity.

Brian McLaren has revealed that he is indeed a Universalist. This should come as no surprise to anyone. He has said as much, albeit vaguely, behind a veil of sorts, for years now. Evangelicals were so enamored with him that they just didn’t want to hear that part. Rob Bell has come out to embrace gay Christians as being his brothers and sisters in Christ the same as heterosexuals. I wonder about his timing. This too, should take no one by surprise. I have long recognized that these men were “savage wolves” for years now and consequently have caught my share of criticism for it.

What is this apostasy really about? What is the gay controversy about? What are the attacks from modern culture really about? Americans are finished with the God of Scripture. They hate Him with a hatred that is deeply rooted in their sinful nature. The first strategy was to try to use the tool of hermeneutics to claim that the God we had been told Scripture reveals is not correct. We changed the hermeneutic so that we could change God. That worked for some, but not for others. We then attacked the Scriptures themselves, claiming that they are fallible. After all, an infallible Scripture is naïve position and only the most unsophisticated and backward people hold to such a view. This allowed us to dismiss some statements about God as the product of men whose projections of God were more the product of their bloody culture than divine revelation. This is precisely where McLaren and Bell land. That worked for some, but not for others. Finally, we simply dismiss the Bible as an old outdated archaic book written by men from a backwards culture who were anything but moral. With these beliefs about Scripture in hand, Americans obtained the autonomy they desired to revamp God into any god of their choosing. Indeed, Americanized Christianity is so far removed from biblical Christianity that one has to wonder if it isn’t better to call it something else.

That difficult task for the Church is to press the rewind button on the tolerance meter so that we can recover from this mess. You see, when you send the signal that men like McLaren and Bell are genuine brothers in Christ, others will think it is perfectly acceptable to treat the Word of God the same way they do. It is like allowing your children engage in harmful behavior without acting and then trying to change that behavior after you have tolerated for so long. This is indeed not an easy task. However, it is a task that we have no choice but to accept and perform.

Paul calls men who come along promoting the abandonment of Christian dogma as taught in Scripture “savage wolves.” He also says explicitly that if he had failed to declare this whole standard of God, that the blood of his audience would be on his hands. For those of you who think it appropriate to receive McLaren and Bell as brothers and leaders in the Christian community, you should read this text of Scripture very closely.

For those who think that this is just another hyper-critical alarmist, I would direct you to another of Paul’s statements in Acts 20:31: Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. There are those in the Church who see this kind of behavior as radically critical. Some call it intellectual bullying. Yet, according to this sentence, Paul himself was not nonchalant nor did he relax in how he delivered Christian dogma. The idea is that the elders were to be in a constant state of readiness! This is military language that one would use for a unit that was placed on high alert. The cause of this status is that a threat exists. Paul sees any teaching that encourages us to abandon the received dogma of Scripture as a threat, in fact, the use of words like “blood,” “savage wolves,” and “alert” are indicators that he was deadly serious about this behavior. For three years Paul warned the Church at Ephesus with tears.

μετὰ δακρύων νουθετῶν is the phrase “admonish with tears.” Literally, in this order, “with tears admonishing.” To smooth it out in modern English it reads, “admonishing with tears.” The word for admonish, which we often understand as teach, has a much stronger sense here. It means to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct, to warn, to advise someone concerning the dangerous consequences of some happening or action.” The general thrust here is that false teaching destroys human beings, it should be taken seriously, and God has ordained elders to protect His body from false teachers whom He labels as “savage wolves.” Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have willingly, and voluntarily, admitted to having a goal of turning those in the church away from the standard handed down in orthodox Christianity. Paul labels them as “savage wolves.” We do not help these men by softening Paul’s description of them and we certainly do nothing to help the body of Christ when we do not sound the alarm for what it is, an alarm that a threat to your soul is present and you must act.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Atheism Falters (as it always has)

The Religious Itch - The Perplexity of Godless Existence

Perhaps this article will serve as a good analysis for why so many people flock to Christianity without actually being genuine in their beliefs. They like the moral structure, to a degree. They like the idea that life is not a meaningless threnody. What they require is purpose, meaning, and significance. They merely grab whatever is handy in order to have it. But purpose, meaning, and significance are not the reasons we are Christians. If you think it is, then it is likely you are not one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can Anyone Become A Christian?

Modern American individualism has so infected the Christian gospel in American culture that one can find very little in that gospel that resembles the actual gospel revealed and proclaimed in Scripture. According to the American account of Christianity, anyone can simply choose to become a Christian by a simple act of the will. In America, you “decide” to become a Christian very much the same way you decide to become, well, a democrat or a republican, a Muslim, or a Buddhist. You just make up your mind that this is what you are going to be and you be “it,” whatever “it” is. This mentality has grown significantly in the Christian community over the years. However, is this version of Christianity the same as the version presented in Scripture?

Is becoming a Christian within the control of the individual? It is simply a matter of examining the claims of the Christian worldview and making a determination as to whether or not this religion, the Christian religion is actually the one, true religion worth joining? To answer this question, we need to turn to Scripture and we will begin with a few teachings of Jesus Himself on what it takes to become a Christian.

ἀλλʼ εἰσὶν ἐξ ὑμῶν τινες οἳ οὐ πιστεύουσιν. διὰ τοῦτο εἴρηκα ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ δεδομένον αὐτῷ ἐκ τοῦ πατρός.

Here in John 6:64-64 Jesus says, there are some who do not believe in Him. Literally, “but from you some there are ones who do not believe.” For whatever reason, many Christians miss what Jesus is saying in these two verses. He is explaining why there are people who do not believe the gospel. The answer is there for all to see, or, for all who are willing to place their prized theological commitments aside to see. What is that reason, you ask? Jesus said, “for this reason, I said to you that no one is able to come to me unless it has been given to him from the Father.” Let me state it plainly: The reason people do not believe is because they are not able to believe and the reason they are not able to believe is obvious; that ability has not been given to them from the Father. Jesus is giving the reason for unbelief: it is the default state of the individual. Men are born with the default state of not being able to believe or do anything that is pleasing to God. Jesus is also referring back to something He said previously.

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.

Literally, Jesus said, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me drags him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Here in John 6:44, we see what Jesus was referencing in John 6:64-65. Men do not have the universal ability to choose to believe the gospel. After all, there were some among this audience who believed and others who did not. Jesus was explaining why there are some who do not believe in the previous verse and giving us a lesson in why some do believe in this verse. He goes on to say in verse 45 that “All the ones hearing and learning from the Father come to me.” In other words, this idea that people hear and actually learn, or get it, understand it, and still reject it contradicts Jesus’ teaching on the subject. Jesus said everyone who actually learns, comes to me. The word means simply to come to understand something. Hence, in order to come to Christ, we must first understand the gospel at least. How does one acquire an understanding of the gospel? Well, in John 8:43 and 47 Jesus tell us that men are not able to understand His words because they are of their Father the devil. Jesus asked the rhetorical question, “why can’t you understand my words? It is because you are not able to hear them?” He then says the reason they are not able to hear them is because they are not of God.

The Greek word δύναμαι means to possess capability (whether because of personal or external factors) for experiencing or doing something, can, am able, be capable.[1]

Kittel says, “to be able,” with specific reference to the subjective spiritual or moral attitude which either makes able or not.[2]

The word appears over 200 times in the NT and is well attested. Moreover, it appears over 300 times in the LXX (Greek translation of the OT). In 175 of those occurrences, it is used to translate the Hebrew word, יכל, transliterated, lk’.

The meaning is really the same: to be able, to do a thing, whether ability be physical, moral, constitutional, or dependent on external authority.[3]

It really quite simple, the Jews who refused to hear Christ, who rejected Christ, did so because they were not able to hear him and to accept Him. This immediately offends the senses of most people, and it especially offends the senses of unregenerate Americans. It even offends most people who claim to know Christ and who see themselves as being firmly within the Christian group. That’s quite alright. It offended the people when Jesus first taught it as well. That response is not at all surprising. In fact, it is reassuring because it is an indication that the teaching is accurate.

Before we continue traversing backwards in John 6, I think it worth our time to take a quick look at a story in Acts that actually gives a glimpse into how one actually is enabled to believe in Christ and experience the mystery of conversion.

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.[4]

Lydia was listening to the things Paul was preaching. Now, as this was taking place, the Lord opened her heart to respond to the gospel. Unless the Lord opens the heart, people will not respond to the preaching of Christ because they think it is absurd. It is foolishness to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jew. The American is no better off. What does America think about the true gospel? What do most American “Christians” think about the gospel? They think it is like joining a club or signing up for volunteer work of some kind. This is not biblical Christianity and it is time for the Christian group to do the very hard work of repenting for not doing more to address this confusion and be willing to practice excommunication and shunning.

Back in John 6, we have two more things to cover. The first one is the Greek word ἑλκύω means to move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion, draw, with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself, or in the case of person is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover.[5]

When we see the word draw in modern English, we think about being attracted or allured to something. Hence, when we read this text, the modern American mind thinks Jesus meant what we mean when we use the word draw. However, Jesus’ meaning was far more intense than most modern readers realize. This is a powerful word that means to actually move an object, not try to move an object. We read the text like this: I will draw men and they will cooperate and move toward me. Many even believe that Jesus will draw people and ultimately they will not come. They see this as some kind of wooing as it is termed by some evangelical preachers today. According to them, God woos people into coming to Christ. That meaning is foreign to the concept of this word, not to mention the teaching of Scripture. The word appears six times in the NT. One other time it is translated draw, in John 12:32 where Jesus said He would draw all to Him if He is lifted up on the cross. The other four times it is used, the object that is being drawn always moves. It is not the attempt to move an object to something. It is not the act of trying to persuade someone or manipulate an object. It is the efficacious moving of something from one place to another every single time. I will move them to me. The verse actually says the Father will move men to me. In other words, No man can come to me, unless my Father who sent me, moves him to me.

In John 6:36 Jesus said to the Jews, “I said to you that you have seen me and you do not believe.” What Jesus says next is critically important to understanding the perspective John conveys. After telling the Jews that they do not believe, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out.” The relation between these two verses is significant. Jesus says that you do not believe Me, but all that the Father gives to Me will come to Me. In other words, once more we see the implication of ability and divine activity as the reason for belief and unbelief. The reason you don’t believe is because My Father has not given you to Me. All the ones He gives to Me, will believe. What is necessary to become a Christian? You must be one that the Father has given to the Son. If that is the case, the Lord will open the heart, the person will believe as did Lydia, and conversion will take place.

John 1:12-13 makes it crystal clear that people don’t just decide to become a Christian. The Christian conversion is far more profound than a simple act of human will as a result of human predication. John says that to those who received Christ (like Lydia did), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to the ones believing in his name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, but of God. John says these people who received Him were born of God. This flow indicates that being born of God came first, as it did with Lydia, and then men receive Christ, believing in His name. In other words, the antecedent to Christian conversion is the new birth. You must be born again! We cannot be born again ourselves as an act of the will or the intellect. We cannot decide to be born again or will it into being. It is a gracious act of God our Father. When it happens to you, you will know because your disposition toward God, yourself, others, and sin will experience a profound change.

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
 Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 261-62.
[2]vol. 2, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 284.
[3] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 407.
[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 16:14.
[5] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 318.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Counterfeit that Is American Christianity

When I talk about American Christianity, I am referring specifically to a brand of Christianity that has wholly adopted the postmodern, hedonistic, individualistic, relativistic, pluralistic mindset that comprises a very magnanimous portion of American philosophy. In other words, American Christianity is not Christianity in any sense of the word. American Christianity is a godless philosophical system immersed in idolatry. It is postmodern in the sense that truth is what the individual decides it is regardless of the facts. It is hedonistic in the sense that it aims to engender as much pleasure as the individual determines is satisfactory. It is individualistic in the sense that believers do not submit to their church leaders or the Christian group in any true sense whatever. The individual decides who their leader will be and as long as that leader operates within the individual’s own self-determined parameters, they are extended the privilege to remain in the position of “leader.” If a church should offend them by its position on any subject, they simply move on to the next one without so much as a flinch. It is relativistic in the sense that absolute truth for everyone does not exist. Anyone who pretends to know something to be absolutely true or false, right or wrong, is charged with “playing God.” It is pluralistic in the sense that no practice or view should result in anyone being excluded from the group. In other words, any and all who want to play, regardless of their beliefs and morals, should be allowed to be part of the group without fear of being excluded. Finally, American Christianity is immersed in idolatry because the god it contends exists does not exist at all. American Christianity has created a god that is like “a modern American daddy,” or how modern Americans think daddies “ought” to be. This god is a soft, gentle, tolerant, non-demanding, non-threatening, entirely understanding being who puts up with just about any behavior and belief Americans expect him to. He does not judge anyone for anything, except maybe judging itself, and, oh yeah, pedophilia. Oh, I almost forgot, he does not like CEOs very much either or the rich. Well, the conservative rich. He is okay with the Hollywood rich types. The American god lets almost everyone into heaven with very few exceptions. He is, after all, at the mercy of the free will of human beings. Every American knows that individual freedom and sovereignty as well as choice are the highest of all virtues. God would never predestine anyone or anything. He certainly would never predestine anything bad to happen, not the American god. He is awesome. He is pure love, but only as Americans define love.

The overwhelming majority of the American Church does not exist for the kingdom, for truth, or even for the gospel. It exists for the sole pleasure and self-interest of the individual. If you don’t believe me, just ask most Americans why they decided upon the church they attend. “The pastor is so dynamic and engaging!” “The Youth group really does a lot with the kids.” “There are so many activities the kids can get involved in.” “The music is awesome.” “This is where all our friends are.” “The people are so friendly.” The reasons are numerous. Notice that every one of these reasons centers on the individual. The Church was not made for the individual but the individual for the church. Not so in America! In American a church is like every other activity we engage is, such as the gym, dining out, buying a home, etc. Meeting God's definition for "Church" does not even enter the decision process. In fact, the overwhelming majority of American Christians, so called, couldn't even provide a biblically accurate definition for church. I would not expect new Christians to be able to do this, but those who have been around for years, one would expect they would be able to do so. The sad fact is that most cannot even articulate the gospel, let alone help someone with what a true or false church is. Sad indeed! This is because most American Christians, so called, are really just detached moralists wearing the Christian label. Nothing more, but maybe something even less. It is a serious issue that the Christian group can no longer afford to ignore.

Biblical Ineptness

Rather than use the Bible as their guide for how they should select a church, they display a very high degree of arrogance when they select one based on their own criteria. Postmodern thinking leads many Christians to believe that even Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. The Bible, in their mind, was given to us to serve us and show us how to get the most out of life as we determine life’s meaning of course. In other words, God speaks to me this way in that verse while he may speak something entirely different to you in the same verse. The crazy thing is that many people actually point to such a practice and testify to how wondrous and mysterious the Scriptures are because they can have so many different meanings! Yes, we are sometimes that purblind. The single largest problem for the actual Church is that we simply have far too many unbelievers sitting around in the Christian group who are clearly not born again, and we do nothing to purge them from the group. Unbelievers have no say in the life, theology, and praxis of the Christian group. They are blind, without understanding, hostile to the things of God and are uniquely unqualified to participate in Church life. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to remove the sinning man from their midst because a little leaven will leaven the entire lump. In other words, tolerance for ungodly behavior will result in the spread of ungodly behavior among the Christian group. This seems rather obvious, and the American version of Christianity has borne it out. There are Christians in America who never read the Bible, but they consider themselves to be just as knowledgeable about God, truth, and Christianity as a pastor that has invested thousands of hours studying everything from the languages of Scripture, the systematics of theology, and the history of the church. This is due to postmodern arrogance. For most Americans, interpreting the Bible is a matter of preference, not the recovery of absolute meaning in the text.

Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “Hermeneutics is both disenchanted and disenfranchised by the suggestion that there are no principles for right and wrong interpretation, only preferences.”[1] I realize that many in the Christian community, and especially in the academy wish to permit those with a low view of Scripture to remain acknowledged viable members of the group, but this practice has a damning and devastating effect on the community. John Webster says, “What Scripture is as sanctified and inspired is a function of divine revelatory activity, and divine revelatory activity is God’s triune being in its external orientation, its gracious and self-bestowing turn to the creation.”[2] The unbeliever is not privy to divine revelation in Scripture. The American Christian demands the right to hold whatever view of Scripture he or she desires. And they demand the right to remain in the Christian group on the basis that this is their desire. What Americans desire, they seem to think they have an inherent right to have. The American dream used to be owning a home and having a secure job by which to care for one’s family. It has morphed into the most extreme and radical forms of hedonism to exist in any culture in any other part of the world. It really comes to this: Americans want to think whatever they want about the Bible to include it’s meaning and significance in the church on the basis that they should be allowed to do so just because that is what they want to do.

Meredith Kline says, “The canonical authority of the Bible is in a class by itself because its covenantal words are the words of God.”[3] The Christian group must insist that everyone in the Christian community share the view of Jesus and the apostles on the nature of Scripture. Any denial or disagreement on this subject must be grounds for discipline and excommunication. For Christians, the ends of reading, interpreting, and embodying Scripture are determined decisively by the ends of God’s self-revelation, which are directed towards drawing humans into ever-deeper communion with the triune God and each other.”[4]  The believer cannot enter into deeper communion with the Divine Trinity without God’s self-revelation in Scripture. While it is true that this revelation came at a point in time in the person of Christ, it is equally true that the very Scriptures that capture the record of that event are themselves also divine self-disclosure.

Essential to transformation into the image of God’s Son is the event of biblical revelation in the holy Scripture. Without this event, without the Bible itself, transformation is impossible. Jens Zimmermann writes, “In other words, the goal of theological hermeneutics was from the beginning practical and existential guidance to a meaningful life. Jesus’s [sic] invitation to his disciples of fulfilling the Torah was not, “as a Hellenized reader might expect, to some pacific state of enlightened self-consciousness, but rather to self-denial, self-sacrificing imitation of his own to starkly mortal praxis: ‘take up your cross and follow me.’”[5] The goal of Scripture is a transformed life. It is not to provide the academy with debate material. Scripture is God’s self-disclosure to the end the bride of Christ, the Church would be transformed into the image of His Son. Hence, it should come as no surprise that counterfeit Christians, while they liter the pews all over this country, reject not only the nature of Scripture itself, but exhibit little regard for its content on such issues as abortion, sexual behavior, gay marriage, and whatever other pet sins they wish to retain in their worldview. The Christian group must come to terms with how she will relate to those who clearly want to wear the title “Christian” without submitting to the values of Christ, the values that make a Christian what they are to begin with. These values demonstrate that regeneration and conversion have been wrought in the heart of the believer. One of those values is a hatred for sin. No true Christian remains in love with sin. When confronted with their sin, genuine believers will repent. It may take a little time, but repentance is inevitable. Unbelievers make excuses, defend their actions, and refuse to surrender to the values of Christianity. They retort the old American idea: we will just have to agree to disagree. That may hold for some views, but it does not hold for core Christian values and it absolutely does not hold for sinful practice.
The Immorality of Inaction

I am hopeful that the current state of affairs that has obtained in American culture will result in the Christian group having to take action. For so long now, the group has been somewhat docile in how it interacted with those who held to fundamentally different values than the group has historically. Issues like homosexuality and gay marriage may be just what the group needs to tighten her reigns and repent of her tolerance for things she had not right to tolerate from the start.

Jesus spoke to the Church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:2 concerning behaviors that pleased Him and those that did not please Him. What is interesting is one behavior that pleased Christ was the Ephesians intolerant behavior toward men who claimed to be ambassadors and messengers of the gospel but they were not. These men made claims to be apostles. America’s version of Christianity would teach us to love them, accept them, and by all means that we should not judge them. However, when we examine Scripture, we find the complete opposite. Jesus was pleased that the Ephesian Church refused to tolerate these false Christians. The Ephesian church had ἐπείρασας τοὺς λέγοντας ἑαυτοὺς ἀποστόλους and discovered them to be liars. The Greek word ἐπείρασας literally means to try to learn the nature or character of something or someone by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing. It means to examine the character of the person. The American church would be appalled if we made such judgments about people. Yet, according to Christ, this kind of behavior is honorable in His sight and one that garners praise and recognition from our Master.

On the flip side of this, just a few verses later, Christ had a stern rebuke for a church that actually did just the opposite of the Ephesian Church. The church at Thyatira was a very tolerant church. She did not want to rock the boat, upset folks, or be accused of judging and being critical and mean-spirited. Rather than testing the character of her group and taking action as the Ephesians did, she just let everyone do as they pleased. She was very much like the American version of Christianity. Jesus said to the Church at Thyatira, ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ. I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel. In other words, you put up with and forgive what you should not! The sin of Jezebel concerned immoral sexual behavior and idolatry. Whether or not this refers to polytheistic cult fornication is a matter of debate. The mention of idols within the same context could indicate it does. The point is that the church at Thyatira had closed lips and no action when they should have been outspoken and taking action toward those in her group who were being deceived by this teaching.

The American version of Christianity is hedonistic, pluralistic, and radically individualistic. It does not come close to even resembling biblical Christianity. It is a detached moralism that wears the name of Christ mostly because it was Christians who founded the nation and most of these moralists have grown up in some form of what we call “church.” They have added Christian terms to their worldview and at first glance may give the appearance of Christianity, but after a short examination they reveal their true nature. They hate the God revealed in Scripture. They despise His holy commands and consider His narrow ways to be hateful, judgmental, intolerant, and bigoted.

The Christian group must come to terms with the state of American culture and recognize it is as godless as any other culture in the world. We can no longer afford to kid ourselves by thinking that there is something fundamentally good and virtuous in America’s version of Christianity and the gospel. Moreover, we must call those who deny God’s word and who clearly despise God’s nature what they rightfully are: wicked men. We must do as the Ephesian Church did and refuse to tolerate fundamentally wicked ideas and strategic thinking that is antithetical to Christian praxis and doctrine. We must do so with love and respect. We cannot continue to treat these God-haters as if they are just misguided believers. They are not. If they were, they would pass the examination the Ephesian Church put them through. If we have not or are not examining them, then we must start that process today. If they are genuine, the truth will be revealed. If they are unregenerate, they do not belong in the group. Remove the leaven. God has not issued the Church the authority to overturn His pronouncement on the unbeliever. Whatever the church binds upon men or loosens must already have been bound or loosened in heaven. In other words, the choice of action is not ours. As slaves of Christ, we are duty-bound to act.

[1] Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in the Text? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 20.
[2] John Webster, Holy Scripture (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 9.
[3] Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub., 1997), 75.
[4] Stephen E. Fowl, Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 6-7.
[5] Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 28.

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...