Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Unity of Christian Community


 
In John 10:16 Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” The Church, while at times looking quite splintered and segmented is actually “one” community. Jesus Himself said that there are sheep who are not “of this fold,” but that he must bring them also, and they will hear His voice. These “other” sheep are gentile believers who will be grafted into the body of Christ by faith, making up the “one people” of God.

A litter later, John said in 11:51-52, “Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” John was commenting on Caiaphas’ prophecy concerning Christ. This verse reminds us of another one in John’s first letter, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” The latter is a very close paraphrase of the former. This means there is only one people of God, one fold, one flock for whom Jesus said He would lay down His life. The word “one” points to an indivisible unity. Few things are as important in the Christian group as unity. Unfortunately, in our culture, independence is valued far more than unity and this value often finds its way into the Christian group. One of the primary functions of the Christian group is to recognize and purge values that contradict the values of the group. Independence is an American value that has no place in the body of Christ. Nothing contradicts the mature of the Triune God more than independence. Think about that. The highest American value is also the one value that represents the exact opposite of the unity of the Divine we see in the Triune God. I suggest you stop and think about this. Let this fact sink in. Ask yourself how the American value of independence has come to influence you thoughts and actions both in and outside the church.

David deSilva writes, “The Christians are explicitly instructed to treat one another as family: “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity” (1 Tim 5:1–2). Fostering an ethos of kinship within the Christian group was a widespread technique of the group, grounded in the conviction that believers have become kin by the blood of Christ, being adopted into the one household of God as the many sons and daughters.”(1)

Christian unity is a core value of the Christian church. The bond of this unity is the Spirit of truth and its foundation is love for God and for one another.

In the great High-Priestly prayer, our Lord petitioned the Father “that they may be one even as we are.” It is clear that unity within the Christian community, the Church, was of major importance to the Son of God. When you are engaging in behavior that divides the body of Christ, you are engaging in behavior that is antithetical to the prayers of Jesus Christ Himself. Moreover, one of the things the Lord hates is one who sows discord among the brethren. Does this mean we cannot have disagreement? While it does not mean we might agree on every issue, it does have serious implications for how we react and respond to those disagreements. Moreover, it has serious implications for how we treat those with whom we disagree.

A perfect example is failure is in the area of eschatology. This area creates a lot of disagreement and unfortunately a lot of division. Those who hold to one view spend a lot of time criticizing those who hold a different view. While I am all for the hot pursuit of truth, I am very disturbed by when tiny issues morph into mountains of heated debate that result in name-calling and ill-feelings. Such behavior is not the product of godly sanctification. Rather, it is the result of pride. In some matters, we must humbly recognize that we simply do not possess enough clarity to take a dogmatic stand. It is a wicked behavior for covenant theologians and dispensational theologians to accuse one another of not preaching the true gospel. The issues are complex and the more complex the issue, the more humility we must exercise in our hermeneutic. What have we gained if we discover truth at the expense of brotherly love? Unity in the body of Christ and brotherly love are more important than whether or not one holds to covenant theology or dispensationalism.

This is not to say that we seek unity at the expense of biblical truth. We do not. Indeed, we cannot. Biblical truth is the glue that makes Christian unity possible in the first place. The “matters” that are clear are the “matters” that matter. Perspicuity is a significant doctrine here. We do not and cannot join with those who hold views that clearly run contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. At the same time, when we make that decision to separate from someone who professes Christ because they hold to false doctrine or heresy if you will, we should do so with great care, with much prayer, and with tears. The Christian’s goal is always to unite in truth with those who have made the confession of faith in Christ. Yet, when it is clear that an individual has no interest in abandoning their heresy, the Christian must separate.

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

 



(1) David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 212-13.
 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Can a Christian Vote for Obama or Romney?


Christian Ethics and Politics

 

There is a lot of noise in the Christian community right now concerning the American practice of voting. As with any behavior, Christians must grapple with the ethics. James said that pure piety involved keeping oneself spotless or unstained by the world. (James 1:27) In addition, John commands us not to love the world or anything in the world because those who love the world do not love God. Contrary to modern Christian laxity, believers must be acutely aware of their ethical conduct. Cultic worship unaccompanied by ethical living is empty, vain, and fruitless. Both John and James were dealing with these problems 2000 years ago. Every believer must be aware of how he or she conducts their life if they want their worship to be a true expression of adoration for the God they claim to serve. Hence, we come to the question of Christian participation in the American voting process.
 

Is there a divine imperative to participate?
 

I have participated in a few discussions on the subject of politics over the course of my life. During that time, I have experienced a considerable shift in my position on the subject. At one time, I thought Christians had no right to say anything about politics or political leaders if they did not vote. Additionally, I thought it was impossible for one to be a believer and vote for a certain party because of the pervasive immorality expressed in that party’s platform. However, over time I have moved away from such positions holding them now to be incongruent with Scripture, not to mention highly legalistic.

 Recently, I had a discussion with a group of believers in a Christian forum about the ethics of voting. The leader held that there is a divine imperative for Christians to vote. His reasoning was that Scripture commands Christians to be good citizens. Good citizens, according to the constitution, are duty bound to vote. Therefore, Scripture commands Christians to vote. Another argument is that Christians are ethically bound to restrain evil where possible and voting is a way of restraining evil. Therefore, Christians are under a divine mandate to vote.

In response to the former argument, we have to ask if Scripture commands us to be “good citizens.” Secondly, we must ask if Scripture and the unregenerate culture agree on what makes a citizen good. In this case, we also must ask if the form of American government places an obligation to participate or merely gives us the “freedom” to participate should we so choose. These are all questions that we must grapple with when we engage in such a discussion. Moreover, we must be willing to entertain that our views could be more the product of our culture and upbringing or tradition than they are based on a sound exegesis of the biblical text. With that willing disposition in place, perhaps we can reach some conclusions that are consistent with a biblical attitude about the matter of participation in American politics.

I think I am safe in saying that God and the unregenerate heart of wicked men do not agree on what makes for a good citizen. That is the first point. A good citizen is one who submits to God. She is one who acknowledges God’s right to rule over all governments. She testifies of God’s goodness in her conduct and with her message and she does so continually. She holds to godly values, not worldly ones. This is a good citizen. Secondly, Scripture adamantly points out that our citizenship is not of this world. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven. We do not set out minds on earthly things. This whole discussion is a discussion about earthly things in my opinion. Who will lead America? This is distinctly an earthly issue, an earthly matter, not a theological one as far as the “ideal” itself is concerned. In addition, there is nothing in the formation of this government that places an ethical obligation on the individual to rule themselves through the political process as some would argue. The limits of citizenship stop short of obligation to participate in the political process, ending with opportunity. In other words, we are free to participate or not. Otherwise, there should be fines and penalties or personal, immediate, and direct incentives to participate. The whole point of the American experiment is freedom. The founding fathers were not interested in trading the tyranny of a King for the tyranny of a document. If there is no divine imperative to participate in the voting process, what then is the relationship of the church and the individual believer to the government?

Romans 13:1-7 provides explicit instructions for the believer-government relationship. The Christian attitude must reflect godly change in the heart. The believer recognizes the government as God’s instrument of social order. He submits to God’s instrument with all humility. The believer understands that refusal to submit to government authority is refusal to submit to God. In this periscope, Paul never implies or infers that it is the business of the Christian to shape and form the government into a “Christian” system. As it stands, it is God’s instrument. Rather than rebel and rebuke, Christians are to submit and obey the government. For some reason, Christians, American Christians think that it is their duty, or right to insist that the American government live out and force its citizens to live out Christian values. This is what happens when the Church confuses her identity and comingles her divine mission with human temporal one.

Paul also talks about the Christian relationship with secular authorities in his first letter to his ministry partner, Timothy. The Christian is to make entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings to God for civil authorities. Paul tells us that the purpose for this behavior is so that Christians may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This word dignity is semnotes  in the Greek and it means “behavior which is befitting, implying a measure of dignity leading to respect.”The idea is honorable behavior, noble character fitting for those who profess Christ. Of course the testimony and witness of the Christian community to the outside world comes into view. According to Paul, God may use civil leaders to provide optimal conditions for Christian living within a given culture. This is by no means a promise. This is simply the end to which we must pray for those who are in civil leadership positions. The key point here is that the Church is never instructed to engage in political activism in order to create what God brings about through prayer, if indeed He will bring it about at all.

The two key components that undergird the relationship between the Church and civil government are submission and prayer. Christians must submit to and obey the civil authority because he is clearly God’s minister. To resist him is to resist God. That is hard pill for American Christians to swallow. Yet swallow it they must. Secondly, Christians are to be diligent in their prayers for civil leaders in hopes that God will use them to produce optimal conditions for godly living. Optimal Conditions for godly living existed at one point in the American culture. However, they appear to be weakening over time. Christians must commit their anxieties in this area to God’s sovereign rule and refuse to take matters into their own hands. The church is not God’s instrument by which He brings about these conditions. Her role in this matter is intense and diligent prayer and humble submission to her government. It seems then that there is no divine imperative for American Christians to be involved in political activism. This would include the supposed obligation to vote. The view that such a divine imperative exists is far more the product of cultural conditioning than it is biblical exegesis.

Is there a divine imperative to direct specific actions if one does participate?

The next question is related to the first. If a Christian decides to vote, which is fine, is there a divine imperative for “how” they should vote. Since we are currently in the middle of the election season, I think it best to use our current situation. One Christian says you cannot vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon or allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the mother’s health. Another Christian says you can’t vote for Obama because he is for unrestricted abortion, gay marriage, etc. Both of these positions deem it unethical, or immoral to vote for either one of the leading candidates. In other words, it would be a sin for a Christian to vote for either candidate. The idea is that you cannot support men who violate God’s moral law. In order for it to be sinful for a Christian to vote for a particular political leader, you have to be able to demonstrate where the wickedness rests in that person’s heart. In order to examine this position we have to examine its fundamental commitment, its presupposition(s) if you will. Does a man have to be born again in order for a Christian to vote for him? What does Scripture say? In answer to the latter, Scripture says nothing. Sin is a matter of heart motivation. This is not to say that one cannot sin in the voting booth! I think you must certainly can, but not for the reasons most American Christians think. So, since it is not a sin to vote for an unbeliever, the question arises, how much of an unbeliever can they be in order for a Christian to be morally culpable? Suppose Mormonism isn’t enough to place Mitt Romney on the “do not vote” Christian list, what would be enough? Do certain sins and unregenerate beliefs place people on this list while others are okay? Suppose president Obama were against abortion but for gay marriage. Can the Christian vote for him? Is there a guide, based soundly on biblical exegesis, that helps Christians place candidates on the do not vote list? One would think such a guide could be created if you listen to some arguments on this issue.

 So Christian “A” will vote for Romney but will accuse other Christians of sinning when they vote for Obama or vice versa. Which sin disqualifies the man? Does Scripture say? It does not! Who says then? We do and that is the problem. Gay marriage is big issue for me so I am not as concerned about other issues, let’s say. So I vote for Romney. How can I attack those who vote for Obama if I vote for Romney? How can those who vote for Obama criticize those who vote for Romney? Both men hold to worldviews that are squarely contrary to conservative evangelical theology. Am I wicked because I think Barak Obama will do more to take up the cause of the less fortunate? Am I wicked because I think Mitt Romney will do more to create and protect a system that appears closer to the biblical model of work and reward?

I do not know that we have ever had a “born again” president leading America. I am very skeptical when I hear people claim that this one or that one really was born again. I am skeptical because of what it takes to actually reach this level of success in a system that is corrupt and depraved as the American political system is. How can it not be? It is run by unregenerate, greedy, radically ambitious, and thoroughly hedonistic humans. So where are we? What is the practical guidance for Christians in the American voting process?

First, Christians have no divine imperative to participate in the political process. Let your own conscience be your guide. Second, if you do decide to vote, make sure you are doing it for non-selfish reasons. If you vote for one candidate over another because you think he will make life easier for you, then you need to re-examine your motives. Some people vote for socialistic leaders because they are lazy. Others do so because they genuinely do care about the less fortunate and that shows in their lifestyle. Third, it is not a sin to vote for an unregenerate candidate. Sin proceeds from heart, not the voting booth. Just because an issue is a burning issue for you, that does not mean it is the same for another believer. Try to avoid arrogantly imposing your passions, causes, and convictions on others as if somehow you have cornered the mind of the divine while the rest of us poor sinners grope in the dark trying to get a clue. Show a little humility toward those with whom you disagree. Christians must avoid establishing norms that are not themselves established by Scripture. It is a sin to judge others based on our own personal convictions and passions around certain issues. That much I do know. While it may not be a sin to vote for Obama or Romney, and I don’t think it is, it most certainly is a sin for us to accuse others of sinning when they are not! Is it a sin to teach Christians that they must vote or sin in the process? I believe it is. Is it a sin to tell Christians they are sinning if they vote for what others think is the more wicked of two candidates? I think it is. What is the Church to do?

We should do what Jesus told us to do! We should preach the gospel, make disciples, and shine our values into this world for all to see the light that shines forth from the Christian group! That is our calling, our mission, our purpose. Politics? In my opinion, an exercise in futility that has little to do with the mission of the Church. Let us hotly pursue that for which we have been apprehended! Holiness, sanctification, and love out of a pure heart! If you want to vote, then vote. God is not sitting in heaven waiting to rebuke you because you voted for the wrong person. Moreover, He isn’t sitting in heaven hoping you pick the right candidate so that He can carry out His plan for America. All that I advise is that you always search you heart for why you are doing what you are doing. That is true for everything we do. Are you voting for the right reason in your heart? Are you voting for this person for the right reason in your heart? Are you voting from the standpoint of pride so you can boast that you did your duty? Are you voting for one candidate over another because you stand to really benefit greatly while others may suffer? You know why you are voting and you know why you are voting for the person you have selected. Examine those reasons for selfishness, and any other sinful reason that may exist. That is my advice to any and all who vote as well as to those who don’t for what it’s worth.

 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Does Christianity Need to “Reclaim” Liberalism?


Episcopal priest, John Liebler seems to think so. In article in the Christian Post, Rev. Liebler talks about how his seminary training, deeply entrenched in liberal philosophy, resulted in a personal crisis of faith. However, thanks to a mentor, and a few good books, Rev. Liebler has recovered from his crisis, and today, he continues to serve in the pastorate. However, Liebler believes that Christianity needs to reclaim liberalism and his basis for thinking so is because Scripture teaches it. At a minimum, I applaud Liebler’s basic reason for his argument even if I reject his premise. According to Liberalism, oppression is wicked and needs to go. Human beings are the measure of all things and are autonomous creatures capable of determining their own course. This thinking, when mixed with Christianity attempts to use Scripture, where convenient, to condemn behaviors it finds distasteful. Liebler says that biblical liberalism is different. It is not autonomous. Biblical liberalism confesses and submits to the absolute authority of Scripture. This is a good thing. However, does social reform accomplish the mission of the goal? Is social reform included in the mission of the church? It is true that the church has accomplished temporal good when she engages in social causes and this is undeniable. I would never argue that the church cannot accomplish “good” when taking up social causes. I would argue that we are asking the wrong question which is itself, based on an assumption we have not proven.

William Wilberforce, by all accounts, a godly man, spent his life and energy extinguishing slavery in England. No one can argue that this was not a good, decent, and moral thing. Many people benefited from Wilberforce’s work, not the least of which was the English themselves. To understand how liberalism works in Christianity, we have put on our liberal thinking hats. Slavery is oppressive and immoral. Christianity is opposed to immorality. Where she can, the church should end immorality and help the helpless. Therefore, a Christian must engage in the rally to end slavery! In essence, not to do so would be immoral itself. This is how liberalism eventually takes hold of Christianity and utterly consumes her.

Another issue of liberalism is caring for the poor. Liebler implies that conservatism ignores certain biblical mandates regarding the poor. Regrettably, in some cases, he is right. Some conservatives are about as sympathetic to the poor as they are to mass murderers. Liberalism implies that we can eliminate the poor if everyone just did their part. In Christianity, the action is personal. The Christian does good to the poor as they have opportunity. In liberalism, that isn’t good enough. The goal is not to simply do good when the occasion arises. The goal is to eradicate the poor state so that it no longer exists. Scripture provides specific guidance for believers regarding the poor or those with worldly need. In the Hebrew text, the Jews were instructed to leave a portion of their crop up after harvest for the orphans and the widows. Throughout Scripture, the poor are mostly orphans and widows without families. They have no means by which to eat. The situation was remarkably different from what we see in most developed countries. Would eradication of the poor state be a good thing? I cannot think of a reason why it would not. Since it is a bad state for people to be in, Christians should get involved and help the helpless. Therefore, Christians should engage in the goal of eliminating poverty, or so goes the argument from Christian liberalism.

Human trafficking is an scourge that has been in existence now for hundreds and thousands of years. Trafficking women and children for the purpose of sex and salve labor continues to this day. These people are helpless victims trapped in a life where they are at the mercy of the merciless. What is the church doing to put a stop to this vile and immoral practice? In reality, she does very little. Every day a real human being with hope for the future becomes the victim of trafficking and their lives are radically altered forever. Since this is a grievous and immoral practice, the church ought to be engaged to put an end to it since the church’s duty is to transform the culture and end immorality and injustice wherever and whenever it can.

There are other social concerns that I have not covered. Take abortion for example. This is outright murder. A mother is murdering the person who depends on her most for his or her survival. In most cases, out of sheer convenience, mom murders her baby. Another issue is gay marriage. Is it oppressive to reject it or to accept it? What should the church be doing? Where does the imperative derive? What or who is the authority?

William Wilberforce put an end to slavery in England, and he did so by basing his morality on the Christian ethic. Suppose we eradicate poverty. Pretend we end abortion. Let’s say that because of the work of the church, not a single human being is ever trafficked again. What if homosexuality became a thing of the past? Would it be okay to stop there? The basis for ending these behaviors is the divine ethic. We should work to stop everything that Scripture condemns. After we address these “big stones,” I suppose we can move on to the smaller ones, like false religions, or lying, or adultery, or fornication. Fill in the blank. The question is not should the church work to end immorality? The question is “how” should the church work to influence social change?

Look at England today. She has long ago abandoned the Christ. Wilberforce’s good work remains long after his passing. However, is England a country whose heart seeks her God? Rather, England is a country who thinks of herself much like her own god. Wilberforce had a choice to preach the gospel or to enter politics. He chose the latter. And indeed, he accomplished some remarkable things. Still, I cannot help but wonder what he would have accomplished had he made a different decision.

How does the church influence the culture? How do social norms change as a result of the existence of the church? The only change that matters is eternal change. Suppose we take a murderer out of prison and send him off to seminary. Suppose he acquires all the skill necessary to become a polished and refined preacher. Suppose he even preaches truth most of the time. He looks the part, he plays the part, and he even speaks the part. But suppose this man has had no heart change as so many men in ministry have not. What have we accomplished? The man will die and he will perish in his sin the same as he would have even if he had died in prison.

Social ills are the direct result of sin and of judgment. Two things produce this less than desirable state we live in. Sin and God’s judgment. There are many instances where I cannot say which is which. But I do know it is one or the other.

What is the mission of the church? Is the church called to be concerned with social reform? If she is, she should stop at nothing to bring it about. She should spend all her energy, time, resources, and money on bring about the kind of social reform that God would want. However, I do not believe the church’s concern is social reform. I believe the church’s concern is Christ. I believe the church’s concern is preaching the gospel and making disciples. Jesus ordered his disciples to go along the way, making disciples, students, radical followers as they went. Go, preach, make disciples. That is the divine imperative for the leaders in the Christian group. The should not look like a political action group bringing about pressure on Washington to implement its policies and look after the interest of its membership. Nowhere does Scripture inform believers to force the values of Christianity on the unbelieving culture through political and legal reform. Sometimes I get the sense that if it is offensive to Christianity, then it should be illegal. We play the hypocrite when we demand that gay marriage be outlawed but don’t do the same for unbiblical divorces. Is it right for the church to insist that unbelievers adhere to Christian ethics? Of course, they are better off if they do. That is not the argument. It is also not the point. The point is that Scripture does not issue these mandates. Scripture plainly and clearly tell us that the Christian group is to make disciples and preach the gospel. She is to keep the unbeliever from her ranks by purging and discipline when called for. She is to live by a set of values that are distinct from those in her culture and by so doing, she becomes a light in a very dark place. That is the mission, purpose, and goal of the church according to Jesus, according to Scripture.

 

 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and The Focused Gospel


When John the Baptist arrived on the scene in first-century Palestine, his message was direct, simple, clear, and focused: repent! Matthew records this historical event clearly and simply in Matt. 3:1-2, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Once more, Matthew focuses on the fact that Jesus, as soon as He began His public ministry also had a message, a proclamation, if you will. In Matthew 4:17, he says, From that time Jesus began to preach and say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus’ message was identical to John the Baptist’s message. It was direct, simple, clear, and focused.

Mark echoes Matthew’s words verbatim in verse 15 of his very first chapter which indicates that he too, thought this message was significant. By placing Jesus’ message of repentance at the very beginning of his gospel, Mark emphasizes that message to his audience. After Jesus gives the great commission or mission to His eleven disciples, it does not take long before they have their first chance to carry forward with Jesus’ message. Peter, in Acts 2:38, commands those who were convicted by their wickedness to repent! This message comes in the middle of the miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of a new era, a new dispensation. After the miracle at the gate called beautiful, Peter gets a second chance to deliver a sermon. Once again, in Acts 3:19, Peter thunders away with the word, repent! In fact, I suggest you read Acts 3:11-26 to get a feel for the content of this sermon. It was nothing like most modern, watered-down, hyper-sensitive kind of sermons that most Christians are used to. It was much more than that. It was focused on one thing: repentance! In Acts 8:22 Peter once more proclaims this message of repentance to Simon the Sorcerer. It is a recurring theme in the NT gospel.

When the apostle Paul had the magnificent opportunity to appear before the great Areopagus in Acts 17, his message was also direct, simple, clear, and focused. He, too, thundered the truth that God requires men to repent! Paul did not shy away from talking about coming judgment as the reason men should repent. The Areopagus could either mean “Mars Hill” or the preeminent governing council in Athens. If one gives Acts 17:19 any weight, it seems this very well could have been a formal or at least informal hearing before the elite Athenian council. Luke writes, “And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?”[1] It would seem unnecessary to bring Paul into Mars Hill in order for him to tell them more about this strange new teaching. Concerning the Areopagus, Hubert Martin writes in the Anchor Bible Dictionary,

“The council was long composed exclusively of aristocrats, and in the transition from monarchy to aristocracy it gradually assumed many previously regal powers and functions. In the first half of the 7th century b.c., still at the height of its authority, the Council of the Areopagus was the main governing body of Athens, with far-reaching and undefined religious, judicial, censorial, and political power, including a general control over the annual selection of the nine archons, the city’s chief magistrates who “went up to the Areopagus” after their term of office, where they then sat for life.[2]

Hence, Paul’s audience was comprised of not only sophisticated aristocrats, but the most powerful men in all of Greece. If ever one were to expect some political rhetoric, it would be now. However, Paul apparently sees no use for softening or complicating his message and proceeds with a defense and attack method in his sermon, what Witherington calls, Forensic Rhetoric. Witherington writes, It is not surprising that Paul must resort to forensic rhetoric, for, while he may not be on trial per se, the scene does suggest that he must present an argument for his teaching at a hearing before the officials of the Areoapagus, officials charged with maintaining the religious order of Athenian society.[3] Paul had closely scrutinized the idols of Athens according to v. 23. He took the time to carefully examine the worship practices of the Athenians. He understood their practices. From this understanding, he launches his criticism of Athenian idolatry. In so doing, he both defends the one true Christian God and attack of the polytheistic worship he has come to witness in Athens. He message is really quite simple: repent. Paul did not wax political nor did he engage in a philosophical approach to the gospel. In fact, he warns against both of these practice throughout his letters, recognizing that the gospel, the simple, clear, focused gospel of repentance delivered in a direct manner is the power of God unto salvation. Moreover, this gospel, delivered in this way, precludes all boasting of men who would take credit for their methods, their style, their personality as if they had accomplished something.

What can we learn from this in 2012? What can the cultures around the world learn from this? What can Christians living in American culture learn from this? We must learn to keep the gospel simple, clear, and direct and never forget that it is at the center of who we are and what we do. The gospel of repentance is the core of our mission. The Christian group’s mission is to glorify God in every way. One of the fundamental ways we do that is through making disciples of all people groups. That begins with repentance.

The Church is distracted with numerous social, moral, and cultural causes. For some reason, the Church thinks that its fundamental duty is social and moral reform. We think it is our job to ban gay marriage and to recover from the abortion tragedy. We spend a lot of money and time on these cultural, social, and moral issues. Not one NT book was written to the unbelieving culture. In fact, there isn’t one letter in the NT that instructs the Church to reform its culture by turning the gospel into a vehicle of social and moral reform. Cultures change and are reformed only through divine activity. Such divine activity is the work of God on human hearts. We all have our pet issues that we like to talk. What happens all too often is that we think those issues are the ones we should be talking about through the lens of the gospel in order to bring men to Christ. Sad as it may sound, in most cases these issues serve as carnal, moralistic distractions from the true proclamation of the gospel.

The Church has lost its focus. And in so doing, she is in grave danger of losing the simple gospel of repentance in exchange for a social and moral role that she was never called to serve to start with. Never are we more distracted than during election season. We engage in all this talk about who is going to win and if it will be good for the church or the country. We even engage in judging others because they may vote differently than us. Or worse than that, we judge people for not voting at all as if there is some divine mandate in Scripture for Christians to vote! The job of the church is difficult enough when she focuses, as she should, on the things that matter. When she loses her focus, spiritual risk increases.

John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all shared one thing in common when it came to preaching the gospel. It was simple, clear, direct, and focused. The message was that man must repent of his current state, and recognize His sovereign Creator and Redeemer for who He is or face divine judgment. Repentance is proffered through God’s only Son, Jesus Christ who took that divine wrath in our place. Repent is the message! Change your entire course of action, your thinking, your speaking, your behavior, your very existence! Abandon you and cling to Him! Repent! Turn from darkness to light, slavery to freedom, death to life! Repent!

What does this blog have to do with President Obama and his challenger Romney? Absolutely nothing! And that is the point.

 



[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 17:19.
[2] Hubert M. Jr. Martin, "Areopagus (Place)" In , in , vol. 1, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 370.
[3] Ben Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 518.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Perry Noble, Steve Furtick, and John’s Mandate to Test the Spirits

Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον.[1]

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but perform a critical examination of the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (my translation). I John 4:1

PerryNoble's Newspring Church opens service with this Kiss song, “Highway to Hell.” Steve Furtick'sCode Orange Revival performs wild dance routine as part of their infamous “code orange” revival. These men have made clear statements indicating they believe they preach the true and genuine truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Contrary to American thinking, John urges every Christian to take up a spirit of critical thinking and examination when it comes to truth claims about the gospel. John was clearly writing his letter due to concerns about false teachings. Was the false teaching Docetism, a natural outworking of Gnostic thought? Did John have Cerinthus, a known false teacher in mind as he set out to write his letter? Two things are clear in John: false teachings existed and had to be dealt with; and these false teachings were leading to antinomian views about sin.

Jesus said in Matt. 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”[2] He goes on to say, “So then, you will know them by their fruits.”[3] In America, everyone wants to just get along. No one wants to drive a stake in the ground on any particular hill and die on it, it seems. This postmodern outlook of a new morality has managed to take hold in the Christian Church. The world labels one a hater if they have norms different from those they have. It is their way of shaming Christians in an attempt to bring them back into conformity or at a minimum, keep them silent. To a degree, the Church has played along. Any mention of men like Noble and Furtick is met with repulsion. I have even had conversations with conservative, reformed people who defend Furtick to a degree, talking about the good he is doing even if he is wrong on a few minor points. The attempt by some to continually increase what is acceptable is both regrettable and arrogant. John issued an imperative to all Christians that we cannot ignore. He commanded us not to believe every spirit and he commanded us to make a thorough and critical examination of every spirit to determine if they are from God.

Ministers step out onto the stage quite regularly these days. Where do these men come from? Who, in the Church, recognized them to possess the right set of character traits, values, and skills to merit consideration for Christian leadership? What did that examination process look like? If playing the song “Highway to Hell” during the worship service isn’t enough to get a pastor fired from serving, that tells me tons about the people sitting in that service. Jesus said you will know them by their fruit, rather than by the words they use. Jesus was funny that way. He says the Father does not care about what you say, but rather, what you do. The indication that a man is a false prophet is that he does not do the will of the Father. Purging sinful conduct from the Christian group is one of the main goals of the Christian minister. Playing the song “Highway to Hell” in the Christian service of worship to God introduces much confusion about holy living. It would be like having scantily dressed dancers perform just before preaching a sermon about the sin of pornography. It is more than just bad judgment. It is sinful leadership.

Jesus said he that is of God hears God’s word. John said it this way, “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”[4] The ones who are from God listen to ministers who deliver God’s truth. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Any spirit that contradicts truth is false.

We can no longer afford to be seduced by the American idea of tolerance. The notion of a false unity and a sense of harmony has had its day. The time has come for the church to return to the norms of Scripture. The word dokimadzo has the sense of trying to determine the genuineness of something by testing and examining it, often by using it. Jesus told the Pharisees that they could analyze the sky but they could not analyze the times. Paul urges the Corinthian church to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. He instructed the Thessalonians to examine everything. The believer must do strive to do better when it comes to using his/her mind in the pursuit of truth.

Your behavior follows your thinking. As a man thinks, so is he! The false teaching in John led to a false view of sin as false teaching often does. John’s purpose for writing this small letter could not have been stated more succinctly: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”[5] False teaching and sin are the two dominant themes in I John. This is not surprising because false doctrine naturally leads to wrong conduct. John tells us that if anyone loves the world, the love of God is not in him.

Perry Noble and Steve Furtick continue to push outside the norms of the Christian group. In other words, they continually attempt to redefine orthodoxy just as their friends Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren do in the emergent church. This does not threaten only to redefine Christianity, it threatens its very existence. Jesus is not just one nice way to live and think among many other selections. He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No one comes to God except through Him. If men do not believe this, they will die in their sin. Men like Noble and Perry continually attempt to keep the Jesus label, all the while tinkering with The Way, The Truth, and The Life. It is like replacing a Ford motor with a Chevy while claiming the car is a Ford. It just won’t work. There is a difference between Christians and non-Christians. It is real, not imagined. When Church looks just like the culture, it doesn’t take a theologian to recognize that something is terribly wrong. Truth is the only antidote for a postmodern culture that has spawned a number of pseudo-Christian ministers and churches who are right in their own eyes.

 

               



[1] Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 621.
[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 7:15.
[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 7:20.
[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 4:5–6.
[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 2:1.

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