Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Review of Triablogue and Steve Hays on Ecclesial Authority (Continued 1 of 2)

As you know by now, Steve Hays over at Triablogue and I have had another difference of opinion regarding a theological issue. We have been going back and forth over the issue of authority in the Christian Church. So far, Steve has said that Christians need so submit to Scripture since we all have access to Scripture and can read it for ourselves. I have challenged this thinking, accusing Steve of taking a purely pragmatic approach to biblical submission. Specifically, Steve’s statement implies that the command for Christians to obey and submit to their elders was given only until such time as the canon was completed. Once we had the canon, well, we could read it for ourselves. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, we no longer need elders conferred with authority to whom we should submit. In addition, Steve has argued vociferously that there are numerous false churches and false elders in existence today and this leaves the Christian with little choice, than to be their own self-attesting authority regarding which session of elders they should obey.
Contrary to this line of reasoning, there were false elders, preachers, pastors, and prophets in antiquity as well. This did not deter the NT authors from commanding believers and instructing Christian communities to obey and submit to one another and to their elders. What shall we say in response to Hays? I have already said quite a bit. But there are a few more things I wish to drive home as I leave this discussion. My hope is that this blog will provoke others to take an honest look at what Scripture teaches about ecclesial authority rather than take mine or Hays’s word for it.

First, I want to review Hays two objections and then provide a brief survey of the NT teachings on authority, eldership, and some practical steps for how a Christian must relate to their elders even during times when they think God is moving them in a different direction as far as ministry goes.

Does the completion of the New Testament Canon nullify the biblical command to obey and submit to one’s elders? In order for this to be true, the sole purpose of elders had to be for the dissemination of the teachings and dogma of divine revelation. Once this revelation was committed to writing, collected, acknowledged, and preserved, the office would no longer be needed to carry out this duty. Hays may retort that he has made no such argument. However, his rejoinder that we submit to Scripture would be entirely meaningless if this were the case. In addition, nowhere has Hays even attempted to present a positive case for biblical submission. He has only spouted off about how wrong Frank Turk and Ed Dingess are about the matter. There is no exegetical or even philosophical support for the argument that individual access to authoritative revelation nullifies the need for obedience and submission to elders and the body of Christ. Presumably, if one does not have to submit to their elders, then they would not have to submit to the local body either. After all, what is true of false elders is equally true of false communities. In fact, I would argue that it is nigh impossible to have a true body if the elders are false. If Hays is right, then not only are we under no obligation to obey a session of elders, we are not obligated to obey the local Christian community either.

In Hays view it seems then, that the command to obey and submit to one’s elders and to one another was only applicable until we closed the canon in the fourth century. Even if we move beyond Hippo and Carthage to Athanasius, that puts us at around 300 years for these commands to be in effect. But there is still a problem with this thinking. If Hays is right, it really does not depend on the objective closing of the canon, but rather the subjective ability of the individual to read it. Hence, for those who cannot read, we must presume the command remained firmly in place. And this is a serious problem. I wonder if Hays has actually given this view the consideration it deserves. Even in our day, there are Christians who cannot read the Scriptures. There are cultures where there are no Scriptures. This would mean that the idea of biblical submission, and obedience to one’s elders and the local Christian community would be remarkably different from culture to culture. In one culture, where men have access and can read, the command may be ignored for all intents and purposes. However, for the next culture where the situation is different, Christians may still be required to toe the line in terms of obedience and submission.

It seems to me that Hays’s view of ecclesial authority is radically pragmatic, not to mention entirely arbitrary. If it is true that Scripture is our sole authority, then where exactly does that authority itself instruct us that we are free from our obligation to submit to elders and to one another? Nowhere does the authoritative, divine revelation of Scripture ever inform us that we are no longer obligated to submit and obey once we ourselves can read the text. Hays seems to rest this argument on absolutely nothing in the text whatsoever. There isn’t an ounce of exegetical support for the position that the command for obedience and submission was temporal. I suspect this is why Hays has refused to provide a more robust response, choosing rather to engage in what I deem to be foolish and childish satire when what is needed is an honest and respectful discussion in a Spirit of love and respect.

Does the principle of the authority of Scripture in any way negate the concept of authority within the Christian Church? The view that access to the authority of Scripture somehow negates the command to submit to our elders and to one another is a logical non-sequitur as well as a self-refuting position. Why it is a non-sequitur? The reason it does not follow is because the nature of the authority of Scripture is non-derived and final while the nature of the authority of the church is derivative and imperfect. The authority of the Church is imperfect because it involves human beings with a sin nature. It is derivative because it is informed entirely by Scripture. The Word of God was just as authoritative in its oral form in the ancient Church as it is in its written form. One has just as much access to it when they hear it rightly as they do when they read it rightly. If Scripture commands us to submit to the Christian community while at the same time informing us such submission is not necessary because we have Scripture as our authority, the command is reduced to absurdity. In essence, Scripture would be commanding us to do something while instructing us that we do not have to do it after all. As it turns out, the authority of Scripture, rather than being the ground for no authority in the Church turns out to be the very ground of all authority in the Church. The entire principle of loosing and binding in Matt.18:15-20 is founded on the idea that the authority of heaven is bestowed on the Christian community in matters of sin and forgiveness.

Does the presence of false elders invalidate the NT command for Christians to obey and submit to elders? There were false elders everywhere in the NT world. Nearly every NT project was written to deal with false teachers in some way. The existence of false teachers would be all the more reason for us to submit to godly elders, and to one another. It does not follow that false paths produce a state of affairs that lead to individual self-determination and sufficiency. Exactly the opposite is true. The last thing the NT authors had in mind was that Christians would eventually become, as in America, islands unto themselves. But this is precisely where the hermeneutics of Hays leads us. At the end of the day, in Hays logic, I will determine for myself what Scripture teaches and I have no obligation to submit to anyone with whom I disagree, to include my pastor, my elders, and my Church. Ladies and gentlemen, this is American Christianity at its core. It is why we are in the mess we are in today. Each Christian believes and does what is right in his own eyes. Unity and diversity has been swallowed up by individual autonomy.

Finally, what are the consequences of a Christian community without authority? There would be no way such a community could call on the authority of Scripture with any conviction whatsoever. She would be powerless to impose Scripture’s commands in any manner. How could she deal with the heretic? Someone has to bear the sword. Given that she has no authority, and each person’s hermeneutic is as valid as the next, what would her basis be for purging folly and leaven from her community? How could she deal with the man who took his father’s wife for himself in ancient Corinth? Would there be any way she could put those out who refuse to follow Paul’s commands as Paul instructs in Thessalonica? How would she address the impenitent? By what mechanism could she ensure continuity in leadership for the next generation? Hays offers no way through this maze of devastation. In addition, we end in doctrinal skepticism and moral relativism. In other words, Hays’s approach brings us to the current distressing and contemptible state we see today. No doctrine of the Church is secure and no practice so sacred that even the most inexpert among us can recast it into whatever his heart desires.

I need to say one final thing about the consequences of Hays’s view. One of the single greatest challenges confronting the contemporary Church in America is the complete lack of accountability. The nature of sin that continues to confront the Christian after conversion demands that we be held accountable for everything from our beliefs, and our thinking, to our daily behavior. Accountability furnishes the indispensable structure required for spiritual growth. Hays’s view, as I understand it, seemingly offers  no accountability in support of spiritual growth and in defense of heresy and immoral behavior. This is because, after all, each person must decide for themselves what to think, and how to live. And this they will do without any oversight from anyone else. After all, we can read a commentary the same as our brothers and sisters and elders. Accountability is destroyed in this paradigm. Accountability only works if there is someone to whom we feel obliged, responsible.

A brief survey of biblical texts that show that genuine Christianity would collapse absent the authority paradigm. Matt.18:15-20 sets out the guidelines for when the Church must act to remove the impenitent from her community. You see, without some sort of authoritative structure, the Church is lacks the mechanism necessary to keep leaven from the body. The Church is said to be a light on a hill, a city that cannot be hid. But if the Church has no authority to keep darkness from her ranks, how on earth is she able to continue to be this light? The answer is simply that she cannot.

Acts 20:28 commands the Ephesian elders to watch out for themselves and for the flock of God over which God has made you overseers. Implicit in this oversight is authority: the authority to influence and lead into truth, sanctification, and spiritual growth. Without followers, submitters, there would be no one to watch over.

1 Peter 5:1-5 gives us great instructions for how godly elders are to lead. They are to exercise oversight, meaning they have responsibility for the care of the saints. They are to do this not by compulsion but voluntarily. In addition, they are not to lord it over the community allotted to their charge, but instead they are to be examples. This is to say that their authority is not secular, not Roman, not worldly. But it is authority nonetheless. Without some sort of authority, this function would be impossible. Think about it from this perspective: if the congregation were filled with one-hundred Steve Hays, how would the elders ever be able to carry out this service? I submit that it would not be possible. After all, Steve has access to the very same authority these elders have and he does not need their oversight. In addition, Peter informs the young men to submit to their elders. This word means to submit to the orders or directives of someone. This word is in the imperative mood, indicating it is a command. In other words, this is not an option. How can such a situation exist without authority? It simply cannot.

1 Th. 5:12 tells us that we are to appreciate those leaders who have charge over us in the Lord. Once more, this points us up to a formal structure of authority already established very early in the Church. Such a structure is obviously necessary for the spiritual welfare of the Christian community. Without it, we are like a ship at sea without a compass. Spiritual growth is impossible. Doctrinal purity is impossible. Unity of values is impossible. Each man does what is right in his own eyes.

Paul informs Timothy (1 Tim. 5:17) that the elders who rule well are considered worthy of double honor. There is no question that elders are placed out front, in charge of the very health of our souls individually as well as collectively as a community. It is heavy load to carry but a most rewarding one as well.
Acts 16:4 is a perfect picture of ecclesial authority as it relates to the Galatian controversy. As a result of this controversy, the apostles and elders sent out a decree that was to be observed by the Gentile Christians. This decree carried inherent, implicit authority.

The authority paradigm is anchored, not only in Scripture but is everywhere present in the context of group thought in Mediterranean cultures. The idea was indispensable to the social setting of that time. The authority of the collective group was one each person willingly submitted to in that culture. This is true to a very large degree even to this day. The idea is radically antithetical to the extreme individualism we witness in American culture. This is why it is so difficult for us to appreciate and understand. The group would police its own. The group had inherent authority to shame and excommunicate anyone who insisted on not identifying with it by living up to its values. The Christian group’s authority is derived from Scripture. As such, it has the authority to excommunicate anyone who is not actually part of the group by dealing harshly with obstinate behavior.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

America's Continued Persecution of Christian Theism

New Hampshire School District Bars Mother From Praying On School Steps Following Complaint

‘Unprecedented’ Ordinances Could Prohibit Christians From Working in San Antonio City Government

Atheist Activist Group Demands Texas City to Cease Holding Public Prayers Before Council Meetings

The increase in persecution in post-Christian America (it has actually been post-Christian for a very long time) signals the end of religious freedom, not only for America and the west, but for the entire globe. At one time, America was the one nation that would stand up for the most basic freedom, religious freedom among all the nations of the earth. In fact, America was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Her history begins in the very heartbeat of the idea of religious freedom. Now, we see these stories above, multiplied no doubt all across this once grand experiment. Moreover, we read the story about the German family that left Germany so that they could pursue religious freedom in America and homeschool their children, shielding them from the radically secular ideas of German society. This family has begged the Obama administration for asylum to no avail. It is extremely ironic that we would turn away people that left their motherland for the very same reason our ancestors left their motherland.

Sooner or later, Christianity in America will shrink to a number that will hopefully be closer to the actual number of Christians as opposed to the large majority of pseudo-Christians that make up the visible Church today. The days of easy living for the Faithful of Jesus Christ are coming to a close. What is the Christian to do? We must not squander what is left of our freedom on selfish behaviors, pretending that our freedom was given to us by God so that we could consume it on our lusts and narcissistic proclivities. Every believer must care enough about lost humanity to expend that necessary energy to become proficient in giving people the gospel as well as in giving them an answer for the reason of the hope that is them. In other words, we must be good witnesses and defenders of the Christian worldview, regardless of the cost.

Tutu Credit Dale Frost
Bishop Tutu Would Rather Go to Hell than to a Homophobic Heaven

To the former Archbishop of the African Anglican Church, we respectfully say:

Thy Will Be Done!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Responding to Steve Hays: Biblically-Based Ecclesial Submission

 Exegesis of Hebrews 13:17

As you know, I have been interacting with Steve Hays over at Triablogue on the question of ecclesial submission. There are a number of texts in the NT that deal with this question, but none of them addresses it as definitively and as directly as Hebrews 13:17. The aim of this post is to provide a simple exegetical approach to understanding Hebrews 13:17 without muddying the waters with contextualization disputes, which is what I think Steve does in his interpretation. By contextualization, I mean the anachronistic method of seeing the text through modern culture. To be clear, this is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject of ecclesial submission. Rather, it is an attempt to provide a very short exegesis of Hebrews 13:17 to understand what this text tells us about ecclesial submission.

The purpose for the Hebrew letter was to urge Jewish Christians to “move on to maturity in the face of looming persecution,” and not to retreat back into the Judaism from which they had been converted. [Kostenberger, Kellum, Quarles] In addition, it has been argued that the purpose was to counteract an early type of heresy within this predominantly Jewish congregation(s). Some think it could have been the Colossian heresy or even a sect of Jewish Gnostics. What is clear is that the Christian faith was under attack as usual. The attack was in the form of persecution and doctrinal controversy. The author set out to defend the faith and to encourage the converts to stay the course.

The immediate paragraph in which the text appears begins at verse 7 of the same chapter. The literary type is mostly in the form of an exhortation. The fact that the writer references the elders of the Church twice in what is essentially the last section of the letter is significant. He begins the paragraph with the exhortation to remember those who led you. He ends the paragraph with the exhortation and command to obey and submit to those leaders. All of this exhortation is given within the context of a Jewish congregation that is under extreme duress externally, via persecution and internally, via heretical theology. It seems that in that setting, the believers are instructed to have confidence in God who keeps watch over them and to have confidence in their leaders for it is through them that God protects the body.

The only variant in the text that appears in NA 28 is ἀποδώσοντες. Rather than the participle, D* contains the infinitive form of the same word with περὶ ὑμῶν. This indicates there are no substantive textual variants with which we should be concerned. At a minimum, this makes the exegetical task much easier and much less time consuming.

The Greek text reads as follows:
Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες· ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο.

I have combined the phrasing and translation as follows:
Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν (Obey the ones who are leading you)
Καὶ ὑπείκετε (and submit to them)
αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν (for they are keeping watch on behalf of your souls)
                                ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες (as ones who will give an account)
ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν (so that with Joy this they might do)
καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες (and not deep stressing)
ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο (for this is unprofitable for you)

The terms that call for syntactical analysis are as follows:
Πείθεσθε (PEITHESTHE); ὑπείκετε (HUPEIKETE); ἀγρυπνοῦσιν (AGRUPNOUSIN); ἀποδώσοντες (APODOSONTES); στενάζοντες (STEVANDZONTES); and ἀλυσιτελὲς (ALUSITELES).

PEITHESTHE is a middle imperative. Hence, the writer is issuing a command that believers are obligated ethically to embrace and to uphold. LN defines the word “to submit to authority or reason by obeying—‘to obey.’” There is likely an iterative sense in the word given it has a continual aspect. The idea is that the Christian Group is to continue to obey and submit to their leaders.

HUPEIKETE is defined by LN as “to submit to the orders or directives of someone—‘to obey, to submit to, obedience, submission.’” This word is also an imperative with the continuous aspect. When someone says that we are not in fact obligated to obey and submit to our elders, we are in direct contradiction with this passage. This does not mean blind submission. In fact, one has to look no further than this verse to see the required condition for continued submission. We shall cover that in due course.

TOIS HEGOUMENOIS are the ones to whom we must submit. Who is this group of people to whom we must submit? First of all, I want to point out that the word is in the plural. A plurality of elders exists for a very specific reason. LN defines this word as “to rule over, with the implication of providing direction and leadership—‘to rule over, to order, to govern, government, rule.’” BDAG says it is to be in a supervisory capacity, lead, guide. These early congregations also had the authority of Scripture as their final authority even if they did not possess a complete canon. It would be utterly absurd for us to consider that a completed canon nullifies or even downgrades the commandments to obey our elders and to submit to one another.

AGRUPNOUSIN is a present active indicative. The continuous aspect tells us that our leaders are continually looking after us, looking out for our souls at all times. They have our best interests at heart. LN says this word means “to take care of or to look after, with the implication of continuous and wakeful concern for—‘to look after, to take care of.’” I am sure these leaders were not perfect. I am sure they were not fully developed in their theological understanding of the New Covenant. Nevertheless, the principle of submission seems foundational to their role and function in the body.

APODOSONTES LN defines the word as “a marker of an agent relation with a numerable event, with the probable implication of some transfer involved—‘to make, to perform, to do, to give.’” The idea is one of great responsibility. These elders watch over us as men who will be held accountable by God for the health of our very souls. Most commentators take this as expressing necessity, hence the translation “must.” However, Lane argued that such an approach misses the subjective-voluntative force of this classical idiom. He suggested the translation “as those who intend to give an account” [David Allen, NAC]. The acceptance of this kind of responsibility in and of itself demands only the highest respect.

STEVANDZONTES is defined by LN as to groan or sigh as the result of deep concern or stress. The word denotes feeling which is internal and unexpressed [Moulton-Milligan]. “The author’s desire is that the leaders may do their pastoral duty with joy and not with sighing or groaning, where the participle in Greek expresses manner. The burden can be taken as what the leaders experience if the readers disobey or in the sense of if the leaders had to give a negative account” [David Allen, NAC]. We should be considerate of our elders, doing our best not to add to the heavy burden they currently bear by nature of their office and function.

ALUSITELES which means, “pertaining to being of no advantage—‘of no advantage, without special benefit.’” To create unpleasantness in the elder relationship by making their job less than joyous is unprofitable for us. We derive no benefit from making it hard on our elders to lead.

One of the first signs of danger in the world of biblical studies is that men, educated men, unnecessarily take the simple and direct and twist it into the complex and convoluted. They seemingly are able to put together a five-thousand-word explanation that does nothing but make the clear, vague. What can we learn about Hebrews 13:17 by studying the historical context and language in which it was inspired?

1. We learn that God has placed spiritual leaders in the church. Since God does nothing without a purpose, it is safe to say God had a good reason for doing what He did.

2. We learn that God has commanded us through the author of the Hebrew letter to obey the authority He has place in the Church and to submit to it.

3. We learn that godly elders are continually looking out for our souls as those who will actually give an account to God for how they lead and for the health of our souls. This applies to ethical as well as doctrinal purity.

4. We learn that we are to submit with joy, making sure that we do not add to the burden of those whom God has placed over us.

5. Finally, we learn that it is unprofitable for us to add to the burden of those who lead us in Christ. We derive no benefit whatever from making their task unnecessarily more difficult than it already is.

6. We learn that obeying and submitting to ecclesial authority is not an option that we can take or leave. It is a commandment. We also learn that this situation in the Church was not temporary. There is no reason for anyone to think that once the canon became complete that those who can read are no longer under any obligation to obey and submit to their elders. Such thinking introduces an unjustifiable pragmatism to the text.
Hays’s argument can be boiled down to two basic thoughts: first, since we have the authoritative revelation and can access it ourselves, the need for submission to local elders is no longer necessary. Second, there are pseudo-elders out there, wolves in sheep’s clothing and therefore to teach ecclesial submission is to place people in harm’s way.

So long as believers walk around with a sin nature, the need for godly oversight and humble submission is necessary. The current state of affairs in many Western and especially American churches is quite frankly pathetic. The Church is filled with self-authoritative individuals from top to bottom. No one takes the sermon seriously because they have decided for themselves that the old man is a buffoon; that his beliefs are antiquated and outdated and that they have the same proficiency in handling the text as the next person. If the Church doesn’t play the right music, or have a strong hedonistic entertainment environment for the self-centered, Jesus-loving youth, we are free to move on without hesitation. Hays’s approach, rather than correct and rebuke the current cafeteria-like, marketing approach that most people take to Church selection, encourages it.

Without a proper understanding of the nature of the Church, and what it means to be part of the body of Christ, a sound view on the subject of ecclesial authority is nearly impossible. As long as Church is viewed through the modern lens of American culture, that is, a place where I decide to go because it meets “x” need or makes me feel like “x” or provides “x” for my family, the NT concept of “the Christian Group” will never be understood, appreciated or realized in modern times. The consequences will continue to be church hopping on a whim, self-appointed apostles, prophets, and leaders who set out to start ministries like most Americans start a business. The thought of elder sanction and submission rarely cross our minds. Hays completely misses the point when says that his view is not anachronistic. It is his pragmatic and modern way of looking at things that leads him to draw the conclusions about the text that he does. Like so many others who handle the text, Hays fails to remove his cultural bias to get to what the writer is saying and more importantly, why he is saying it.

The truth of the matter is that in Steve Hays's understanding of the nature of the authority of the Church, and her elders, it seems that the modern existence of elders would be superfluous at best. I would be interested in understanding Steve's view of what submission to the Church or elders actually looks like. If it isn't any of the things I have pointed out, then what is it? So far, Hays's only positive statement about submission is that we submit to the authority of special revelation. But bound up in THAT authoritative revelation itself is the command to submit to something other than the authoritative revelation. In other words, the one thing Hays admits we must submit to, Scripture, commands us to submit to our leaders. Hence, refusal to submit to one's elders biblically, is ipso facto refusal to submit to the authority of Scripture.

Ecclesial submission was never put in place because the Church lacked the canon. Ecclesial submission was put in place because, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  “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. (Acts 20:29-31)

Ecclesial submission was put in place "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:12-13)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Steve Hays on Ecclesiology: A Unique View on Ecclesial Submission

In response to Steve Hays at Triablogue, I have decided to provide a response to his position on ecclesial submission.
This is often quoted by high churchman to keep the laity in their place. But it’s important to keep in mind that Biblical commands and prohibitions typically have an implied situation. An implicit or explicit situational context.
To be faithful to Biblical commands and prohibitions means we must make allowance for the implied situation, and apply those biblical injunctions to analogous situations. Far from honoring the authority of Scripture, to disregard the implied situation can make a mockery of original intent.
As I discussed recently, there are well-meaning Christians (e.g. John Murray, Wayne Grudem) who say there are no circumstances in which it is right to lie. They treat the Mosaic prohibition against perjury as a moral absolute.
But in so doing, they are decoupling the Mosaic prohibitions from the Mosaic law, of which they are a part, and reassigning them to any law code. But can you simply transfer those prohibitions from a just to an unjust law code? If a human law code substitutes darkness for light (Isa 5:20), if attaching the Mosaic prohibitions to an unjust law code would generate a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, are we really honoring the Bible? Or have we perverted justice?
Likewise, you have well-meaning Anabaptists who apply 1 Peter 2:13-14 to a modern democracy. But that disregards the implied situation of Christians at the time of writing.
I have already pointed out Hays’s unfortunate characterization of why men call upon this text in discussions about biblical submission. The subtle inference is that we must watch out for men who call upon this text in such discussions because their motivation is more than likely to abuse or lord it over the poor layman. This tactic is regrettable and in my opinion questionable in terms of the Christian ethic.

Steve makes the point that we must make allowance for the implied situation if we are to properly interpret Scripture. The standard way of saying this is that we must take into consideration the historical context within which the text was written. However, an overemphasis on this principle could lead to situational ethics even within the Christian system of ethics and this could have disastrous results.

Hays provides a perfect example of my concern when he asserts that in some cases, it is perfectly right to lie. He places prohibition against lying within the Mosaic Law and proceeds to relativize deceptive behavior. I have reviewed Hays thinking in this area and must say that I cannot agree with his conclusions about the practice of deceptive behavior. This post is not the place to address that issue.

What Hays is attempting to do from the start is relativize the injunction given in the New Testament that believers are to obey and submit to their elders. Let’s take a look at Hays’s argument and provide some responses as we go.

Where Heb 13:17 is concerned, we need to take the implied situation into account:i) There were no Christian denominations back then. There were no rival theological traditions in the Apostolic church.
But nowadays, which elders should a Christian submit to? Baptist? Methodist? Amish? Lutheran? Anglican? Presbyterian? Assemblies of God? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox? Oriental Orthodox?
Should a Christian layman submit to Pope Francis, John Spong, James Pike, Gene Robinson, Katharine Schori?
Clearly the situation is more complicated. It’s necessary for a layman to make a preliminary judgment regarding which elders merit submission. A layman must decide for himself which denomination or independent church has a better understanding of the Bible.  The alternative is to flip a coin. So a layman has no choice but to exercise some independent theological judgment regarding which elders to submit to. Simply defaulting to an authority-figure isn’t a viable option when there are competing authority-figures vying for our submission.
While it is true that there were no denominations at the time of the writing of Hebrews, it is not true that there were no rival theological traditions. The NT is replete with doctrinal and theological threats to the truth claims and values of the Christian group. Perhaps these did not rise to the level that Steve has in mind, but the fact of the matter is that there were heretical competitors lurking everywhere. In fact, the reason for the writing of this very letter was the concern over massive defection from the Christian tradition that was being established back to Judaism.

I agree with Steve that the number of churches and denominations, especially in American culture can be confusing and challenging for any young Christian. But isn’t this approach to interpreting Hebrews 13:17 anachronistic. Shouldn’t we first seek to understand exactly what that writer was getting at before attempting to apply it in our context? The existence of a million denominations has little if any bearing on the task of exegeting and understanding Hebrews 13:17.

Does a layman decide for himself, or is there more to it than that? Are we free to pick and choose which church we attend based on our own personal preferences? I would suggest that the role of the Holy Spirit in the area of spiritual growth is a strong common denominator for how believers decide which church they should join. A love for God and His truth, which is the unavoidable by-product of genuine salvation will move an individual to like-minded people. Is this really individual choice or is it the result of the Teacher who leads us into all truth?

ii) Does Heb 13:17 enjoin unconditional obedience? This verse qualifies the nature of submission. The laity are accountable to the leaders insofar as the leaders are accountable to God.
By converse logic, if church leaders are derelict, then the laity aren’t accountable to unaccountable leaders.
V17 comes on the heels of vv7,9. The laity are admonished not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. Given the fact that false teachers even infiltrated NT churches when the apostles were away, you could easily have a church, even in NT times, a church planted by an apostle, where the leadership went astray. A church where the elders were heretics.
So surely Heb 13:17 doesn’t enjoin blind submission to church elders. That would give false teachers carte blanche.
I am in full agreement with Hays on this point. There are churches where the elders have been seduced by the deceiver, and who have shown themselves to be false converts. My response above shows how God protects true believers from such deception. Jesus Himself said it is impossible to deceive the elect. The Teacher is our guide into all truth. But there is a God-ordained means by which this process takes place.

The laity are indeed accountable to the leaders and to one another as the leaders are accountable to God. But the danger zone is precisely here. Who determines when the leaders are NOT accountable to God? By what standard? How can we protect ourselves from both error and insubordination? Where is the balance? Safety is found in the perspicuity of Scripture. If you deny this doctrine, you end up upon a sea of pure subjectivity without any authority structure at all. Moreover, the determination that a group of leaders is not being accountable to God is exceptionally easy to see. If it is unclear of foggy, the best course of action is to submit from a sincere heart. The seductive aspects of radical autonomy, especially in American thought should serve as serious warning signs for each of us. We are reared in a culture that values the individual, freedom, autonomy in an idolatrous fashion. We must consider this fact any time we talk about ecclesial submission.

We do not want to give leaders carte blanche. However, I am afraid that Hays’ lack of a positive statement on biblical submission gives the individual carte blanche and that is no better than the problem he seeks to avoid. His solution destroys the Church far quicker than the problem he is trying to solve, false elders teaching false doctrine.

iii) Keep in mind, too, that at the time Hebrews was written, the NT wasn’t complete, collected, or disseminated.Most laymen couldn’t read. Even if they could, they couldn’t afford books. That’s why the Scriptures were read aloud in church.Back then, laymen were far more dependent on church leaders for their knowledge of the Christian faith. But nowadays, Christian laymen can go straight to the source. They can read the Bible. They can read Bible commentaries. Biblical theologies. Systematic theologies.
Hays seems to imply that ancient ecclesiology was what it was for merely pragmatic reasons. We are, presumably, past that now. We have progressed. We don’t need the structure they needed because we are, after all, more sophisticated. We can read it for ourselves! We can read commentaries! This is no solution at all. The idea of submission is much deeper than Hays seems to understand. It goes to the very nature of the Christian Church. We are one! We are the body of Christ. Biblical submission can only be rightly understood if one rightly understands the organism that is the Christian Church. Hays’s understanding of ecclesial submission seems misplaced. Rather than being the product of the very nature of the Church, for Hays, ecclesial submission seems more pragmatic, more of a matter of convenience. I strongly disagree with such an ecclesiology.

iv) At the time Heb 13:17 was written, elders were either apostolic appointees or ratified by apostles. Witnesses to the life of Christ were still alive (Heb 2:3).
Once again, we’re in a very different situation. Both pastors and laymen depend on the same source of information–the Bible. It isn’t mediated in the same way.
We need to apply biblical prescriptions and proscriptions to situations comparable to what the injunction originally envisioned. To tear a Biblical injunction out by the roots and transplant it to a completely different situation isn’t honoring the authority of Scripture.
If by “ratified by apostles” Hays means authorized by delegates of the apostles, I agree. Titus was not an apostle, yet one of his duties was to ordain elders in every city. I suspect Titus was not the only one given this responsibility. Moreover, I highly doubt that he had to review each candidate with an apostle prior to their appointment.

Hays seems to say that we don’t need to do it that way any longer because our situation has changed. This raises concerns around Hays’s version of situational ethics based upon his situational hermeneutic. This method introduces a degree of subjectivity that should make any theologian or pastor squirm with discomfort. After all, God had the text penned, not just for the ancient Church, but for the Church of all ages.

In summary then, I can agree with Hays that we must not blindly follow leaders without some form of structure and accountability. Elders must submit to Christ’s Word as they carry out their responsibilities. In addition, they must submit to one another. Finally, they must submit to the Church as a body. While there is no guarantee in numbers, the level of safety is increased exponentially. For icing on the proverbial cake, we do have the Teacher as our Great Protector.

I agree with Steve when he says that entire sessions have been given to serious error and even heresy. But this is not easy to pull off. One does not flip a switch and end up with an apostate church. It generally takes several years for this to happen. Believers must be discerning about their Church. Their loyalty must be to God, to His Truth first. True believers have the Holy Spirit and are enabled to recognize, in time, when the deceiver has the floor.

I am not urging blind commitment to elders. I am not advocating that leaders can lord it over the people of God. Elders cannot inject their own opinions on non-essential issues and invoke the authority of the church on such matters. A plurality of elders in Spirit-filled Church helps to mitigate such behavior.

I am urging believers to view biblical and ecclesial submission through the lens of the ancient Church and not from the standpoint of modern American culture. We do not have the right to leave a church over petty issues. Such thinking is natural, carnal, sinful, and rebellious. And such thinking unfortunately is reflected in a majority of Christians today. We think we have rights to pick our own church based on whatever criteria WE decide. We think we have rights to privacy. We think we have rights to engage in whatever ministry WE want without any interference from anyone, even our elders. This is a very serious problem in Protestantism.

I see no positive statement about biblical submission in Hays’s ecclesiology. It simply does not exist.

Hays’s statements almost indicate that he doesn't like the idea of submission himself and this is the reason he takes the position he does.

Hays’s ecclesiology leads to a radical individualism that destroys the oneness of the body of Christ.

Hays’s ecclesiology provides no framework or protection for the body in terms of her ministers and teachers or her ministries.

Hays’s ecclesiology is pragmatic at best and highly subjective at worse. It is based off an anachronistic understanding of biblical submission. He reads back into the text from the modern perspective. He makes excuses for why they did it that way and why we no longer have to concern ourselves with texts like Hebrews 13:17.

Leaders in the body of Christ are called by God and eventually recognized by the Church. They may take months or years of training before they are permitted to engage the public and be the face of the Church and of Christ to the world. But there is a disciplined process in place. Jesus selected His apostles. The apostles replaced Judas. Paul ordained elders. Paul ordained men to ordain elders. The deacons were selected by the congregation with the consent of the apostles. Elders had a very specific set of standards to meet before they were qualified. This also applied to deacons. This gives us good reason to think that such standards apply to all men who desire to serve in such capacities. These standards REQUIRE a formal ecclesial structure by which we identify such men.

There are leadership requirements for men in the Christian Church. They are to display certain values, skills, and abilities that others do not. The very existence of these requirements demands some level of authoritative structure. Without such structure, we could never enforce the requirements and ensure godly leaders are appointed which is what Scripture demands. Hays seems to ignore this fact altogether in preference for an ecclesiology that is more American, more individual, more autonomous, more pragmatic, and more subjective.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Eradication of Biblical Christianity: Texas Senator Warns of Hate Speech Charges for Pastors Preaching Scripture

A renown Christian senator from Texas recently expressed his belief that following the push for same-sex marriage in America, it is possible that those who speak out against the lifestyle will face hate speech charges.
In an interview with David Brody of CBN, Senator Ted Cruz was asked if he sees the issue of homosexual “marriage” leading to other concerns for pastors.
This is without a doubt the trajectory of American culture. Like or not, America's godless disposition is being more and more conspicuous. For years Americans have been able to hide behind a deistic moralism not far from the outward expression visible in Christian theism. However, the destruction of Scripture as the Word of God has resulted emboldened the younger generation and a significant percentage of other generations so that autonomous morality is now pervasive both in the culture as well as in most churches.

“Well, if you look at other nations that have gone down the road towards gay marriage, that’s the next step where it gets enforced,” Cruz replied. “It gets enforced against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages, who speak out and preach biblical truths on marriage.”  
The Church must certainly do a better job of preparing itself for what is coming. I am amazed that the same conditions of uncritical thinking, very little training on how to interact with these arguments, and no training or teaching takes place on how to relate to people who make these arguments. The bad news is that America is not even close to a Christian culture any longer. The good news is that America is a rich mission field with more opportunities to share the gospel and speak of God's truth than one could ever have imagined just twenty or thirty years ago.

It is far more difficult to engage people with the gospel when those people are convinced they are already saved and actually do love Jesus than it is to engage with people who are not afraid to express their unbelief directly. This landscape presents us with an opportunity to genuinely give many people the true gospel who have really never ever heard it before. What they hear is the pop-psychology version of the gospel proclaimed by men like Perry Noble, Steve Furtick, Rob Bell, Brian McClaren and others. This is not the gospel. From an apologetics standpoint, they hear men like William Lane Craig teaching a version of original sin that is far removed from Scripture and outright denying the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ for eternal salvation.

The homosexual movement is determined to put an end to the open and free expression of biblical Christianity. The reason is simple. Biblical Christianity says two things about the lifestyle that are simply unbearable to those who are living it. First, it says that this kind of sexual activity is unnatural and perverted. Second, it says that homosexuality is a sin that God will judge. Hence, from Christianity's perspective, homosexuality is both unacceptable from the standpoint of human nature as well as from the standpoint of divine morality. It is a lifestyle that is unnatural and immoral. This is a position the homosexual community is not willing to merely disagree with. They are not willing to agree to disagree on this point of view. They want this point of view eradicated from American society. And it seems they are doing an excellent job of making sure that happens.

The Church of Jesus Christ must continue to speak the truth in love. We must continue to focus on God's revelation, pointing out the truth about this lifestyle without hesitation or apology. The calculated refusal to express and defend God's truth in total would result in the eradication of Biblical Christianity from the American culture. We know that the Christian Church will never be destroyed. We know she will endure to the end. But there is no promise that the Church in America will continue to exist to the end. I suspect there will always be a remnant of the Church in America to the end. But I could be just as wrong about that as right. On the bright side of things, we can say that true Christians and false ones will continue to become more and more obvious. And for that, I am thankful.

For entire story click here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Russell Moore Rebukes White America: SBC Ethics Leader Engages in Open Ethical Failure

You can read the entire interview with Dr. Moore at The Washington Post.

Did a lot of Southern Baptist pastors preach on the Trayvon Martin case (Land retired from the commission several months after being reprimanded for controversial remarks about the Martin case)?Most white evangelicals, white Americans, are seeing this microscopically in terms of this verdict, and most African Americans are seeing it macroscopically. It’s Trayvon Martin, it’s Emmitt Till, it’s Medgar Evers, it’s my son, it’s my neighbor’s son, it’s my situation that I had. . . . Most white Americans say, “We don’t know what happened that night,” and [whites] are missing the point.

How do you feel about the verdict?Regardless of what Trayvon Martin was doing or not doing that night, you have someone who was taking upon himself some sort of vigilante justice, even by getting out of the car. Regardless of what the legal verdict was, this was wrong. And when you add this to the larger context of racial profiling and a legal system that does seem to have systemic injustices as it relates to African Americans with arrests and sentencing, I think that makes for a huge crisis. . . . I think many people assume our racial tensions are in the past because we have a Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, an African American president, but these sorts of situations demonstrate the raw reality that that’s not the case.

These two questions merit a somewhat critical response. Dr. Moore, is after all, the man in charge of ethics and Religious Liberty in the worlds largest Protestant denomination. Dr. Moore seems to imply that knowing the facts about the incident is irrelevant. We don't need to know the facts in order to evaluate the arguments and propositions being made as a result of the incident that night. I beg to differ. If Dr. Moore is right, then it could just as well have been 3 black guys attempting to gang-rape Zimmerman's wife and it wouldn't matter. The "Whites" would still be wrong for refusing to pass judgment on an event they did not witness and the Black community would be right to scream racism. Contrary to Moore's reasoning, the facts of the case that night make all the difference in the world IF anyone is going to use that incident to argue that race played a factor. How could it be otherwise? Moore doesn't say. If the Black community is going to compare Trayvon to men like Medgar Evers, then they have the burden to show that the situations were parallel. Nothing in any investigation so far has shown any similarities whatsoever.

I have to admit that Dr. Moore's second answer is very disturbing coming from a man in his position. Moore calls Zimmerman's behavior "vigilante" in nature. To be sure, this is a judgment about Zimmerman's behavior, but it is more than that. It goes to motive of the heart. Dr. Moore is being reckless with such characterizations and it is nothing less than shocking to see a man in his position engaging in such unethical and immoral behavior. Fact: Zimmerman was on the neighborhood watch team in his gated community. He sees a young man who is not supposed to be in the gated community. There have been several break-ins lately. Zimmerman decides to follow Martin from a distance while calling police to come investigate. How is this vigilante behavior? Maybe Zimmerman should have just ignored Martin. What if Martin was one of these men who was breaking into homes. Zimmerman would have been irresponsible NOT to do something! What is the point of having a neighborhood watch if you are NOT going to report suspicious activity. Dr. Moore's accusation is absurd on this point. If Trayvon had been white, I suppose we wouldn't be having this discussion. That is ridiculous. The color of his skin is irrelevant. If Zimmerman had been black and Martin white, it wouldn't change a thing.

Dr. Moore tells us that Zimmerman was wrong for getting out of his car. Why? Dr. Moore doesn't say. He presumes that Zimmerman was engaging in racial profiling. The only way one can determine if Zimmerman really was engaged in racial profiling is to know what was in his heart at the time. And none of us know that. Therefore, we cannot say if Zimmerman was actually profiling Martin. We also cannot say if Zimmerman had a vigilante mindset. That, too, is a matter of the heart. Moore seems to forget that in situations like this, people get the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

From my perspective, the SBC head of ethics is guilty of judging George Zimmerman's heart. Dr. Moore cannot know if Zimmerman had vigilante inclinations and he cannot know if Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin. Moore says that Zimmerman should not have exited his automobile. Maybe that is true, maybe it isn't. Are we really going to indict Zimmerman for getting out of his car when we think, after the fact, from a distance, not being in his shoes, that he should have remained in his car. At the very least, this second guessing seems overly harsh and unrealistic. In the worse case scenario, it seems that even if Moore is right, and I don't think he is, then Zimmerman was guilty of making a bad judgement call to get out of his car. I must confess, I would have done the same thing. I would have wanted to let this person know that I was identifying them just in case they thought they could break into my neighbors home and take what does not belong to them. I suppose I have just as bad of judgment as Zimmerman.

I was not there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin and neither was Russell Moore. We do not know what really happened. Neither of us can read Zimmerman's mind or know what Trayvon was doing in a gated community that he knew he had no right to be in. The incident was a tragedy. To allow it to create hate and lead to riots or protests that create unnecessary hindrances for people is inexcusable. To make comments that might be construed as justification for the racism that exists in the black community is irresponsible. Here are some very interesting facts about the latest numbers on racism in America:

37% of Americans believe that black Americans are racists. Only 15% said most Whites are racists.
31% of black Americans said that most black Americans are racists while 24% said that most Whites are racists. The poll was conducted by Rasmussen. You can read the article at Rasmussen.

Racism is hatred. John informs believers of this indisputable fact: The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. I Jn. 2:9-11 It does not matter what the color of your skin is. Hate is proof God is not present in your heart.

So what is the Christian to do with this incident. The tempter has come to us all and he tempts us to hate for all kinds of reasons. I grow weary of being called a racist because I am white. I have friends who I know grow weary of being accused of things just because they are black. Satan wants us hating one another. He seeks to devour us with hatred. That is what this is really about. It is about rebellion against God. It isn't really about racism. It is about our heart attitudes and whether they are completely and totally surrendered to God. My focus has to be on pleasing my King and Redeemer. I cannot allow the hatred I see cause me to think ill of my brothers and sisters. That is the temptation. It isn't about just us, whites and blacks. It is about our Maker, the one who has created all men from one man, Adam. He is the one who has redeemed men from all races through one man, Christ. Our devotion to our redeemed is witnessed by our love and respect for one another.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

God Is A White Racist! So Says A University of Pennsylvania Professor

Ivy League Prof Calls God a ‘White Racist’ for Zimmerman Verdict
God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.
When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.
I try to stay away from political issues as much as possible on this blog. Typically, the only time I bring them up is when they intrude on Christianity. It think that is precisely what is happening where professor Butler is concerned. So much could be said about these comments. The rippling effect is notably encyclopedic. I will do my best to focus my concerns on the religious implications of the professor's observations.
Apparently Professor Butler is not pleased with the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial. I have my own personal opinion about the trial, but from my perspective, it is a secular issue decided in secular courts and my concerns are primarily dealing with the Church and the Christian gospel, not only in this culture but across the planet. Nevertheless, Professor Butler has made the decision to blame the Zimmerman trial on Christianity. From the start, Professor Butler says God is not good all the time. Now I realize there is likely some satire in the professor's words. However, there is usually a grain of truth under the layer of satire. I suppose that the only way God could ever be good is if He gave us everything we ever wanted.
Professor Butler has apparently been a very deprived woman, having been reminded repeatedly by American culture that she is not white. She references the abortion issue, calling it reproductive rights, and even references voting rights. I am not sure what she means by voting rights. The last time I checked, black women are legally allowed to vote. In fact, in some districts, dead black women are allowed to vote if the rumors are true.
Professor Butler then argues that the American god "ain't my god." Well, the American god is no one's god because he or she simply doesn't exist. It is on this point that I sympathize with the professor. America has indeed corrupted the image of the one true God. But America is not the only country to do this. Are we to suppose that the African nations have not engaged in some perversion of the the nature God the same as America? Should we pull out all the atrocities that the African people have committed against each other over the centuries and compare that to American atrocities to see whose is worse? Such a suggestion seems absurd. But is it any more absurd than a black female living in modern America, with a doctorate from a prestigious institution, serving on the faculty of an even more prestigious institution, criticizing a race and a country that was in large part responsible for making her current status even possible? What exactly is Professor Butler getting at?
Professor Butler then takes the statement of one man, one Latin American if you will, and applies his position to every white American in the culture. Not only is this one of the most absurd things I have ever read, it is so outrageous that I find it hard to believe that any rational, educated human being could ever think such a thing, let alone blog about it for the whole world to see. Professor Butler's comments gets to the real heart of her issue with the Zimmerman outcome: her words reveal her racism. And this is the crux of the problem. You could not make a more racist remark than Professor Butler has made. 
According to Professor Butler, whites value their safety over the black or brown people they fear. Well, George Zimmerman is brown. He is not white. This is all very confusing. But I suppose, if you are a racist, you will take whatever opportunity you can to fuel the hatred. And it seems this is precisely what Professor Butler is doing.
Professor Butler is a black woman, working in a prestigious position at one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. Anthea Butler is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Graduate Chair of Religious Studies. She holds a Ph.D from Vanderbilt University in Religion, a Masters in Religion from Vanderbilt, and a Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. There is little doubt that professor Butler would not be in the incredibly privileged position she is in if it were not for a lot of very white men. I think of the white men who fought and died in the civil war. The white president who made it happen. I think of the white politicians who slowly but surely fought for and won the freedoms all of us experience today. Professor Butler is a black woman, employed by a wonderful educational institution. She has an amazing job, and an incredibly blessed life. Somehow, for some reason, this is not enough. All those white men who fought, and died over the last 150 years to make it happen be damned. They had nothing to do with it. They deserve no credit. All white people are afraid of brown and black men and all they care about is their own safety? Tell that to the boys who died in order to pave the way in this country for you to experience the incredible privilege you experience today. If it wasn't for some pasty white guy somewhere, you wouldn't even have a platform from which to criticize them to begin with.
I think of Joseph and Job who both understood that God was and is in control of all that happens. I don't think professor Butler has been through anything remotely similar to what these men went through. Yet they could acknowledge God's sovereignty as well as His amazing grace. Professor Butler is not only NOT thankful to all the white men and women who made her very existence to be what it is, possible, she is also not thankful to God either. Apparently, God has not done enough. Would professor Butler prefer we scan the African nations even in their current conditions to see if there are parallel or even worse injustices going on there, right now, even as I write this? 
Racism is an ugly thing. It is an ungodly spirit and attitude that must be purged from the thinking of any Christian. If you struggle with this attitude, my advice is that you recognize it as sinful and ask God to have mercy on you so that you can overcome the hate. There is no room in the Christian's heart for hatred. Some of us are disappointed with the Zimmerman trial and some of us are not. The system is the best system of justice in the temporal world. But it is not perfect. Did the system get this wrong? I prefer not to say. After all, my opinion on the jury's decision does not matter in the grand scheme of things. I wasn't there. I did not listen to testimony. I did not watch it on CNN or FOX every day either. I pray that both families would find peace and move on with their lives.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Homosexuality....AGAIN...Fuller Theological Seminary Accepts Openly Gay Student

I have been saying for some time that homosexuality appears to be the major impetus by which Christianity will be subjected to persecution in the United States. I have argued that the Church and her seminaries will come under threat sooner or later because of their position on the issue of sexual orientation. The head of this movement I think has finally made its appearance. Fuller Theological Seminary has publicly welcomed its first open homosexual student. See the article HERE.

In addition, another article appeared on Fox News just yesterday. It was entitled, "Churches Fear Lawsuits Over Gay Weddings," by Todd Starnes. That story can be found HERE.

If you think the homosexual movement doesn't smell blood in the water and that it will somehow back off in a show of mercy, you are delusional. There are few things that gay people loathe more than the traditional, old-fashioned, died-in-the-wool, homosexuality is sin, brand of Christian. What they, and the rest of America and the world do not seem to understand is that there really is no other brand of Christian. Of course there are church-goers who want the homosexual issue to just go away and they are willing to do whatever they must to maintain the peace. But make no mistake about it folks; these are not Christians. If you think that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable in the sight of God and that men can have sexual relations with men and women with women, lets be clear: YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN. You may go to Church. You may say a prayer. You may even read the Bible on occasion. You have may been baptized. You may give lots of $$ to the Church. You may golf with your pastor on a regular basis. You might even be a pastor. But there is one thing you most certainly ARE NOT! YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN! You are something much different. And if that is what you want to be, then be it! But if you really want to be a Christian, one thing is required of you. YOU MUST DIE IN EVERY RESPECT of your being, to include your intellect, and you must place your entire life and faith and trust in the person of Jesus Christ. You MUST take Him as LORD over all that you do, all that you say, and all that you think! If in fact you come to this realization and to this wonderful place, your perspective on the issue of homosexuality as well as many, many other issues will absolutely take a 180 degree turn.

If you don't think that homosexual groups have had enough of this notion that they are in sin and under the judgment of God, see this ARTICLE. Are there homosexuals who are put off by this sort of behavior. There is no doubt that such is the case. That is not my point. And should we, as Christians, get in the face of anyone, to include homosexuals and point our finger up their nose promising them that God's wrath will someday consume them, much to our personal delight? Such behavior is absurd and unloving. But should we think as some do, that homosexuals simply want Christians to listen to them, to understand their struggles and if we can only do that, that somehow the fierce tension that exists between the two will somehow disappear? The evidence seems clear enough that such a thought is a little more than naive.

The message to the Christian Church and her institutions is that she needs to begin preparing today for what is to come. She needs to restructure herself to accommodate for what is about to come. We will lose tax-exempt status. We must draft our policies with wisdom to protect against invasion of the ungodly. Seminaries must begin to embrace swift change in light of a loss of accreditation and the $$ that comes with it. We need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On Justification

Each generation in the Christian community must remember that the one coming behind them brings an empty plate of theology so to speak. That is to say that one of our duties in the Christian group is to catechize the ones behind us, chronologically speaking that is. This means that we must always be in the process of educating ourselves, and those whom the Lord brings into the Group. One of the doctrines that suffers from grave error, and yet remains cardinal in the Christian system of truth is that of justification.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Contextually speaking, the connective “therefore,” points us back, but just how far. Scholars are not in agreement. Cranfield thinks it “gathers up the thought of 1:18-4:25.” He is not alone. Robert Mounce also sees it this way. There is little doubt that Paul’s line of thought up to this point is focused on man’s justification.

It is not at all obvious that the apostle is following a rigid scheme. But it is clear that he has concluded his basic account of justification and that he is now moving on to the consequences.[1] 

At the very opening of his argument, Paul points us to the truth that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ from faith to faith. From the start we not only witness Paul’s emphasis on justification, but we see his linkage of the act of justification with faith. Justification by faith, according to Paul is revealed in the gospel. We cannot help but ask if the gospel reveals the concept of “justification by faith” to us, if it was in fact hidden prior to the gospel. What we must grapple with is the act of justification, and how that act, which was wholly divine, relates to the act of believing.

What does it mean to be justified? Many young Christians cannot even begin to explain what it means. This is probably not their fault. Many churches have simply made it part of their culture to avoid doctrine altogether, in the name of drawing people in. Initially they were going to draw people in and then disciple them. Somehow, they got them in but forgot the discipleship part. What we are left with are many churches filled with many Christians who are not even able to articulate the most basic Christian dogmas. It also means that we have lots of work to do. While many churches have been busy building professional music and drama teams, youth programs, and lobbying politicians about everything from abortion to gay marriage to immigration, the members of the body have been dying of spiritual malnutrition.

The Greek word translated justify is δικαιόω. The root is dikē. At its root it means justice. The verb form means to engage in the act of justifying. In essence it means to clear someone of a transgression. It means to be found in the right, be free of charges. George Zimmerman was just justified of the charges against him in the Trayvon Martin incident. It means you are declared innocent by the legal authority under whose jurisdiction you fall.

The construction in Romans 5:1 has the word appearing as an aorist, passive participle, plural, nominative, masculine. Hence, the best way to render this form in English is “Having been justified.” The author’s focus is on the act as a whole without emphasis on a particular aspect. He moves from his argument for the fact of justification to the consequence of our state now that we are justified. Maybe it is better to say that Paul shifts his attention to the “now that” part of the argument. Now that you have been justified, what is the state?
It is the gospel of Christ, according to Rom. 1:17 that reveals God’s righteousness to us. The entire hinge of justification is the gospel. From what then do we need justification? Just as George Zimmerman was under charges, so too is all of humanity. Romans one informs us that all men pervert the gift of God’s revelational knowledge. In addition, Paul tells us in Rom. 2:11, there is no partiality with God. All men stand condemned regardless of their race or status. In Rom. 3:9 Paul asserts that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. He then informs us that no one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, there is no fear of God in humanity. All of humanity stands guilty, condemned before the perfectly holy God. Because God is holy, and righteous or just, sin cannot go without punishment. There is no imperfection in the divine court. Justice is rendered perfectly in each and every case. Each and every one of us have come up short of the divine moral standard according to Rom. 3:23. None of us can justify ourselves before God’s court, before the divine Lawgiver. We are all the same! That is not so easy to remember when we are looking at the failings of others and so easy to forget when we look in the mirror. We are wicked sinners and that is the nature of wicked sinners. We are guilty.

Paul’s declaration brings with it an amazing sound of hope. “Therefore, having been justified by faith.” What a mysterious thing to say! I touched on the implications of the aorist tense of this participle above. Now it is time to touch on its voice, and the significance that has on the meaning of this word. The participle is in the passive voice, meaning that the act of justifying is being performed on us. We do not have an active role in justification. How could we? George Zimmerman did nothing at his trial but watch the fate of his future being decided entirely by the court. In the same way, justification is a divine act that takes place in the divine court by the divine Lawgiver Himself. To be justified is to be declared innocent by the court. The doctrine of justification within the Christian religion is the view that God officially declares His elect to be just, innocent of the charges brought against them. And just as George Zimmerman has passive in the court’s decision, so too are Christians. We cannot act in our own behalf to be declared just. Only the court can make such a declaration. Only God’s court can declare the Christian just. This is the sense of the passive voice of the participle in Romans 5:1.

The doctrine of justification is entirely focused on the contribution of the divine. It takes man out of the equation. It is the business of the Father and the Son who is declared just. To be sure, no one deserves this declaration. We are all equally guilty and deserving of eternal damnation. Only a healthy understanding of God, His holiness and our sin can help a person understand this concept. If you have trouble with the idea that God condemns men who have never heard the gospel, it is simply due to the fact that your view of God, sin, and sinners is somehow missing key biblical elements.

When we misunderstand the nature of God’s holiness, we cannot help but misunderstand the nature of sin and the seriousness of our own rebellion. Moreover, when we misunderstand these things, we are surely going to misunderstand our own justification and the amazing grace that accompanies it. This misunderstanding leads men to utter folly in their preaching, evangelism, and apologetic.

It leads men to think that some men can be saved, redeemed apart from Christ, apart from gospel preaching. One famous apologist contends that the Indian worshipping the great spirit and doesn’t know anything else can be justified. He contends that God would be a monster if this were not true. Well, it isn’t true and so I suppose he things the God of Scripture is actually a monster. Justification comes only by faith. It is the gift of God and the instrument by which God accomplishes it is faith. Another leading apologist believes that Jesus is appearing to people in visions around the world where the gospel has not been proclaimed and that Jesus is actually preaching to people in these visions and people are becoming Christians as a result. This kind of thinking betrays a terrible understanding of the nature of God. In an attempt to protect God from charges of being unfair, these men destroy the beauty of God’s holiness and the profound depth of His love and grace to fallen humanity.

The doctrine of justification points us back to the nature of God. It lifts high for all to see His perfect holiness. As a result, it helps us appreciate the significance and serious of sin and rebellion. It helps us understand the hatred God has for sin due to the high cost He was willing to pay for our justification. That is another subject for another blog as we move through Romans 5:1-11. Praise God who has justified us and now we are continually at peace with Him. More to follow.

[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1988), 217.

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