Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Re-Blog: Excellent Blog on the Issue of Racism

"To believe that an innately sinful society inherently possesses either the capacity, or the ability, to bring about the kind of equity so zealously desired by social justice advocates is both unrealistic and naive."

Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Equipping the Saints

Equipping the Saints

There can be no doubt for the honest exegete of Scripture that the New Testament text makes an undeniable link between faith and works. True faith, biblical faith produces good works. Those works are observed through a variety of diverse gifts. They vary from giving to serving to discernment or critical thinking. They can be seen in Christians who are involved with widows and orphans and in Christians who teach and in Christians who are out witnessing to the truth of the gospel. They are administrators, coordinators, and teachers. These good works are also observed as godly living, living that is holy and reflective of a life that has been radically changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good works encompasses how we think, how we behave, and how we serve the body and finally, how we engage the pagan culture.

The purpose of the text of Scripture is to reveal to the Christian the God who created and redeemed him. In the process of that revelation, we come to understand that God has a purpose for our existence and presence in the world, or better, in this life. Contained in the revelation of Scripture is that purpose: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Why the teaching, the reproof, the correction, and the training? That the man of God, every Christian, may be complete, equipped for every good work. The reason Christians have been gifted the Scriptures is so that we can become that which God has purposed: spiritually mature and therefore, useful for every good work! Unless the pastor and elders see themselves as vehicles by which this single purpose is to be executed, they see themselves wrongly.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Eph. 4:11-14

The structure of this text is really very interesting. Christ gave for the purpose of equipping. Hoehner tells us “The personal pronoun (he), αὐτός, is emphatic.” This links it with the previous verse. What He, Jesus Christ, has done is that he has given us gifts and he has done so for a very clear purpose: for equipping. The key to understanding the purpose of these gifts is found in the use of the prepositions πρός (for) and the εἰς (for)…εἰς that follows. Hoehner writes, The progression indicates, therefore, that he gave gifted people for the immediate purpose of preparing all the saints with the goal of preparing them for the work of the ministry, which in turn has the final goal of building up the body of Christ. This eliminates the distinction between clergy and laity, a distinction with little, if any, support in the NT.

The Greek word καταρτισμός is what we call a hapex legomenon. That is, it appears only 1x in the NT. The root for this word is αρτιζω. This word appears 19x in the New Testament. Its range of meaning varies from adequate, qualified, perform, to end, complete, finish, ready, and prepared. The verb used most frequently from this root in the NT is καταριζω. It means to be put in order, restore, to prepare for a purpose. It is used to describe “mending nets,” of Christ’s body having been “prepared” for the incarnation, of spiritual restoration for the sinning brother in Gal. 6:1, and of vessels prepared for destruction in Rom. 9:22. The word is used in the benediction of Hebrews where the writer prays that God would equip them with all good things for the purpose of doing God’s will.

The gifts that Christ has given to the church are given for the purpose then of preparing the saints. The preposition πρός in this context carries the sense of striving or aiming for something. The aim of the gifts is the preparing of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ. The best depicted in a flow chart:

Here we see, in a process flow, what Paul is teaching the believers in Ephesus. The ministry gifts, such as pastors, were given, are given for the purpose of preparing and equipping the body of Christ so that the body of Christ is able to engage in the work of the ministry. And as the body of Christ executes the work of the ministry, the body is being built up. The Greek word for “building up” is οἰκοδομή (oikodome). It carries the idea of spiritual strengthening. Contrary to modern psychologized versions of Christianity which are all produced by a selfie-feel-good culture, this verse does not mean to make people feel good about themselves or to feel better about their problems. What comes clearly into view here is the spiritual growth and strengthening of the body of Christ.

The body of Christ remains in the earth for a specific purpose: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The body of Christ is to go and make disciples without ethical exception or distinction. The ethnic differences of the human race are not a consideration where Christian faith and the gospel are concerned. Notice that Jesus never said to go and make all nations better nations by engaging in political activities designed to baptize civil governments with Christian ethics. Those are not the words of Jesus. Second, Jesus commanded the church to baptize those disciples. Third, we are to teach those disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded us. Bound up in this we see that the body of Christ has a clear mission and in order to carry out that mission, the body must be prepared, readied, equipped for the cause. Hence, the purpose for the gifts of the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists. So, here is the question: do you feel like your church is preparing you to serve the body and engage the unbelieving comunity? These are the central works of ministry in which the body must be engaged.

The question for the elders and pastors is similar: are you seriously preparing your people to engage in the work of the ministry? Are you focused like a laser beam on helping your local body minister to itself and to the community in which it resides? If all you are doing is a quick hit sermon on Sunday mornings, an unsupervised Sunday School system for the most part, and a quick fly over on Wednesdays, then my guess is that you are more likely checking the box than you are actually doing anything that resembles meaningful training and preparation. And as a result, your people are likely ignorant of basic doctrines, how to study the bible, Jewish and Christian history, the great creeds and confessions and their significance, how to minister to one another’s deepest spiritual needs, and finally, they are likely very intimidated by the hostility of a godless culture to the point that they rarely, if ever, confront anyone with the Christian message.

Carl Trueman, in his book, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, writes, “It is likely that the coming cultural storms will be best weathered by evangelical organizations and institutions with more precisely defined doctrinal statements, particularly statements that are close to, or identical with, historic creeds and confessions.” If the body of Christ is going to continue to be relevant, it cannot mimic the intellectual sloth of the culture. We will have to gird up the loins of our minds and challenge one another as well as the unbelieving community in which we live. But this will take courageous leaders who are more interested in training and equipping the body than they are in the size of the body or the actual content of that body. To be sure this is hard work. This requires both energy and risk. It requires that leaders engender more intense care for God’s truth within their respective communities. This means they must show little regard for those who might wish to ignore, silence, or outright reject God’s, regardless of the giving or the status or the influence such people might have within that community. What does this look like when executed well in 2017? That is a hard question because I see very few churches who are actually executing it well. But I do have some thoughts.

Sermons have to be direct and clear. There can be no ignoring elephants in the room. When something like racism comes up, the issue has to be treated with all individuals in mind and from a purely Christian perspective. When issues like the charismatic movement comes up, the false gospel and false prophets should be called out by name and the community should be instructed to steer clear of their materials. It is not impolite to warn your family that there are “home invaders” on their property and they should dial 911 immediately. When issues like Calvinism or reformed theology come up, doctrines like sovereignty, predestination, and so forth, the leader has to be clear, he has to be direct, he has to be honest, and he must do all he can to persuade people to change their mindset and embrace what he knows or is convinced in his conscience is the truth. He cannot allow his knowledge that some people in the community hate the doctrines of grace and might leave if he is outed for affirming them. That cannot be a thought that exists in his mind. And if it does, he must swallow hard and find the courage to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences are. I am reminded of Luther as he stood before Cajetan. Luther thundered, “I am interested in the truth!” So should we be.

Teachers must be subjected to the highest standards. No man should teach in the church who has not been through intense training on basic matters. Teachers should be trained on how to handle the text, how to put together lessons, how to creatively execute on those lessons, how to make sure the lessons are engaging. Teachers should be managed. Teachers should sign a pledge never to intentionally and publicly affirm beliefs that are material in nature and contrary to the leadership of the community. If the leaders are cessationist for example or reformed, etc., teachers who disagree should respectfully avoid publicly teaching to the contrary. Teachers who disagree with basic views of leadership and the subsequent direction of leadership should either be asked to resign or resign of their own initiative. If not, they should be replaced. Teachers should receive on-going training on doctrine and on managing their own community. The communication between teachers and staff should be a matter of routine, structured, formal. It should be the duty of the teacher to structure their community in way that people within that community are engaged with one another. The teacher must also stay connected to the lives of those within his community. The old here Sunday and gone until the next Sunday has to end.

The community should take advantage of online training. Every church should have a seminary or university type portal designed to train the community. There should be home-grown courses in that site that take Christians deeper into biblical doctrine. The church has to take education much more seriously than she has in the past few years, decades even. This online portal should be aggressively managed so that it has a process built in to remain current with sermons and other areas of focus in the church. It should be real-time capable.

The reason Christ gave gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the church is for equipping the saints, not checking the sermon/teaching box. There is a lot more to training people than checking the box that we preached about or taught about a certain subject. We must be more deliberate and intentional in how we train people to be better thinkers so that they are better prepared for the work of the ministry, for the spiritual strengthening of the body, so that the body can continually engage and challenge the culture with the Christian gospel.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

JD Hall v Ante Pavkovic Debate: Critical Review II of II

This is Not That

At 1:04 –

In his cross examination of Ante, Jordon used a Mormon website that affirms the charismata. However, Ante missed Jordon’s point completely in his rebuttal because he attempted to casually dismiss the problem by saying that Mormons also believe in prayer, so that means we should do away with prayer. The real problem for Pentecostal/Charismatic theology along these lines is that Mormons, Catholics, Modalists (people who deny the Trinity), prosperity subscribers, other religions, and even cults all practice the very same ecstatic utterances of gibberish as those who claim to be more orthodox in their doctrine in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. When modern linguists study the practice from a scientific standpoint, there is no discernible difference in the practice among these various groups. It is the exact same phenomenon. Therefore, the Pentecostal claim that their tongues are an extraordinary act of God is patently false. So unimpressive is the practice that anyone can learn how to do it with minimal instruction.

The second point of this section is Ante’s attempt to defend the long ending of Mark. Ante believes that the ending of Mark was initially removed by infidels who did not believe in the resurrection of Christ and so they took it out. The idea is that all the resurrection accounts, on this view, were added to the gospels later as the church was trying to deify Christ. Ante actually says the source for rejecting the ending of Mark is “from the devil.” This is typical Pentecostal rhetoric and intimidation when they become nervous that their doctrine may actually be in jeopardy.

I do not want to get too side-tracked in textual criticism, but it seems appropriate to refute Ante at least at some level on his outrageous claims around the ending of Mark. First, the earliest and best MSS which are Siniaticus and Vaticanus do not contain Mark 16:9-20. Second, of the church fathers, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem show no knowledge of the longer ending of Mark. The historian Eusebius said that the most accurate copies of Mark ended with v. 8. Third, there isn’t just two optional endings in the MSS evidence. There are five potential endings in the MSS evidence. Which one is correct? The earliest MSS that contain the longer ending of Mark are no earlier than the 4th century: MSS according to Eusebius, Jerome, Severus. The only exception is a Latin translation coming from Irenaeus. Fourth, the longer ending is stylistically incongruous with Mark. Scholarly consensus then is that Mark did not write any of the endings available to us except, of course, the one that ends at v. 8. Ante’s claim that most MSS contain the longer ending is, from a textual critical standpoint, irrelevant.   

It is also worth mentioning that Ante thinks that Mark could not have ended without having a resurrection account. The implication is that if we reject the longer ending in Mark, we end up with an Markan ending that is absent a resurrection account. This is confusing to me because when one reads Mark 16:1-8, they do in fact find a resurrection in Mark’s gospel. In fact, Mark 16:1-8 is entirely focused on the empty tomb. The angel says, He has risen; he is not here! Again, Ante’s basic mistakes are piling up one by one.
At 1:28

Ante begins with the proposition that the Bible teaches that the gifts of the Spirit would continue until Jesus returns.

Ante references Matt. 28:18-20. Ante’s argument is that Jesus was given all authority and that through the charismatic gifts, that authority would be granted to the church for the purpose of world missions. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 24 not to leave Jerusalem but rather, wait until they are clothed with the power from on high. Again, in Acts 1 Jesus reiterates his command. And in Acts 2, this power falls upon the disciples through the filling of the Holy Spirit. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the filling of the Holy Spirit and the charismata are conflated in this argument. Moreover, Ante still has not made the case that the miraculous tongues (languages) that appeared in Acts 2, 10, and 19 should be understood as normative phenomenon when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit. Out of the 11 conversion stories in Acts, only 3 references the supernatural language abilities. And out of the 6 mentions (Acts 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 19) of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit, only 3 of them (Acts 2, 10, 19) include any reference to tongues. Therefore, the assumption that the filling of the Holy Spirit will always be accompanied by tongues is simply false. Paul reinforces this fact in 1 Cor. 12:30: Do all speak with tongues? The Greek construction requires an emphatic negative answer – no! So, not everyone in the body will speak in tongues according to Paul as documented here in 1 Cor. 12:30. But in Eph. 5:18, this same Paul commands that all Christians are to be “being filled with the Spirit.” It is safe to assume that all Christians must be filled with the Spirit since Paul commanded it and to live a lifestyle in perpetual disobedience is an indication that one’s faith is not genuine.

Therefore, if Ante is correct, and being filled with the Spirit is always accompanied by tongues and I am right when I say that Paul commands all Christians to be filled with the Spirit, then this would mean that those of us who do NOT speak in tongues are not filled with the Spirit, and are living in perpetual disobedience to Scripture and are therefore not saved. The point I am making is really this: the same apostle Paul who commanded all Christians to be filled with the Spirit is the same Paul who unambiguously denied that all Christians would speak in tongues. This must mean that even in Paul’s day, in fact, and yes, even in Corinth, that not everyone who was filled with the Spirit spoke in tongues. In fact, this same Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, and said that God has blessed us (all Christians) with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. I do think that being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, according to Ante’s theology, would be considered one of the spiritual blessings that Paul is talking about. Paul went on to say that we are all sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. This is the same promise Peter referenced in Acts 2:38, and that Jesus referenced in Acts 1:4. Moreover, the same Paul said to the Corinthian Church at 1:7 that they were not lacking in any spiritual gift even though not all of them spoke in tongues. So even in Paul’s day, it was possible to “not speak in tongues” and be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be “not lacking” in any spiritual gift. Ante’s argument has hit a proverbial brick wall. His conclusion that everyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues, or, more accurately, supernatural languages.

For the remainder of this section of the debate, Ante goes off on what can only be described as a Pentecostal tirade lifting text after text out of context in order to support his radically biased and anachronistic hermeneutic. There is literally nothing that I could find worthy of rebuttal. At the risk of sounding uncharitable, it was an embarrassing moment among embarrassing moments.

Some closing points
·      The apostle Paul did not believe that speaking in tongues always accompanied being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
·      Of the 11 conversion accounts recorded in the book of Acts, only 3 mention tongues. (27%)
·      Of the 6 accounts of people being filled with the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, only 3 mention tongues.
·      The ending of Mark has 5 different options, not two. [1) Siniaticus/Vaticanus; 2) Bobiensis; 3) A, C, D, θ, f13, 33, Maj MSS, & others; 4) W, MSSaccording to Jerome, 5) L, ψ, 083, 099 & others).
·      The tongues mentioned in Scripture are genuine languages – spoken miraculously as a divine sign that God is ushering in the New Covenant.
·      The miracles and healings in the NT were indisputable.
·      The Holy Spirit is the dispenser of the gifts. He gifts them out as he wills, not as we will.
·      The church fathers overwhelmingly speak of tongue-speaking as the supernatural gift of speaking in real languages: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Hegemonius, Gregory of Nazianzen, Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, Augustine, Leo the Great, and implied by others (such as Tertullian and Origen)

Afterthought: How to debate Pentecostal/Charismatic Theology

When I debate Pentecostals, I like to begin the discussion by talking about their more egregious errors rather than their experiential bent. Many Pentecostals hold to oneness theology, modalism. These oneness Pentecostals engage in exactly the very same practices as Trinitarian Pentecostals. There is no experiential difference between them. How could a heretic be filled with the Holy Spirit? Second, the overwhelming majority of Pentecostals believe you can lose your salvation. This reflects a serious heresy in their soteriology. Third, as mentioned above, most Pentecostals believe that ecstatic utterance is a necessary sign that always accompanies the experience of being baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. After demonstrating that these first two views are heresy and the latter serious error, I move to my cessationist arguments.

My approach to discussing and debating the operation of the gifts is pretty straightforward. I begin by affirming that God can perform a miracle today if he chooses. God can heal today. And if God chooses, he can gift someone in a foreign country with the gift of language not previously studied for missionary purposes, if God so chooses. Having said that, my assertion is simply this:  the claim by modern Pentecostals and Charismatics that they are practicing the very same charismata we read about in the NT church is patently false. Essentially, my claim is the contradictory of Peter’s quote of Joel: this is not that.

First, one must examine the nature of these gifts exegetically without regard for modern phenomenon. What was the nature of tongues in the NT? What was the nature of prophecy? And so on and so forth. Once you have determined the nature of these gifts using sound hermeneutical and exegetical principles, only then can you examine the phenomena within modern Pentecostalism and Charismatics. What are they doing? Is what they are doing what the early NT church did? NOTE: you cannot examine these modern claims using Scripture alone so to speak. You have to use other methods. One such method is empirical in nature. When a Pentecostal “faith-healer” comes to town making remarkable claims to be able to cure all sorts of ailments, we don’t use the Bible to see if he is telling the truth. We examine the actual physical evidence in front of us. For example, when people who can walk are placed in a wheel chair and a faith-healer prays for them and they stand up and walk, how can you refer to the Bible to determine if a miracle just took place? If that is your method, you will never figure out who is a true faith-healer from the false faith-healer. So, what you do is examine the person to see if they really were paralyzed to begin and if they really can walk now. You study the nature of the phenomenon itself. The same is true with modern tongues. Is this that? Are modern tongues of the same nature as that which we see in Scripture. Does the modern experience match our exegetical analysis of the text of Scripture? Well, we don’t simply use Scripture to make this determination. We have to look at and examine the nature of modern tongues. And when we do, we discover some remarkable things.

·      The modern practice of tongues is not actual languages. Therefore, it is not the same thing that the NT church experienced.
·      The modern practice of healings and miracles are unverifiable and nebulous at best. In fact, no one claiming to be a miracle-worker or faith-healer has been able to demonstrate clear proof of his or her gifts with anything close to authentic documentation. In fact, every time a Pentecostal is given the opportunity to “show us” they fail. On the other hand, the NT miracles were verifiable and uncontroversial. Therefore, the modern claims that miracle workers and faith-healers exist is illegitimate and demonstrable false.
·      Finally, scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated that modern tongues, better understood as ecstatic utterances, are not miraculous in nature, are identical to tongues practiced by other religions and cults as well as heretical Christian groups, and can be learned or copied by anyone wishing to do so.

I do believe that Peter would say: this is not that!

Same-Sex Attraction and the Continued Collapse of American Evangelical Christianity

Christianity isn’t collapsing! The gospel hasn’t changed an iota! Jesus Christ is the same today as he always has been and always will ...