Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

It’s Not About Us


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith–such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, but I don’t see the rationale behind the idea that a person is an “agnostic Christian.” The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong–it’s thinking that our answers are better than God’s that is wrong.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding–all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


"The Achievement of the Grail" (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

“The Achievement of the Grail” (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

How gullible are people? How willing to believe a newcomer capable of working marvelous deeds? These questions are central to Martyr’s Fire, third in the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer.

Part of me would like to say, people are skeptical enough and wary enough that they wouldn’t be swayed from truth to falsehood by magic tricks. On the other hand, I’m well aware of a general desire for “signs” as proof of the truth of a thing.

For example, people in Jesus’s day were asking Him for signs that would prove He was the Messiah. And today isn’t so very different. How many news accounts have aired about people lining up for blocks to pray before a window stain in the shape of Christ or a tortilla chip in the form of the Virgin Mary?

It would seem that people are inclined to believe signs that align with their already held beliefs. Consequently, the people in Jesus’s day were looking for signs suited to an all powerful conquering king. They were looking for someone who would bring an end to Rome’s rule over Israel.

People praying to a stain or a bit of tortilla already believe in praying to images. For them, the appearance of the image in an unexpected place and time is a miracle, an evidence of God’s presence and willingness to hear and answer prayer.

The opposite also seems to be true–people without a prior inclination to believe will be hard to convince. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and first asked him to let the people of Israel go to worship their God, he performed several signs–the ones God had implemented when He told Moses he was to free Israel. Rather than responding with belief, however, Pharaoh was skeptical and hard-hearted.

In fact, he had his own magicians replicate a number of Moses’s signs. He was not quick to believe because Moses was producing signs to verify something Pharaoh did not believe. He did not believe the God of Israel was the one true God, and he did not believe his slaves should be allowed to walk free, even for a short period to worship this God.

In Martyr’s Fire, and in Book 2, Fortress of Mist, Sigmund Brouwer capitalizes on this general inclination people have of embracing signs consistent with already held beliefs. In one instance, the people embrace the hero of the story, and in the other they embrace his enemies.

When I first read that the people of Magnus, the city Thomas freed and began to rule, made an about-face and wished to imprison him, I thought it was too unbelievable. But I was forgetting how a mob might be swayed–how a crowd can shout “Hosanna,” one day and “Crucify him,” the next.

Brouwer skillfully portrays the power of expectations and belief in the miraculous to sway a people, and within pages, those who once embraced Thomas as their king now realistically are turning against him.

Upon this point, the entire story of Martyr’s Fire hangs. If this change of loyalty is not believable, the idea that Thomas must run for his life and hide and scheme is meaningless. The book would fail. Happily, in my opinion, it did not.

Here’s the critical turning point. Hugh de Gainfort, one of the Priests of the Holy Grail claiming to be a sect representing the one and only true church, is addressing a crowd in Magnus–a crowd he has ensured will be as large as possible. He holds up a statue of the Madonna. Then this:

“She blessed this statue for our own priests, thirteen centuries ago. Our own priests, who already held the sacred Holy Grail. Thus, she established us as the one true church!” [said Hugh.]

A voice from the entrance to the church interrupted Hugh. “This is not a story to be believed! This is blasphemy against the holy pope and the church of Rome!”

Hugh turned slowly to face his challenger.

The thin man at the church entrance wore a loose black robe. His face was pale with anger, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Ah!” Hugh proclaimed loudly for his large audience. “A representative of the oppressors of the people!”

This shift startled the priest. “Oppressors?”

“Oppressors!” Hugh’s voice gained in resonance, as if he were a trained actor. “You have set the rules according to a religion of convenience! A religion designed to give priests and kings control over the people!”

The priest stood on his toes in rage. “This . . . is . . . vile!” he said in a strained scream. “Someone call the Lord of Magnus!”

One of Hugh’s men slipped through the crowd and placed a hand on the priest’s shoulder and squeezed the priest into silence.

No one else moved.

Hugh’s smile did not reach his cold black eyes. “The truth shall speak for itself,” Hugh said gravely. He turned back to the people. “Shall we put truth to the test?”

“Yes!” came the shout. “Truth to the test!”

Hugh then performed his miracle, the second the Priests of the Holy Grail had shown the people, and the turning of Magnus had begun. Thomas’s good friend and counselor tries to warn him:

Gervaise shook his head and pursed his lips in a frown. “Thomas, these new priests carry powerful weapons! The weeping Madonna. The blood of St. Thomas. And the promise of the Holy Grail.”

Gervaise paused, then added. “Thomas, tell me: Should the Priests of the Holy Grail become your enemy, how would you fight them?”

Thomas opened his mouth to retort, then slowly shut it as he realized the implications.

“Yes,” Gervaise said, “pray these men do not seek your power, for they cannot be fought by sword. Every man, woman, and child within Magnus would turn against you.”

The swaying of a crowd. On the surface, such a dramatic change might seem unbelievable, but by utilizing the beliefs and expectations, the fears and frustrations already existent, a few well-placed signs and “miracles” can do the trick.

At least Sigmund Brouwer has me believing it is possible.

Others in CSFF are also interacting with Martyr’s Fire this week, so I encourage you to check out their posts. Tell them Becky sent you. ;-)

Is It Really God’s Fault?


Camping_billboardJust under two years ago, the Western world was reeling at Harold Camping’s prediction of the end of the world–reeling with laughter, that is. Once again the professing Bible believer had calculated the date of Christ’s return, a date which obviously came and went without a single Camping follower meeting Jesus in the air or a single coal of fire igniting an all consuming fire.

To make matters worse, that latest was a re-calibration of an earlier May 21 failed prediction which was a re-calibration of the one he made in 1988. When the third prophetic pronouncement yielded nothing but scorn, Camping admitted he had been wrong. Some even said he apologized since a number of his followers had reportedly sold their possessions to help fund the ad campaign to get the word out.

Others like myself didn’t see an apology in what he said, but perhaps his “I was wrong” actually meant “I’m sorry I led so many astray with my sinful, prideful, false prophecies.”

The 90-year-old broadcaster told his listeners that the Rapture did not occur October 21 because it was ultimately God’s will. “He could have stopped everything if He had wanted to,” he said. (“Camping Apologizes”)

What goaded me then and what has stuck with me for the past two years is this implication that God was at fault for not stopping him. His “confession,” in my opinion, was akin to Adam’s: “The woman YOU gave me handed me the fruit and I ate” (OK, I admit, my paraphrase and my emphasis).

This thinking, however, actually mirrors some of the reasoning of those who reject God. If He was all powerful, they say, He could stop wars and gang violence and cure cancer and pretty much all forms of suffering, sickness, pain, and death.

Except, God told Adam not to eat of that tree because if he did, if he so much as touched it, he would die.

So Adam sinned, but it’s God’s fault.

On the flip side are Christians who take the “let go and let God approach.” I don’t want to misrepresent this position because I know godly Christians who genuinely believe that they must only wait on God, and He will stir them to action.

My problem with that centers on the fact that every believer who has a nine-to-five job seems stirred to action when the alarm goes off at six each morning. Why would it be wrong for someone not under a time requirement to be stirred by the same godly motivation–responsibility?

We should be obedient to love our neighbors. No one makes us, though. We won’t get fired if we don’t welcome someone new or share with the person in need or pray for the one in the hospital. So we wait for God to prompt us, to give us the nudge by His Spirit.

However, I submit, it is sinful for us to wait for God to move us to do what He’s already told us to take care of.

It’s as sinful for Harold Camping to say, God didn’t stop me as it is for other Christians to say, God didn’t start me.

The truth is, God did stop Mr. Camping. Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 tell us that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return. Yet Mr. Camping felt compelled to do his special calculations to figure out the day, at least, if not the hour. Why would he say God didn’t stop him when he clearly ran right through God’s stop sign?

And those who are waiting on God’s special nudge to do what He’s told us to do–whether it’s to love our neighbor or honor our parents or work with our hands or season our speech with grace or forgive our enemies or a host of things–these folks, it seems to me, are sitting at a green light with their engines running and a full tank of gas, waiting for God’s special invitation above and beyond that green light He gave in Scripture.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel, He says in Mark 16:15. Preach with our lives, with our speech, with our writing, with our good deeds even, Peter says. So why are we waiting for a special invitation from the Holy Spirit, to do what God told us to do in His Word?

Published in: on September 9, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Comments (12)  
Tags: , , ,

A Different Jesus


Names of Jesus2In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, he wrote something that struck me as odd:

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor 11:3-4)

I’m referring to the part of the above passage in which he says “another Jesus.” Did he have in mind, another “Christ?” I could understand that–already there had been various people claiming to be the Messiah. So if Paul would have said, if someone claims to be another Christ, don’t be deceived, that would have made perfect sense to me.

But he chose instead to say “another Jesus.” And of course that word choice was as inspired by the Holy Spirit as all else he wrote, so I wanted to grapple with what “another Jesus” would look like.

In truth, I think it is probably easier to understand today than it was in the first century, because a number of “other Jesuses” have shown up.

Take for example the Mormon Jesus. This is a Jesus who is not a person of the One True and Triune God. Rather he is a god, like all of us–one of the Father’s spirit children, special only because he is the first begotten (not the only begotten as John 3:16 says). He is brother to Satan and Plato and Paul himself–the son of god and god, as we all are and can become.

This Mormon Jesus is decidedly different from the Person Paul wrote about who is the image of the invisible God, who created all things and by whom all things hold together.

The Mormon Jesus isn’t so very different from Example Jesus–the person some believe to be such a good person he should be our model for living. If we could only love as he loved, serve as he served, our lives and those of the people around us would be so much better. We simply need to commit ourselves to being like Jesus.

The problem with Example Jesus is that he is only a shadow of the real Person. Jesus didn’t come to show us how life is done. He came because no matter what we do, we can’t make life work. We don’t need an example to follow; we need a Redeemer to rescue us, to set us free.

Example Jesus is pretty close to Kinder, Gentler Jesus. This is the person some believe came to right the wrong of the angry god of the Old Testament who needed to repent for venting on people and committing genocide. Hence, Kinder, Gentler Jesus showed up, loving others and giving his life to make amends and to prove that god was different now–loving and willing to forgive instead of judge.

Kinder, Gentler Jesus misses the mark because he doesn’t have any explanation for all the stories the true Jesus told about “outer darkness” and a place where there was “gnashing of teeth.” The true Jesus also graphically described the day of judgment on many occasions–a day when goats and sheep will be separated, when wheat and weeds will be divided.

Some people counter with Mythical Jesus. He wasn’t a real person at all–simply the idea of a bunch of first century Jews who were dissatisfied with the status quo. They envisioned a Messiah who could do all kinds of amazing things like heal the sick, feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, walk on water, order demons out of possessed people. Not that they for a minute believed he really did those things. They were creating a myth like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.

Mythical Jesus stands in contrast to Historical Jesus. This is the person some scholars who disdain the miraculous discover by stripping Scripture of all the “signs and wonders” the True Jesus says were evidences that He had in deed come from the Father. But no, the Historical Jesus was a wise teacher who stirred up many followers who later embellished his actions to make him worthy of acclaim as they went about talking him up. The Historical Jesus was pretty unremarkable. And of course, he never actually came out of his tomb alive.

I’ve only touched on some of the many different Jesuses that have arisen over time. And as I began writing this post, I realized there’s a whole book about them–My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. I gave an idea of the number of Jesuses Matt discussed in one of my CSFF Blog Tour posts about the book:

Along with his own custom-built Jesus, Matt, the character, encountered King James Jesus, Political Power Jesus, 8-Ball Jesus, Peacenik Jesus, TV Jesus, Legalist Jesus, New Age Jesus, Free Will Jesus and any number of others belonging to the SSIJ (Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses). There are even those who people invent for a specific reason and then discard “when they don’t need him anymore.”

How quickly I forget. Or perhaps I never connected the idea of “re-imaging” Jesus with this passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians. In reality, he says, anyone preaching a different Jesus is using the same deception that Satan used against Eve.

In the garden, the issue was “Has God really said . . .” Because Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, Satan really hasn’t changed his tactic. He’s still questioning God’s Word: “Is Jesus really . . .”

Peter, who was in the perfect position to know, had this to say, which pretty much answers Satan’s charge:

For [Jesus Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God . . . for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:20-21, 23)

Is God’s word reliable? Both His written word and His Incarnate Word are reliable and true and enduring–the first for revelation, the second for salvation. There is no other Jesus whereby a person may be saved.

Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Evangelical Myth #3 – Suffering And God’s Blessing Are Incompatible


america_arrestMost people probably wouldn’t want to admit it, but if they’ve taken the time to read the book of Job, they’re inclined to think his friends make a lot of good points. I mean, can we really disagree with Eliphaz when he says,

According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
(Job 4:8)

Of course, we have the prologue in the first chapter that tells us Satan is testing Job, but without that information, what would we honestly think about him?

He was rich beyond measure, well respected in the community, generous to the poor and needy, godly in every respect. And then one day, his world collapses. He loses practically everything he owns, his children die in a freakish storm, and then he himself gets sick. Horribly, painfully sick.

Would we conclude that God’s favor is on this man?

Again, I understand how the idea that suffering and God’s blessing are incompatible got a foothold in evangelical circles. After all, there is some Biblical foundation. Take Psalm 1, for example.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

Clearly, in this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, God is saying there are advantages for the righteous. Those advantages could easily be interpreted as here and now.

But there are also any number of passages that indicate suffering has nothing to do with wickedness. Christ Himself suffered, and we are to experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Peter and John suffered because they wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus. Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” which God would not heal. Stephen suffered to the point of death.

In the end, the Christian who believes the Bible and doesn’t just give lip service to it, must take into consideration its entire counsel if we are to understand what God wants to teach us about suffering.

A brief summary shows that suffering

    * may come as a part of persecution
    * can be a blessing
    * may be a result of Satan’s opposition
    * sometimes exists solely to bring God glory
    * is something in which we can rejoice
    * is experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world
    * can be experienced by those who are doing wrong

One thing that seems absent is the idea that suffering is a sure sign of sin. Peter says it’s far better for us to suffer for doing right rather than for doing wrong, and he commands believers to make sure they don’t suffer as “a murder or thief or evil doer or a troublesome meddler.” But if we suffer as Christians, he says we’re not to be ashamed.

So Peter highlights the fact that suffering can be a consequence of sin or a result of persecution. In other words, there is no automatic, “this is what suffering means” answer.

Peter actually seems to look favorably on suffering. In his first letter, he starts chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that last line, but clearly, he was looking at suffering in a completely different way than do most western evangelical Christians.

I think about the newly converted Paul having to leave Damascus in a basket because his fellow Jews were trying to kill him for preaching Jesus. I suspect today if someone had a similar experience, they’d write a book about being disappointed in God for not smoothing the path for their preaching or they’d give an e-zine interview about how they lost their faith because God couldn’t be counted on.

The fact is, we put God on trial and judge Him based on whether He gets us out or keeps us out of uncomfortable, hard places. When we walk through the fire, we think God has messed up, but the prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

There’s no promise there that the waters won’t be overwhelming or that the fire won’t come near. There is God’s promise of His presence, His direction, and even His protection in the midst of suffering.

James says, “When you encounter various trials,” not if you encounter various trials.

The real question doesn’t seem to be “will we face suffering,” or even “why do we face suffering,” but “how will we face suffering.”

As long as western evangelical Christians buy the myth that suffering is incompatible with God’s blessing, I don’t see how we can respond with the kind of joy Peter and James both talk about.

Evangelical Myth #2 – God Loves Us Because We’re Special


George Herbert

George Herbert


Western culture influences the evangelical Church. One evidence of this influence is in the development of a Man-centric worldview. Humankind has grown in importance, at the expense of God.

A literature professor of mine gave a generalized view of the philosophical shift that has taken place.

For centuries the culture was God-centric, to the exclusion almost of Man’s responsibility for his sin. God was over all, created all, engineered all, and Man was little more than a puppet or, as the hymn writer said, a worm.

During the Renaissance there was a shift toward valuing Mankind in a different way–in a balanced way. Writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, and a number of others known as the Metaphysical Poets wrote of God in a more intimate, personal way, and some also wrote of their own personal experience.

Today, the pendulum has shifted further so that Mankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran recently addressed this topic in his article “On Worm Theology,” in which he used the term “worth theology” to describe the current thinking (emphasis in the original):

On the other hand, consider that there is a movement afoot, both in Christian and secular circles, to overemphasize Man’s inherent goodness, giftedness, esteem, and worth. This view swaps worm theology for worth theology, defining God’s redemptive actions in terms of our intrinsic goodness and worth. Rather than self-loathing, worth theology affirms our nature, destiny, and latent abilities. Of course, it can also lead to ego-stroking, gauzy positivism, and an inflated sense of self. Not to mention, denial of the concept of “sin.”

As I understand the rationale for this “worth theology,” it revolves around sentiments like “God don’t make no junk” and “if we are to love our brother as ourselves, then we first have to learn to love ourselves.” Ultimately, we must understand how worthy we are because Christ died for us. Certainly He wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t worth dying for.

Well, actually He did.

As I understand Scripture, our great worth does, in fact, come from our creation. The “God don’t make no junk” idea is pretty accurate. We learn in Genesis 1 that all God made, including Humankind, was very good.

But if we go no further, we are still not better than worms. What we’ve too often overlooked is that God elevated Humans in a way that forever separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: He fashioned us in His likeness and breathed His breath, or spirit, into us. We, then, are God’s image bearers!

He also gave us dominion over the rest of creation–not for us to despoil or waste or misuse, but to enjoy, to maintain, to care for. It’s a high and holy charge that God has not rescinded, despite what Humankind did next.

In Adam, we turned our back on God. WE created a barrier between us and God; because of OUR sin and transgressions, God has hid His face from us so that He does not hear. We marred His image in us. It is this state–the absence of the presence of God, the spoiling of the good He made–that makes us wretched.

Some of us are conscious of our state and others deny it with their every breath–still fighting God for control. We want to prove we don’t need Him, that we can do life on our own.

Denial doesn’t change things.

The insidiousness of the “worth theology” is that Humankind climbs into a position of control in a similar way as we do if we choose to deny Him. Man, like a finicky cat, deigns to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, is all about our best life, our comfort, ease, our safety and welfare.

Not really.

Christianity is about God. That we have been created in His image is a reflection of His creative power. That He saved us is a reflection of His love and mercy. That we have the ability to walk in newness of life is a reflection of His grace and goodness.

Life, even life here and now, is not about us. It’s about God. And wonder of wonder, He turns around and includes us.

- – - – -

    Love
    by George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

Weren’t First Century Christians Strong Believers?


Kenneth_and_Gloria_Copeland_hosting_Believer's_Voice_of_Victory_-_2011One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians in the first century that their suffering meant they were blessed?

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because, why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were by and large at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute–except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

If The Shepherds Fail, What Happens To The Sheep?


shepherd083When I read the book of Jeremiah, some times I feel as if he was talking about contemporary Western culture. Instead he prophesied during the last thirty or so years before Judah fell to Babylon. During that time, he repeatedly warned the people of the impending calamity. God, he said, would not rescue them because Babylon was His instrument of judgment upon them because of their evil deeds.

Rightly so, he especially lambasted the leaders, who he referred to as the shepherds of God’s people: the rulers, the priests, but especially the prophets.

“Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard,
They have trampled down My field;
They have made My pleasant field
A desolate wilderness.” (Jer 12:10)

The priests were to bring sacrifices to God and to follow the Law. The rulers were to be models before the people of living according to the Law. The prophets were to listen to God’s voice and communicate His word to the people. Instead

“The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
And those who handle the law did not know Me;
The rulers also transgressed against Me,
And the prophets prophesied by Baal
And walked after things that did not profit.” (Jer 2:8)

The people didn’t escape condemnation. They were complicit in the evil that the leaders brought on Judah:

The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so!
But what will you do at the end of it? (Jer 5:31 – emphasis mine)

Which brings me to today. Well, last night actually. I turned on a TV station called Daystar which airs these Christian music/Bible verse/nature picture montages–except last night in place of those was what appeared to be a concert.

I watched for a bit and soon realized my mistake–this was not a concert but the “worship” portion of a large church service. My first clue was the attractive little advertisement that opened at the bottom of the screen giving information about the pastor’s new book which could be purchased by calling such and such a number. As I watched, the ad changed to one for the church newsletter, to sermon CDs, to past books, to a “thank you” for donations and the contact information where people can write. Before long, though, the new book was again front and center.

I’m a writer, so I appreciate that speaking can lead to book purchases, but this particular pastor, who did eventually preach, is well known for his health and wealth message. It’s a false message, as much so as the one delivered by the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. But there in that packed concert-hall type facility, with its broad stage and professional lighting, the people were only too happy to drink in the false teaching spewing from the pulpit. I suspect there were a good number only too happy to order a copy of the new book, as well.

So there he was, preaching a gospel that is mixed with Baal worship the love of money, using the occasion to advertise so he can make more money. Not surprising, his author bio is filled with numbers–how many people attend his church, how many watch his messages on TV, even how much money he spent renovating his church.

And My people love it so!

Clearly there are thousands–millions, if those stats can be trusted–who love it so. But Jeremiah’s question applies to us today as well: “But what will you do at the end of it?”

How many people are “trusting Jesus” for the misused promises this pastor passes on, and will come to the end of life without any idea about the redemption God offers, purchased by the precious blood of His Son.

Take this one example of a satisfied customer:

[Author/pastor's name redacted] all that I can say is that you have saved my life and yet we have never even met. You give me Hope. Reading your books have helped me to see and believe that I am one of GOD’s children and well deserving of all the goodness, victory and abundance that is promised to those who love, praise and follow our Father’s wishes. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, you are to me a true deliverer of positive energy (emphasis mine).

To this happy reader, the author/pastor is the one who saves, who gives hope. Rather than seeing himself as a sinner, he now understands he’s deserving of goodness. Positive energy, not salvation from sin, seems to be the end all.

Jeremiah’s words again seem relevant for today:

Thus says the LORD of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination,
Not from the mouth of the LORD.
They keep saying to those who despise Me,
‘The LORD has said, “You will have peace”‘;
And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart,
They say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’” (Jer 23:16-17

Published in: on April 3, 2013 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Moral, Religious People Are Not Allies Of Christ


The_Moneychangers001When Jesus lived on earth, He often criticized the most religious, most moral group of people in Judaism–the priests, Levites, and Pharisees. He told parables in which they recognized themselves as the people on the wrong side of right. He usurped their authority to clean out moneychangers from the temple. He called them a “brood of vipers” on more than one occasion, and warned them that they stood under God’s wrath, that they were headed for hell (Matt. 23:26). He called them liars and said their father was the devil (John 8:44).

In spite of this example that Jesus set, many Christians today choose to embrace moral, religious people and call them allies. Fine Christian people are more fearful of the immoral, left-leaning liberals than they are of the legalistic religionist. But Jesus never went after the tax collectors or the Roman collaborators or the prostitutes the way He went after the Pharisees. He never called them names or painted them as uncaring cheats in His stories.

Why did Jesus seem so abrasive when He dealt with these Jews who were meticulous about keeping the law, and we twenty-first century Christians wink at the legalism of our new-found moral friends?

I’m referring specifically to Mormons and the Christians who are willing to “look past” their legalism, their false teaching, their lies, their distortion of God’s revelation and of His Person.

How heinous it is that we have a President who embraces abortion and gay rights, who reinterprets the Constitution. But why would we turn to a Mormon instead? Do we not care about the normalization of Mormonism as much as we care about the normalization of homosexuality? Do we think a man who believes in an invented religion with a prophet who has greater authority than the Bible, would actually think twice about reinterpreting the Constitution too?

It seems to me, Mormons have buffaloed Christians … and others, by their moral front. They want very much to be treated as just another Christian denomination, not as the cult that they are. The problem is, their founder’s and prophets’ writings show otherwise. Here are just a few points of Mormon belief many may not realize.

About God and Jesus (source for these excerpts, Truthnet.org):

  • “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangilble as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Spirit has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit…” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22)
  • “As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become” (Prophet Lorenzo Snow, quotedin Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 105-106)
  • Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 1:123)
  • When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one his wives, with him. He helped to make and organized this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:50)
  • Jesus is the brother of Satan this is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 4:1-4 and affirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282)

About history in America (source of this quote is Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry):

  • The Book of Mormon is supposed to be the account of people who came from the Middle-East to the Americas. It covers the period of about 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. It tells of the Jaredites, people from the Tower of Babel who came to central America but perished because of their own immorality. It also describes some Jews who fled persecution in Jerusalem and came to America led by a man called Nephi. The Jews divided into two groups known as the Nephites and Lamanites who fought each other. The Nephites were defeated in 428 A.D. The Lamanites continued and are known as the American Indians. The Book of Mormon is the account of the Nephite leader, Mormon, concerning their culture, civilization, and appearance of Jesus to the Americas.

latter day cipher coverFor a more comprehensive look at Mormonism, check out The Mormon Mirage by Latayne Scott. For a look at Mormonism through the personal means of a story, see the murder-mystery Latter-Day Cipher also by former Mormon Latayne Scott.

Published in: on January 30, 2013 at 6:29 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,591 other followers

%d bloggers like this: