Social Justice And The Gospel


There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in the cyberworld because of a statement Pastor John MacArthur made, and thousands of other evangelical Christians signed, about Social Justice and the Gospel.

In essence MacArthur’s statement is a call for Christians to hold fast to the teaching of God’s word and not get swept up in the rabbit trails the world would lead us down.

I’ve been listening to MacArthur most mornings for about the last six months or so. Maybe longer. I have to say, I often disagree with him. Not substantively, but in places where he is so absolute, so dogmatic, that he doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement by others who are just as serious and knowledgeable about God’s word as he is.

From my perspective, I think he comes across a little arrogantly. I say this with love, mind you. Because I do think he cares deeply for God’s word and makes a great effort to help people grasp the truths of Scripture. And hold on to them. Without error. But still, at times he can be abrasive and seemingly, callous. But he’s right more than not.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, error does and has and is creeping into some bodies of the Church. Hence, in a recent blog post, MacArthur states

The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world.

I don’t disagree with him.

Our sin is no different from the people of Israel worshiping Yahweh and some Egyptian idol or Canaanite god. Sadly, we are just as prone to look around, see what people in the world are doing, and say, “Let’s do that!” Because, you know, people will like us better. People will come to Jesus more, and isn’t that our goal?

That actually puts in the best light the desire to do what the world is doing, but some groups have motives that aren’t that noble. Yet even the most upright of motive misses the point that we don’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit does. We are to do the works of righteousness, to be ambassadors for Christ, telling the world near and far that we have a Savior who will rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.

But recently we’ve headed down some of those cultural rabbit trails that MacArthur is warning us about. We’ve set the gospel aside to proclaim social justice instead.

The confusing thing is that the gospel is all about social justice, so by proclaiming it we are simultaneously, and more effectively, dealing with the glaring ills of society.

In some ways you could think of social justice as a subset of the gospel. I think it’s sort of like the Pharisees who locked on to the command to keep the Sabbath. After all, some of the prophets reamed the nation of Israel for not keeping the Sabbath—a contributing cause of God turning them over to Babylon and Assyria.

I suppose the Pharisees were determined that would never happen again, so they came up with an elaborate system of laws to make sure that someone didn’t work on the Sabbath. Their motive seems like it was good, but they were not dealing with a person’s heart. They were simply concerned about the outward appearance.

Social justice is like that in many respects. There are needs—homelessness, crises pregnancies, homosexual lifestyles, gender confusion, race relations, and more. So let’s clean up these problems, social justice seems to say.

But the real problem is in the heart. Cleaning the outside of the cup will only give a cup that looks clean, but all the germs are still on the inside and that’s what can cause real problems.

The Bible takes on the heart first, but also requires believers to take on the things that create confusion in our culture. Not by creating a Moral Majority or an evangelical voting block or some other system that copies the world. We already have our “system.” It’s called the Church.

And the Church is designed to equip the saints to go out into the highways and the byways and preach the gospel and love our neighbors and tell the world about Jesus.

Sadly, the poor we will always have with us. And yet we are to create a Church environment that makes room for the poor. We are to care for widows and orphans in their distress. We are to share Christ with the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman equally.

But we aren’t simply to clean the outside of the cup. That’s inadequate and doesn’t address eternal needs.

Back to the internet controversy about MacArthur’s statement, I think there is some disingenuous opposition and some genuine concern. Some people say, a lot of his statements give those who are racist a reason to hate and claim that they are doing so according to the Bible.

That’s a sad misreading of the text, of both Scripture and MacArhur’s. One can only reach that conclusion by ignoring the clear statements that present what the Bible actually says about Christian unity. Of course, there very well might be some people who want an excuse to hate. I don’t know that the Church can do anything to change that, apart from proclaiming the truth to them, too.

On the other hand, there are people who believe what the world is saying about feminism and homosexuality and gender, and they simply hate what the Bible says about those issues. Their criticism of MacArthur and his statement is disingenuous. They don’t really have a quarrel with him. Their quarrel is with the Bible because they don’t want women to accept roles that aren’t identical to men’s roles. They don’t want to bow to the authority of Scripture when it comes to sex.

They are like the children of Israel who made alliances with the nations they were to steer clear of, who later wanted a king rather than God to lead them, who drifted from worship until the temple was in a ruined state and the Law had been forgotten.

This is what John MacArthur is warning the Church about. When we follow in the footsteps of the people of Israel, we are jeopardizing our witness in the West.

No fear. The Church will flourish. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. But maybe in the West, the lamp will go out. Like it did for a time in Ephesus and Laodecia and the other churches in Revelation. It just might depend on what this generation does.

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Feminism In The Church


Today I heard part 2 of an excellent sermon by Alistair Begg on his radio program, Truth for Life. He spoke from 1 Corinthians 11 and addressed the issue of gender and what God has to say about the role of men and women. It’s worth the listen.

I haven’t addressed this issue in a long time, in part because my position hasn’t changed and in part because what I say is, frankly, unpopular. People don’t want to hear that in God’s perfect economy women have a different part to play than do men. In terms of a stage play, we are the leading ladies, not the leading men. Both are significant, and both are needed, but both are not identical.

Anyway, this article is one that I have edited from—are you ready for this?—seven years ago. And I still believe what I wrote. Largely because the Bible is still the authority, no matter what various people try to make it.

– – – – –

Times, they are a-changin’, you may have noticed. This is true in any number of fields, but not less so in the Church.

Sadly, ungodly cultural proclivities seem to be creeping into churches—even my Bible-believing evangelical body. We are not immune. No one is. And for that reason, it is important for us to continually examine Scripture to see if these things are so.

The “things” I’m referring to today is feminism in the Church.

Of necessity we need to define terms. When I use “feminism” I have in mind the belief that women are equal to men in all respects, if not superior. Hence there should be no distinction in role or function between men and women.

One blogger [article no longer available] wrote “we overwhelmingly are affected by the outside world’s view of women and their role in the church and society rather than that of Jesus or the Bible.”

Interestingly, the majority of this article gives a justification for taking the teaching of Scripture about women and their role in the church and placing it in a cultural context. In other words, what was true in “that culture” isn’t true today. While there is some truth to this thought, there are firm principles by which we should stand.

Further, this place that we give to the thinking of our culture, over and above the Bible, disturbs me. Seemingly we are playing the “keep up with the Joneses” game, and the Joneses are those that make up the mainstream of our culture.

I believe this is the kind of false teaching that the New Testament writers warned against. Paul said to the Colossians that he was laying down doctrine about Christ “so that no one will delude you with persuasive arguments,” and that they were to “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Today we seem all too happy to give in to the persuasive arguments of those who discount Scripture. We seem happy to be captivated by the traditions of men.

But I want to look at the BIBLICAL role of women in Christianity.

I believe, as another blogger said beautifully in “Christianity v. feminism,” that “Christianity allows women to be women. Allows them their femininity. Allows them their freedom.”

But the culture has said, No, Christianity has taught men to oppress women and keep women from doing and being all they can be.

I don’t doubt that down through time there were religious leaders who taught error in regard to women’s roles. However, that’s true about error in a lot of areas, such as indulgences and renting pew space.

We ought not look at tradition, as Paul said in Colossians, whether that tradition comes from religious or irreligious people. We need to align our beliefs with the sure Word of God.

The Bible is not murky about women and our role:

1) We are equal with men in ministry (see Philippians 4:3b “…these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life”)

2) We are equal in salvation (see Galatians 3:28 “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”)

3) We are unique in our roles. In this respect we are not less than but different from men. (see 1 Cor. 14:34a “The women are to keep silent in the churches”).

Athletes understand this perhaps better than anyone else. In football there are “glamor” positions—quarterback, running backs, and receivers. But without linemen, the guys who literally do the heavy lifting, those in the glamor roles go nowhere. The quarterback gets sacked, the running backs get thrown for a loss, and the receivers never see the ball.

The point is, women are biologically different from men and as Scripture reminds us, we came into the creation process after Man. In God’s perfect plan, He therefore assigned men to the “glamor” positions in the Church. Not all men, of course.

Some men are to be pastors and elders, and other men are to be parking lot attendants or library volunteers or servers in the coffee shop. Are these latter to be filled with envy because they don’t have the glamor positions? Clearly not.

Why, then, should we assume that it’s OK for women to covet the glamor positions? And covet is exactly what it is.

Our culture has told us we women should have something Scripture says is not meant for us. This all sounds so Garden of Eden-ish, doesn’t it?

What Is Cultural Christianity?


I heard a pastor on the radio talk about cultural Christianity, but I thought his answer was fairly incomplete. Basically he said that in the US many years ago most people knew about Jesus, and a lot of people were saved, even people you thought maybe you could share the gospel with.

Well, that was only partly right, I think. I think Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus explained cultural Christianity more correctly.

Growing up as a Muslim and as a second generation American, Nabeel understood Christianity more from what he learned at home than he did from any personal encounter with Christians.

Eastern teachers have taught the Muslims that the West is Christian, that its culture is promiscuous, and that the people oppose Islam… I remember pointing out to [my parents] that the people dressed provocatively on television might not be Christian, and their response was, “What do you mean? Don’t they call themselves ‘Christian’? Don’t you see them wearing crosses?” If I argued that some of them may be Christian in name only and might not even believe in God, they responded that this simply meant they were Christians who don’t believe in God. They did not categorize religion with belief but with cultural identity. (pp 80-81, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus)

Those who are culturally Christian do things that Christians do such as celebrate Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving. They might even go to church from time to time. They might pray at meals, like the Reagan family does in the TV program Blue Bloods. They might wear crosses and even send their children to a parochial school. These are traditions they keep because they’ve been raised in tradition, but they have no personal understanding or belief in Jesus and His saving power over sin. Their “Christianity” is only culturally deep. It doesn’t reach their heart or change their life.

The radio pastor is an evangelist and I respect him a lot, but he was talking about cultural Christianity as if those who have the Christian tradition were in a better place than people who have no familiarity with who Jesus is.

I think the opposite is true. People who think they know about Jesus, who picture Him perpetually as a baby in a manger or as a bloody figure on a cross, don’t understand the gospel. But they think they do. So they don’t have a grasp of the fact that they need to listen to someone who teaches what the Bible really says.

Many cultural Christians actually deny Christ and turn their back on Him. Oh, I’ve tried that, they’ll say, and it doesn’t work.

Doesn’t work? What did they think a relationship with God was supposed to “do for them”? They are behaving like consumers. They went out shopping for religion, bought the one that seemed to promise the most, then found it wanting.

Christianity isn’t like that, but cultural Christianity is.

That’s the problem. Too many people, and not just Muslims, but atheists, too, think they know what Christianity is when they only have a nodding acquaintance with cultural Christianity. I like to refer to cultural Christianity as pretend Christianity, though the latter term also includes false teachers and cults and “progressives” who say they believe, but who deny Jesus in one way or another.

Christianity has become a kind of catch-all term and it breaks my heart that one aspect of it is culture that is permissive, greedy, immoral. Those things have nothing to do with God’s holiness and goodness and righteousness. It’s as Nabeel said: a great travesty that Muslims—and I would not be surprised if other people groups made the same mistake—associate Christianity with the American culture they see on TV.

The thing is, I think we in the Church need to make an effort to “come out from among them.” We need to be different, not by being weird, but by being more like Christ. No one should be surprised to learn that someone is a Christian. By our good works, by our speech, by our love, people should recognize that we not only have been with Jesus but that He lives in us.

FYI, you can pre-order Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, 3rd edition, from now until Aug. 20 and receive some bonus material at the website set up for Nabeel, who died of cancer a year or so ago.

Blowing Leads


The LA Dodgers, which is the first sports team I supported and cheered for, the baseball team I still follow and get behind, are going through a bad patch just now. They were ahead in a game against Colorado a couple nights ago, and lost. Then the following night, the Rockies earned a walk-off win when one of their players hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gets worse. The Dodgers came home to face the Giants last night, only to lose another lead in the ninth inning and once again lose the game.

These were all winnable contests. LA had the lead. The starting pitchers had put the team in position to win. But the offense stopped scoring runs and left runners on base, and the bull pen didn’t get the job done. In one instance there were two outs and the opposition onslaught started with a walk. In my way of thinking, the manager made some bad decisions, too.

My poor Dodgers.

But in truth, they remind me of America, and before it, Europe. And the Middle East. They remind me of the churches singled out in the book of Revelation. Those all started well, but there was this problem—not necessarily the same one for each. The warning was that they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t take care of their issue: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5b).

As it happens, the seven churches are located in the region we now know as Turkey. Though Christianity took root and flourished in what was then Pontus and Galatia and Cappadocia and Bynithinia, the warning of Revelation proved to be prophetic.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity . . . Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

Scholars have studied this change from one religion to another, but the bottom line is the warning of the angel to the churches: repent or your lamp will go out. Do what you did before.

I’m not one who thinks we should go back to “the good ol’ days,” but I was a coach and I did play sports and I do follow sports. There’s one thing that’s true of all sports teams: their players practice. They don’t practice fancy new trick shots in basketball, or new ways to field a baseball or creative concepts connected with throwing the football. No, actually even at the pro level, they practice the basics, the fundamentals, the right way of doing things, so that in a game they will instinctively do the right thing.

The fundamentals are important. When we’re talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the things those churches in Revelation were warned about. Things like not leaving their first love or being faithful unto death or not tolerating false teachers or holding fast to the truth until Christ comes. And most of all, repent.

How do we hold fast, avoid false teachers, remain faithful? I think it all starts by embracing God’s word and keeping it close. Reading it regularly. Memorizing it. Thinking about it, Talking about it. And mostly, doing it. I don’t know of one other thing that will return us to our first love faster than steeping ourselves in God’s word. Everything we need for life and godliness is there.

Who’s God Mad At?


Atheists criticize God (who they say they don’t believe in) because He’s angry and violent and even because He’s a “child abuser,” by which they mean, He sent His own Son to the cross.

Apparently there has been a movement among Christians that sort of agrees that the way Christians talk about salvation, paints God in these unflattering terms. Better if we drop the idea that Christ took our place on the cross to satisfy God’s justice, with something more noble: victory over sin, death, Satan, the Law. This way of understanding what happened at the cross is called Christus Victor.

I just ran across someone on the internet today who embraces the Christus Victor view of salvation as opposed to the “penal substitution” view. I guess this debate goes back to the “early Church fathers.” According to some, the Church at its inception understood salvation as Christ’s victory over sin and death, over Satan and the Law. Until Anselm. This eleventh century Benedictine monk and theologian apparently introduced the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death.

All this is interesting to me. I really was unaware there was such a “debate” over the meaning of the cross and what God in Christ did to save us.

Well, I guess I knew not everyone sees the wrath of God as a good thing. Some years ago I read an article about some denomination choosing not to include the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal because they would not change the line that says, “The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The problem I have is that I think both ideas are clear in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle Paul embraces both. Certainly he talks very plainly about slavery to sin and to the Law in Romans. Here’s a sample from chapter 6:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv22-23; emphasis mine)

A couple chapters later, he gives another clear statement of Christ’s victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:2-3)

So what is God angry at (so much so that He condemned it)? Sin, it would seem.

What about the penal substitutionary idea? What does that doctrine hold to, besides God’s wrath? The idea is that Jesus took the place of sinners and died instead of us, that the wrath of God was expended on Christ instead of on us guilty sinners.

The Apostle Paul certainly was clear that we are guilty sinners. And that our identification with Christ changes things for us. Romans 6 again:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (vv 3-5)

Perhaps Paul’s clearest expression of this doctrine is in chapter 5:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv 9-10; emphasis mine)

It’s pretty hard to read that passage and see anything but God’s wrath—against Christ instead of against us guilty sinners who should have received God’s wrath.

The Psalms reinforces the idea that some will face God’s anger:

The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy. (145:20)

There’s more to this discussion, obviously, but I think Scripture is clear: God is the victor, through Jesus Christ, and He poured out His love on us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wrath is toward sin. Christ saves us from facing that wrath as the sinners we are. In other words, Christ is Victor and He is our substitution, freeing us from sin and Satan, and death and the Law. The one grows out of the other, I think. To have one, we must have the other.

The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Church Doing What The Church Does


Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

Last week I conducted two workshops and took appointments at a local writers’ conference. A Christian writers’ conference.

In my first class, I was part of a panel of editors/former editors/publishers who gave feedback to conferees who had submitted their first 300 words of a manuscript to us ahead of time.

In the mornings I attended a fiction continuing session, and then the last day I taught a class on point of view. In between I ate meals with conferees and faculty, talked with them in the appointment room, and generally had a great time interacting with other writers about writing.

But one thing was absent—well more than one thing. There was no mean spirit. No jealousy. No angry response. Not that the professionals who were teaching softened the truth. Well, maybe the softening was there in the form of love. After all, the clear intent of all the interactions I witnessed was to help these writers become better writers.

Because I’m an editor, I even had other faculty ask me in a class they were teaching, to add or suggest or to give my opinion. No sense of feeling threatened. No selfish hoarding of the spotlight. And that attitude was replicated over and over.

In the appointment room another faculty member brought a conferee to me, saying that I would be a good fit as an editor for this person. No dismissal of the person attending her first conference, though the faculty member could have said flat out that she no longer did any editing and let the newbie go her way. Instead there was care and concern and a willingness to go the extra distance to help someone in need.

Over and over on Facebook, conferees have said how helpful and friendly and encouraging the faculty was. Even though we critiqued their work and gave them better ways to do things. Even though we told them their formatting was wrong, that there was this or that error in their first page.

These attendees stayed open and willing to listen, willing to try, willing to put their writing out there for the world to give them feedback. The faculty and their fellow conferees responded with truth and with love. This is the mix that works. This is the feedback that helps a writer to learn and grow and become better.

But in reality, truth and love are the ingredients Christians are to mix whenever we relate to others.

And there we were, Christian writers, supplying truth and love for one another. For people we had not known before last weekend. But funny thing, the love of Christ for fellow believers is not hard, not when we purpose to let it shine in our hearts and for other people.

I met people from Texas and Michigan and Tennessee and Florida and Arizona and here in California. I met fiction writers and nonfiction writers. I met some people who weren’t sure what they wanted to write. I met men and women. I met some older people and some young. I met people of various ethnic groups. Despite our differences, we were united in Christ. The way the Church is supposed to be.

We sang worship songs together, we listened to inspirational messages from the keynote speakers, we prayed together. I’m sure we were all from a variety of different churches and denominations, though that never came up. We simply were there to serve one another and help each other grow and prosper as writers. As Christians who write.

That’s the Church being the Church.

What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

Are Catholics Christians?


Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

God Loves Us Because We’re Special?


George Herbert

George Herbert


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of the Evangelical Myths series:

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Another myth that has crept into the Church is that God loves us because we’re special.

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 Humankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead or non-existent.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran 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. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

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 in our understanding, 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 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 Christians climbs into a position of control in a similar way as those who choose to deny Him. Individuals, like finicky cats, deign to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, becomes all about our best life, our health, our wealth, our comfort and ease, our safety and welfare.

But that’s not what God intended.

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 and blesses us and elevates us yet again.

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    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.

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