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.

Advertisements

When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

Perfect People Aren’t Saved


No Perfect People

Yesterday I re-posted an article about morally flawed people, and the irony that many who accept their flaws without blinking still think they “deserve” heaven. Today, I want to address the opposite problem: people who think heaven is for good people. This article originally appeared here in May, 2013.

– – – – –

Along with an erroneous view of the Bible, some people also have misconceptions about salvation. One of the most common is that it’s the good people that come to Christ—the people who like church and gospel music, who think a good time means going to a prayer meeting. Those are the people that become Christians.

Wrong.

For one thing, there are no “good people.” If someone is devoted to religious expression but has not believed the claims of Jesus Christ, he’s using his religion to get something he wants. In other words, religious expression can be an evidence of our selfishness, our desire to manipulate—either other people or even God Himself.

Good people aren’t saved. Sinners are saved. The lost are found, the broken are healed, those at the bottom of the pit are rescued. Jesus Himself said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12b). In context it’s clear he was referring to messed up people—“tax collectors and sinners.”

Even today, I think some Christians have the idea that a person needs to clean up a bit before coming to Christ. Jesus seems to say the opposite. He first encountered people where they were at, and knowing Him then brought about change. In some instances, such as His conversation with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to sin no more. In other instances, such as with Zaccheus, the sinner himself volunteered to clean up his act after his encounter with Jesus.

Either way, Jesus saves sinners, not because they get rid of sin but because they can’t get rid of sin and they know it. They repent but it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. It is His Spirit that gives each sinner the desire to live in newness of life.

By our nature, none of us wants to worship God and serve Him [atheists call this our “default position,” not realizing that they are defining the sin nature]. We want to worship ourselves and serve ourselves. We do unto others so that they will do unto us. In other words, we largely look at relationships as trade-offs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. And woe to the person who doesn’t follow through on his promise. Revenge awaits! Justified revenge, because people are supposed to come through for me (even though I don’t always come through for them).

The interesting thing is, those who think they are good don’t see any need for God. Why would they? They don’t think they need saving.

So it’s ironic that people falsely think good people come to Christ. People good in their own eyes are too busy with their perfectionistic ways to pay attention to what Christ is all about. They are making sure that they recycle, give to the charity of the month, teach their children to be tolerant of all lifestyles, and do their fifty percent of what it takes to have a good marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. When a person comes to Christ, he changes. A thief like Zaccheus doesn’t want to keep stealing. Just the opposite. He has a passion for making right the wrongs he’s done. But his new life is a result of his relationship with Christ, not a cause of it.

He didn’t come to Christ because he stopped stealing. He stopped stealing because he came to Christ.

Too many Christians don’t really understand this new life we experience. We’d like all the old desires to be gone and for some people, they are. For others, it’s a fight to the death, or so it seems. The old desires seem to raise their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Some people experience gradual and constant improvement. What they used to do, they hardly do any more. What they want to do to please Jesus, they find delights them now, too.

The process, we’re told, is sanctification—growing up into our salvation, becoming like Jesus through the supernatural transformation of His Spirit. Most of us think it’s a long process that doesn’t show a lot of results to most of those who are close enough to us to see our warts.

And because we fall down so often, because lots of people think only the good come to Jesus, we give Christ’s name a bad reputation—because clearly, Christians sin. When we think about it, it grieves our hearts because we’re dragging Jesus’s name into the mud. We’re letting people think poorly of our Savior because we wallow in the sins we say He saved us from.

Christians aren’t good people. We’re saved people, and it’s important that we let others see who we are: a people who have received mercy, who have been pardoned, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, and who one day, when we see Jesus face to face, will be like Him. It’s just that we’re not there yet.

Faith And The Rock


I am mystified when people who don’t believe in God refer to Christians as people who don’t think. Their argument seems to be, Since God is invisible, you are only imagining anything spiritual or supernatural. You have no proof—by which they mean, scientific evidence—so you simply believe a lie or a myth or something in your imagination.

It doesn’t matter how many times a clear demonstration is offered that “belief” is not blind, those opposed to God insist it is. And yet the Bible says just the opposite.

As one illustration of what the Bible says about faith (I couldn’t possibly enumerate every instance in which we learn more about faith—there are too many), Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the wind and rain buffeted the house, it stood firm. However, another man, a foolish man, built his house upon the sand. The winds came and the rain, and the house fell.

Jesus had prefaced the story by saying that the wise man was the one who heard His words and acted on them. In contrast, everyone who hear His words and doesn’t act on them is like the foolish man.

The point is simple, “belief in Jesus,” the faith that undergirds a Christian, is reliant upon God’s word.

Oh sure, some false teachers have invented “other gospels” and some have twisted Scripture to say what it does not say, but in the end, the one who takes God at His word is building his house on the rock.

Romans spells out what God’s word is which leads to salvation:

the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (10:8b-9)

Pretty simple really. Jesus is Lord, Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course how can we KNOW those things? Romans gives us that piece of information, too.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:14-17; emphasis mine)

Clearly faith is not dreaming up something and hoping, hoping, hoping that it will come true. I could do that. I could imagine a billionaire philanthropist who wants to give away his millions, and he pulls my name out of the hat. He’ll come tomorrow with a check that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now that is pie-in-the-sky imagination.

Believing in God is nothing like that. To begin with, I don’t tell Him what He’s like. He tells me. I listen, is all. “Faith comes from hearing.”

Another important aspect of faith comes from Hebrews 11—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1). Assurance, not guess work; conviction, not irresolution or doubt.

How can a person possibly be sure of what you hope for?

Well, the assurance comes completely from the One in whom you put your trust.

For instance, if I want to know about basketball, I need to listen to someone who knows the sport, someone who has played the sport. I would not ask someone to explain the game whose credentials say he’s seen a game once, played between two elementary teams. “But I know baseball,” he adds. “I was a minor league pitcher for five years. So I can tell you want ever you want to know about basketball.”

Uh, sorry, but basketball and baseball are two different sports. If I want to know basketball, I have to talk to someone who is informed, who knows the game, who can answer my questions. Because I will have questions, undoubtedly. So I need someone to help me who I trust.

Faith is nothing more than taking someone at his word. And for the Christian, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Atheists take scientists at their word all the time. They do not observe space phenomena or record data or run experiences that lead them to believe in a big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Instead, they let someone else study and form opinions and postulate hypotheses, and they simply put their trust in what these individuals conclude.

Here’s the thing that is difficult for me to understand. These scientists, with their list of qualifications and all, admit they are fallible. Atheists admit that science has been wrong and is bound to be wrong again. But regardless, they trust the process, the results (which will be wrong in some unknowable way).

God, on the other hand, is infallible. He isn’t wrong about what He says. And yet His word is suspect and unreliable and can’t be trusted—because it requires faith.

That would be the assurance of things hoped for. The assurance. Why can there be assurance in an unsure world? Only if Someone trustworthy, reliable gives you His word. You know, a word that is rock solid.

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Guilt/Innocence Or Shame/Honor


Just last week, a man here in the LA area who served 32 years in prison was released from custody because of a wrongful conviction. How will this man be perceived in society? The answer to that question can be easily determined by the kind of society from which he comes.

Anthropologists study humankind, including the way culture works. One such scientist, Franz Boas, and his student Ruth Benedict, first identified differences in cultural patterns, claiming that Eastern cultures follow an honor/shame arrangement and Western cultures, a guilt/innocence mode.

Benedict endorsed and popularized what some called “Boasian conceptual kernel” of US anthropology:

Human behavior is patterned. There exist within historically specific populations recurrences in both thought and behavior that are not contingent but structurally conditioned and that are, in turn, structuring.

Those patterns are learned. Recurrences cannot be tied to a natural world within or outside the human body, but rather to constant interaction within specific populations. Structuration occurs through social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness.

If I understand the first point correctly, the idea is that people groups behave and think in identifiably similar ways, because the people have been conditioned to do so. In turn they teach others to also be structured in the same way.

The structure of those in Eastern cultures is based on honor/shame, which largely identifies the way a culture “manages” its citizens. Individuals care a great deal about their standing in the community, so they don’t want to do something that would cost them respect or high standing.

What the community deems deplorable, then, takes presidency over individual desires or beliefs of right and wrong. I assume the community values are also somewhat fluid. If a society softens its position against a certain behavior, presumably an individual would no longer bear shame for engaging in it.

A guilt/innocence society follows a different paradigm. Rather than conforming to the community based on their praise or condemnation, a guilt/innocence outlook is more concerned about the individual’s adherence to law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty emphasizes the difference in the two approaches.

In the shame/honor culture, an accusation brings shame. In a guilt/innocence culture, an accusation needs to be proved.

A third cultural outlook is the fear/power model. Tribal cultures and totalitarian regimes and perhaps gangs operate on the fear of a group and their desire for power to counter it.

The general knowledge about these ways of grouping cultures, has simplified them as Eastern or Western. Little mention is made of fear/power, and Eastern cultures are believed to be shame/honor driven, while Western societies operate according to the guilt/innocence model.

One aspect of cultures adhering to the guilt/innocence model is that they are more concerned with the individual, whereas shame/honor groups care more for the community. As a result, some clear differences have emerged:

Individualistic cultures, primarily located in the West, appeal more to legal notions of right and wrong to govern social behavior. Morality is internalized, so people experience guilt for misdeeds. Guilty persons become innocent when they are forgiven or justice is served. (“Honor and Shame Societies,” the Zwemer Center)

Consequently, the man I mentioned at the outset, who was wrongly convicted of murder, has no shame because he spent half his life in prison. He was innocent.

What I find fascinating about the study of these cultural differences, is that I can see elements of both in the Bible. The Old Testament deals primarily with Hebrew culture, and there is much of the shame/honor culture apparent in the story of the Jewish nation, but at the same time God is the one who departs from the norm and tells the people that a man’s family is no longer to be considered guilty just because the man is guilty. In other words, no more guilt by association. A guilty person was to die for his own crimes, but his sons were to go free.

The New Testament with its teaching about sin and the forgiveness bought by the blood of Christ further built the guilt/innocence culture that took hold in the Greek and Roman societies where Paul ministered.

As I view Christianity, I see the perfect marriage of both shame/honor and guilt/innocence. What I don’t see is fear/power, unless it involves Satan and what he wants to accomplish.

All this to say, I wonder if through globalization and perhaps through the devaluation of Christianity, Western culture is sliding more and more into the shame/honor camp. I mean, all the politically correct approach to life is little more than putting pressure on an individual by the group to get people to conform to a societal norm, regardless of Law.

What’s particularly interesting is that bullying is taboo, but group bullying is the means by which we attempt to put an end to individual bullying.

In this climate, everyone is easily offended, every position expresses hate or abuse, no one is innocent any more as long as they hold beliefs that contradict the “group.” As yet, the “group” is not society at large, but certainly it’s growing in numbers.

As I see it, this kind of shame/honor approach is divorced from reality. Someone who gets away with a crime has no shame because he has not reflected badly on his community. Never mind that he might be hurting the less fortunate. Never mind that he makes his money on the backs of the weak.

The real problem with the shame/honor approach is the loss of the sense of personal sin. In light of the fact that Christianity alone offers mercy and forgiveness, I wonder if the concept of a Savior might be lost if our culture slides more and more toward shame/honor.

Of course, there is great emphasis in the Old Testament about God’s people upholding the honor of His name. One reason that God didn’t do away with the complaining people of Israel after the Exodus was precisely because of what the people around them would think about God. In fact, the point of a nation entering into a covenant relationship with God was to show the other nations the blessings God wanted to shower upon them as well.

Israel as a community was to be God’s ambassador to the world. Today we believers have that role. Individually, but collectively as the Church. We are to love one another in such a way that the world notices.

But we receive forgiveness for sins, not as a collective community, but as individuals, foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified by God because we as individuals believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He was raised on the third day, that He is now at God’s right hand interceding for us.

Shame. Guilt. Fear. Jesus Christ dealt with all of it. He is the most cross-cultural person who ever lived. But that is what I’d expect from the Savior of the world. No wonder the gospel penetrates the Amazon jungle and the Russian steppes equally.

False Teaching/False Teachers


offerings to idolsI’ve been thinking a lot about the people of Israel and their propensity to copy the nations around them. God warned them time and time again to refrain from aping their behavior and traditions, particularly their worship of false gods. But the people God had chosen to be His representative among the nations simply didn’t like being “a peculiar people.” They wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else.

I think that same tendency infects the church in America, too. We don’t like being on the outs with our culture. I think our propensity to be accepted, often in the name of “reaching the lost,” leads to or opens us up to false teaching.

Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting …
– II John 9, 10 (NASB)

I’m glad the verse mentioned “the teaching of Christ” because surely Christians of various denominations, and even within the same denomination, disagree over doctrine. It would be easy to conclude that this verse means we have a green light to pick the one or two people we find who agree with us on every doctrine and disengage from every other Christian.

That in itself is a false teaching.

Once again, I am mindful that Scripture needs to be taken in its totality. There is not one verse or one principle that can become our focus to the exclusion of others without leading to error.

That being said, I do see an increase of false teaching and false teachers—teaching and teachers that do not comply with the message of Christ, whether uttered by Him directly or explained by the apostles, illustrated by Biblical types, or prophesied by the prophets.

Like, for instance? I’m glad you asked. 😀

  • Universal salvation.
  • Christ said He was the way, the truth, the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him. Throughout Scripture, that message is illustrated—from the Passover Lamb to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness to save those who looked on it, and lots, lots more.

  • God wants all His children to be healthy and wealthy.
  • Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24, NASB) Again, the principle is throughout the Bible, the biggest evidence being Christ’s clear teaching that His kingdom is an eternal one. Paul teaches that he has learned to be content in plenty or in want, that contentment with godliness is great gain. Granted, the people of Israel enjoyed conditional physical blessings, but their relationship with God pointed to the Savior. You could think of their journey as a type and the promised blessings the reward we have waiting in Heaven. Or you could think of their conditional physical blessings something unique to the Israelites. But to think of them as a pattern God wants to employ in His dealing with individual Christians is to ignore the New Testament.

  • If a person ever in his lifetime prayed a prayer of repentance, no matter if he returns to the sin and ignores God the rest of his days, he is a Christian.
  • This is nothing but a unique twist on a works gospel, the work being a prayer. People will counter this by saying that, no, it isn’t the prayer, it is the person’s faith that saves him. James says that faith without works is dead, so an unchanged life gives no evidence of the existence of faith. And doing anything doesn’t save us.

  • The Bible plus something else tells us what we need to know about God.
  • This “something else” could be the Book of Mormon, some creed, or tradition passed down through the ages. This is the very center of this topic. As early as John’s writing and also Paul’s these apostles warned about false teachers, people coming in and preaching a “different gospel.” In some cases, it was outward, like Peter not associating with the Gentiles because they weren’t circumcised and didn’t follow Jewish law (actually because he didn’t want to be censored by other Jews who looked down on Gentiles for those reasons). In some cases it was theological like the group claiming the second coming had already occurred. The point is, error comes in when human voices supersede Scripture.

  • Christ is coming back on [fill in the day/time].
  • More typically this distraction with future events has to do with figuring out who the Anti-christ is or when the tribulation will be or whether or not there will be a rapture. Oddly enough, Christ said He Himself didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. Never did He instruct His disciples to figure out these things. Rather, in parables He taught them to be ready—for the bridegroom to come, the landlord to return. Not, study to figure out when you think this will happen, but rather, do what you’re supposed to do while you wait. The only thing we are supposed to study are our times (check out Luke 12:54-57), so we can see … well, false teaching.Battleofthesexes

  • Women should be pastors too/should not be subjugated by the idea that they are to submit to their husbands.
  • The verses in Scripture that make a clear distinction between women’s and men’s roles are thrown on the heap of cultural application with no contemporary equivalent. Or they’re explained away. To fit our culture. In other words, we have to make God see things our way, rather than us seeing things God’s way. His way makes us look misogynist, so our culture tells us. And we care so very much about the opinions of the “learned.”

  • God couldn’t have created the universe(s) in seven days. Just for mankind. Hence we must adapt our beliefs about the origin of things to the science of the day.
  • I’m all for asking questions and I don’t think we should ignore science. But if science says one thing and the Bible says something else, such that the two cannot be resolved, then the Bible must be the authority we cling to. Fortunately, there are several theories that can resolve the differences. We can allow the Bible to interpret science for us, rather than the other way around.

    I’m sure if someone else were compiling this list they’d add other things, and maybe leave some of these off. In no way do I intend this to be an offense. But error is creeping into the Church. Too often we buy our cultural line that the highest value is tolerance. Coupled with the fact that the Bible clearly teaches unity, and we fall silent when someone stands up and preaches a different gospel.

    Perhaps instead we should reason together so that we are clear about the teaching of Christ; then we can stick to that.

    This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2007.

    Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
    Tags: , , ,

    Why Bells At Christmas


    golden_christmas_bellsI love the trappings of Christmas. I love the light displays, the decorated trees, the candles and stockings hanging off the mantelpiece, I love wreaths and gingerbread cookies (or the idea of them, at least), and I love Christmas carols and candy canes and bells.

    But why bells? How did they make their way into Christmas?

    I’ve not really researched the issue, but I can speculate based on some of the carols we have. When Christmas was primarily a religious holiday, churches undoubtedly rang their bells, whether for a special service or simply in celebration. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a carol based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, contains these lines:

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,

    and wild and sweet
    The words repeat

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom

    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Ah, yes, all those church belfries.

    christmas_bells_in_the_snowIn winter climates, during the horse-and-buggy era, sleighs provided a means of transportation during the Christmas season, and apparently bells were part of the adornment. We learn this from a number of Christmas songs that have become classics: “Silver Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and of course, “Jingle Bells”:

    Bells on bobtail ring’
    Making spirits bright
    What fun it is to ride and sing
    A sleighing song tonight!

    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way.
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.

    Then there are the songs like “White Christmas,” and “The Carol of Christmas” that indicate bells were nothing more than instruments of joyful celebration:

    Hark how the bells
    Sweet silver bells
    All seem to say
    Throw cares away

    Christmas is here
    Bringing good cheer
    To young and old
    Meek and the bold
    Ding dong ding
    That is their song
    With joyful ring
    All caroling

    One carol that seems to come closest to capturing all these facets of bells at Christmas is “Ding Dong Merrily On High.” Apparently the music was originally a French dance tune. The lyrics were first published early in the twentieth century. Today we are most familiar with the first verse and the chorus, but here are all three verses:

    Ding dong merrily on high,
    In heav’n the bells are ringing:
    Ding dong! verily the sky
    Is riv’n with angel singing.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    E’en so here below, below,
    Let steeple bells be swungen,
    And “Io, io, io!”
    By priest and people sungen.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    Pray you, dutifully prime
    Your matin chime, ye ringers;
    May you beautifully rime
    Your evetime song, ye singers.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    Clearly in this song the bells are a means of celebration, whether on high or here below, and the note they sound is that of glory accompanying the cry of Hosanna. This is worship.

    Besides all we learn from the holiday music, I can’t help but think of bells as a means to ask for people’s attention. The Salvation Army bell ringers do this. I imagine town criers of old going along the streets, ringing bells and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye.”

    That use of bells, of course, would fit for the Christian about to proclaim good news—which really is what Christmas is all about. Perhaps, then, bells are one of the most fitting accouterments of Christmas.

    This post, minus the embedded video, is one that first appeared here in December 2012.

    Published in: on December 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
    Tags: , , , , ,

    By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


    martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

    Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

    So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

    Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

    I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

    Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

    So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

    Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

    All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

    But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

    Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

    The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

    Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

    The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

    When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

    But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

    Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

    That’s grace.

    Nothing earned here.

    A free gift.

    Undeserved.

    I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

    Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

    Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

    Love That Tells The Truth


    U_Wash_Quad__04Years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was up for election. They posted the results on the window of the dining commons when I was in line for dinner. Inside, my friend sat at a table watching those of us on the outside cluster around to see the results. My friend didn’t win, and I made the fatal decision to go in and tell her. The problem was, she thought I was kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to their friend and say, Sorry but you lost. I had to say it with some vehemence because she really thought I was yanking her chain.

    I thought at the time I would have been better off to pretend I didn’t see her. At least that way I wouldn’t have been the bearer of bad news. “Don’t shoot the messenger” has become a cliché for a reason. People are apt to turn on the one who tells the sad tale even though they had no hand in creating the event that caused the sadness.

    It’s awkward to tell the truth when you know what you say is unpleasant or hurtful. Telling the truth can put a relationship in jeopardy.

    What’s more, we live in a society that is confused about the truth. The relativistic principle now ruling the majority of Millennials, says truth is whatever you want it to be. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, watch this short video.

    These college students seem to be intelligent, yet they are unwilling to stand up and tell someone the truth—no, you’re not 6’5″, you’re not Asian, you’re not a woman, you’re not seven.

    The truth is, the DMV will not go along with a ten year old claiming she’s eighteen. Movie theaters aren’t going to let a thirteen year old into an R-rated film, voting registrants still need to be over eighteen as do those who volunteer for the military. States still have a legal age for someone to drink—twenty-one in most places.

    As to height, no NBA team will look at a 5’9″ man as a potential center for their team just because he is 7’1″ on the inside. Amusement rides aren’t going to change height requirements for young children just because they feel as if they are as tall as their daddy.

    In other words, facts remain facts, and the truth matters. Those who love, tell the truth.

    It is not loving to let someone think one way, only for them to discover that what they had believed, was not true. It is not loving to let someone turn onto a street in front of a bus simply because they thought the way was clear: “Well, I didn’t want to offend her by telling her she needed to stop.” What friend would say that?

    Apparently a good number, because young people who are doing themselves harm are regularly allowed to do so by their friends. The excuse so often is, She’ll never speak to me again if I tell her to stop drinking, stop taking drugs, stop sleeping around, stop wasting so much time watching TV, or whatever the unhealthy behavior might be. We are more concerned that we keep status than that we tell the truth.

    That fact extends to the truth about our spiritual condition.

    I know there’s a bit of a fine line. No one likes to be bossed around or made to feel like a little kid who can’t get it together. People often push back against those who tell them the truth: Who are you to tell me what to do? Look at your own life. You don’t have it all together.

    Which is why it is important that we who tell the truth, first tell the truth about ourselves.

    So here’s the truth that the Millennials need to hear, that Gen-X needs to hear, that the Me Generation needs to hear, that the Greatest Generation, that the latest generation (yet to be named) needs to hear: I am a sinner. I fall short of God’s standard of holiness. And so do you. We all fall short. We are not all winners in God’s eyes. We are lost children who have run away from home. That’s who we are.

    And it is the most loving thing I can do to tell this truth far and wide. If someone doesn’t know he’s a sinner, why would he want to be saved? If someone doesn’t know he’s far from home, why would he want to return to the loving arms of his father?

    I can say until I’m blue in the face that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. But if you don’t believe you are in jeopardy, that statement sounds like nonsense. Why would someone die for me? I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

    At some point, if people are to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, they must realize they are lost, can’t figure out what is true, and are destined to die.

    Christians should love in a way that is countercultural. But that love should be more than feeding the homeless, planting churches among the urban poor, translating the Bible into a tribal language, or giving shoes to poor children. True love also must say the hard things: if you continue in sin, you’ll separate yourself from God for eternity. Going your own way is sin. You need to repent, turn back, and accept God as your Lord—as do we all. I simply love you too much not to tell you the truth.

    Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
    Tags: , , , , , ,

    God’s Kingdom?


    voting boothsI believe Christians should be responsible and vote. I believe, if possible, Christians should vote for Christians who are qualified for the office they want to hold. But if all went well, and a Christian managed to become President, if many Christians took office in Congress, the US would not become God’s kingdom, or God’s democracy.

    Jesus made it very clear to Pilate just before He was sent to the cross: His kingdom is not of this world. It simply isn’t—not then and not now.

    So why make a big thing about the presidential primaries and voting and politics and government? Shouldn’t we just hunker down and wait for the coming kingdom, and not trouble ourselves about the earthly one we live in?

    No! God gave us a job to do, and honestly, it’s easier to make disciples of those at home and those abroad if we’re operating in a democratic society with strong Christian values. So it’s right to do our part to create such a place.

    It’s right as long as we remember what we’re working for.

    First, what we are not working for: we are not working to make this country heaven on earth. It can’t happen and it won’t happen; if we’re working for that, we’re working in vain. We’re also not working so that we can have a nicer home than everybody else (and keep all Those Other People out!!) That kind of selfishness is not something consistent with God’s call on the Christian.

    We aren’t working for a place that will put few temptations in front of us and give us many rewards, as nice as both those would be. Temptation is something Jesus faced, so there is no avoiding it here on earth. And rewards or blessings come to those who suffer as much as to those who live in prosperity.

    So what should we be working for?

      * freedom of religion so that we can continue to worship God openly and preach the word of God without restriction.
      * life. God created. Our times are in His hands. He condemns murder and makes no exceptions: don’t murder, unless the person you kill is really, really young. Our leaders have a lot of influence in creating a culture of life or not.
      * to preserve the Constitution that declares our rights to be endowed upon us by our Creator. We have slid ever closer to dictatorship. We can vote for those who will uphold the rule of law or who will ignore it in favor of their own way of achieving their own ends.

    It reminds me eerily of the choice Adam faced back in the Garden: to do things God’s way, or to do what he wanted to do? Law or desire? God’s way or Man’s way?

    That list includes good things, but they will not create God’s kingdom here on earth. His kingdom will only come when Jesus Christ returns and takes the throne.

    Until then, Christians are to be on the alert, to be prepared, to work and serve with that day in mind. We are to invest our time and our talent and our money in the things of God. We are to love Him in a sold-out way. We are to love other Christians and our neighbors and our enemies.

    The best way to show love is not by giving people stuff to use here and now. That’s a common fallacy lots of people proclaim. We have this idea that we must feed the hungry and clothe the poor, and then when they ask why we’re doing it, we can tell them about the love of God.

    Well, the problem is, that’s not what the Bible says. Yes, we are to give to the needy, but what’s with the “waiting until they ask” business? The Bible says, Make disciples. It doesn’t say, Make disciples when they ask why you’re being so nice or sacrificial or helpful or whatever it might be. There should be an unashamed proclamation of the gospel.

    Look at Peter and John in Acts 3, when the lame beggar approached them for a handout:

    But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (v 6)

    What Peter offered was more than a handout, more than giving him money to feed and clothe himself. No, I’m not saying we should start healing people. I’m saying we should boldly give what we have, which is the gospel.

    As a result of this miracle, Peter and John were arrested, not once but twice. They were threatened both times, and then eventually they were flogged. Their answer? Shouldn’t we be doing what God tells us rather than what people tell us?

    And what was it God had told them? To preach the truth:

    But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 3:19-20)

    What was it that they had heard and seen?

    The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

    “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Acts 3:13-21)

    The kingdom is not now, but we Christians have kingdom work to do. Part of our responsibility is to keep the gospel light burning—hopefully in a free society that allows us to reach out to people in other places. But if God, who is in charge of rulers and authorities, sees fit to change the freedoms we now enjoy, we’ll be tasked to work in a rocky field with greater obstacles. But work we must.

    In what kind of an environment may be determined by our next election.

    Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 5:51 pm  Comments (3)  
    Tags: , , , , , ,