Reprise: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

When some people talk about Christians loving one another, they have in mind something akin to the secular idea of tolerance: we’re all supposed to accept other people where they are, how they are, regardless of what they believe. If it’s “true for them” than who am I to judge? The only belief that isn’t tolerated, it seems, is the one that says there is an authoritative right and wrong, a moral standard to which we all are accountable.

Now I fear that this wolfish tolerance attitude has stolen into the church dressed up sheepishly as love.

I fear this for two reasons. First, Christians have God’s direct command to love one another, but a false idea of what that love is can serve as an excuse to ignore Christ’s mandate. All Christians who aren’t exactly like me, then, don’t qualify as a brother I am to love, opening the door to partiality — something James speaks against unequivocally.

I fear this false love taking up residence in our churches for another reason: it fosters an “anything goes” mentality. No longer will Christians pay attention to what the Bible says about various issues because love is more important than “petty” differences.

Love is more important than petty differences, but what happens when “petty” becomes “any”? What happens when “petty” includes salvation, inspiration of Scripture, humankind’s sin nature, heaven and hell, the deity of Christ, the creation of the world, God’s role as a just judge, and any number of other beliefs clearly delineated in Scripture?

I find it particularly interesting that in one of the great passages about unity in the church, where Paul compares us to a body, with various parts fitting together to make a functioning whole, he includes the importance of sound doctrine.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16, [emphasis added]).

So if we’re supposed to grow up into Christ, think for a moment about Christ and tolerance. Would we hear Him say, Can’t we all just get along? Not likely.

I suspect He saw a good bit of bickering from His disciples. After all, they discussed who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee tried to do an end-around to get her boys into privileged positions.

That kind of self-promotion was the thing Jesus wanted them to do away with, I believe. Leadership was to mean servanthood, and the greatest was to get on his knees beside a basin of water to wash his brother’s feet.

In contrast, nowhere do I see Jesus telling His disciples to take a soft stand on truth. Instead, He was rather in-your-face about the matter. He spoke regularly and authoritatively from Scripture, and His pronouncements divided people. He knew this would be the case.

What He wanted, though, was those believing the truth to stand together, to serve each other, to look out for one another’s interests, not just their own.

That’s the love the church needs, not the “Can’t we all just get along,” pseudo love the world calls tolerance. That’s the love that will let people know what “Christian” really means.

This post, sans a few minor changes, first appeared here in June 2011.

God’s Judgment Is Real

Eclipse_lunar_(Blood_moon)When Israel was poised across the Jordan River, ready to take the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them of the need to obey God. By God’s direction, he gave them a list of blessings and a list of curses—the former if they followed God and the latter if they rebelled against Him and did the things that the nations they were about to displace had been doing.

God’s judgment was real—against the people living in Canaan who practices things that were heinous in God’s eyes. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children on their altars; they involved themselves in perverted sexual practices until God said the land was ready to “spew them out.”

Israel didn’t do any better. They conqueror the land, to be sure, but within a generation they were straying from God’s Law. For four hundred years they experienced a cycle of straying, receiving God’s discipline, and repenting. Eventually God brought His judgment upon Israel in the same way He had Canaan.

The thing is, I wonder if the people of Israel stopped believing that God would judge them. After all, they’d been going their own way for so long, did they think all that early history, with Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the River Jordan, was nothing but a myth? Did they explain the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the drying up of the Jordan as some natural phenomena?

Or did they think their ancestors’ own abilities had won their freedom and their own power and wisdom allowed them to conquer all those fortified cities? In other words, did they reason away God’s activity in their successes, so they no longer felt His wrath, when they experienced His judgment?

Something obviously changed. They weren’t crediting God with their prosperity, and they weren’t recognizing the adversity they went through as His judgment.

I thought of this today as I heard and read reactions to last night’s full blood moon eclipse. The news first drew my attention to the idea that some people feared the blood moon as a sign of the end of the world.

Apparently this idea has been fueled by Christians. Some pastors have even written books and pointed to the alignment of past blood moons and particular Jewish holy days.

Much like the past predictions of the end of the world, this kind of public declaration actually backfires, if the intent is to show God’s hand in the natural world and His coming judgment. The average person says, We were told that Y2K was going to be the end of the world, then Harold Camping named a date for the end of the world, then a revised date, then a date for the beginning of the end with another date for the end of the end.

When things continue as they have before, the natural tendency is to blow off the idea of an apocalypse and more specifically, of a judgment of God on this sinful world.

Some people joked about surviving the blood moon apocalypse, others marveled at the beauty of the event. But what I didn’t hear about was anyone repenting. I didn’t read about anyone saying, Well, this blood moon eclipse may or may not be a sign that the end is near, but even if it is not, I’m convinced God will judge the world as He said He would.

Predictions of an apocalypse that doesn’t happen serve to harden people’s hearts. One CNN article quoted Mark Hammergren of a Chicago planetarium as saying, “People have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years in recorded history, and not a single time has that come about.”

These dramatic astronomical events are actually opportunities for us to pay more attention to space and the stars and how we’re connected to the universe, some unbelieving people reason. And who’s to say they’re wrong.

Regardless, God’s coming judgment is real.

I don’t think we need more signs than what we already have in Scripture—a risen Christ Jesus ascending into heaven with the promise that He will return as the reigning King.

God’s past judgments were sure. He gave people and nations time to turn and repent. Some like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who came to his senses and confessed God Most High as King over all, and some like Nineveh which repented when Jonah prophesied of God’s judgment, turned from going their own way and bowed before the Creator of the ends of the earth. Others like Sodom and Gomorrah laughed and ignored God’s word and His prophets—to their own doom and destruction.

If God is true, and He is; if He said He would judge the world, and He did; if He has judged nations and people in the past, and He has, then why would we think things will be different in the future?

God will judge the world. The false talk about an apocalypse should not fool anyone into believing that God is not deeply grieved by the mess the world is in. That some people have tried to connect the blood moon to events in Israel’s history or associate them with Jewish holy days is meaningless. God didn’t give us those kinds of details.

But the blood moon can serve as a reminder that God is in control, that His judgment isn’t a joke, even though we don’t know the day or hour, and that now is a good time to become His follower.

Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching

Some while ago I read Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” At the time I was reading in the book of Proverbs.

As it happens, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Emphasis mine)


Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or writing exercises. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I had prayed about. It seems to me that false teaching, which so often gets started from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture, develops in large part because the person who deviates from the truth does not and will not receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David who repented when he was caught in sin, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to tell him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah away from his son and his son’s son. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne of the northern kingdom, intent to kill him.

Solomon seems to say, God said? So what. I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on about false teaching concerning gender, the Bible, Creation, who Jesus is, and more. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away or ignore.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Clearly Paul identified these Corinthians as Christians, and yet he confronted them about the things they were doing that were sinful and needed to change.

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the professing Christians who “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept the Bible.

Since the presupposition of the higher critics was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society—stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

This article, minus the various editorial changes and revisions, first appeared here in February 2012.

Dealing With Logs And Specks

logSunday my pastor Mike Erre preached on grace in the Church. He rightly pointed out our salvation is by grace and involves the past, the present, and the future. We were saved at the point of time we passed from death into the newness of life in Christ. We are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And we will be saved when we are raised incorruptible (Col. 3:4). We are, he said, in process.

We use phrases like life is a journey and we are growing. We say we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, we recognize that none of us have arrived yet. Even the apostle Paul said so about himself:

Not that I have already obtained it [conformity to Christ’s death leading to resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)

The point of my pastor’s message, however, was this: we are eager to accept the fact that we are a work in progress, and less eager to do so about everyone else. We have reached, let’s say, point D on the continuum of spiritual growth and the tendency is to expect to find other Christians at least at point D—as if our level of spiritual maturity defines what it means to be a Christian.

He concluded that the Christian life needs to be more about taking logs out of our own eyes than looking around to see what specks we can find in others.

It’s a good point. Except this week I read the book of Galatians. It’s a pretty hard-hitting book. In part Paul confronts the people in the church—Jewish believers, you’d have to think—who were insisting that a real Christian had to be circumcised. Apparently, and understandably, this was a big issue in the first church. The Jewish believers rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah. They weren’t thinking they’d taken up some new religion.

But Paul and the elders in Jerusalem wrestled with this issue earlier and clearly determined following the law was not what saved and therefore Gentile believers did not have to start keeping Jewish law. Yet here was the issue again, in a different church.

Paul, however, didn’t sit back saying, well, they’re not as far on the continuum of salvation as those of us who understand that circumcision is not necessary. We’ll just be patient with them and let God show them the truth.

Uh, no. God’s means of showing them the truth was the Church and the man who was their spiritual leader.

Paul was not particularly gentle here, either. He encouraged the church, but he came down hard on the one dumping false doctrine in their laps:

A little leaven [the person teaching false doctrine] leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [the need to follow the law instead of trusting in the grace of God], why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Gal. 5:9-12)

The word translated “mutilate” here carries the connotation of castration. I told you, Paul was not being particularly gentle here. He goes on to list out stuff that he says are deeds of the flesh, then adds, “I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In contrast he lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24b-25).

The next chapter is more hard hitting confrontation.

So which is it? Are we to be extend grace to the weaker brother, understanding that he’s in progress just like I am, that he doesn’t have to be where I am spiritually because God is bringing him along in His time? Or are we to confront sin and chastise whoever is teaching false doctrine and admonish the brethren to walk by the Spirit?

As I write this, I think a couple things come clear. First, Paul was criticizing the Galatians for thinking a legalistic act and not God’s grace meant they were Christians. Today, it seems as if Western Christians are more apt to think like the Galatians than Paul. Yes, I can hear some say, there are things you have to do if you’re to be a Christian—as if we need to clean up in order to stand before God rather than run to God with the stench of the pig-sty still clinging to us and let Him clothe us with His righteousness.

Second, it seems as if Paul reserved his harshest language for the false teachers—the ones responsible for leavening the lump of dough.

Third, we are to restore one caught in trespass with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). Confrontation is not intended to separate the sheep from the goats. It is intended to restore, bring the straying lamb back into the fold.

And during the restoration process, we are to take a good look at our own lives, so we don’t think we’ve got it all figured out, only to fall ourselves.

As I see it, there’s tension here. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace. But we are to crucify the deeds of the flesh and restore one caught in trespass. All the while checking our own lives.

It’s the logs. We’ve got to constantly be checking for logs. But when specks pop up, we need to deal with them too. Gently!

In Remembrance Of Sir Christopher Lee

Saruman-christopher-lee-2509258-800-600Sunday actor Sir Christopher Lee passed away at age 93. He had the unenviable task of playing the part of the turncoat Saruman in The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy. I don’t know where he stood spiritually except that he took a firm stand against the occult.

Adversaries are rarely appreciated, but we writers need them. Stories need them. They are the opponents against which our heroes must struggle, and Sir Christopher Lee played his part admirably. So in his memory, I’m re-posting, with some slight revision, an article that first appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in December 2012 under the title “Saruman or Faramir?”

Some while ago, I re-read The Two Towers, the second volume in the Lord of the Ring epic by J. R. R. Tolkien. The first half of the book is devoted to the conflict between Saruman the White, once head of the Council of wizards and Gandalf’s superior, who secretively aligned himself with the great Enemy in the East, against those who aimed to forestall the evil sweeping the land.

For years, in his leadership role, Saruman counseled patience and waiting rather than active resistance as their Enemy grew ever more powerful. Saruman acted the part of a friend, but in reality he was undermining the efforts to withstand the Great Evil.

In the second half of the book, the protagonist Frodo and his servant Sam fall into the hands of a man named Faramir, charged with patrolling the border between the Evil Lord’s stronghold and that of Gondor, the land taking the brunt of the conflict.

Faramir is rightly suspicious of these two hobbits who say they are travelers. There are no travelers here, he says, only people for the Evil Lord or against him. His inclination is to take Frodo and Sam with him back to Gondor.

At some point during Faramir’s inquisition of Frodo, Sam interrupts with these lines:

It’s a pity that folk as talk about fighting the Enemy can’t let others do their bit in their own way without interfering. He’d be mighty pleased, if he could see you now. Think he’d got a new friend, he would.

These two characters, Saruman and Faramir, seem to me to reveal the dilemma of the Church. On one hand there are people pretending friendship, even high up in authority, considered wise, people with influence and standing who others listen to and follow. Yet all the while, they are working for the enemy.

On the other hand there are those who seem wary and suspicious, who want to interview and question, who insist on details in order to be sure which way a person is aligned, all the while delaying and perhaps discouraging those from the work they have set out to accomplish.

Either there is lax acceptance leading to betrayal, or scrupulous investigation leading to division and potentially the undermining of significant work.

Interestingly, in the last sixty or seventy years the Church has tried to utilized the equivalent of passwords to alleviate the problem: Jesus people, born again, Bible believing, Christ followers. All are designed to alert others of a person’s true beliefs so that Family members can find one another.

The reality is, Saruman ended up showing his true colors when he held Gandalf captive. And Faramir showed his true colors when he let Frodo go free. In the end, their actions, not their words, showed their allegiance.

I suspect the same is true today. Whether or not a person claims some sort of connection with Christ matters less than whether or not they actually listen to Christ, put their trust in Him, obey Him. Who is taking up their cross? Who is seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Who is dying to self and living to righteousness?

Handsome is as handsome does, Sam says to Faramir at one point, and the old adage is still true. Christians don’t need to talk the talk as much as live the life. Then it will be quite apparent who is Faramir and who is Saruman.

We Don’t Have What It Takes

Mountain climber
Recently on Twitter a Christian with some standing in the writer world tweeted this: “We all need to be reminded more often that we have what it takes. It’s true. You are enough.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what world this individual is living in, but in the real one, none of us is enough. We wouldn’t be around if our parents hadn’t seen us through that awkward stage called infancy! We weren’t enough in those early years.

None of us is growing our own food and making our own clothes and pumping our own water that I’m aware of. We aren’t enough in the day-to-day business of providing for our basic needs.

Someone in the writing business ought to be aware that none of us is enough. Writers need editors (or friends willing to read over our work for mistakes) and cover designers and Amazon if we want to do the simplest, most basic kind of publishing. Even if we decide we will put our work up on our blog, we are not alone in the endeavor. We not only need the blog platform, we need the computer and the software and the Internet connection. We simply are not enough.

But of course, our inadequacy is most evident when we look at spiritual matters. Our pride would like us to believe we’re enough. Satan would like us to believe we’re enough. The world, and now this professing Christian, tells us we’re enough. But God says we aren’t.

In fact God says our righteousness doesn’t cut it, that salvation is “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8-9), that it is found in no one except Jesus Christ (“There is salvation in no one else . . .” – Acts 4:12).

Quite honestly, I’m baffled. I know this “look to the power within” movement, a very Zen idea, is quite the rage these days. But really? Power to do what, precisely? Do we cause the sun to rise? The tides to swell or withdraw? Can we stop the rain from flooding or bring it to drought-ravaged land? Do we “have what it takes” to force our boss to give us a raise? Or cure our friend of cancer? Do we have what it takes to force ISIS to stop killing people or the Boko Haram to stop kidnapping and raping Christian girls in Nigeria? Is it in us to bring an end to the Ebola virus?

The amazing thing to me is that a handful of people have retweeted this utter nonsense and an almost equal number have favored it.

What do these people think we have in us that “is enough”? Enough for what? And what do we have? What is the “it factor”? And what does it accomplish?

I can see people reading those words now, nodding, and thinking, Oh, so wise. Yes, I am enough.

It’s a bit of meaningless garbage, but it stokes the ego—which I assume is why people think it’s worth passing on to others, why they want to save it where they can find it and read it again some day.

As near as I can figure, ego stroking is all those lines accomplish. They are void of any substance and they are patently untrue.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I know. Satan is all about cutting humans off from God upon whom we must depend.

God uses a variety of metaphors to show us our connectedness with Him, our dependency on Him. He says we’re sheep and He the Shepherd will guide us to green pastures, quiet waters. Christ says He’s the vine and we are the branches, that abiding in the vine is how we produce fruit. He says He is the head, the brain, if you will, and we are the body. Paul even identifies the lack of connection to Christ as pride:

Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. (Col. 2:18b-19, NLT)

Psalm 71 spells out our need for God, as opposed to an independent state of being enough:

For You are my hope;
O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.
By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother’s womb;
My praise is continually of You. (vv 5-6)

The Psalmist did not say, my praise is continually of myself for I have it within me. I am enough.

So I wonder, have we stopped reading our Bibles that we would be suckered into believing this platitude of the world’s philosophy? I have to admit—I feel a little shell-shocked. I mean, believers, or at least professing believers, writing something or agreeing with it and sharing it with others, that is so contrary to what the Bible says is true. It’s another instance of calling wrong, right, and even encouraging others to do the same.

Make no mistake, though. God does not reveal in His word that we have what it takes, that we are enough. He reveals that our best efforts, our righteousness, is dirty, grimy, muddy, slimy, unclean, mucky foul, squalid, sordid, nasty, soiled, sullied polluted, contaminated, unhygienic, unsanitary rags:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on Your name,
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

So if by “we have it in us,” this individual means, we have the power of our iniquities in us, then OK. If by “you are enough,” this person means we are enough to cause God to turn from us because of our sin, then OK. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, though.

The reason this false teaching is a big deal is simply this: unless we see our need for a Savior, we won’t want one. Unless we realize we aren’t enough, we won’t seek the One who is enough. Unless we see our best efforts as God sees them, we won’t want the new life we can have in Christ. Instead we’ll be off trying to conquer mountains with what we have in us. Which decidedly isn’t enough.

Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (12)  
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Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees

512px-House_on_the_rock,_island_of_St_MarkoFrom time to time I get out my soapbox and pull myself to the top in order to decry some of the fantastical things people—even some professing Christians—say about those of us who believe the Bible to be true.

One I find particularly egregious is this notion that Evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians—you know, those who think Adam and Eve were real people and the Garden of Eden was an actual place—are Pharisees. Some might even add, Pharisees of the worst kind!

This statement shows a lack of understanding, both about Pharisees and about Christians.

I’ve addressed the misconception about Pharisees and Christians before (see “Who Are The Pharisees?” and “Christians Are Not Pharisees”). But as I read through Matthew’s record of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, a couple thoughts ran through my head.

1) “Religious” was not the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. The main problem He had with them was that they rejected Him as Messiah. Long before the Pharisees conspired to arrest Jesus, try Him, and execute Him, Jesus knew they opposed Him. After all, they did things like demand He prove He was who He said He was and throw out trick questions to get Him to a) blaspheme, b) break the Mosaic Law, or c) denounce Roman rule.

2) The only religious activity Jesus hated was false religious activity. The Pharisees went around praying in public so people could see how pious they were. When they fasted, they made a show of it by neglecting their appearance so people would know they were going without.

3) The Pharisees focused on the external and the trivial, not the internal and the “weightier provisions of the law,” justice, mercy, and faithfulness. [And who today thinks of the law as teaching mercy and faithfulness?]

4) The Pharisees were crooks. They not only ripped off the people buying animals from them in the temple, they falsified their weights and shrank their measuring standard, all so they could get rich at the expense of others.

5) They twisted the law and added their own traditions to it so they could duck out from under the things they didn’t like, so they could stack other things in their favor.

6) They also misled many. The rabbis taught their disciples to do as they were doing and more so. They also “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13b).

7 On the outside the Pharisees looked as if they were keeping the law, but inwardly they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28b). Lawlessness! Who ever associates the Pharisees with lawlessness? The typical, or stereotypical, view of the Pharisee is someone parsing each tiny aspect of the law and bending over backwards to adhere to it. Legalistic might be a good way of describing the traditional view of Pharisees. And certainly some of what they did or said—tithing the smallest spices, insisting Jesus’s disciples ceremonially wash their hands, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and so on—would fall in the category of legalism.

But Jesus didn’t accuse them of being too picky about their adherence to the Law. Rather, He said inwardly they were without the Law. Can you imagine what these men who had grown up studying the Law must have thought when Jesus told them they were full of lawlessness?

In the end, I do think Christians should learn from the Pharisees (after all, all Scripture is for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16). We are not insulated from their sins.

In a nutshell, the “woes” Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees stemmed from their pride, their false teaching which mislead others, their misuse of the Law, their neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness, and their focus on the external rather than their heart attitudes.

The book of James ties what a person does with the reality, or “aliveness,” of his faith. The Pharisees showed their profession of faith was empty and meaningless because of what they did—flaunting their supposed spirituality, taking advantage of widows, cheating worshipers, holding others to a standard they themselves didn’t keep. They were religious phonies.

Anyone professing Christ can be just as much a phony as any of those Pharisees were. And even when we want to put our beliefs in practice, we can be seduced by pride or greed or selfishness. Our Christian walk can become so self-centric we forget that God’s heart is first and foremost for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

Too often the American Christian follows our culture into me-ism, into looking out for number one—which can manifest as me, my family, my nation. We forget that God so loved the world. Not just our little corner of the world.

So, no, Evangelical Christians are not Pharisees. That’s a myth!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall into Pharisaical behavior. It doesn’t mean we can let down our guard when it comes to the sins the Pharisees were guilty of.

It also means that there may be people professing Christ, in the same way the Pharisees professed a special relationship with God, when in fact they don’t know Him. Jesus said so Himself:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

There’s that word “lawlessness” again. Isn’t it ironic that the Pharisees, so proficient in the Law, were guilty of lawlessness? But apparently the same will be true of some who profess Christ.

And how can we know the difference between Christians who are the real deal and those just pretending? Jesus turned around and told a parable about two guys who built houses, one on rock, one on sand. He prefaced the story by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them . . . ” (Matt. 7:24a)

Kind of the same thing James said about works proving that faith is alive.

Puzzle Masquerading As Aslan

Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

The donkey Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, The Chronicles Of Narnia, you’re probably familiar with a line often quoted about Aslan, the Christ-like character in the world of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four children protagonists learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver that Aslan, the king of Narnia, is a lion. Then this exchange:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

As it turns out, this description of Aslan becomes important in the last book of the series, too. In The Last Battle, a greedy ape cons a weak-minded donkey named Puzzle to wear a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan.

When the imitation Aslan, through his spokesman the ape, begins to make demands on the Narnians that are contrary to all they expected based on the old stories, they remind themselves that Aslan is not a tame lion.

But the ape and his allies, the Calormenes, soon use that same line to explain the changes they attribute to Aslan’s orders—things like conscripting dwarfs to send to Calormene to work in their mines.

When Tirian, the Narnian king, rescues a contingent of dwarfs being marched away, he finds them less than excited about helping him expose Puzzle as the false Aslan:

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick. … We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!” …

“Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?” [said Tirian.]

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“”I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

What a clear picture of false teaching. Some of the Narnians believed in the re-imaged Aslan—Puzzle in disguise—and others decided to believe in neither the pretend nor the real Aslan.

The only difference I see from Lewis’s imagined description of false teaching and today’s real life version is that, instead of exploiting the not safe or tame aspect of Aslan’s character, today’s false teachers capitalize on the “but he’s good” part of God’s nature.

But God is good, so of course he wouldn’t send judgment.

But God is good so of course he wants you to be rich and healthy.

Two different lines of false teaching but from the same perversion of one aspect of God’s nature.

Though the thread running through both is different from the one Lewis imagined, the effect is still the same—Puzzle is masquerading as Aslan.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in February 2010

Inclusivism Exposed

Bible-candle-light-reading-1439638-mLast year I addressed a false teaching that seems to have gained some traction among Evangelical Christians—inclusivism. As a reminder, that view rethinks salvation, so “while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation.” (See “The Way Of Salvation” and “The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum”).

Since then I’ve been mindful of the numerous places in Scripture that refute the concept that someone could love God and seek to know Him but remain ignorant of the gospel. In those earlier posts, I stated that such an idea was inconsistent with God’s character, and I cited in discussion comments, at least, that James lays out God’s promise to draw near to those who draw near to Him.

In other words, God is not going to let someone who wants to know Him floundering in the dark. Believing this, I have still been surprised at the host of passages that make clear God’s promise to rush to those who choose Him.

I started with Proverbs 2:

For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God. (vv 3-5)

If you look, then you’ll discover. In reality, then, there are no hosts of pagans or Muslims or any other religion loving God and wanting to know Him but remaining ignorant of Jesus. How could there be? Each of those would put the lie to this passage.

Or how about this in Jeremiah:

‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’ (24:7)

Some people might quibble that this verse is addressing Jews returning to Israel after the exile. That’s true, certainly, but all Scripture is for our profit, and the passage refers to “My people.” God’s promise would seem to be for His people regardless of place and time—He will give us a heart to know Him.

Here’s another one. Jesus said this, recorded both in Matthew and Luke:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matt. 11:27)

I don’t know how much clearer Christ could be: The Son reveals God the Father; He’s the only One who knows the Father and it would stay like that unless He disclosed Him to us.

There’s more:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Eternal life is conditioned on knowing: knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ.

John repeats this truth in his first letter:

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Understanding from the Son lets us know that He is true, that were are in Jesus and that being in Jesus is what eternal life means. In fact, “This is the true God.” Any concept of God apart from Jesus is false.

Sincere Buddhists or pagans or Hindus are not saved. We might as well say sincere atheists are saved.

It’s actually cruel to suggest that someone who is separated from God by his sin is doing just fine by sacrificing his chicken on a high place outside his village in the sincerity of his heart, desiring to know God; or that by sincerely working toward enlightenment, he’ll actually be saved.

That’s like telling someone he isn’t going to die. Well, no actually he will die because we all face death, unless we’re caught up with Christ when He returns. Meanwhile, the person thinking he isn’t going to die, is living as if he isn’t going to die. He’s not taking care of his health or making a will or doing anything to prepare spiritually for life after death. By believing a lie, he’s neglecting what he needs.

Anyone without Christ needs to get that message—Christ shows us who God is; Christ is the door to eternal life. Inclusivism is nothing more than a human invention at best, and a demonic one at worst. It’s a lie, and telling dying people lies is cruel when what they need is saving truth.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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What To Do About False Teaching

False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

– – – – –

This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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