False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It


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I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

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A Common Heresy Of Our Day


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In an insidious way the “emergent church,” which took the spotlight a decade or so ago, only to morph into “progressives,” has given impetus to one of the saddest heresies that could ever be. People like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (Love Wins) reduced God to one quality: love.

But isn’t God, love? Yes, absolutely. But He is so much more. He is also merciful and kind, gracious and forgiving, creative and communicative, powerful and all knowing. But He is also some things we in western society seem to ignore or deny: He is jealous, the way a husband is about the purity of His wife; He is wrathful, the way a father might react to the rape of His daughter; He is just, the way a judge is who faces a mass murderer.

The truth is, God’s jealousy and wrath and justice are not contradictory to His love; the are extensions of it. A loving God cares for the oppressed and the needy, so what does that mean for the oppressor and for the one who is stingy or selfish? How does God manifest love to both sides of robbery or rape or scam?

By extending His forgiveness to both. Yes, even those who have received harsh treatment, unfair treatment, have committed sin. None of us is perfect. All of us need God’s great grace. And God offers it freely.

But not everyone accepts it.

The heresy of the day says that God simply waves off the part of Scripture that says someone must believe in order to receive life eternal. Apparently, in the thinking of those who fall into this wrong thinking, God is simply too loving to be just. He cares so much for the perpetrator of evil, He will not punish him. After all, the thinking goes, Jesus already paid the price for all our sins.

There’s truth there, which is, of course, how all error presents itself: it shows some truth before it twists it into abject falsehood.

I realize some Christians believe that, no, Christ died only for the elect, whoever they might be. We just don’t know.

As clearly as Scripture portrays the existence of an “elect” and believers who are “predestined,” it just as clearly portrays God’s gift of salvation as available to the world and free for all.

But there’s a huge gulf between those two positions—salvation for the elect on one hand and salvation for everyone on the other. Scripture makes a very clear case that salvation is given to all, but received by some.

Romans 5 is one of the best passages, but certainly not the only one, that walks the tightrope between the two extremes. Here are the pertinent verses:

For while we were still helpless [all of us], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [all of us]. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die [but there is none righteous, none good]. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners [all of us], Christ died for us [all of us]. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. [all of us?] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. [sounds like all of us] And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. [only some—emphasis mine]

Clearly, receiving the necessary reconciliation—becoming restored to a relationship with God—is dependent upon receiving what has been offered. So God’s saving work is available to all, but only efficacious for some—those who believe and receive.

The sad heresy of our day would have people believe that whatever their path of spirituality, or no path at all, they will nevertheless be accepted into eternal life with God.

It’s sad and not loving because it withholds the truth about the eternal condition of the lost. They can go through life and hear from Rob Bell or any of these other universalists that they’re just fine, not lost, not perishing, not in need.

The loving thing is to let people know that we’re all in the same boat, all right there together in a boat headed for spiritual death. But there is hope, there is rescue, there is a Savior.

Problem is, no one will look for a Savior if they don’t know there’s something from which they must be saved.

Sunday “Christians”


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Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle? I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (5)  
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The God Who Involves His People


Today is the National Day of Prayer here in the US. Consequently, in honor of that occasion, I’m posting this edited version of an article that appeared here ten years ago.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to involve us in His work.

People today like to talk about the “mystery of God,” as if there’s some kind of veil over His face or some kind of secret we have no hope of learning. Never mind that Jesus came to show us the Father. Never mind that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. Never mind that Jesus said the Spirit would guide us into truth. Never mind that He explained the things concerning Himself from the Law and the Prophets.

But here’s what I do find a mystery—perfect, omnipotent, all knowing God, Creator of the universe, wants to involve me in His work. Somehow, my being a part, rather than Him snapping His fingers or speaking a word, or even unleashing the Heavenly Host, brings glory to His name.

Here’s one of the ways that the skeptic can know that Christianity wasn’t thought up by some human—there are so many improbabilities, so many apparent contradictions. If a person was to invent an all powerful, sovereign god, it would be most logical to have that all powerful, sovereign god take it upon himself to do what he knows is best. Cut out the middleman, so to speak. Do it himself because then he would be sure it would get done right.

But that’s not the way the God of the Bible has chosen to operate. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Then He commissioned those who believe in Him to make disciples. He commands us to love one another and to love our enemies. And He tells us to pray for our pastors and teachers and fellow Christians and rulers and authorities. In short, He gives His church the responsibility of representing Him to the world.

Why would He do that? We do it so imperfectly. Inevitably we invite hangers on and pretenders.

But it’s His plan, and remember, He is sovereign and all-knowing as well as all powerful.

Rather than exploring all the reasons why people no longer like church or can’t stand Christians, perhaps we should simply go about the business of being the Body Christ which God intended us to be. Will some people still scoff? Sure. Will some still be offended? Undoubtedly.

But the scoffing won’t be because we’re doing something scoff-worthy. The offense will be the gospel and not the contentious way we conduct ourselves.

And the thing is, child-like faith in a great God who invites us to ask anything according to His will, brings us to His throne of grace.

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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The World Divided


The world’s always been divided. I understand that. In Europe under the medieval system there were serfs and knights, lords and clergy, barons and kings. Essentially divisions were along economic lines which in turn created social lines. That’s why a royal marrying a commoner was pretty much unheard of.

Of course there were the natural barriers created by oceans that divided people groups. Then there was the development of nationalism and racism that divided people based on where they lived and what were their physical traits.

In the last 50 years the world has become smaller and smaller. The old dividing lines have melted away, but a new line is replacing all the old ones: worldview.

What do you believe? That’s the new dividing line. Of course nationalism, economics, social standing and race play into creating a person’s worldview, but I’m realizing a bigger aspect that forms the way we look at the world is our view of God.

People who don’t believe in God see the world one way, those who do believe in God, see the world in a very different way.

The discussion of the day at the FB atheist/theist group centered on the role of women. We are divided. Christians for the most part reflect the Biblical view of gender differences. Atheists think submission is a dirty word. One member even said that he would not EVER submit to ANYONE.

Which underscores the divide.

Christians first submit to God. Atheists, I believe, see the issue of obeying Someone who is over them in authority as the reason they reject God.

Christians submit to government. Atheists submit to government if they agree with it, if they have a say in creating it.

Christians believe in gender roles that involve love and submission. Atheists believe in “partnership,” which is destined to be unequal or contentious.

I know these are simplistic generalities, but I do think this divide—believing in God or not believing in God—is growing, at least in the US.

The fact is, our worldview dictates what we believe about various other issues, and ultimately what we do.

Lakers fans are Lakers fans. No one asks what your worldview is when you cheer for your favorite basketball team. But who smashes windows in the “celebrations” of a team’s successes? I don’t think anyone has ever taken a poll, but it seems hard for me to believe that someone who fears God would act in a destructive way. I mean, I’m not even saying, “Christian.” But someone who believes they either have to answer to God or they have to behave a certain way to please Him or they live by the command to love their neighbor, isn’t probably going to start fires, smash store windows, and loot local businesses.

Take that same idea to life in general. Who commits fraud against senior citizens, people who believe in and fear God or people who reject Him? Who hijacks cars? Steals purses? Shoplifts? Shoots people en masse?

I’m not saying there are no criminals who believe in God. As I noted earlier, this is a broad brush, painting generalities. But it makes sense to me that people who believe in a moral law, a Lawgiver, and a Judge, are much more likely to be law abiding than people who think law is whatever we make it and there is no one watching them 24/7, there is no just judge who will hold them accountable.

What’s the point?

I guess I think, there is no governmental answer that will bring us back into harmony. We can’t pass enough hate-crime laws or ban speakers or curb free speech in a way that will fix the great divide. I mean, telling one side to shut up and sit down is not fixing things in the first place. And a look at history will show that belief in Jesus has done well when the other side tries to stop the spread of His message.

The answer, I believe, is the one Jesus gave when He returned to heaven. We are to make disciples. The more disciples, the more people who learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

It is a little surprising that so many look at Christianity as dangerous. And I mean, not just theism, but Christianity. I understand, for example, there is once again a crackdown in China on the unregistered house churches. And even of some of the registered ones. Specifically crosses have been eliminated in one area.

Why?

I can only think of one reason: Christians see the world differently.

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Generosity


I have a generous friend. I mean, really generous. If someone is in need, her first instinct is to give. And not just a token amount of giving. Really sacrificial giving.

Funny thing—among western Christians today, many would think of her as reckless, not saving for a rainy day as the Bible instructs. But wait! The Bible does not instruct us to save for a rainy day!

Instead, the Apostle Paul, going through Macedonia and Greece, was collecting money from various churches in support of believers living in Judea because they were experiencing great need. Consequently, Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth was this:

this [giving to the Judean believers] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; (2 Cor. 8:13-14)

Sadly the tendency in our current Christian circles seems to be more self-help than reliance on God to supply through the generosity of other disciples of Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do think Christians are generous, but it seems as if we are more concerned about foreign missions and the urban poor than we are about needy believers. We support Bibles for Latin America—a really good thing—wells for Indonesia, food and water for a drought-stricken country in Northern Africa. Further, we give to Christian radio and to our missionaries and to our church.

As a group, Christians are generous, generous people.

Perhaps what we need most is a Paul who will tell us about the needy Christians we can empty our savings to help. Because it seems to me, we more often than not are giving of our surplus, our extra, some amount that won’t affect our current life-style.

True, Paul did say the Corinthians weren’t giving “for their affliction,” but I take that to mean, in comparison, they weren’t to go hungry so that the Judeans would have plenty to eat.

He introduced the whole subject of giving by telling the believers in Corinth what the believers in Macedonia were doing:

for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV)

Out of their poverty, they gave.

I don’t know about you, but they put me to shame.

And here’s an interesting tie-in: my church is reading through Exodus together. Yesterday and today we read about the people of Israel bringing gold and silver and wove cloth and all the stuff needed to construct the tabernacle. In fact, they brought so much, at some point Moses had to tell them to stop giving—there was enough, and more than enough of the materials needed.

All this giving came after the incident with the golden calf. With Moses away, the people decided to stray. They convinced Aaron to help. He fashioned an idol and they jumped in with feasting and dancing, and not in a worshipful way to their sovereign God who had just miraculously freed them from Egypt.

As a result, God, through Moses and the priests who stood with him, severely disciplined His people. Thousands died. Moses met with God again, and He revealed Himself, promised to go with the people, renewed the covenant He had with them. Part of what He told Moses about Himself was this: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth . . . who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6b)

When Moses returned to the people this time, the glory of the LORD shone on his face. He declared to the people the things that God had told him.

Afterward, they gave. The people were not thinking, I’d better keep back this bit of gold because I might need it later. They were not thinking about themselves at all.

My conclusion is this: the more the people realized who God is, they more they were willing to give. And, they did not look at their own circumstances but at what they had that they could give to supply a need.

My friend thinks like that: What do I have today that can help this person in need?

My tendency is to think, but I might need this tomorrow so I’d better not give it all.

Ironic since I’ve been the recipient so recently of the abundant generosity of so many who helped me through my medical crisis.

I have to wonder if perhaps, instead of thinking about God forgiving so generously, I’m not falling into the entitlement trap—God has to come through. Or maybe the “that’s for people who have a healthy savings account” mode of thinking.

I know we can’t give to every needy cause that comes our way. I mean, every radio program I listen to on Christian radio is “listener supported,” and hardly a week goes by that our local station doesn’t have someone telling us about a wonderful project needing our support that will help needy people.

So maybe there’s a little, “I can’t do it all, so I won’t do any” mindset.

Maybe there’s a little bit of callousness from one more collection for earthquake/fire/hurricane/tornado victims. Certainly in our information age, we know about all the needy people in the world in a way no other people knew before.

But in spite of all these factors, God’s word challenges me to be generous—out of my poverty even, in response to who I know God to be, for others in need. Which others? I guess He’ll show me if I ask Him.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Comments Off on Generosity  
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The Church Doing What The Church Does


Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the Church being the Church.

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.

Jesus – From God And To God


My (relatively) new pastor, Darin McWatters, has started a series in the book of Hebrews. What I love the most is that he is bringing out the focus on Jesus.

Sunday, in a message from chapter 3, he pointed out that the anonymous author of the book used two names for Jesus that aren’t used anywhere else in Scripture: Apostle and High Priest.

Apostle, he reminded us, means “sent one.” Jesus was sent from God. Interestingly, He not only carried the message, He is the message.

I’ve started a list of all the apparent contradictions related to Jesus, also known as antimonies:

Definition of antimony

1 :a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles
2 :a fundamental and apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction (Merriam-Webster online)

For instance, Jesus is God, all God, but He is also man, completely man. How can both be true? They appear to be contradictory, but with God all things are possible.

Anyway, another to add to the list is that Jesus is God’s Messenger, but He is also the Message. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a KJV).

The other name the Hebrews writer uses is High Priest. In Judaism the high priest acted as the intermediary between God and His people. The high priest stood in the gap for them so that they could offer sacrifices for their sins.

Of course he also had to make sacrifice regularly for his own sins.

Jesus came as the perfect High Priest who could intercede for us without a sin issue of His own. As a result His sacrifice was perfect and complete. It’s not a sacrifice that needs to be repeated, and it’s so perfect it accomplishes forgiveness for all who believe. All. Down through time, all who believe.

That’s also amazing. Because of Jesus, God has fashioned a new nation: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9a). The Church does not consist exclusively of Jews. Or Americans, for that matter. We are brothers and sisters with believers in nations all over the world.

We are part of God’s family, whether we live in the 21st century or whether we came before.

We are one with Christ, whether we are men or women, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are young or old.

There is a unity among Christians that is unparalleled. We have a common Lord, the same Savior. We have one purpose, one destiny

Only God could do something so radical. Only His Son demonstrates how He reaches us, lost and in need, as the Sent One from God in order to bring us to God—something we could not do for ourselves.

What an amazing God we have.

Published in: on September 20, 2017 at 7:16 pm  Comments Off on Jesus – From God And To God  
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You Reap What You Sow


My church is doing this cool thing—have been for more than a year now. We as a congregation are invited to read a passage of Scripture together. One person from our body has been asked to write a meditation on the passage, so we read that too.

Why I think it’s so cool is that so many in the church are reading the same verses or chapter every day. We can also leave comments so if we want to pass along what impacted us the most, we can.

I had the April 2 mediation. Currently we are reading a Psalm Monday through Friday, and a portion of a chapter in Proverbs on Saturday and Sunday. So the section of Scripture I had was Proverbs 11:20-31.

I have to say, I find the Proverbs difficult to write about because the topic from verse to verse can change. It’s not easy to write in a cohesive way about verses that don’t necessarily hang together.

All that to say, I put more prayer into this meditation than just about anything else I’ve written. Praise God that He hears and answers prayer.

First the verses I was writing about (in the NASB), followed by my meditation.

20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD,
But the blameless in their walk are His delight.
21 Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,
But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.
22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout
So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.
23 The desire of the righteous is only good,
But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
27 He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
But he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.
28 He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
29 He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.
31 If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth,
How much more the wicked and the sinner! (Proverbs 11:20-31)

Much of Proverbs 11:20-31 could be summed up with the adage, “You reap what you sow.” When I was young, I wanted to reap good things, so I thought the natural course of action was to sow good things.

Consequently, when I was in fifth grade, I decided I should befriend a new student who other kids treated badly. Except, I hadn’t counted on the scorn and derision that would be heaped on me as a result.

That experience was my introduction to the idea that Biblical principles didn’t always “work.”

Of course, I was thinking short term, for the here and now. And I was trying to work the system. I was trying to make good things happen in my life by being “a good Christian.” When the outcome wasn’t what I expected, I bailed. To my shame, I turned from friend to one of the tormentors of that poor, lonely boy.

In reality, I was ignorant of the first verse of this passage—the part that tells us “the LORD abhors those who are perverse in heart.” In the original, “perverse” has the idea of “twisted,” the way I twisted the “reap what you sow” idea into “sow to get what you want.”

We are not to sow in order to get what we want. That’s manipulation. We are not to be generous, as a number of these verses say, because we want to get back more in return.

True generosity isn’t about getting. That’s twisted thinking. Perverse. The thing the LORD abhors.

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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