Warnings Or Threats


Jesus Christ came to seek and to save. That cost Him His life. But Scripture also says He gave us an example to follow. Peter said it clearly in his first letter.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:22-24)

So Christ is our model. When he was condemned, censured, abused, attacked, He didn’t sling invectives back. While he was beaten bloody, while he hung dying, He didn’t curse those who were responsible. He didn’t threaten them with Hell, and surely He could have.

I started thinking about threats in the context of warning sinners about their eternal destiny if they don’t repent.

I’ve said before that part of a Christian’s responsibility is to tell people the truth about what their headed towards. How else can they turn from the error of their ways if they haven’t heard that their ways are leading to destruction?

I’ve likened the Christian’s role to that of an emergency worker warning traffic that up ahead the bridge is out. They can’t slow down and carefully easy their way forward. No, the bridge is gone! If they continue down the road, they will crash. No other option. They must either turn around or die.

Is that a threat?

I know some atheists think so. They look at Christians as gleeful in their pronouncements of doom.

The truth is, there’s a difference between warning someone of impending disaster and threatening someone with it. In the first case, the person is trying to prevent harm and in the second, he is calling it down on another’s head.

Sadly, I believe the Christian’s job to proclaim the truth about God’s justice is much harder as a result of a misguided group of people professing Christ but listening to false teaching—five years ago it was the Westboro Baptist folks and now it’s many in the alt-right.

Five years ago the Westboro Baptist group was in the news here in SoCal as they made plans to come and picket the funeral of a soldier killed in combat. As it turned out, they didn’t show up, but the local community was up in arms and ready to spring a counter-protest.

These wrong-headed people are in no way following in Jesus’s steps. This from a news release sent out days before the funeral and still available on their web site:

GOD HATES AMERICA & IS KILLING
YOUR TROOPS IN HIS WRATH.
Military funerals have become pagan orgies of
idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the
dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.

The last line is the worst: “THANK GOD FOR IEDs.” That would be the weapon used to kill this soldier.

So how is it that people like this think they are walking in obedience to God’s will? Christ was suffering but He made no threats. Do they think that because they’re not the ones suffering, it’s OK to issue threats and recrimination?

In the end, all they accomplish is to confuse society so that when someone wants to issue a warning, it’s taken as a threat. But that’s what false teaching does—it plays right into the hands of Satan, the father of lies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on June 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong


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

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

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

But it’s not.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

The Way False Teaching Works


satans-lies-flag2False teaching seems to be on the rise. Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, universalists trumpet the inclusion of all people through all religions or none at all, progressives dismiss the historicity of the Bible, and Word of Faith’ers turn Jesus’s plan of salvation into a scheme to provide monetarily for those with the faith to believe. Other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, “Look, another one of Satan’s lies,” and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, in the same way that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

The secret to understanding false teaching, how it takes root, and what allows it to flourish is in one basic fact: False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
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. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Generally, then, false teachers, whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among the faithful with the intent to lead some astray, will show themselves within the church.

They will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth

That step leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing:

  • God loves you [true],
  • and wants to bless His children [true].
  • He has promised to answer prayer [true].
  • Therefore, as God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, a child of God can expect Him to provide lavishly [not quite true—the point of speculation]
  • and can hold God to His word [inaccurate at best]

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. In this case, the blessings God promises could as well be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering.

Further, the Bible takes a strong stand against putting God to the test. Jesus Himself rebuked Satan, using Scripture, for this very thing (see Matt. 4:7).

Finally, God’s promise of blessing and provision was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings. The gospel message is about the reconciliation Jesus made available with the Father through His sacrifice. The Word of Faith ideas water down this powerful life-changing message by insinuating physical blessings as the main gift Jesus provided.

Here’s another example of how false teaching works. Trinitarian Theology is the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins). The following points are excerpted from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology” and the verses in parentheses are from Romans 5.

  • “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
  • “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
  • And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]
  • Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [not quite true—the point of speculation: other scriptures qualify “all men.” See for instance Colossians 2:19a, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]
  • Therefore, we understand from Scripture that when Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false—only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians or Romans 6]
  • When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false—see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
  • When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false—unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking with our Bibles open about what our pastors are preaching. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on Christian leaders are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

– – – – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was his wealth? Or health?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

False Teaching/False Teachers


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

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

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

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

That in itself is a false teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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    The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


    Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

    That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

    Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

    So are they right?

    I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

    Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

    John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    The Church Is Not Perfect


    Wolds_Way_Stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_285429I’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.

    Ugh!

    The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

    From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

    Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

    Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

    The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

    But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

    The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

    Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

    Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

    Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

    No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

    Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

    If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

    In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

    Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

    We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

    But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

    Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Friends with the World – A Reprise


    Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

    Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

    One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

    But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

    James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

    You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

    “Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

    Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

    Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

    The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

    Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

    In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

    I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

    Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

    And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

    Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

    It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

    Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

    So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

    Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

    Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

    In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

    An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

    Job And Our Organic God


    Job003I love the book of Job in the Old Testament, so today I want to share some thoughts I wrote four years ago (with a little add-on here and there and of course some general editing).

    – – – – –

    One of the things writers talk about is creating stories organically. The alternative is to force a story to become what you want it to become by reducing it to a formula. Organic stories are the ones that seem real, that last long after you’ve closed the book, that affect you rather than merely entertaining you.

    There is no one key to writing organic stories, but they must have characters that seem like real people with believable motivations, realistic emotional patterns and true-to-life psychological mechanisms for handling problems.

    The formulaic characters are little more than place holders. In a formulaic romance, for example, insert heroine on page 1, the opening paragraph; slot in romantic lead in chapter 2. Almost it doesn’t matter who these people are. They will have some problem that keeps them apart for a third of the book, then they will begin to draw close, only to run into a wedge that drives them further apart for another third. When all seems hopeless, after the heroine experiences the black night of the soul, the two resolve the conflict and come together. Or something like that. You get the gist. There’s a pattern, one that romance writers are taught in writing workshops to follow.

    I’m not trying to pick on romances. I think westerns can be just as formulaic and so can mysteries. Character X discovers crime Y with suspects A, B, and C. With a little detecting, he uncovers clues 1, 2, and 3. A formula.

    I don’t know enough about any of these genres to say whether there is a way to write them organically—to make them come alive and therefore to separate them from the pack. I do know that readers of formulaic books have a hard time remembering if they’ve already read Busted, Bashed, or Butchered. (I just made up those titles, but that kind of title connection in a series is another part of the formula). Even by reading the back cover, readers can draw a blank. Is this the book they read? It sounds vaguely familiar, but so do the other two.

    What does all this have to do with God and the book of Job?

    As I’ve been reading Job once more, and I’ve been struck with the fact that Job’s friends saw God as a formulaic figure. He was as good as programmed, in their minds, and had to act in manner y if person A did action B. In other words, they were not seeing God as organic—alive and relational. They were talking about Him as if He were an it, a force, a thing they could predict. Perhaps a thing they could manipulate.

    While Job was wrong to complain against God and to accuse Him of wrong doing (which is why he repented in the end), he nevertheless got it right that God is a free and independent person, transcendent, able to act however He wants to act. He’s organic. He’s more than that, of course, because He’s sovereign.

    In the past some professing Christians have accused traditional, Biblical Christianity of putting God in a box. Let him be organic, in other words, by which they mean, let him bend with the culture—change to fit the changing times.

    Well, funny thing. The most organic thing a person can do is reveal who he is. “You want to know me? Let me tell you about myself so that you’re not reading your own thoughts or feelings or motives into my actions.”

    This, God chose to do.

    However, instead of embracing His story about Himself and His relationship with humankind, many people, even “religious” ones, decide they get to say who God is and what He is like. What these people are doing is “re-imaging” Him into the formula they’ve created.

    That what Job’s friends did.

    They determined that God dealt with people in a formulaic, foreseeable way. He punished sin by bringing suffering down on the sinner. He rewarded those who lived righteously by giving them prosperity and long life.

    Consequently, they left no room for God to do anything else with an unrighteous man other than bring disaster down on his head. And since disaster hit Job five fold, he was clearly, according to their formula, an unrighteous man.

    People today do essentially the same thing. God is loving and kind and forgiving and tolerant and an advocate for peace. Therefore he would never send people to hell, order the death of . . . well, anyone but most certainly not a whole nation, though He said they were people who lived in debauchery. Above all, the loving and kind and tolerant God would never punish the entire human race because one person ate a bite of forbidden fruit. That’s not God, they say. (I mean, it’s just fruit!)

    Maybe punishing sin is not the formulaic God these progressive Christians have concocted, but the organic God who is sovereign, just, and good, can do and does do all the things He revealed in His word. And more.

    He’s not bound by a formula. He can, and did, take the form of a mam. He can, and did, live a sin-free life. He can, and did, sacrifice Himself to pay for the sins of the world. Why? Not because we did a satisfactory quota of good deeds, certainly. He, being living and self-existent, chooses to do what He chooses to do.

    Consequently, He treats people differently. Moses’s sister Miriam, for example, rebelled against Moses and God struck her with leprosy for a week. Aaron, their brother, also rebelled along with her, but God didn’t strike him with leprosy. Aaron’s sons, however, God struck down because they sacrificed “strange incense” as part of the worship ceremony. Aaron, years earlier, had fashioned a golden calf, and didn’t suffer any consequences until the end of his life when he also was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

    The point is, God isn’t limited by our expectations. He can forgive the repentant, even someone like King Manasseh who had instituted child sacrifice, though undoubtedly Job’s three friends would have demanded that He strike the man down in the midst of his wickedness.

    But God, who is merciful and all-knowing and just, can be trusted to do what is right with the lives and souls of the people He created. He doesn’t have to fit the formula Job’s friends created—in fact, He doesn’t. Theirs was a works theology—do the right things and God has to bless. Stray from His demands, and He will rain suffering down.

    They didn’t understand what it meant to believe God to be sovereign, to trust Him to do what is right, even when His action is surprising and unexpected and even sometimes painful. They didn’t know Him and love Him. They more nearly knew about Him and used Him—in Job’s case, to chastise a man suffering horrific loss. With friends like them . . .

    Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 6:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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