Social Justice And The Gospel


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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t disagree with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise


If I post an article from the archives, I usually try to pull one from the “you-probably-haven’t-been-reading-this-blog-that-long” past so that most of the current visitors might not have seen it yet. This one is not so old, but I thought it worth re-posting as we approach Easter. After all, if we don’t have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the sacrifice He paid for the sins of the world will likely lose meaning.

This one deals with the view of Jesus which people who consider themselves to be “Progressive Christians” popularize. It needs to be corrected by looking at what the Bible says instead. The following appeared here in July 2015.

– – – – –

Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, then being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in the loving way the Progressive Christian espouses. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise  
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Cleaning the Cup—A Reprise


1194095_wine_glass_dark_fieldIn recent years a fairly popular criticism of Christians in Western society is that those in traditional churches are playing the part today of the “religious leaders,” also called the Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus in the first century.

I maintain that this position compares avocados and watermelons. The Pharisees were trying to work their way into God’s good graces, even as they rejected Jesus. Christians—if they are actual followers of Christ—have understood that our best efforts fall short of God’s glory and have instead accepted the work of Jesus at the cross.

Does the fact that Christians follow Jesus mean we can then live as we please and do as we wish? Certainly not. The instruction in the New Testament is for Christians, not all people in general, which I think we sometimes lose sight of, at least here in America. Rather than concerning ourselves with all that the Bible says, we work to bring all of society into a moral lifestyle.

To an extent, this is not a bad thing. Christ’s teaching is life-changing, but the truth is, it’s possible to clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside disgustingly dirty.

However, Jesus didn’t advocate scouring the inside and leaving the outside filthy. He said, essentially, clean the inside, and the outside will take care of itself: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26).

Here’s what Jesus was really getting to:

“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:28)

In other words, these words are directed at pretend Christians, or at religious people in other faiths that think doing a bunch of good deeds will put them in right standing with god or the universe or whatever it is they worship.

The outside can look all spiffy and clean. One reason Christians team up with Mormons in political matters, I believe, is that Mormons are so very moral. They are pro-life and pro-marriage, don’t drink or smoke or gamble, go to church, give to charities, and generally present a face of kindness.

Clean cups, at least on the outside.

Honestly, moderate Muslims are right there beside them. The women dress modestly, they are law-abiding, they worship regularly, they oppose homosexuality, drinking, and abortion.

I could say the same about any number of people of religion—they do many, many right things because, in their belief system, they have to. The doing is their ticket to “God’s” good graces—whether that means enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, or another planet where they will rule.

Shockingly, atheists fall into this category, too. Their list of “right things” will differ from Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and pretend Christians, but they still have their list: Be tolerant of people outside Western culture, take care of the environment, avoid even the appearance of prejudice, speak only in a politically correct way, support gender equality, gay marriage, and labor unions.

The gods that the atheists are trying to please, of course, are themselves. They talk much about doing something meaningful for society and leaving a legacy. They want to “make their mark,” to be remembered.

Jesus said he didn’t come for the people who have these spiffed up outsides. Those folk see no need for Him because they believe it’s up to them. Either God expects them to measure up, or they have to reach the standard they’ve set for themselves. So they busy themselves cleaning the outside of the cup, and when drink splatters, which it always does, they hurriedly wipe it away. When greasy fingers leave a smear, they wash and polish, until the outside shines.

All the while, germs roam free on the inside. They can hate and lust and covet to their heart’s content. They can doubt God and rail at Him, they can be disappointed and think He’s let them down or doesn’t really care or isn’t really there. Just so long as on the outside, they look good.

Jesus said He came to heal, but only sick people need healing. The well send the physician away. Services not needed here—only healthy people on site.

But that attitude is indicative of the spiritually blind. All people have fallen short of God’s glory—His righteous standard, and the only standard that matters.

Children run races and win trophies, but how silly if they strutted around claiming to be the fastest runner in the world. They would have measured themselves against themselves and decided they were the best. But if they were to measure themselves against the world record holder, they would clearly, consistently, and always fall short.

So too with Man’s efforts, as soon as we measure ourselves against God’s holiness. We might shine the outside of our cup in an effort to fool ourselves and others that it is clean, but to kill the germs crawling around inside takes the touch of the Master, the work of Jesus, the healing of the One who came to save.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2013.

Christians Selling Out The Church


church-in-guatemala

I read it again today on Facebook—the church let down America by voting for Donald Trump. Here’s the heart of the article, written by a friend:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

What possessed [Paul]? What conviction gripped the soul of this Apostle to the Gentiles? I think that Paul believed if the church didn’t live this out, no one would. It is the church’s responsibility, and it’s alone, to manifest the realities of God to the earth, to be the outpost of heaven.

This is why blacks feel betrayed.

This is why women feel betrayed.

This is why Mexicans feel betrayed.

This is why Muslims feel betrayed.

Not because America let them down. But because the church did.

We may very well have voted for the pro-life candidate, but it appears as though we did it at the cost of blacks. Of Mexicans. Of Muslims. Of women. And I, for one, believe that the cost was too great.

I don’t want to get into the demographics of the vote—how women voted for Mr. Trump and therefore ought not be lumped in with those “feeling betrayed.” For the record, I feel betrayed that the Republicans let him run under their flag, but that’s a post for another day.

I also don’t want to address the idea that concern for the life of the unborn should take a backseat to concern for “blacks” or “Mexicans” or Muslims or women. There’s a lot to say about that statement, but I’ll need a separate post to deal with it.

Instead of those things, I want to think a bit about Christians ripping on the Church. I know I’ve addressed this subject before, but I think it’s reaching a crisis point. We’re not talking about progressives or atheists or people of other religions. We’re talking about people who believe the Bible and who are using the Bible to rip the Church.

We Christians aren’t perfect (though a small segment hold to the belief in Christian perfectionism, most of us acknowledge our sin and see the Bible as addressing ongoing sins—see Paul’s confrontation of the church in Corinth concerning their sin of tolerating sin in their body). I’m in no way saying that we can do no wrong or that we don’t have sins we need to address. The condemnation and warnings of Jesus given to the seven churches in Revelation, are ours too.

But in this day when the world mocks and denigrates the Church, we believers ought not join right in!

First, the Church is far greater than the collection of believers here in America. Therefore the statement that “the church” let down the list of people above is wrong. Even if American Christians had let someone down, it wouldn’t be “the church” that was at fault.

In reality, the article addressed a type of “Christian nationalism” that I agree with, but oddly, in the midst of this identification came the accusation that the Church was at fault for what happened in the American election.

Sorry, but the Church is an all-encompassing body that includes people of every tribe and tongue and nation which God is preparing as His bride.

Other metaphors describe us as His family; as His body, with Christ as the head; as a spiritual house made up of living stones with Christ as the cornerstone. These descriptions reveal our true identity. We must not be pulled into false ideas about who we are. We must not join the world in bashing the one Jesus died to save.

Besides our true identity we also know the following:

1) false prophets sneak in to steal and kill and destroy. Sometimes the world and even other believers see the false prophets as true and assume the worst of the entire flock.

2) sometimes bodies of believers can become lukewarm or can lose our first love and need to be called back to Christ, but that is not true of the entire Church.

3) therefore, no matter what happens in America, the Church is not to blame.

4) finally, our citizenship, just like that of every believer, is in heaven. This world, including our native or adopted home on earth, is temporary. We’re “just a-passin’ through.”

5) while we’re on earth we testify to the One who saved us, in part by our unity, by the way we treat one another.

So Christians bashing the Church? Not such a great witness.

In truth, Christians need to stand up for the Church, because no one else will. We need to reject the idea that we are responsible for what false teachers teach, unless we give them the pulpit and prod others to come in and hear their message. To think otherwise would be like saying Jesus was to blame for the false teaching of the Pharisees, because, you know, He was there too.

Well, no, Jesus wasn’t to blame for the fact that those religious leaders used Scripture to teach self-righteousness.

We need to keep front and center that the true Church holds fast to the gospel, that Christ died for sinners according to the Scripture, that we ourselves have received a new life in Christ because of what Jesus did on our behalf. Any teaching that contradicts those fundamentals is a different gospel.

We need to stop calling those who preach a different gospel, the Church.

And we need to stop going along with the world to bash the true Church.

Published in: on November 15, 2016 at 7:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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Cleaning The Cup


1194095_wine_glass_dark_fieldIn recent years a fairly popular criticism of Christians in Western society is that those in traditional churches are playing the part today of the “religious leaders,” also called the Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus in the first century.

I maintain that this position compares avocados and watermelons. The Pharisees were trying to work their way into God’s good graces, even as they rejected Jesus. Christians—if they are actual followers of Christ—have understood that our best efforts fall short of God’s glory and have instead accepted the work of Jesus at the cross.

Does the fact that Christians follow Jesus mean we can then live as we please and do as we wish? Certainly not.

The instruction in the New Testament is for Christians, which I think we American believers sometimes lose sight of. Rather than concerning ourselves with all that the Bible says to Christians, we work to bring all of society into a godly lifestyle.

To an extent, this is not a bad thing. Christ’s teaching is life-changing and all of society would be better off doing what He says, but the truth is, it’s possible to clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside disgustingly dirty.

Jesus didn’t advocate scouring the outside and leaving the inside filthy. Just the opposite. He said, essentially, clean the inside and the outside will take care of itself: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26).

Here’s what Jesus was really getting to:

“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:28)

In other words, He was talking to pretend Christians, or to religious people in other faiths who think doing a bunch of good deeds will put them in right standing with god or the universe or whatever it is they worship.

To be honest, a lot of those people clean up well. Their outside can look all spiffy and clean. One reason Christians team up with Mormons in political matters, I believe, is that Mormons are so very moral. They are pro-life and pro-marriage, don’t drink or smoke or gamble, go to church, give to charities, and generally present a face of kindness.

Clean cups, at least on the outside.

Honestly, moderate Muslims are right there beside them. The women dress modestly, all are law-abiding, they worship regularly, they oppose homosexuality, drinking, and abortion.

I could say the same about any number of people of religion—they do many, many right things because in their belief system, they have to. The doing is their ticket to “God’s” good graces—whether that means enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, or another planet where they will rule.

Shockingly, atheists can fall into this category, too. Their list of “right things” will differ from Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and pretend Christians, but they still have their list. Be tolerant of people who hold a different belief system than traditional Western culture, take care of the environment, avoid even the appearance of prejudice, speak only in a politically correct way, support gender equality, gay marriage, and labor unions.

The gods that the atheists are trying to please, of course, are themselves. They talk much about doing something meaningful for society and leaving a legacy. This is their nirvana, but to get there, they must clean the outside until it shines.

Jesus said he didn’t come for the people who have these spiffed up outsides. Those folk see no need for Him because they believe it’s up to them.

For the religionists God expects them to measure up, and for the humanists, they have to measure up to the standard they’ve set for themselves. So both groups busy themselves cleaning the outside of the cup, and when drink splatters, which it always does, they hurriedly wipe it away. When greasy fingers leave a smear, they wash and polish, until the outside shines again.

All the while, germs roam free on the inside. They can hate and lust and covet to their heart’s content. They can doubt God and rail at Him, they can be disappointed and think He’s let them down or doesn’t really care or isn’t really there. Just so long as on the outside, no one knows.

Jesus said He came to heal, but only sick people need healing. The well send physicians away. Services not needed here—only healthy people on site.

But that attitude is indicative of the spiritually blind. All people have fallen short of God’s glory—His righteous standard, and the only standard that matters.

Children run races and win trophies, but how silly if they strutted around claiming to be the fastest runner in the world. They have measured themselves against themselves and decided they are the best. But if they were to measure themselves against the world record holder, they would clearly, consistently, and always fall short.

So too with Man’s efforts, as soon as we measure ourselves against God’s holiness.

We might shine the outside of our cup in an effort to fool ourselves and others that it is clean, but to kill the germs crawling around inside takes the touch of the Master, the work of Jesus, the healing of the One who came to save.

This post first appeared here in June 2013.

Published in: on April 13, 2016 at 6:24 pm  Comments Off on Cleaning The Cup  
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Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Re-imaging Jesus


In_the_Synagogue005Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, them being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in a loving way. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

Food For Thought – Cloth And Wineskins


Have you every been bugged by a portion of Scripture that’s hard to understand? It just doesn’t seem to fit or make sense in light of what you know or in light of the context. I’ve struggled in this way with a passage in the book of Matthew.

Context, of course, is a key to Biblical interpretation. Someone studying the Bible today ought not make up something from his own mind or experience. Rather, it’s critical to look at an entire passage, an entire book, to find out what the circumstances were and what the audience likely understood.

Having said that, let me give you the context of the passage that’s given me difficulty over the years: After Jesus began his public ministry, He quickly incurred the ire of the Jewish religious leaders because more than once He healed people on the Sabbath—something these Pharisees viewed as breaking the law.

In the face of their displeasure, Jesus proceeded to call Matthew, a prominent tax-collector, to be His disciple, then went to the man’s home for dinner with a group of his friends—a group made up of other tax-collectors and people who didn’t keep the Jewish law. The Pharisees complained about Jesus eating and drinking with these corrupt government officials and sinners.

Jesus responded to His critics by saying, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE’…”

Soon after, John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees observed a religious fast. John’s disciples asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast, too. He answered with an analogy.

And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

I get that—Jesus is the bridegroom and His followers are the attendants. So far so good. But He continued, and here is the troublesome passage:

“But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Huh?

How did we get from eating with sinners and not keeping a fast to garments and wineskins?

Well, obviously, as with the previous part of His answer about the bridegroom, Jesus is making an analogy, but what equals what?

I’ve heard sermons on this passage before—the old is the Law, the new, the New Covenant. Set aside for the moment that those to whom Jesus was talking would not have understood that analogy at all. The idea of the New Covenant was still just that—an idea. Most people had no clue why the Messiah had actually come.

But the real problem I have with that interpretation is that the new-on-old in Jesus’s analogies destroys the old. Yet Jesus clearly said in the Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

WineskinsIs Jesus advocating for new wine to be put into new skins? I mean, isn’t it understood that old wine is better? Approaching the verse with the idea that Jesus is saying, new is better, doesn’t really fit the physical realities of the objects He was using to illustrate His point.

And what about the patch and the old garment? Clearly a new patch is incomplete, so it’s pretty hard to conclude that this analogy is saying new is better.

Interestingly Mark in his gospel elaborates on the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. Take a look:

(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:3-9 – emphasis mine)

So here’s what I’m thinking. What if the old cloth and the old wineskins stand for God’s true Law? In the verses just prior to these analogies, remember, Jesus told the Pharisees to figure out what Scripture meant when it said God desired compassion rather than sacrifice.

The new patch of cloth, the new wine, then, represent the traditions the Pharisees heaped on top of what God had said. Their add-ons were tearing apart the fabric, bursting the skins, of God’s perfect Law.

I know this way of looking at these verses flies in the face of the traditional interpretation. Traditional … heh-hem. Maybe departing from tradition is not a bad thing if it fits the context of the passage. This way of looking at the passage is also consistent with what Jesus says about fulfilling God’s law and about the Pharisees’ perversion of it through their tradition.

In the end, I come away more mindful of the need to hold loosely things like worship styles and other extra-Biblical practices—the traditions of our day which we might be heaping on top of Scripture, particularly on top of what the Bible lays out as the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a Christian—loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Compassion must not be sacrificed on the altar of tradition.

This article is a revised version of a post first published here in May 2012.

Published in: on May 15, 2015 at 7:14 pm  Comments (10)  
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Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians Are Not Pharisees


Bible-openThis article is a re-post of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday. I apologize to any who waded thr read it earlier. 😉 However, it’s an issue I’m passionate about, so I think the article is worth repeating (with some editing) for those who missed it.

– – – – –

Rant-ish article. I’m starting to connect some dots and I don’t like the picture I think is emerging. Last week author and friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about the trend to discount the Bible in favor of following Jesus. That’s one dot.

A second is from the same camp. In this view, the Bible is the idol of the Calvinists (or anyone taking a Sola Scriptura stand). They think the Bible is the third person in the Trinity. (I’ve heard this accusation against some Christians more than once and not just on the Internet.)

A third dot is another trend, this from evangelical pastors wagging the finger at “Pharisees” in the traditional church. Well, if they were talking about non-Christians who pretend to be Christians, I could see the point. But no. This is aimed at people who “think they have to protect God, as if He can’t protect Himself. They have let their passion smother their compassion.” Like the Pharisees, who were just so dog-gone zealous for God that they went out and made a bunch of extra laws.

It’s this last position I’m ranting against. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day, in fact, were God haters. They were no longer keeping the law in order to be holy. I mean Jesus repeatedly nailed them for their hypocrisy—to the point that He called them sons of their father the devil, the father of lies. He spelled it out in Matt. 15

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, / BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. / ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, / TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”

All of which seems rather mild compared to what Jesus said to them in Matt. 23. He started by saying

“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

Six times He called them hypocrites, but He also said they were blind guides, serpents, a brood of vipers, and whitewashed tombs.

I finally grasped what Jesus was driving at when I read John 19 recently—specifically this:

“And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ ”

I’m emphasizing that last line because it’s the crux of the argument.

Could there be a more pronounced repudiation of God? Not just of Jesus as Messiah (because they still could have thought Jesus wasn’t who they were waiting for, but the true Messiah would still show up), but their repudiation was of any Messiah and of God as their head. That cry was really their declaration of independence. They didn’t hide their wayward hearts with that pronouncement.

But Jesus knew this about them long before they came out in the open. So, I don’t see the Pharisees as well-meaning over-zealous legalists who were trying to please God in the only way they knew how. Rather, they had gone their own way for their own political and financial gain, built their own system, and repudiated God, all the while pretending to follow Him.

So how does this relate to people dissing the Bible in favor of Jesus? I think one bleeds into the other. The implication is that it’s the Bible that makes people legalistic. They want to follow the Bible so they aren’t compassionate and they want to follow the Bible so they don’t follow Jesus. It’s following the Bible that makes the Pharisees because they’re trying so darn hard to please God, just like those poor misguided Pharisees of old.

So the answer is either (a) chuck the parts of the Bible that don’t fit with following Jesus or (b) wake up the silly Christians who have gotten bogged down with the silly legalistic stuff (you know, about homosexuality and such).

So here’s the truth: A Pharisee is a God hater who is trying to go his own way. Consequently, the true Church, Christians who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, aren’t Pharisees. (I’ll qualify that statement in a bit.)

Second, anyone who wants to follow the Bible—not anyone who follows parts of the Bible that they pick and choose to follow, for whatever reason—most likely knows that Jesus boiled the commandments down to two: Love God and love your neighbors. In other words, there is no way someone reading, believing, and obeying the Bible is going to smother compassion with passion.

The REAL problem is that people aren’t reading the Bible. Christians aren’t and professing Christians aren’t. So, yes (here comes the qualifier), it’s possible for Christians to act in ways that seem Pharisaical. That’s a far cry, however, from being a Pharisee.

And a person doesn’t get Pharisaical by following the Bible too much. The hypocrisy comes from saying one thing and doing another–something the Bible speaks to over and over in James and the gospels and Proverbs and the prophets.

In short, rather than moving away from the Bible we Christians ought to be soaking ourselves in it.

Soaking. In. It.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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