The Gospel and Politics–John MacArthur

This is an excellent treatment of this critical subject! – Dan C. It’s length, but worth a good read!

The Gospel and Politics

by John MacArthur

For us, as Christians in the United States, it’s easy to get caught up in all the political fervor. It can even be tempting to think that legislation is the key to solving the moral problems that plague American society. But is that a right perspective? John MacArthur addresses this important issue and underscores a biblical response.

There was a time (in the days of our Puritan forefathers), when almost every soul in America acknowledged the Ten Commandments as the cornerstone of ethics and morality. Today most Americans can’t even name three of the Ten.

There was also a time (not so long ago) when Americans universally disapproved of homosexuality, adultery, and divorce; they believed sexual promiscuity is absolutely wrong; they regarded obscene language as inappropriate; they saw abortion as unthinkable; and they held public officials to high moral and ethical standards. Nowadays, most of the behavior society once deemed immoral is defended as an inalienable civil right.

How times and the culture have changed! The strong Christian influence and scriptural standards that shaped Western culture and American society through the end of the nineteenth century have given way to practical atheism and moral relativism. The few vestiges of Christianity in our culture are at best weak and compromising, and to an increasingly pagan society they are cultic and bizarre.

In less than fifty years’ time, our nation’s political leaders, legislative bodies, and courts have adopted a distinctly anti-Christian attitude and agenda. The country has swept away the Christian worldview and its principles in the name of equal rights, political correctness, tolerance, and strict separation of church and state. Gross immorality—including homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and other evils—has been sanctioned not only by society in general but in effect by the government as well. A portion of our tax dollars are now used to fund programs and government agencies that actively engage in blatant advocacy of various immoral practices.

What are Christians to do about it?

Many think this is a political problem that will not be solved without a political strategy. During the past twenty-five years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of evangelical activist organizations and sunk millions of dollars into them in an effort to use the apparatus of politics—lobbying, legislation, demonstration, and boycott—to counteract the moral decline of American culture. They pour their energy and other resources into efforts to drum up a “Christian” political movement that will fight back against the prevailing anti-Christian culture.

But is that a proper perspective? I believe not. America’s moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.

LESSONS FROM HISTORY

This is a lesson evangelicals ought to know from church history. Whenever the church has focused on evangelism and preaching the gospel, her influence has increased. When she has sought power by political, cultural, or military activism, she has damaged or spoiled her testimony.

The Crusades during the Middle Ages were waged for the purpose of regaining Christian control of the Holy Lands. Few believers today would argue that those efforts were fruitful. Even when the crusaders enjoyed military success, the church grew spiritually weaker and more worldly. Other religious wars and campaigns tinged with political motivation (such as the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, Cromwell’s revolution in England, and other skirmishes during the Reformation era) are all viewed with disapproval, or at best curiosity, by Christians today. And rightly so. The military and political ambitions of some of the Reformers turned out to be a weakness, and ultimately an impediment to the Reformation. On the other hand, the strength of the Reformation, and its enduring legacy, was derived from the fact that Reformation theology shone a bright spotlight on the way of salvation and brought clarity to the gospel.

Throughout Protestant history, those segments of the visible church that have turned their attention to social and political issues have also compromised sound doctrine and quickly declined in influence. Early modernists, for example, explicitly argued that social work and moral reform were more important than doctrinal precision, and their movement soon abandoned any semblance of Christianity whatsoever.

Today’s evangelical political activists seem to be unaware of how much their methodology parallels that of liberal Christians at the start of the twentieth century. Like those misguided idealists, contemporary evangelicals have become enamored with temporal issues at the expense of eternal values. Evangelical activists in essence are simply preaching a politically conservative version of the old social gospel, emphasizing social and cultural concerns above spiritual ones.

That kind of thinking fosters the view that government is either our ally (if it supports our special agenda) or our enemy (if it remains opposed or unresponsive to our voice). The political strategy becomes the focus of everything, as if the spiritual fortunes of God’s people rise or fall depending on who is in office. But the truth is that no human government can ultimately do anything either to advance or to thwart God’s kingdom. And the worst, most despotic worldly government in the end cannot halt the power of the Holy Spirit or the spread of God’s Word.

To gain a thoroughly biblical and Christian perspective on political involvement, we should take to heart the words of the British theologian Robert L. Ottley, delivered at Oxford University more than one hundred years ago:

The Old Testament may be studied. . .as an instructor in social righteousness. It exhibits the moral government of God as attested in his dealings with nations rather than with individuals; and it was their consciousness of the action and presence of God in history that made the prophets preachers, not merely to their countrymen, but to the world at large. . . .There is indeed significance in the fact that in spite of their ardent zeal for social reform they did not as a rule take part in political life or demand political reforms. They desired. . .not better institutions but better men. (Aspects of the Old Testament. The Bampton Lectures, 1897 [London: Longmans, 1898], 430-31)

LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE

My point is not that Christians should remain totally uninvolved in politics or civic activities and causes. They ought to express their political beliefs in the voting booth, and it is appropriate to support legitimate measures designed to correct a glaring social or political wrong. Complete noninvolvement would be contrary to what God’s Word says about doing good in society: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10; cf. Titus 3:1-2). It would also display a lack of gratitude for whatever amount of religious freedom the government allows us to enjoy. Furthermore, such pious apathy toward government and politics would reveal a lack of appreciation for the many appropriate legal remedies believers in democracies have for maintaining or improving the civil order. A certain amount of healthy and balanced concern with current trends in government and the community is acceptable, as long as we realize that that interest is not vital to our spiritual growth, our righteous testimony, or the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. Above all, the believer’s political involvement should never displace the priority of preaching and teaching the gospel.

There is certainly no prohibition on believers being directly involved in government as civil servants, as some notable examples in the Old and New Testaments illustrate. Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon are two excellent models of servants God used in top governmental positions to further His kingdom. The centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:5-13), Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), and Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10) all continued in public service even after they experienced the healing or saving power of Christ. (As far as we know, the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus also remained in office after he was converted [Acts 13:4-12].)

The issue again is one of priority. The greatest temporal good we can accomplish through political involvement cannot compare to what the Lord can accomplish through us in the eternal work of His kingdom. Just as God called ancient Israel (Ex. 19:6), He has called the church to be a kingdom of priests, not a kingdom of political activists. The apostle Peter instructs us, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Jesus, as we would expect, perfectly maintained His Father’s perspective on these matters even though He lived in a society that was every bit as pagan and corrupt as today’s culture. In many ways it was much worse than any of us in Western nations has ever faced. Cruel tyrants and dictators ruled throughout the region, the institution of slavery was firmly entrenched—everything was the antithesis of democracy. King Herod, the Idumean vassal of Rome who ruled Samaria and Judea, epitomized the godless kind of autocratic rule: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men [concerning the whereabouts of the baby Jesus], was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16).

Few of us have experienced the sort of economic and legal oppression that the Romans applied to the Jews of Jesus’ day. Tax rates were exorbitant and additional government-sanctioned abuses by the tax collectors exacerbated the financial burden on the people. The Jews in Palestine were afforded almost no civil rights and were treated as an underprivileged minority that could not make an appeal against legal injustices. As a result, some Jews were in constant outward rebellion against Rome.

Fanatical nationalists, known as Zealots, ignored their tax obligations and violently opposed the government. They believed that even recognizing a Gentile ruler was wrong (see Deuteronomy 17:15, “You may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother”). Many Zealots became assassins, performing acts of terrorism and violence against both the Romans and other Jews whom they viewed as traitors.

It is also true that the Roman social system was built on slavery. The reality of serious abuses of slaves is part of the historical record. Yet neither Jesus nor any of the apostles attempted to abolish slavery. Instead, they commanded slaves to be obedient and used slavery as a metaphor for believers who were to submit to their Lord and Master.

Jesus’ earthly ministry took place right in the midst of that difficult social and political atmosphere. Many of His followers, including the Twelve, to varying degrees expected Him to free them from Rome’s oppressive rule. But our Lord did not come as a political deliverer or social reformer. He never issued a call for such changes, even by peaceful means. Unlike many late twentieth-century evangelicals, Jesus did not rally supporters to some grandiose attempt to “capture the culture” for biblical morality or greater political and religious freedoms.

Christ, however, was not devoid of care and concern for the daily pain and hardships people endured in their personal lives. The Gospels record His great empathy and compassion for sinners. He applied those attitudes in a tangible, practical way by healing thousands of people of every kind of disease and affliction, often at great personal sacrifice to Himself.

Still, as beneficial and appreciated as His ministry to others’ physical needs was, it was not Jesus’ first priority. His divine calling was to speak to the hearts and souls of individual men and women. He proclaimed the good news of redemption that could reconcile them to the Father and grant them eternal life. That message far surpasses any agenda for political, social, or economic reform that can preoccupy us. Christ did not come to promote some new social agenda or establish a new moral order. He did come to establish a new spiritual order, the body of believers from throughout the ages that constitutes His church. He did not come to earth to make the old creation moral through social and governmental reform, but to make new creatures holy through the saving power of the gospel and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And our Lord and Savior has commanded us to continue His ministry, with His supreme priorities in view, with the goal that we might advance His kingdom: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

In the truest sense, the moral, social, and political state of a people is irrelevant to the advance of the gospel. Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

THE REAL BATTLE

We can’t protect or expand the cause of Christ by human political and social activism, no matter how great or sincere the efforts. Ours is a spiritual battle waged against worldly ideologies and dogmas arrayed against God, and we achieve victory over them only with the weapon of Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

We must reject all that is ungodly and false and never compromise God’s standards of righteousness. We can do that in part by desiring the improvement of society’s moral standards and by approving of measures that would conform government more toward righteousness. We do grieve over the rampant indecency, vulgarity, lack of courtesy and respect for others, deceitfulness, self-indulgent materialism, and violence that is corroding society. But in our efforts to support what is good and wholesome, reject what is evil and corrupt, and make a profoundly positive impact on our culture, we must use God’s methods and maintain scriptural priorities.

God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a façade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.

God has above all else called the church to bring sinful people to salvation through Jesus Christ. Even as the apostle Paul described his mission to unbelievers, so it is the primary task of all Christians to reach out to the lost “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me [Christ]” (Acts 26:18; cf. Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). If we do not evangelize the lost and make disciples of new converts, nothing else we do for people—no matter how beneficial it seems—is of any eternal consequence. Whether a person is an atheist or a theist, a criminal or a model citizen, sexually promiscuous and perverse or strictly moral and virtuous, a greedy materialist or a gracious philanthropist—if he does not have a saving relationship to Christ, he is going to hell. It makes no difference if an unsaved person is for or against abortion, a political liberal or a conservative, a prostitute or a police officer, he will spend eternity apart from God unless he repents and believes the gospel.

When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and resources away from evangelization. Such an antagonistic position toward the established secular culture invariably leads believers to feel hostile not only to unsaved government leaders with whom they disagree, but also antagonistic toward the unsaved residents of that culture—neighbors and fellow citizens they ought to love, pray for, and share the gospel with. To me it is unthinkable that we become enemies of the very people we seek to win to Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Author John Seel pens words that apply in principle to Christians everywhere and summarize well the believer’s perspective on political involvement:

A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. … Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident apologists for a Christian America. … Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity…..

American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our original biblical core. (The Evangelical Pulpit [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 106-7)

By means of faithful preaching and godly living, believers are to be the conscience of whatever nation they reside in. You can confront the culture not with the political and social activism of man’s wisdom, but with the spiritual power of God’s Word. Using temporal methods to promote legislative and judicial change, and resorting to external efforts of lobbying and intimidation to achieve some sort of “Christian morality” in society is not our calling—and has no eternal value. Only the gospel rescues sinners from sin, death, and hell.

HT: Pulpit Magazine

Falsely Claiming Precious Promises

How many times have you seen or heard a promise from God spoken or inserted into a meme all by itself, without the surrounding context? I know I’m guilty. In this post I want to ask a question.

Why is it that we love to claim promises God made the people of Israel, as our own, without the Biblical context? I’ll let the reader consider it and perhaps offer an answer.

Perhaps two of the most cited examples are Jeremiah 29:11 and 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll put each one back into its Biblical context.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Here’s the context – Jeremiah 29:4 – 11:

4“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. 10“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (emphasis mine)

In the above passages, we have God speaking to the exiles in Babylon. Through the true prophet Jeremiah, God is telling them how they should live while in captivity (vv.5 – 7), to stop listening to false prophets (vv. 8 – 11), and then promises to bring them out of captivity.

2 Chronicles 7:14

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Here’s the context – 2 Chronicles 7:11 – 14:

11Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (emphasis mine)

In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God spoke directly to Solomon after the completion of the building of the house of the LORD, telling the King that WHEN He, (God himself) stopped the rain, sent plagues of locusts, and pestilence (destructive plague) among his people, IF they would humble themselves and pray, He would bring healing.

Although there certainly are great lessons to be drawn from both of our oft-quoted (out of context) passages, God spoke to His covenant at particular moments in history.

I’m not debating whether or not today’s Christians are God’s covenant people (a frequently used explanation for claiming them for us in our time), or if the United States is God’s favored nation. That argument has been had throughout the centuries, and is still very much alive today. I’m just asking a question.

Why do we take verses out of their Biblical contexts and make them personally ours, without considering their Biblical contexts? With the above passages specifically, we have precious promises connected to some pretty ‘dire’ circumstances and warnings!

Please consider it, offer an answer, and above all “Be blessed!”.

5 reasons people walk away from church

by Jesse Johnson, The Cripplegate

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In my fifteen years as a pastor, I’ve seen my fair share of people who have left the church. Some have left the churches where I’ve been on staff for other churches—the sort of greener pasture mentality, you could say—and others have left the church all together. Its that second category that fascinates me the most.

Why would someone leave the church? I’ve kept a little journal over the years, and when I’ve followed up with someone who has left the church for no church (as opposed to simply transferring their membership somewhere else), I’ve jotted down why. This exercise has served as one-part prayer journal, one-part sociological survey.

Recently I read through those names. Looking back on it, five main reasons stand out why people leave the church for no church:

1. Internet/multi-site/midweek/home group.

I’ve known quite a few people whose initial stop after leaving church has been some sort of “almost church.” What I mean by that is a group that is like a church, without actually being a church. Think anything from a home-group study to a midweek “young adults” group to an internet church.

I say this is their “initial” stop because they generally don’t last long there. Either the group folds, the young adults grow up, or the patient develops an immunity to the internet church virus. These aren’t long-term alternatives to church, but I’ve known a few people who have tried.

2. Relational Isolation

Sometimes people try church for a while, and they just don’t develop relationships with other there. They attend Sunday after Sunday, but after several months, they just don’t feel like they know people there. Others seem so plugged-in, with their friendships, ministries, and long-term relationships. Over time, the new person starts to think, “this just isn’t working.”

I’m not saying the blame for this is on the church. The truth is, the person probably isn’t availing themselves of the opportunities to grow. Its possible they just don’t know where to start though, and I know several people who have simply given up trying.

3. Negative Association

The more the true church gets known as standing against culturally accepted sins, the more likely it is that some people will simply leave. Over the last three or four years (ever since the Obergefell decision), I’ve had people attend church for a few weeks, then simply ask, “Wait a minute…is this one of those churches that is against same-sex marriage?”

I’m actually thankful for that cultural clarity, because it helps reinforce the narrow gate at the front end of a person’s relationship with Christ.

4. Not being fed

This is the  “there are no good churches where I live” crowd, and its always humbling as a pastor to have someone say that after being at your church! These lines vary from the patently untrue (eg., “you never talk about Jesus”) to the truth hurts (eg. “you hardly ever talk about grace”). The common denominator in this that I’ve heard is that the person has in their mind some kind of teaching that they want to get out of church, but they just can’t find a place that scratches that itch.

While in some cases there may be some truth to this (empty pulpits do lead to empty pews), but I think many of these four groups are just reflecting symptoms, when its possible there is a root cause:

5. Unregenerate

The truth is, the underlying heart issues today are essentially the same as in the NT—many people leave the church because they are not regenerate. They simply have never been born again.

For that reason, they don’t love fellowship with other believers, and they don’t feel like they have anything in common with believers who are not their age/ethnicity. So they gravitate toward a group that is more homogeneous, looking for some point of contact with others. Or they simply give up trying to make friendships with people who are friends with Jesus.

In other cases, they are unwilling to stand for truth in a world that is drifting away from it. They have counted the cost, and come up short. They listen to sermons where the law leads to gospel, but they can’t hear the gospel because their ears blocked out the law.

Its not the case in every situation, but many who leave our churches just weren’t saved to begin with. Maybe they grew up in church, or maybe they have been there for days or decades. But at the end of their time there, they didn’t have a relationship with Christ.

I think this basic reality is a reminder of God’s sovereignty in salvation and the pastor’s impotency to save people through is own effort. Often we are prone to thinking, “God, if you just give me a few opportunities to follow up with this person, and answer their questions, become their friend, then they will certainly become a Christian.” Then a dozen conversations later, they walk away. Its not that pastors or churches did something wrong; more likely its that the problem is not one that can be fixed by man.

What about you? What are some reasons you’ve heard people give for leaving church altogether?

Interview with a Missionary in Northern Iraq RE: The Memphis Dialogues

While engaging in my favorite research activity of late (The Memphis Dialogues), I came across an audio file of a segment of an interview with a Christian missionary who lives in Mosul, in the Ninevah Province of Northern Iraq. Here are questions asked and the answers given by Neil, the missionary.

Q: Two things you know living in Iraq. You know how ugly, how murderous, how horrific radical Islam is. You also know how the great majority of Muslims do not share those sentiments. From your perspective as a missionary in a Muslim world, was it a wise thing for James (White) to try to have civil discussions, to bring walls down, to un-demonize certain people, and therefore Christians and Muslims talk face to face, or is this just being a ‘useful idiot for Islam’, and now you basically desensitize people to the dangers of radical lslam. What was your take?

A: I love that James White did this. I think it was a beautiful example of who we are supposed to be. Of course we’re supposed to be wise, but we come with love. The demonstration of the Kingdom of God comes with humility and love, and if I’m debating or arguing it’s not going to sound like love to the person I’m arguing with. This is what we do all the time. We sit down with people who are on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of belief and faith, and we have a choice. I’m either going to argue with you about who Mohammad is and what the Quran is, how evil and vile it is, the expression of Islam and what it’s done in the Middle East, OR we can talk about Jesus. We can talk about the Kingdom of God and we can talk about what that looks like. And I can demonstrate that for you even in the way I interact with you as a human being – my tone of voice, the way I honor you and respect you as an individual created in God’s image.

The last thing we want to do is tear somebody down; what, so we can prove our theological point? That’s not going to convince somebody of anything. At best, it may convince their mind, but it’s not going to lead to a genuine conversion in the heart.

I applauded James White for doing that.

Q: Neil, have you yourself interacted with devout Muslims; you said that perhaps 75% are not devout in praying five times a day, and many of the younger people are more alienated from Islam because of ISIS, as you live there in Northern Iraq. Have you interacted though with very conservative Muslims as well?

A: I’ve sat down in the middle of Mosul and had lunch with Imams who I KNOW were leading prayers for ISIS in the Mosque. I’ve sat down with young men who lived their entire time through ISIS and are now studying to be Imams. And I can tell you that the best fruit we have ever seen is when we sit down and we discuss Jesus.

We don’t want to talk about the Quran. We don’t want to talk about Mohammad. Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s talk about the truth, because they’ve never heard these things.

As for us, when we cross the boundary into deb ate and argument, it’s never going to end up good. But when we can introduce something to them that they’ve never heard before, there’s something inside of them that longs for the truth. And when we can give it to them, that’s when there entered into the Kingdom.

______

That was it. Two intelligent questions and with some ‘background’ to put them in context and a missionary’s answers.

Listening to that interview gave me flashbacks to my service in Special Forces and what we did to prepare to infiltrate behind enemy lines to conduct military operations of one sort or another. Whether those operations were short or long term, we performed detail country studies to learn all about a country, their customs, language, religion, etc.

Once on the ground it was necessary to establish good rapport with the indigenous population. Some of how we went about accomplishing that was described by the missionary in the interview!

I can only ask any reader who might stumble upon this little blog “If it’s necessary to earn the respect of indigenous peoples working with them for a common cause, how much more vital is it when you want to present a religion they inherently hate?”

______

The best thing about all this talking about James White is that it has afforded me the opportunity to improve my own thinking about touchy matters, and hopefully it helped me in the interpretation and exegesis of scripture.

May God bless you richly as you also travel along the way to the Celestial City.

A Mid-Week Bible Study and the Memphis Dialogues

I attended an interesting lunch time Bible study today. It meets once a week on Wednesdays here where I work. The leader said that since they were still working out technical difficulties, we would talk about what is on our minds. I took a question with me:

“Was James White ‘unequally yoked’ with Yasir Qadhi in Memphis?”

I just happen to be in the middle of a study in 2 John and already have some good notes (I am blessed to teach the class)! Talk about timing!

There were four of us and none of the others knew about Memphis, so it was perfect, as far as I was concerned. No chance of the others already having made up their minds.

I provided the necessary background and then read from a really good and fair article that was published by a Christian news outfit.

One of the other men had no problem with a general discussion about two religions, and did not see any ‘yoking’ going on (I shared the definitions from 4 separate commentaries.) One of the men had some of the same issues brought up by those who have already aired their ‘issues’ with James White. The last of the three other men didn’t give an opinion.

It was a good time of ‘dialogue’.

I learned something else that was disturbing. I heard Jimmy DeYoung, one of the regulars on Brannon Howse’s program (from the July 7 show) say

“James White does not believe the word of God and is a heretic. We should mark him and just forget about him. . .the man’s a heretic.”

Then Shrahram Hadian chimed in and said that Dr. Andy Woods said in a conversation with him that Dr. White should be given over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Fine Christian men, these!

And last but not least, in his latest podcast, at about the 1:20 mark, there is an interview with an actual missionary in Iraq that is quite illuminating and should be listened to by all of those who are ‘rebuking’ (bashing) Dr. White, especially the fellow on another blog that told me my missionary analogy was ridiculous.

My point was that the answer to being unequally yoked can be yes, no, or maybe, and maybe is probably the best answer.

Anyway, this whole ‘Christian’ fiasco has been a vehicle for this guy to dig a little deeper into His work to sharpen the few exegetical skills I might have, as well as taught me a bit more about ‘Christian’ behavior and humility

On Christian Behavior Toward Christians

This came to me by way of a friend:

“Oh that Christians would learn to censure less and pray more and instead of speaking OF one another speak more TO one another and one FOR another…. But now the tender praying, healing, restoring spirit is departed and if Christians stir not up themselves to call it back again it is a sad sign that God is departing….

  • We judge before we inquire.
  • We reject before we admonish.
  • We conclude vain assumptions upon our brethren before we come to them as Christians and fellow members.

We think this well becomes us as we take a kind of pride and contentment in it, but oh to inform, to convince, to exhort, to pray, this is to act like the disciples of Christ. This is to show ourselves Christians in deed, professors not of the letter but of the spirit that would gain our brothers instead of blasting them.”

– Thomas Case (1598-1862)

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus

Hearing God and Sharing With Others

When I want to hear God speak, I open the Bible and read it. If I want to hear God speak audibly, I read it out loud. B. B. Warfield, eminent Princeton theologian of the 19th and 20th centuries, is known for saying “When the Bible speaks, God speaks!” I agree.

If God’s revelation of himself in the Bible is everything we need to live a godly life and equip us for every good work, I have the best possible standard by which to order my life; ALL of my life within it’s pages. If my God spoke the universe into existence, he is more than capable of ‘breathing out’ scripture (writings) into the minds and hearts of men and ensure his infallible and inerrant truths are transmitted to us. Compared to speaking the universe into existence, transmitting his inerrant word to us is probably on the order of ‘chump change’.

And if the Bible is completely sufficient for my life, I don’t need ‘private revelations’ whispered into my ear. What I do need is the ‘illumination’ of God’s word to my heart. Isn’t that the role of the indwelling Holy Spirit? If it is, then we DO receive ‘revelation’ from God as the Holy Spirit illumines (sheds light upon) God’s word and sends it straight into our hearts.

At the same time, I need to choose my words carefully when I share what God is teaching me. We hear a lot of people say to us “God spoke to me…”, or “I had a revelation…” followed by the details. While both statements might be ‘technically’ true when the Holy Spirit teaches us, using those phrases might might not be wise. Here are a few reasons.

For one thing, most, if not all of the big name televangelists use them often and frequently to mean they have a special private communication link to The Divine – a virtual private network (VPN) to God, so to speak. And we are to receive what they say as the direct word of God, no matter how outlandish or theologically vacuous are their pronouncements.

Both phrases are also often used by ordinary, everyday believers. And because they are used so much by spurious televangelists and various false teachers peddling their snake oil, I feel the need to ask the “what do you mean” question and am suddenly hit with some version of the “why are you questioning me” demon.

Also, why would I use words that cause “issues” when I can just talk about what I believe God is teaching me? Am I trying to communicate that I am somehow special or am a more mature spiritual Christian? Maybe or maybe not, but why take a chance on there being any confusion because of how I express myself. I might not have evil intentions, but Satan sure does and he loves to pounce.

Lastly for now, claiming to have a VPN to God leads to the tendency to be declarative and assert as gospel truth what we share with others. I know some who will hardly ever say “I think”, “I believe”, or “it’s my opinion”, if they begin the conversation with “God told me” or “I had a revelation”, or if they are just convinced in their minds of same.

Am not judging (please stay off of that horse) but I’m old, sometimes tired, have listened to, read, and watched much in the last 40 years. It is was it is. And please note the frequent use of the hypothetical “if” in the above.

I pray you all have a blessed Lord’s day!

It Has Pagan Roots!

Let’s talk about decorated trees and nativity scenes for a minute. Forget the Christmas ‘culture’ wars that we sometimes make too much of, what about the Christmas ‘pagan roots’ wars? OK, maybe calling the whole ‘Christmas is based on a pagan holiday’ thing doesn’t deserve ‘war’ status, but it does surface every year about this time.

Like many children I grew up with Christmas trees, nativity scenes and traditions of gift giving. For our family everything ‘Christmas’ focused first and foremost on the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. I knew absolutely nothing about ancient pagan idolatrous practices, festivals or holidays. It was about Jesus’ birth, love and exchanging gifts.

Are Christmas trees and nativity scenes examples of ‘Christianized’ pagan idolatrous activity? I really don’t know. Was Martin Luther thinking of old Egyptian and Roman traditions associated with false gods when he thought of adding decorations to evergreen trees already used by Christians as a symbol of Christmas? I don’t know that either.

Were the painters of nativity scenes thinking about pagan idol worshippers dancing around statues in the woods, or were they thinking about the description of Jesus’ birth given to us in the Bible and wanted to use their God given talents to put on canvas a remembrance of a special moment in history? I don’t know that either.

Well Dan, what DO you know?

I know that there was an issue a long time about food offered to idols and being a stumbling block to brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s in 1 Corinthians 8:

1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor 8:1-9, ESV)

There are ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ believers. Those who know that idols are really ‘nothing’ are not to get puffed up about it, and are not to cause a ‘weaker’ brother to stumble. In Romans 14, Paul said that it is better not to do anything to cause another brother to stumble. It seems that the real issue here is spiritual growth and health. That’s what I know.

If I want to get into a ‘pagan roots’ discussion that might actually matter, it might be about something like ‘glossolalia’, or the ‘speaking in tongues’ that is not the Biblical gift of speaking in unlearned real languages. There’s some really interesting history in that one!

But actually, rather than debate ‘pagan roots’, I think it might be more helpful to take a cue from Paul and stick to discussing Christ crucified for our sins.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Can Fighting for Our ‘Rights’ as Christians Ever Be ‘Wrong‘?

That’s a question I’ve been considering (off and on) for some time. The recent issue with Gideon Bibles in Navy Lodging facilities turned it back on again. Bibles were out and are now back in, at least temporarily, while the issue gets ‘higher’ leadership review. How will it end? God knows, and I’m not even going to hazard a guess, at least in this article. What I will do is repeat the above question:

Can fighting for our ‘rights’ as Christians ever be ‘wrong’?

After giving it a lot of thought, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes!” Let me explain.

First of all, please know that I don’t believe that we should just roll over whenever an atheist starts complaining about the mention of God in the public square (or a Bible in a Navy Lodge nightstand). Neither do I have an issue with legal entities or constitutionalists fighting about it – it’s what they do. I’ll answer the question at hand with another question:

What’s more important, our religions ‘rights’ or the eternal souls of those who rail against God?

To most, if not all believers, that should be a rhetorical question. I like the German term for it – ‘selbtsverstandlich’, or ‘self-understood’. It’s the answer I received from everyone in our Sunday morning Bible study at the Chapel I attend on Ft. Carson, CO. While the answer was automatic, it was also followed by a ‘but’ in some cases and a discussion about America’s founding fathers and the Constitution. Therein lies my point.

There is a lot of fighting for ‘our’ rights going on these days and not a small number of organizations, with the ‘Christian’ flag flying high, engaged in the battle against those pesky ‘atheists’. While it is commendable to take a stand for ‘rights’, what I almost never hear in the midst of all the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ rhetoric is concern for the lost and dying ‘them’ who are rushing headlong into a Christless eternity while they rail against the God they know exists.

While on one hand I don’t hear much about what we freely answer is more important than our ‘rights’, on the other hand I sense an air of prideful self-righteousness as we stick out our bony ‘Christian’ chests while making our demands. Somewhere we’ve crossed a hard to detect line in the sand and lost sight of the Great Commission – the making of disciples of all nations that, by nature, begins with sharing the gospel with the lost and dying. And I’m guilty. It’s probably connected to the ‘sin hangover’ we all have.

And that’s when I think that fighting for our ‘rights’ can be ‘wrong – when we cross that line. Sadly, one of the results of crossing the line is the image of ‘Christians’ that’s projected to the same lost and dying we should be reaching with the message of the gospel. The ‘us’ vs. ‘them fight that they see eclipses whatever else we are trying to communicate about our Christianity. In a way we’ve aided and abetted the enemy in his never ending quest to discredit our testimony.

So can fighting for our ‘rights’ ever be ‘wrong’? Absolutely! When our rights become a higher priority to us than sharing the gospel, even with those ‘pesky atheists’, we’re wrong.

Think about it.