Monday, November 10, 2008

Revisiting the Election

Come January we will have a new President, Barak Obama.  Our nation is almost 140 years removed from slavery, but the wounds are healing.  President Elect Obama will be our nation’s first African American President.  Whether he is a good president or not, only time will tell and only God knows today.

I will pray for our new President.  I will pray that the work of God through His Church will not be impeded by the new President.  I will pray that God choose President Obama for good and not for evil.  And I will submit.

Scripture is very clear on our obligations to our leaders.  It does not qualify those obligations upon skin color, age, education, party politics, rightness or wrongness.  David refused to celebrate the death of Saul.  In fact, David submitted to Saul as much as his conscience would allow – to the point of sparing his life on more than one occasion and becoming his son-in-law.  We as Christians would do well to head David’s example.  How?

Those who disagree with the current administration should refuse to celebrate its end.  The current administration is led by someone very likely to be a brother in Christ, yet another reason to refuse untimely and unwise celebrations.

Those who disagree with the next administration should refuse to oppose it illegally and should submit to the extent their conscience allows them.  They should not only spare the life of the next administration, but be willing to become co-heirs with that administration’s future – again, to the extent possible without contravening Scripture.

Christ rarely, if ever, involved Himself in politics.  My study of Roman policies and history has led me to believe the world held as much opportunity for political involvement in first century Judea as in twenty-first century Pennsylvania.  But our calling is not to politics.

Our call for peace should first and foremost be the Peace that is between God and man.  Without that Peace, there is no other peace.  After we have accomplished that Peace we should disciple our brethren to live at peace will all men, extending that Peace with God to our fellow man.  But to turn it around backwards is to require something of a nation or people group that it is incapable of giving.  Jesus told us that we will always have the poor.  He also spoke through the prophets that we will always have war.  That is not to suggest that we sit idly by and accept this violence.  But neither should we dismiss the message of repentance and salvation from sin as secondary to the gospel of peace between man and man.  That is a false gospel and one that is not only destined to failure but destined to an eternity in hell as well.  Ghandi will be in hell.  As hard as that is to hear it is the truth.  He loved peace.  But he didn’t know Jesus and there is only one name under heaven by which man is saved.

All this to say that the end of the war in Iraq won’t usher in the Kingdom of God, neither will it lead to national repentance from sexual sin, idolatry, murder of unborn children, coveting and greed.  I hope the war ends.  But as someone who fought in Iraq I believe God loves more than American soldiers – He loves some Iraqis too.  I hope and pray that the war ends in such a way that justice and peace and self-governance are brought to the people of Iraq.  But most importantly I hope the war ends in such a way that the Gospel of Peace between man and God will grow in Iraq.  For without that Peace, there is no peace.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why is There No Condemnation?

If you’ve ever read Romans 7, you might come away thinking there’s no end to the insanity – the tireless struggle between the flesh and the spirit never ceases.  It is indeed discouraging, but then so many of us are quick to move on to Romans 8:1 “There is therefore no condemnation..”  I was attracted to this verse recently for other reasons and found myself almost shocked to remember how the verse ends.  What begins so well, has a horrible ending.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” NKJV.  The astute Bible student might quickly point out that the last portion of that verse is omitted in some manuscripts, e.g. the NU-text. (NU-Text These variations from the traditional text generally represent the Alexandrian or Egyptian type of text. They are found in the Critical Text published in the twenty-seventh edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (N) and in the United Bible Societies’ fourth edition (U), hence the acronym, “NU-Text.”)  Without that omission the verse would lead me to believe that the lack of condemnation is reserved for those who do not walk according to the flesh.  If I were walking according to the flesh, I would still be condemned.  I think it is important to examine whether Paul (by condemnation) means the futility of the endless and tireless struggle between flesh and spirit discussed in Chapter 7, or the judicial condemnation of God for lacking perfect holiness.  But I’ll examine that later.  For even if I might want to omit the second part of Romans 8:1 I run into the exact same problem just a few verses later.  Romans 8:13 brings me right back to that part about living according to the flesh:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is more in this little verse than I can digest in months of study.  John Owen’s great work “Of the Mortification of Sin in the Believer’s Life” deals with this singular text at length.  And as if this weren’t enough to suggest that holy living is not an option, but a requirement for life, Paul writes again in Colossians 3:5

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

The Spirit of God commands me to put certain things to death, namely the deeds of the body, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.  I’m quick to admit my struggles with each and every one of these sins.  Not one of them escapes my attention during the course of the average day.  John Owen in the aforementioned work summarizes the Apostle by quipping “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”  Three things immediately seize my conscience.  First, do I really and truly believe this scripture?  Second, if I really and truly do believe this scripture, does it require change in my life?  Thirdly, if I really and truly do believe this scripture and it requires change in my life, what sort of change are we talking about?

As for the first, I do believe it.  The verses have caused me to lose sleep.  Today I weigh more than I have ever weighed in my life.  I’m getting to the point of obesity.  The depression from my divorce combined with the lack of exercise that seems natural in the North (except for riding bikes) and the sedentary nature of my work all combine to put me 20 pounds over weight.  While it may never have been fun to look in the mirror, it is especially offensive these days.  And Scripture is like a mirror (James 1:25).  I look into the Scripture and see myself for who I really am.  And, frankly, I don’t like it one bit.  This Scripture especially gives me pause.

To the second question I conclude that it not only requires change in my life, but change in practically every part.  I cannot think of more than three or four aspects of my life that escape the judgement of Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5.  My mind responds to sexual stimuli and my heart is quick to follow it to places I don’t want to go.  As for impurity, (beyond the sensual aspect) there is impurity in my heart in all things.  I mix God’s law with man’s perspective polluting a pure religion with selfish desires and prejudices.  I mix love with jealousy.  I mix sincerity with cynicism and sarcasm.  I mix work with play.  I do not refrain from hearing about bloodshed and seeing evil.  As for passion, I am not without blame there either.  While I am passionate about few things beyond theology and football, the passion I have for those two things can corrupt my ability to serve God and instead turn my attention to meeting my own desires.  As for evil desire, while I pretend to be without blame, I can only imagine what evil desires lurk in my heart awaiting the light of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to me that my flesh is still corrupt and vile.  Of covetousness, I am as guilty as any of desiring a new car, a bigger house, nicer furniture, a vacation, an easier life-style, a retirement account, financial security (resting my assurance in my ability to provide instead of God’s ability).  In short, to put to death the deeds of the body is to radically change practically every aspect of my life.

To the third question, what sort of change is required I can only guess.  My embarrassment and shame are great here.  Perhaps this is a question better put to my peers, and those friends that love me.  You know who you are.  There are some in my life quick to provide criticism, and I pray that I will hear them, even when it comes from an impure and wicked heart.  (See my post on humility).

So I conclude today that the assurance that condemnation has been removed depends entirely upon faith that produces mortification of the flesh.

All Things to All People

A friend of mine, one of my best friends, recently asked me my opinion of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (ESV)

I hope I don’t incorrectly anticipate my friend.  He is a man who reveres the Sovereignty of God.  But I imagine the nature of Paul’s flexibility and Paul’s stated purpose can be quickly misunderstood.

I do not believe for one moment that Paul understands his efforts to be necessary to the successful conversion of a heart.  I do not believe that we can justify corrupting the Gospel message to make it more palatable to unbelievers based on this Scripture.  So, what is Paul saying here, in the common vernacular?

Paul’s purpose is clear.  “… that I might win more of them.”  The emphasis is on the subject, not the object.  Paul does not say “… that they might be won.”  Nor does Paul say “… that more of them might be won.”  Paul’s emphasis is on his participation in the process.  Over and over again Paul refers to his participation made available because of his willingness to be flexible.  He is willing to be Jews so that he can have access to Jews to preach the Gospel.  He is willing to be weak so that he can have access to the weak.

Paul might well have said, I have learned to speak and write Greek so that I might win those who speak Greek.  Or I have sailed to Spain so that I might win those living in Spain.  Out of obedience to the Gospel, Paul has subordinated himself to the Will of God in salvation.  His purpose is NOT for their benefit or that they might be converted.  In fact verse 23 states unequivocally “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”  Paul seems not primarily interested with the eternal consequences of his audience (although I am sure it is a large motivation to him) but primarily interested in sharing in the blessings of the Gospel.

A reading of the passage in the oft maligned NIV might tempt one to arrive at a different conclusion, so I include the New American Standard Version here as I believe it is commonly recognized as the most accurate word for word literal translation:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Contrast this with the NIV’s reading:

19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

And as another source, consider the NKJV rendition of the original Greek:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[c] that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[d] but under law toward Christ[e]), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as[f] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

The NIV has rendered the Greek in such a way that the emphasis is changed from Paul’s participation (subjective) to the end result (objective).  What does the Greek say?

19 ελευθερος γαρ ων εκ παντων πασιν εμαυτον εδουλωσα ινα τους πλειονας κερδησω 20 και εγενομην τοις ιουδαιοις ως ιουδαιος ινα ιουδαιους κερδησω τοις υπο νομον ως υπο νομον μη ων αυτος υπο νομον ινα τους υπο νομον κερδησω 21 τοις ανομοις ως ανομος μη ων ανομος θεου αλλ εννομος χριστου ινα κερδανω τους ανομους 22 εγενομην τοις ασθενεσιν ασθενης ινα τους ασθενεις κερδησω τοις πασιν γεγονα παντα ινα παντως τινας σωσω 23 παντα δε ποιω δια το ευαγγελιον ινα συγκοινωνος αυτου γενωμαι

Well now, allow me to provide some clues to the meaning of the above.  Please understand that I have only the most basic understanding of Greek and any errors are going to be quickly eliminated when brought to my attention.  As an example, let me consider the text of verse 20 (to the Jews).  The first word after the conjunction (Kai, English “And”) is egenomen which is sometimes written ginomai.  The words mean to become, but the tense is first person simple past tense, i.e. “I became”  I note that the pronoun is not included in the Greek reading.  It is sufficient to reference simply the tense and form of the vowel.  All three translations include the pronoun “I” in the first part of verse 20. (New King James Version, New American Standard Version, and the New International Version).  I also note that of the more than 15 different translations I surveyed (even Luther’s German translation) all include the unstated and inferred first person personal pronoun “I.”  The next important word (for our discussion’s purpose) is the Greek word “kerdeso” sometimes written kerdaino.  Again, the tense and form of the verb includes the idea that the speaker is acting.  “I should be gaining” or “I might gain” or “I might win”

Again, I looked to the various renditions of this particular Greek word and found that 11 of the 21 versions I surveyed included the personal pronoun “I”  Of those 21 four were the NIV or a derivative (such as the NIV UK version or Today’s NIV).  One was “The Message” which is hardly a Bible in any sense.  Throwing out the heretical work ‘the message’ and reducing the NIV variants to one leaves the count at 11 of 17.  One of the six exceptions is the NIV leaving 5 dissenters.  Which works are the other 5?  They include the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the New Century Version, the Contemporary English Version, the New Living Translation and my beloved English Standard Version.  Of these 5, the English Standard Version does include the personal pronoun in its translation of the other verbs (in fact this is the only exception and I can find no rationale for not translating it with the personal pronoun).

In contrast the NIV and its variants omit the personal pronoun “I” and in every other verse when the purpose is indicated, but the NIV includes the personal pronoun in every case where the necessary action is referenced.  In other words, the NIV includes the pronoun “I” whenever Paul does something, but they omit the personal pronoun “I” when Paul is referring to why he did something.  Perhaps this is a means of necessity.  The English language would be cumbersome if the NIV omitted the pronoun “I” in every case.  The reading would be something like:

19Though I am free and belong to no man, [] make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews [] became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law [] became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law [] became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak [] became weak, to win the weak. [] have become all things to all men so that by all possible means []might save some. 23[]do all this for the sake of the gospel, that [] may share in its blessings.

Of note, the Greek personal pronoun for “I” which is “ego” (yes, you Freudian psychology students should be wide eyed and aware) is absent from the text in every verse.  So the question might rightly be asked “Why does any translation include it?”  I think the reason has more to do with the limitations of the English language than any particular translators intent to change the meaning.  I sincerely believe the NIV is trying to introduce the personal pronoun where required to make the reading comprehensible, but omit it if possible.  The other, more literal, translations include it regularly to be consistent and to convey the meaning that the form of the verb is personal.

The reading “so as to win those under the law” and the reading “so that I might win those under the law” might seem different at first, but if we look more closely at the NIV, we find that even the NIV make it clear what Paul’s intentions are as revealed in verse 22 and 23 when the NIV includes the personal pronoun.

Consequently I suggest that the NIV is in agreement that Paul’s idea is to draw attention to his involvement in the process, not the necessity of his method to accomplish the process.

To clarify, let me offer the following example.  If I say:

I am going to the store to buy groceries so that I might feed my son

It would be presumptuous of me to infer that my son won’t be fed unless I go to the store.  If that was my meaning, then I was unclear and should have wrote:

I am going to the store to buy groceries so that my son will be able to eat, otherwise he will go hungry

The first statement might be equivalent to the second, but more facts must be known.  In the case of our Scripture, other Scriptures must be opened and examined before we can fairly conclude something the text doesn’t require.  In hermeneutics this is the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture.  And applying this principle to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 we can fairly conclude Paul’s rationale by looking to verse 23:

… that I may share in its blessings. NIV

I  use the NIV for reference because it illustrates that any reasonable reading of this scripture finds us with the most logical understanding that Paul’s desire is to share in its blessings – ‘its’ being the Gospel.

Paul’s desire is to make himself available to God to be used of God in as many ways as Paul can avail himself of.  Paul is the kind of evangelists that learns the language of the tribe and people he feels called to witness to.  Paul is the kind of evangelists that adapts his diet and culture and clothes to those around him.  But Paul doesn’t change the Gospel message, and Paul isn’t thinking that his efforts will save anyone.  This would require us to overlook everything else Paul says about salvation or to read Paul as an inconsistent schizophrenic.  In order for this passage to have any meaning we must read it to mean that Paul is willing to deny himself his culture, his language, his preferences in order to serve those whom God would draw to Jesus. (John 6).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Am I a Good Person?

There are a few hypotheticals I like to give to people to gain a better understanding of their faith.  One of them is as follows:

Let’s begin by assuming that you’re in a room, a small rectangular room with two very long walls and two short walls, one of which is green and the other is blue, with 99 other people who claim faith in Christ.  You’ve never met them, they are to you complete strangers other than your familiarity with their confession of faith.  They range in age from just a child to the very elderly.  They each speak different languages, in fact not one speaks your language or another’s language.  The style of clothes is varied from rags to the most expensive of designer fashion.

Into this room walks another person who explains what needs to happen by handing out pamphlets, each in their own language, to each person.  The pamphlet simply requests the following:

“Order yourselves from least to greatest in terms of sinfulness, the most decrepit sinner in most need of Grace should be nearest the blue wall, the least sinful sinner needing the least amount of Grace, should be nearest the green wall.  Among your midst are those who have committed murder, rape, theft, adultery, and lies.  There are also those among you who have ministered to the poor, fed the hungry, visited those in prison, led others to Christ, and counted their lives forfeit for another.  The order is important because Christ is in the next room and will know if you get it right or not.  You have 5 minutes to get in line before Christ enters.”

You look up and people are beginning to take their place.  Where do you go stand?

I’m interested in their responses.  Everyone has a sense of his or her own sinfulness.  Some of us are great sinners.  Some of us have lived pretty good lives.  There’s little question that we all need God’s grace.  The question is how much grace we need.

So, how much grace do you need?

What God Requires of You by John Hendryx 06/16/03

Does Christ Ever Desire Women to Lead His Flock?

I imagine that title alone will attract some attention and derision.  I reference the below blog which examines the internal dispute over ordaining women into the office of deaconess in the PCA denomination.  My friends know and understand my position here.  Two things that are immediately noteworthy and applicable to Mennonites are: 1) the battle for women in leadership is everywhere; and, 2) the perception and complaint that men aren’t being the spiritual leaders and home and at church is everywhere as well.

It would be wonderful to hear from women on this issue.  Particularly, do women desire to lead at home or at church?  Secondly, are men failing in their role of leadership (spiritually) at home and at church?  If either answer is affirmative, I would be very interested in a woman’s opinion of “Why?”

Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics: The PCA and Female Deaconesses (I)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Julie Doesn’t Like ‘Authentic’ Church..

This blog entry by a nice young woman in North Dakota reflects one person’s impression of ‘Authentic’ worship.  A good friend and brother once remarked to me that in today’s churches ‘casual’ is equated to ‘authentic’ when in fact, there’s little to support the conclusion.  For example, consider Julie’s experience.  The minister wore casual clothes.  I’m not from Southern California, although I’ve visited many times, and I’m not from North Dakota, (I’ve only visited twice), but I would guess that in each state the minister would probably wear better clothes to a job interview.  My question to that pastor would be “Why?”

Why does he feel as though he should wear nice clothes to a job interview and not to church?

Anyway, Julie’s experience and frustration are interesting.  I wonder what her Christianity looks like?

Julie R. Neidlinger: Lone Prairie Art Works

Monday, August 25, 2008

Is the church today comprised of Pelagians working their way to heaven?

This article by Dr. R.C. Sproul examines Pelagianism, a teaching that denies the necessity of grace and original sin, and its existence in the heart of modern evangelicalism.  Before I read this, I would have described modern evangelicalism as Arminianist, and even semi-Pelagian.  But Dr. Sproul points out some very interesting inconsistencies in the thought of modern evangelicals which indicate more of a bent towards full out Pelagianism than semi-pelagianism.

In short, it is a good read for those wishing to better understand the evolution of the attacks against the Grace of God: those attempts which aim to introduce the work of man into the equation which results in a salvation that is, in the end, effected by man himself.

The Pelagian Captivity of the Church, by R.C. Sproul

Fire Breathing Dragons and Bombardier Beetles

To most Americans I am a simple minded person without the sophistication necessary to understand and grasp the proof and necessity of evolution; who chooses to remain in ignorance in dogmatic adherence (redundant?) to a set of religious beliefs which teaches myths of creation as ridiculous as Ovid’s Metamorphosis.  I am unapologetically a creationist.  I cannot see anything but the evidence of intelligent design everywhere I look.  The Bombardier Beetle is an example of the impossibility of natural selection or evolution.  The complexity of the beetle’s physiology is beyond anything we can duplicate in a lab with years and years of intelligent design (our design).  The only benefit to this beetle is the end product – the ability to shoot out hot gas from its body to deter predators.  Yet, none of the intermediate steps required by natural selection or evolution would provide this benefit, or presumably, any other benefit.  In fact, the intermediate steps would be hazardous to the beetle’s very survival.  The rules of natural selection and evolution would therefore rule out these intermediate steps.  Evolution teaches us that the Bombardier Beetle is impossible.  Yet, it does exist.

I recommend this article to those creationist friends of mine.  If you’re an evolutionist, I recommend you move on.  For I know from scripture that people reject God’s design and account of creation, not for evidences or theories, but because they have a small god and they have rejected the only true God.

Insects :: Incredible and Inspirational

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I found another sinner... God bless him!

I apologize that I just stumbled across this blog entry by Chris Rosebrough originally posted on June 6, 2008 apparently it was lost in the myriad of other things I research daily.  Chris’ thoughts are a challenge to his perceived emptiness of Pastor Rick Warren’s messages for sinners who are primarily interested in getting rid of sin instead of putting patches on it.  I can certainly empathize with Chris’ frustration with sin.  St. Paul once remarked that he was the chief of sinners, but I can assure everyone here (as can my family and friends) that he only got to say that because I had not yet been born.  And I’m not trying to be cute – I really do struggle with sin – a LOT.

The most helpful book I’ve read yet (other than the Bible of course) is a series of writing done by Dr. John Owen on Sin, particularly the work “Of the Mortification of Sin in the Believer’s Life”  After reading this book I am convinced that overcoming sin is possible.  1 John 3:9 is truth.  And the trite, but true, advice to repent is often inadequate without more.  I don’t suggest that the scriptural mandate to repent is incorrect or malaprapos.  But I do suggest that we as Christians live out repentance one to another daily (James 5:16-17; Hebrews 3:12-13).

In any case, the article investigates whether the “Purpose Driven” message offers anything to people interested in becoming Holy or if it is just a gimmick to a better temporal life.

Extreme Theology: Rick Warren Purpose Driven Critique – Does PD Preaching Have Any Good News to Offer Me?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Perfecting and Completing Faith

Earlier I had proposed the question, “If a man’s faith includes his own actions and will, can that faith save him?”

I have given the subject some thought and no little amount of study, although my study is imperfect and in need of much more formal training.  However, God has blessed my small efforts with some understanding.  The Holy Spirit brought to my attention two Scriptures that are encouraging in this examination, specifically Hebrews 12:2 and Philippians 1:6.

Hebrews 12:2 [...] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

These two verses encourage me to remember that it is God who is at work within me both to will and to do His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13) Because our faith is imbued, endowed, created, sustained and supported by Christ himself, I can have confidence that the faith will grow to perfection.  More importantly, I can recognize with grace that faith can be imperfectly manifested in our corrupt flesh until such time as Christ perfects that faith and completes that work within us.

There is still the problem of confusion.  Faith in self looks a lot like imperfect faith in Christ.  Our Lord has said that we know a tree by its fruit.  The Holy Spirit wrote through James that faith produces works and we can know faith by these works.  Accordingly, I suggest now the answer to my question is most accurately:  “It depends..”

It depends on the source of the faith.  If the source of the faith within a man is Christ, then the impurity and corruption of including our own will is something that will be taken care of by Christ.  That faith will still produce good fruit.  That faith will save because it is from God.

If however, the source of the faith is in man, and the reliance is principally on man’s will and choices, then the impurity and corruption is the inclusion of Christ’s work.  That man’s master, the devil, will work to reduce and cleanse that man’s faith eventually as well.  In the end, that man will rely completely on his own good works, his own will and choices, himself as god to save himself.

Perhaps this is why the tares are allowed to grow with the wheat?  At first they both look a lot alike, almost indistinguishable.  To root up the tares risks uprooting the wheat as well.  Perhaps grace should be given to those, especially new in the faith or immature in their understanding, who add the impurity of man’s will to God’s work of salvation.  It is not an unforgivable error – after all, man’s will is set free to serve Christ by being born again.  And man’s will is exercised in obedience to Christ’s will and law.  Confusing a result of faith for the mechanism or means of faith is a childish error, but it is an easy one to make.

These are random thoughts..  please be patience as my understanding grows.  If I have written something imperfect (which I can be assured I have done) or ludicrous (which I suspect I have done at times) I pray the Lord forgives me and grants me opportunity to repent and spread truth.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace

The author, John Hendryx, has eloquently discussed the difference in understanding between Grace as perceived by Arminians and Calvinists.  I commend this article to anyone who is interested in better understanding why someone who believe they chose God is worshipping a false god of man.  And I continue to wonder whether such an individual can be said to have accurate faith.

A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace … « Possessing the Treasure#comment-54107

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Doctrine Matters

I propose the query, is it possible for a person to be a Christian if they do not believe a man is saved by grace alone?  In other words, if they believe that something more than grace is required, whatever it be, however small it be, can they be said to have faith in God?  Is it possible that their faith is in both God and himself?

Faith is essential for salvation.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Faith is from Christ.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)  If that faith is corrupted, polluted with an addition by man, does that faith save?

The answer is easy when the ratio of faith in God to faith in man is small.  For example, if I believe that Faith in God is required, but not enough – indeed I am required to join the church, be baptized, take communion, receive confirmation, publicly testify, and live a life of at least 51% good deeds.. the omission of any of these sufficient to deprive me of salvation, then my faith is really in man, plus a small amount of faith in God.  But even that faith in God is a faith that God is going to help me..  fill in the blanks.. give me that final push over the wall.  I’m still saving myself, God is my co-pilot, he’s my best friend, he’s my buddy, he’s my salvation genie.

The question becomes more difficult, however, when the ratio of Faith in God and faith in man is higher.  Suppose for example that I believe that God saves, but that I need to do something small in addition – sort of like sealing the deal.  If I believe Salvation is a combination of effort between God and man, a cooperative venture.. wherein does my faith lie?  True enough, my contribution is small.. negligible.. laughable..  but it is required nonetheless.  In fact, in these belief circles it is a Sine Qua Non to salvation.  It is that which salvation cannot occur without.

In some beliefs, this contribution is baptism.  In others, it is public confession.  In others it is church membership.  In many it is formulaic prayer.  In most it is a decision and commitment.

When I ask people, as I often do, how they came to call themselves a Christian, overwhelmingly the most common response I get begins with the singular word “I”  Can a person be said to have faith in God, and believe that Salvation is by grace alone – not of the will of man, not of commitments, not of memberships, baptisms, confessions, but of faith alone.. if that person begins with “I”

There are those who may read this and be astute enough to argue thusly:  I could begin with “I” but be giving entire credit to God by beginning with my sin, e.g. “I was dead in trespasses, an enemy of God, continually rebelling against His will and His holiness when God, who chose me from my mother’s womb, in His good timing decided to reveal His Son in me…”   To that person, I concede.  But this is not my experience.  When people begin with “I” in my experience, it has always been to point out what they DID.  And their faith relies upon that ACTION of theirs.

Is that faith saving faith?  Is a person born again if they believe they became a Christian through a combination of effort by God and man?  Can a person be said to have faith if that faith resides in a great work of God and a small work of man? has commented on the Granger Community Church findings and the poster concluded that because 47% of the people at Granger believe that salvation isn’t by Grace, they are not Christians.  They are, in that poster’s opinion, false converts.

I used to take comfort in the idea that God saves and what we believe is not important.  A man might be an Arminianist, or a man might believe in the sovereignty of God.  But if a man has faith, what he believes is not important.  However, faith is what we believe.  If we believe Buddha saves, we can hardly be called a born again child of God.  But what if we believe Kevin saves… with a whole lot of help from God?  Is not that what I am saying if I believe I am born again because of a decision I made?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Apollos’ Journey on the Way

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian life is often referred to simply as “the Way.”  Roads were sometimes called “ways” such as the Appian Way.  Calling the Christian walk a highway indicates a destination and journey all in one.  It limits the journey to a prescribed path very much like the way Christian follows in Pilgrim’s Progress.  To encounter this “Way” – to embark upon this “Way” one must first have arrived at faith.

Examining faith and belief in the terms of salvation causes the following questions to arise.  I confess they're not in the best order, and I will endeavor to reorder them into a more logical progression as time allows.

  1. Do I believe that I deserve eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture?
  2. Does everyone deserve eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture?
  3. Do the best representatives of mankind (Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Theresa) deserve eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture?
  4. Why do they deserve it – or why don’t they deserve it?
  5. Did you deserve to hear the Gospel message – the good news that Jesus Christ had died for your sins?
  6. Does anyone deserve to hear the Gospel message?
  7. Is it consistent to conclude (as some do) that one deserves eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture, yet they also deserve to hear the gospel in their own language?
  8. What happens to those who never hear the Gospel message – that is that Jesus Christ is God, that He died for your sins that He rose again, that He is Lord of creation?
  9. Will anyone ever be in Hell because no one witnessed to them?  Will anyone be able to accuse God of being unfair or unjust?
  10. What are we saved from?
  11. How are we saved?
  12. Is repentance enough?
  13. Is saying a prayer to accept Jesus Christ into our hearts sufficient?

Apollos knew the name Jesus.  He knew the baptism of John, that is to say, that he had made a conscious decision to repent of his sins.  Would he have believed that he deserved eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture?  I’m not certain that the text of Acts 18 reveals the answer to that question.  But I do believe there are hints that he did in fact believe such.  The answer lies in his response to being pulled aside by a tent maker and his wife.

Apollos was an eloquent teacher in the synagogue from the Ivy League of his dad – Alexandria.  He was a formidable rhetorician in the most scrutinizing of forums – the Jewish synagogue.  But his humility required he listen carefully to an unknown tent-maker from Rome and his wife.  That he submitted to listening and being taught by a women and her husband tent-maker reveals something of his posture before God.  I don’t think he would have been so open to truth from that source had he believed in his heart that he did not deserve eternal everlasting conscious bodily torture.  Apollos was desperate for truth.  The kind of desperation that looks in all places, however unlikely it would be to find the source of comfort.

He was an accurate teacher of Jesus, yet was he born again?  Again, there is some amount of disagreement on this topic.  Imminent Christians who are much more worthy than I (such as John Calvin) have concluded that Apollos was a Christian, indeed that he had to be in order to teach accurately the things of the Lord.  However, I don't think that conclusion is necessary or even warranted from the context of the text.  Nowhere does Luke say Apollos was a believer prior to meeting with the tent-makers.  Indeed, if the matter which Aquila and his wife found so important to require a private meeting with Apollos was merely doctrinal or peripheral to the gospel, why does Luke even mention it?

I conclude the Apollos was lacking in material ways in his knowledge of the Way.  Yes, he knew Christ – but I believe much the same way Simon Peter did prior to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  He knew him as Lord and Christ – but not of sin in the eternal everlasting atoning manner revealed in the passion and resurrection.  Peter didn’t expect the crucifixion and resurrection, and I doubt it was an obvious conclusion for Apollos as well.  He knew the baptism of John, but it doesn't mention that he knew the baptism of Jesus which is contrasted by Paul in the very next few verses.

If Apollos was not born again, then the question arises – what knowledge is required for saving faith to exist?  Ah, therein lies the crux of the matter.  For where does the origin of saving faith lie?  Some would say that Christ is the author and perfector of our faith – that Christ will finish that good work that He began, that we are saved by a faith that is a gift of God lest anyone should boast.  Then there are those that suggest everyone has enough within them to exercise saving faith and that only those that choose to do so will be saved – that everyone has within themselves sufficient goodness to choose to believe on God, that no one is completely and utterly depraved so that they don’t seek God.  Admittedly, I am of the former and believe the latter to be one of the most wicked of deceptions.  Hence, I believe that our faith originates from God – in particular from Christ.  That being the case, what is sufficient for Christ to give that grace (faith) is dependent on Christ alone.  In the case of Paul, he does not immediately reveal all the facts of crucifixion and resurrection (perhaps Paul already knew?).  In the case of Apollos, something was apparently missing.  But Christ fills the gaps.  Because our faith is from Him, we can be assured that sufficient knowledge will be given in time.  For the criminal on the cross it was enough for him to recognize the innocent and deity of Christ and submit his will pleading for salvation.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Accept or To Receive, that is the question…

I have a lot of pain in my life right now.  Nothing I wish to accept, but I receive it nonetheless.