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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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The Buzz

Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Wednesday, July 08, 2015
On Miracles and Faith.
I preached a sermon this past Sunday (July 5) and just a few minutes before wrapping it up I mentioned that the miracles that Christ performed did not depend upon (as in could not be thwarted by) the faith of the ones who were receiving the miracle. I mentioned it in passing, and not really having enough clock left to dig into that, I underscored the notion by mentioning the various dead people whom the Lord raised, asking, "How much faith does a corpse have?".  In this way I hoped to demonstrate from the absurdity of the premise that the faith required to perform a miracle rested in the one performing the miracle, and not the one receiving the benefits of the miracle.

In hindsight, given the thought didn't really add much to the sermon I was preaching, it would have been easier to bite my tongue and skip over the thought, given I didn't really have the time to park there and show from the scriptures why I believed that to be so.

But after I preached the message someone mentioned, intending to gently suggest a correction, that Jesus, in Mark 6, after coming to His home town of Nazareth, couldn't do many miracles there "because" they didn't have enough faith. This was mentioned in passing, and since it wasn't really something I thought would be productive to get into at the time, and again, since I wanted to study again this thought more thoroughly, in case I had indeed suggested something that was wrong, I chose to study the matter anew and this post is a summary of that subsequent effort.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus "...went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people." (Matthew 4:23). Consider also Luke 6:17-19, "Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all."

From these two passages alone we see that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, and that wherever he went, people sought Him out both to hear Him and again to be healed by Him. Consider also what we read in Matthew 8:14-17, "When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: He Himself took our infirmities and  carried away our diseases."

If a person was too weak to come for healing themselves, others brought them to Jesus, and Jesus healed them.  Note in particular that Matthew tells us -why- Jesus was healing people: to fulfill the scriptures.  Jesus cast out demons, raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind, and healed the sick because these things proved Him to be the Messiah.

Recall the healing of the ten lepers?  Only one of them, a Samaritan, turned round to give God glory for the healing.  It may not be clear at first, but the more you look, the more obvious it becomes, that not everyone who was healed by Jesus possessed saving faith.  Luke writes in Acts 10:37-38, "You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."  God was with Jesus (in the person of the Holy Spirit), and through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus healed those who were oppressed by the devil (i.e. cast out demons etc.), but we see in John 6 that these crowds weren't hanging around Jesus because they were full of faith - they were rather hanging around Jesus to benefit from the miracles He was performing.

Wherever He went, crowds pressed in on Him, with one exception.  When Jesus returned to His home town (Nazareth) it was no big deal. 

That is perhaps the single most important thing we read in Mark 6:4 - that a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.  Recall how Christ's brothers mocked him when it was time to go up to Jerusalem for the feast of booths? Few things can paint the picture described hear with greater clarity. There were no crowds of people in Nazareth seeking to hear Jesus teach and coming to be healed.  The main reason few people were healed on our Lord's return, is because so few of them came to be healed, or to hear him speak.

Why didn't they come to be healed or hear Jesus speak?  Because it was Jesus - the kid who grew up next door. He was nothing special, certainly not a prophet, and not someone to go and listen to, or come to for healing.  This unbelief on their part is the main reason so few were healed - and Jesus marveled at this.

So when we read the verse that follows this truth - that our Lord was not respected in his home town, and reason that few came out to be healed, and remember that wherever our Lord had gone previously all who came to Him (regardless of their faith) were being healed, and understand that few from Nazareth would have come out to see someone they had no respect for, we can understand that those few whom our Lord healed, were the few that had come out - and all of them were healed, as many as came.

The objection raised however, finds its greatest support in the nomenclature of the very next verse in Mark (6:5), where we read, "And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them."  To be fair, the word translated here as "could do no" means just that in the Greek - it literally describes, an inability to do something.  What it does not describe is why or how a thing is impossible.

In the immediate context, the reason it was impossible for the Lord to heal was because the people of his hometown were offended by him.  They wanted to know where he got all this stuff from - wasn't he a local carpenter - the son of Joseph?  Weren't his brothers and sisters among them in the very synagog that he was preaching in?  They didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and even the thought that He might be a prophet offended them.  They rejected Him, and frankly, very few people are going to come to listen to a person they think is off their rocker, and fewer still will seek out such a one to be healed.

In other words, it was impossible for Jesus to heal, not because He was trying (and failing) to heal people who were coming to Him with insufficient faith, but rather very few were coming to Him, so that he could do no mighty works there.  As many as came to him, were healed.  Those who did not come, were not healed.

The alternative is a picture of crowds coming to Jesus from Nazareth, and Jesus attempting to heal them, in the same way He had always (successfully) healed -everyone else- who had come to Him for healing in the past, but suddenly finding himself "unable" to do so. The picture of our Lord laying His hands on the sick, the blind, the demon possessed, etc. and saying, something like, "be healed." only to fail - that is what we are talking about.

Now, there is room also in the nomenclature used by Mark.  The phrase he uses is used elsewhere in scripture idiomatically to describe, not so much literal "inability" but rather a figurative one.  Consider 1 John 3:9,  "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he -cannot- sin, because he is born of God." - is John saying that once you become a Christian it will be impossible for you to sin?  Obviously not, or no one could claim to be a Christian.

The use of the phrase is obviously idiomatic, what John is saying is that the reason a Christian begins to overcome sin is because the Holy Spirit within Him desires it, and eventually the believer, will choose not to sin.  They won't be perfect in their obedience, but as they learn to walk in the Spirit and mortify the deeds of the body, they will no longer pursue rebellion against God's rule in their life with unmitigated vigor.  God will work in them, to will and to do, what He desires, over and against what they desire.

The point is that even if we ignore the context of Mark 6:5, we still wouldn't necessarily conclude that Jesus was being thwarted in His attempts to heal, on account of an abundance of insufficient faith unique to the city of Nazareth.  Rather we'd say that Jesus responded to their unbelief by choosing not to do mighty works among them, that is, we'd understand "could not" in the idiomatic sense of "would not" do many mighty works, etc.

One might object at this point: What about the "littleness of their faith" we read about in Matthew 17?  The reason the disciples couldn't cast out a demon was because they didn't have enough faith. isn't Mark 6 just another example of this same thing?

That's a fair question.  In Matthew 17:20, the word translated as "littleness" (NASB) is used only once in the New Testament - and the nuance isn't necessarily describing physical size - it can describe littleness in terms of quality as well as quantity.

In other words, it may be that the reason they couldn't cast out the demon was because they didn't have "enough" faith, or it could also be true that the faith that they did have was either flawed or being used in the wrong way.

Faith isn't a commodity, it is a settled certainty: a trust that one has in something. In 1 John 2:12-14, we see three levels of trust described - the first is those who can trust that God is their father, the second are those who know the word of God and therefore cannot be lied to by the devil about what God has and has not said, the third are those who have come to know God personally through living in obedience, and seeing the reality of God in their lives through the answered prayers, and rich communion associated with living as a mature believer.  Remember that the same Peter who had been daily with Christ for over three years, denied him three times on the night of His arrest, later stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached Christ from the rooftop, and when brought before the Sanhedrin, did not shrink back from putting the guilt of what they had done, at their doorstep.  It wasn't that Peter had "more" faith, it was that his faith had grown ("up").

You may disagree with that.  You may say that isn't what it means to grow in faith, but I think that is exactly what the scriptures teach.  Consider what our Lord said concerning the mulberry bush in Luke 17:6: If his disciples had had the faith of a mustard seed they could have ordered a nearby mulberry bush to uproot itself and plant itself in the sea.

Don't miss this: the reason the Lord chose a mustard seed was not because mustard seeds hold faith - but because he wanted to figuratively illustrate the notion of having the smallest amount of faith possible.  The message was that if you have -any faith at all-, you can do the impossible.  The problem wasn't that they didn't have enough faith - it was that their faith wasn't perfected, it wasn't mature, it wasn't complete - it wasn't resting on all that it could be resting on.  They believed as much as they had been told, but they hadn't been told it all yet. They didn't know, as they would know, that Christ was God, they didn't know how the coming of the Holy Spirit was going to inaugurate a new kingdom - not an earthly one, but a spiritual one, etc. etc.  Their faith was fine, it just wasn't full (yet).

In other words, it wasn't the quantity of their faith that was their problem, but the "quality" of their faith. It's the same as Matthew 17:20 - their faith was too little in the sense that it was too immature. 

So I would answer the objection by saying that the littleness of their faith isn't describing a lack of faith, but a lack of maturity.  If you're tracking with me, you've probably already wondered, why am I bothering to answer such an objection, when we have an example in the scripture of the Lord healing with no difficulty or problem, the son of a man whose faith was lacking ("I believe, help my unbelief!").  Jesus didn't balk at his unbelief, nor was the power to heal thwarted by it. 

The man's son was healed, lickety-split.  That ought to be enough to convince any honest reader, that miracles do not depend upon the faith of the one receiving the miracle, but rather on the one performing it.

I believe that God -can- heal today, but I do not believe that God is -obligated- to heal, even if we really, really -believe- that He will do so.  In other words, I believe that the reason people are not healed when we pray for their healing, is not because their faith is insufficient - or that our faith is (necessarily) insufficient, but rather that it isn't God's will to heal.  Paul asked the Lord to take away the thorn in his side, and God's answer was a qualified, "No" ("My grace is sufficient for you").  Paul had raised the dead, and healed the sick, and in Acts 19:11-12, even handkerchiefs and aprons that had been touched by Paul were carried away to heal the sick and drive out demons! Yet when Timothy had a stomach ailment, Paul did not tell Timothy to rub the letter Paul had written on his ailing belly to have it be healed - Paul rather told Timothy to take a little wine in his water.

I remember when I first became a believer, I wondered why I wasn't able to do all the miracles I had read about in the bible.  Wasn't I a genuine believer?!?

The truth is that very few people in the bible actually did miracles, and when a miracle happened, it was rare and wondrous, and served the purpose of authenticating both the message and the messenger of God.  I don't believe that God is obligated to heal anyone - regardless of how much faith they have, or how earnestly they ask Him.  Frankly, the notion that God is obligated by our faith to give us all that we need to live long and healthy lives suggests that the Apostles got it all wrong - since they all suffered much for the gospel.

I don't think -they- got it wrong though, if anything, I think -we- are inclined to get it wrong, which is why we need to know and trust the scriptures on such matters.  Doing so will inform our faith, and keep us from pursuing (however well meaning our pursuit may be) all kinds of error.

So I stand behind the notion that our Lord was by no means thwarted by the quality or quantity of faith found in those He would have otherwise healed.  He never failed to heal anyone He attempted to heal - and never could have failed because His faith was perfect.  Furthermore, because He was not acting according to His own desires but was rather doing all that He did in obedience to God's will, it follows that He would only have attempted to heal people whom God directed Him to heal (since it was God in the person of the Holy Spirit performing the miracles through Him at the time). 

If God were limited by our unbelief, God would not be able to save anyone, since the bible tells us plainly (Romans 3 for instance) that no one is seeking God.  How can anyone seek God unless God (as our Lord says in John 6) draws them to Himself.  God isn't drawing faithful people to Himself, because He tells us that there are no faithful people.  It follows therefore that the only way for a sinner to come to God is for God to draw that sinner - and if that is the case (and I very much believe that scripture teaches that it is), then if God were thwarted by our unbelief, He would not be able to draw anyone to Himself.

The conclusion I come to then, makes sense in the context, and makes sense of the rest of the scriptures, the conclusion I dismiss is the one that wreaks havoc with the context, and makes a farce of the remainder of the scriptures: Our Lord was not, and could not be, thwarted in what He was doing, by the lack of faith in the people who would receive the benefits of what He had endeavored to do.  Furthermore, I think the reason why "healing-on-demand" fails is not because the one being healed doesn't have enough faith - I think it doesn't work because God is trying (and failing) to heal those people, rather people are trying to cause God to perform through themselves, and blaming the the faith of those that would have received healing, for mankind's inability to command God to do their will on demand.

I believe that God can and does miracles - but He is never obligated to do so, and no man has the power in himself to call such miracles down and expect God to comply simply because they really, really believe God will.  That isn't faith, that's positive thinking. The earnest prayer of a righteous man avails much (but not all), and frankly a genuinely righteous man desires to serve God, and not to have God serve him via providing healing on demand.
posted by Daniel @ 12:00 PM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Sell all your possessions?
Luke 12:33,34 - Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke is describing a scene where our Lord is addressing a large crowd after a man in the crowd who wants his brother to split their inheritance expresses a desire for Jesus to intervene on his behalf in the matter.  The Lord replies with a question, "Who appointed me a judge or arbitrator over you?" - but then begins to address the crowd, not on the point directly, but on the sentiment that provoked the question: greed.

The Lord immediately tells the crowd to be on guard against every form of greed, noting that even a person living in abundance does not have his life dependent upon (consisting of) the things he possesses.  He tells the crowd the parable of the rich man who has so much that he has no place to keep it all - and rather than give away what he doesn't need, he instead plans to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to hold (and thus keep) the abundance that the Lord has blessed him with.  The motive for holding onto such an abundance is given in the parable - it provides the man with security, comfort, and ease for many years to come. 

In the parable God Himself calls the man a fool, because the life that he is living is about to be taken away from him, and all the stuff he was providing for that life, would never be enjoyed by him. The teaching being that this is what happens to people who store up riches for themselves and are not rich toward God - meaning, presumably, people who hoard what they have instead of using what they have for the benefit of others (compare Luke 3:10-11, And the crowds were questioning him, saying, Then what shall we do? And he would answer and say to them, The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.)

The teaching continues with our Lord showing what an error it is to presume upon your own supply (possessions, accumulated wealth, etc.) by telling his disciples not to worry about their lives, as to what they would eat, or what was needed for their bodies, etc.  Life is (i.e. consists of) more than food and the body is more than clothing.  Giving the example of the ravens that neither sow nor reap, nor have storehouses or barns in which to amass their wealth - they are fed daily by the Lord.  Our Lord then brings this imagery into focus by asking, how much more valuable are you than the birds!  He explains that you cannot add a single hour to your life (i.e. by storing up good for yourself to ensure your life lasts longer, etc.) because you have no power to do that.  He likewise continues the analogy, using the flowers of the field to show that you needed worry about possessions (such as clothes for the body, which is used in the example here) since God clothes the flowers of the field that are here today, and gone tomorrow.  How much more will God clothe you?  He admonishes His disciples to have faith, and not to worry about the things that you will need to live, because God knows about those needs, and is already looking after them.

Instead of seeking the wealth of the world, you should be seeking the "kingdom of God" (in other words, you should be seeking to obey God as your king), and when we have it, these things will be added to us.

It is at this point (Luke 11:33), and in the context of this teaching that the Lord says, "Sell all your possessions and give to charity;".

Taken out of context, some might imagine that Jesus is telling Christians to sell -everything- they have, but that is not what the text is saying.  He is talking about greed, and the true source of greed, which is the desire to supply for yourself all that you desire.  The more possessions you have, the more certain you are that your life will be fully provisioned.  The more you provide for yourself, the higher a standard of living you can expect the wealth you amass to provide for you.

We should stop here and make sure we have don't misunderstand the point.  The Lord isn't saying that wealth is evil, (though the desire for it is the root of all kinds of evil, as we read elsewhere) or that Christians should live without possessions.  He is saying that the person who does not trust God to provide for the necessities of life, is going to look to himself to provide.  Since the future is uncertain, and one cannot know today what one will desire tomorrow, it follows that no amount of amassed wealth will suffice - you will always be seeking to increase your abundance, and therefore increase your independence from God's provision.

There is nothing wrong with owning property, or having wealth - so long as you aren't hoarding wealth and possessions for worldly reasons (prestige, fame, bragging, or self reliance).  The message here is not to go and sell all that you have to become a Christian - it is sell what you don't need, and give the proceeds to people who do need.  It is the same teaching as having two coats, and finding another who has none - giving them your spare cloak. 

The heart of this teaching seems to be to assert a right understanding of charity (love).

Remember the manna in the wilderness (c.f. Exodus 16)?  Some gathered much, and some gathered little, but everyone ate their fill.  Those who tried to hoard manna for themselves found it spoiled - even though you could gather twice as much on Friday, and it would keep over the Sabbath (Saturday).

But note the command that given was given in Exodus 16:16, "...you shall take an omer [about 7.5 pints] apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent..." In other words, it didn't matter that some gathered much and some gathered a little, when what was gathered was combined for all in that tent, each had about an omer of manna to eat that day.  Those who gathered abundantly one day were supplying the needs of those who gathered sparingly that day. 

The idea, was not that everyone had to give up all their manna (i.e. sell on their possessions) - it was that those who had gathered much did so to supply the need of those who gathered less - so that the whole community was supplied. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes charity (love) in this way:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things,
believeth all things,
hopeth all things,
endureth all things.

I know your translation reads, "love" - and yes, I did go with the King James Version here, because it translates agape as "charity" instead of "love" - because the word love has come to describe an emotion in our culture, rather than the sort of selfless commitment to serving others that is being described here above.  Charity is a better fit, but even that word falls short given the modern connotations associated with charity.

If it wasn't so awkward, the phrase, "the heart that truly serves others" would fit instead of the word "love" or charity.  Something like this strikes home:

A heart that truly serves others is patient and kind;
It doesn't envy or make more of itself than it is,
it isn't arrogant or rude
nor does it demand its own way.
A heart that truly serves others isn't easily provoked,
nor does it assume evil of others,
It takes no joy in iniquity, but rejoices over truth;
It bears, all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

No human born of Adam has such a heart within himself.  Our hearts are, as Jeremiah says, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  None of us come close to this - yet this is the heart of God, and was and is the heart of His Son Jesus Christ.  He lived a life that put that heart on display in all that He did.

When I use "heart" in this sense - I am not talking about the blood pump, nor am I talking about something as pithy as an emotion or a feeling - I am talking about that attribute of God's character, which we try to describe using other words like charity or love.  I am talking about a state of being, that character trait, that intangible "something" that manifest itself in a selfless commitment to serving others - to putting the needs of others before our own needs.

This is the very opposite of the sort of greed that causes a person to hoard possession.  That greed which has as its root, a self serving desire that can only serve others if there is something to be gained by that service.  The love described here is not merely selfless (making no provision for your self), it is going out of its way to make provisions for others.  This is what this kind of love looks like - and it this love that most contrasts the greed our Lord describes here in Luke 11.

In our day and age, the word love doesn't really describe selflessness or charity - or serving others - it describes rather an emotion or passion that drives our actions. That is radically different than a state of being that naturally desires the best for others. 

The command to love God, therefore is not a command to work up a warm and friendly emotion, or to try and generate in yourself a selflessness that wants to serve others.  It is a command to serve God with all your heart, even as God serves you - selflessly and without remorse.  It is also a command that no one but Christ has ever kept.

That is what we are called to: *real* love, a love that serves others while denying self.  A love that cannot find its origin in our sinful, self serving, flesh - but must find itself in Christ - and so can only be found in genuine Christians - and even then, only amongst those who have learned to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God - so that even though their selfish lives continue - nevertheless Christ lives within them, and provokes them to good works that they themselves desire only because God is at work in them (c.f. Philippians 2) producing that desire that is otherwise foreign to them.

The love we serve with is not an emotion, and cannot be worked up or provoked by various means.  It is a (the ?) fruit of the Spirit (Love joy, peace, etc.).  It is impossible to love God in your own strength because the love that God requires is a fruit of the Spirit - meaning it doesn't come from you, it comes from Him.  Only the Christian can love God the way God commands, and this not of himself, but rather through Christ.

So when our Lord commands us to sell all our possessions, He is talking about those of us who have an abundance of wealth - the kind that exists not to supply for daily needs - but rather as insurance against the possibility of need in the future - the kind that has been gathered in greed to make provision for our flesh.

Now, it isn't really my job to go (and I have no interest in going) around identifying how much of your "treasure" you should, or should not be selling to supply the needs of those whom you know to be in need in your local church, or even in the global church.  But I do believe that times will come when need will arise, and there will be those who have abundance who will use their abundance to supply that need, because they will understand that this is the purpose for their abundance - to supply the needs of those who lack.  I believe also that in such times there will also be those who have the same abundance which exists for the same purpose, but these will stand aloof because they (like the rich young ruler) love themselves so much, that they will not use money they don't even need to help people in need.

So when you hear our Lord commanding you to sell all your possessions, I don't think he is saying, become penniless in order that others may be wealthy.  I think he is describing the sort of thing we see in the first few chapters of the book of Acts: people selling what they had been hoarding for themselves in order to supply the need of those who had less. 

I know when I write stuff like this, my wife likes me to "make it real" by giving "concrete examples" of what I am describing - but in this case, a concrete example is troublesome because so many factors play into this sort of thing, that it is ultimately going to be something the Holy Spirit will reveal to people as they come across it.

The best examples I can think of come from the scriptures, and I have mentioned them already.  If you have two cloaks (you would use a cloak for warmth, especially at night - it was practically a necessity) and a brother has none - give him one of your cloaks.  That is the sort of "sell your possessions" the Lord is talking about.  Don't love the things in this world so much that you amass what you do not need, while denying it to those who have a need.

It isn't rocket science, but there is a difficult caveat: If Christ isn't in you, doing this isn't going to put Him there.  Stuff like this will not draw you closer to Christ, so if you're on the mouse-wheel, trying to do the next big thing to try and make your religion "more real" - this isn't going to get you there.  This you will do when Christ moves you to do it. You'll know when He does because you'll have the will and the desire to do it, and there will be no remorse in what you do, because you will do it in Christ, and not in your flesh.

Like all things, be Bereans about this.  Read the scriptures and see if I am talking out of my armpits, or whether or not the things I say here are so - and if they are, then hold onto what the scriptures say, surrender yourself to the will of Christ insofar as you are able, and trust that the work He is doing in you , will be brought to completion - not by your effort, but by (and on account of) His.
posted by Daniel @ 12:01 PM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
A Congregation of Repenting Sinners
One of the main differences between a healthy church and a dying or dead church is that the healthy church practices (biblical) church discipline. 

When the church at Corinth tolerated (in their midst) the unrepentant sin of a man had taken his father's wife, Paul judged the matter without needing to hear any more concerning it: they were to deliver that man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

In other words, they were to excommunicate the fellow. 

Interestingly enough, Paul qualifies what he said to this church in a former letter which history has fail to preserve for us, when Paul told this church not to associate with immoral people - he meant that they were not to associate with immoral people who were "in the church" - as opposed to immoral people in general - since if one was to attempt such a thing, one would hardly be able to associate with anyone outside the church.

The addendum is interesting because it shows that Paul isn't calling Christians to avoid associating with people who do not share their moral ideals - he is saying that they cannot associate with immoral people who claim to be believers.  Such as these are to either repent of their immorality, or be put outside the church.

I have evangelists describe the church with tongue-in-cheek as a sanctified sinner's club - trying to impress the notion that in a healthy church, people aren't going to look down their noses at a sinner who has just come to Christ - for we are all sinners.

But that only means that we are all tempted by sin daily.  It doesn't mean it is okay to sin if you're a Christian.

Paul makes it plain in his letter to the Romans that genuine believers continue to experience temptations to sin after having received Christ Jesus.  Having the mind of Christ means that you will desire to do the will of God as a believer, which you will experience as your own desires.  But you will continue to have the "default" sinful desires which spring from your sinful flesh (not the blood and bones, but the life-long self-reliant disposition that looks to self rather than to God for provision, and for the satisfaction of current desires).

As a Christian matures in their faith, they learn to overcome these sinful temptations more and more, by trusting and walking closer to/with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  No two believers are ever at exactly the same place - what may be a great temptation for one may not be much of a temptation for another, etc.

We depend upon our Lord to guide us into spiritual maturity through the process that scripture refers to as sanctification.  Sanctification is something that our "old man" or "flesh" or "default self" really wants to avoid, even as the "new man" or "Christ within us" wants us to pursue.  We are provoked by both our own flesh, and by the Lord Jesus within, to obey (or if you prefer, to follow through with) the desires they present.  Our flesh/old self desires pleasures, accolades, recognition, comfort, ease, etc. Christ desires our obedience to God - and we experience it all as a set of conflicting desires within ourselves.  We want one thing, but end up doing another.

Christians are imperfect - we fail to obey Jesus, even though we really want to (or to be precise, the life of Christ within us wants us to - though we experience this as personal desires, and may even believe that they originate in us) obey Him.  We feel like we're the fake-est, most inconsistent people there could be and wonder why the Lord would ever have saved someone like us - if we are able to even tell ourselves that this experience is "normal" - typically we mention it to no one, and pretend like everything is great with us - and we do this because everyone else in our church is doing this, so that we think we're the only ones who are struggling to obey.

But that is radically different than the person who professes to having a Christian faith, but nevertheless refuses to acknowledge the authority of scripture in determining what is and what is not sinful. 

The adulterer who claims that his or her carnal lusts are "natural" and that "God" wouldn't have given them such lusts if God didn't intend for them to act upon them - this "believer" is fooling (him/her)self.  Christ convicts His people of sin - He bears the punishment for those sins they have committed, but He does not absolve them of their sin.  They do not get a "sin all you want - it's okay!" card.

It is one thing to struggle against sin, and quite another to say that some sinful thing you want to do isn't really sin - or worse, to acknowledge something is sinful, but to refuse to repent of it.  That kind of hard-heartedness is called being unrepentant - and it is biblical grounds for being excommunicated.

When you're "caught" in a sin - that isn't describing being "caught in the act" like a thief - it is describing being caught in the sense of a "snare".  A loving person doesn't abandon a person caught in a snare, or judge them for being thus caught - the loving person does what can be done to help that person out of the snare.  This is the first purpose of church discipline - to help people out of those snares that they have fallen into.  The second purpose is to identify people who give no evidence of every having actually been in the church - that is, identifying counterfeit members of the body - people who claim to be Christian, but deny the Lord Christ in practice- these are the ones who find themselves in a snare, and either refuse to see the snare for what it is - or refuse to get out of the snare.  They are put outside the church, because they have given evidence to suggest they were never really a part of the church in the first place.

In any given "Church" we should expect to find some people (hopefully not many) on occasion, who have never really understood Christianity, but have jumped on the band wagon, and tried to make it work for themselves without ever having been truly born again, and thus without having actually received the Spirit of Christ from whom all our genuine obedience flows.  They don't have that soul deep desire to live a life that pleases God - they only have that other thing that every sinner has - a desire to avoid judgement, and to earn God's favor by doing more good than evil - purchasing for themselves, as it were, a "right" to escape judgment.

They may stay in a church depending on how spiritually shallow it is, for any number of years or even decades, without every coming to know that they were never saved in the first place.  If such a person were in a healthy church, and some inconsistency was discovered in their life, and those who would have helped them to overcome the sin that was besetting them find themselves ignored, so that discipline proceeds - these will either be forced to admit to themselves that they are not genuine believers (and hopefully come to Christ for real), or hold onto their false faith, and be set outside the church.

To protect the church, it is important to define church members as repenting believers.  Every dead and false church has this in common with the others of its ilk: they all believe "something".

Biblical churches are more than a collection of people who share a similar belief.  They are a collection of sinners who by God's grace, are repenting of all known sin.

That doesn't mean that they never sin - it just means they never tell themselves that it's okay to sin, and they never regard any sin as permissible - not in themselves, and not in others.  They don't judge one another as though everyone was supposed to be perfect, and the moment you show yourself to be normal, you're out.  They rather have Christ, and Christ has an interest in your sanctification.  He moves those who come alongside and moves the one whom they've come along side with, to the same place - restoration, and a path to overcoming a besetting sin, etc.

What do you do when someone joins your congregation for the express purpose of holding onto some immoral sin, in order to provoke the church to discipline them for their immorality, and in doing so give these people the platform they came to stand upon - the one where they paint the church as bigoted, medieval-minded hate-mongers whom they plan to sue for damages to their tender character.

Or what do you do if you refuse to marry two people whom you believe to be pursuing a marriage that isn't biblical? 

If your definition of church membership includes hard-hearted, unrepentant believers, then these things will be of no account.  But if you believe that someone who refuses to repent of their sin - that is, someone who outright denies that Jesus has any claim to their obedience, then you may want to have that in those articles that define what constitutes membership in your church.

You should also makes sure your congregation knows the difference between struggling with sin, as all believers do, and hard-hearted rebellion which really is the only grounds for excommunication in the church.
posted by Daniel @ 1:07 PM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Why I am not an Egalitarian (Part -II-)

In my first post (here), I explained that the verse most often cited as foundational in an argument for an egalitarian position, is Galatians 3:28 ("There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [ESV]).  I explored the context of that verse to unfold for the reader, the point that Paul was supporting, and in doing so, to limit the scope of what Paul wrote, to the intention that Paul wrote it for, specifically, that every person whose faith is like Abraham's is a spiritual child of Abraham, and therefore an equal partaker of the promise God made to Abraham.  Paul was arguing that this promise was not dependent upon physical ancestry, so it didn't matter if you were a Jew or a Gentile (and for the sake of hyperbole, a free man, or a slave, a man or a woman, etc.), your physical birth adds nothing to your spiritual birth - that is the point Paul was making.

Once this is understood, it becomes self-evident that Paul is not jumping out of that context to arbitrarily suggest that Christians are unilaterally equal in all things. The implied equality in that verse is linked in the context the idea that the Jew and the Gentile are on equal footing with regards to becoming partakers of the New Covenant, i.e. entrance into the promise given to Abraham. 

Think of it this way, if you were a Jew and believed yourself to be a recipient of the promise given to Abraham, it didn't matter if you were a slave or free, a man or a woman - you were a "Jew" - and as such you were a partaker of that promise.  Paul is saying that the promise isn't based on ancestry, but on faith, so you're a "Jew" (by this definition) regardless of whether you're a man, woman, slave, free, or of Jewish ancestry or not.

This is not unlike what Peter is recorded (by Luke) as saying to the congregation at Jerusalem concerning the salvation of the Gentiles in Acts 10:34-35, "So Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Like Peter, Paul is simply saying that God shows no partiality based on nationality, gender or  liberty when it comes to who is acceptable to Him - this lack of partiality is not connected to roles in the church, but rather to entrance into the church - where such circumstances are no hindrance whatsoever.

So when Paul states years later in a letter to Timothy explaining how church is supposed to be organized, that he (Paul) does not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12) he is not saying something here that contradicts what he said to the Galatians.  Christian women and men are equal partakers of the promise made to Abraham, because they are equally qualified through grace by faith.

But being equally partakers of the same salvific promise does not mean that women and men may hold the same offices in the church - and frankly, our culture frowns on such "archaic" distinctions.

Have you heard a preacher read more into Paul's words to the Galatians, in order to make less of Paul's words to the Church through Timothy?  They will say they are interpreting scripture through the lens of scripture, but rather they are taking a very clear passage, and attempting to obfuscate its clear meaning, by taking another passage entirely out of context.

Since it is almost impossible to do that with just these two verses - an appeal must be made to bolster the notion that men and women have always enjoyed the proposed "equality" that a shallow, context ignoring reading of Galatians 3:28 suggests - and this appeal is what I want to talk about today.

What about all those women in scripture who did great and marvelous things?

The teaching that God makes no distinction whatsoever when it comes to various ministries within the church, is easily frustrated by the text of 1 Timothy 2:12, and the context that qualifies it.  In order to dismiss the text, an appeal is made to Galatians 3:28 - which will inject into the text a foreign, but nuanced emphasis on gender equality in roles in the church.  Since that point cannot be made from the context the verse is being pulled from - the verse is held up outside its context, then bolstered with every (apparent) exception to the "rule" the scriptures can muster.

Many have been so influenced by the philosophies of our culture, that their default position is that Paul was being a bit draconian (at best) and more likely a little bigoted or even misogynistic.  He was a cave man, surrounded by other cave men, and these restrictions are not so much inspired by God as a product of the repressive culture of first century Palestine.

But even this notion, which sits right with so many, cannot easily wipe out the clear words of Paul in his letter to Timothy. 

I should say that a great many sincere believers are paying lip-service to the notion that scripture should interpret scripture.  They do compare scripture with scripture - but they compare the scriptures with the same care in which they read them - which is to say, void of, or at least with little or no regard to, context. 

Interpreting obscure scripture through clear scripture involves comparing what is being discussed, and not the wording of a particular snippet pulled from its context.  Proof-texting only works when the passage actually means what you are using it to prove. 

So consider with me the handful of passages that will typically be used to bolster the notion that women and men can hold the same offices/roles in the church "according to Galatians 3:28):

"Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment." - Judges 4:4-5 [ESV]

"So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her." - 2 Kings 22:14 [ESV]
"Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea." - Exodus 15:20-21 [ESV]

"And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;" - Isaiah 8:3 [ESV]

"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin," - Luke 2:36 [ESV]

"On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied." - Acts 21:8-9 [ESV]

"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;" - Acts 2:17 [ESV]

You'll note immediately that none of these verses actually support an egalitarian position.  No woman mentioned in any of these verses is described in terms of being a pastor or an elder in a church - and you will note that not one of these verses has anything to do with how we are supposed to organize ourselves as a church. 

These verses show that long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers through various means - including *gasp!* through a few specific women in very specific situations.

Twice in the book of Judges we read, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (c.f. Judges 17:6, 21:25).  Consider in this light, that two women Deborah and Huldah, were judges in Israel.

Yes they judged Israel, and make no mistake - the Lord raised them up as judges - but what exactly was a judge?

In Exodus, Moses "judged" the people - that is, he sat down and listened to various legal complaints, and judged between the two parties as to what ought to be done.  He was, for a time, the only judge amongst the whole of Israel.  Finally when his father-in-law Jethro saw him doing this in Exodus 18, he gave Moses this instruction, which we can assume was inspired instruction, since Moses heeded it: 

"Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you." - Exodus 18:21-22 [ESV]

We see from Exodus 18:21-22, that from the beginning, the role of a Judge was supposed to be limited to men, yet many decades later, when Israel had put aside the teachings of Moses to pursue what seemed right in their own eyes, God raised a "prophetess" named Deborah the wife of Lappidoth to judge Israel.

Any honest reading of the account will suggest that Deborah was aware of Barak's call to deliver Israel when she sent for him.  The fact that Barak came at her summons tells us that she truly was given the respect and courtesy of a judge in Israel. We would be remiss to note that Deborah did not appoint herself a judge - but earlier in the book of Judges, we read that after Joshua died, God Himself raised up judges for Israel.

So one might be inclined to say, "Because God raised up Deborah to be both a prophetess and a judge in Israel, it shows that God makes no distinctions between men and women, and therefore the restrictions Paul makes concerning the roles of women in the church, should be relaxed."  But this is not a logical argument.

Recall from the opening passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews: that God spoke to the fathers through various means long ago - but now speaks to us through His son.  (c.f. Hebrews 1:1-3) In other words we can say, Yes, Deborah was a prophetess, and a judge.  It was exceptional because God called her contrary to the pattern given to Moses - but the pattern given to Moses was set aside by men who chose to do whatever seemed right in their own eyes, and so the fact that God raised up a woman to be a prophetess and judge in Israel, marks something God did, in His mercy, for His people who were ignoring the directives He had given them. 

It falls under the umbrella of God having spoken through a variety of means, none of which (we are told) represent the means that God uses today. 

We know even less about Huldah, but same goes for her.

Then we have Isaiah's unnamed wife, and Moses' older sister Miriam, both were called prophetesses, but neither uttered any words of prophesy.  It seems likely that their title was honorary, given their close relation to a known prophet.  We can say nothing of gifting or office, since neither of these is recorded as having either.  They are mentioned, but their does not nothing to support the claims that a womans ought to be allowed to become an elder in a church.

Having exhausted the Old Testament, we come to the New Testament.  Here we find Anna in the temple the daughters of Philip the evangelist - all of whom prophesied.  We also recognize that this period was unique in human history - the Old Covenant had been abolished, and the New Covenant was being established, the whole matter of which had been prophesied before, by the prophet Joel as being a time when sons and daughters would prophesy.

Think that through.  If it was "normal" for sons and (especially) daughters to prophesy, then (good gravy!) Joel's prophesy would be utterly useless - since it would fail miserably to identify the time of our Lord's coming.

The only way Joel's prophesy makes sense is if sons and daughters were historically -not- prophesying, such that one would know the time by the fact that something -exceptional- (out of the ordinary) was happening.

So even if we collect every text from the scriptures that might possibly bolster the notion that Galatians 3:8 promotes egalitarianism we find instead that most of the texts do nothing of the sort.  They show only that God has been merciful to Israel in spite of it's rebellion -  and that God has used women to do this.

That all falls under the same umbrella: "In various times and in many ways". Not to put too fine a point on this, but the logic being employed to make the Egalitarian argument is that if God has spoken through women in the past, He will speak through women in the future, therefore women should be allowed to be pastors.  The same logic is applied to this argument: God has spoken through burning bushes and talking donkeys in the past, therefore regular bushes and all kinds of Donkeys should be allowed to become pastors/elders in any church.

Do you see what I did there.  Not every bush burned without being consumed in the Old Testament, nor was every Donkey given the ability to speak - yet the fact that there are these rare exceptions in scripture cannot be funneled into a serious argument for a rule of conduct elsewhere.  To argue that the exception is actually the rule is a faulty argument.

God spoke through various (exceptional) means in the past, but the message to the church is not that what was formerly exceptional and rare is now common and plentiful.  The message is rather that God doesn't do that anymore.

Women and men stand on the same ground in Christ when it comes to their inclusion in the promises that were given to Abraham: they are standing in the righteousness and merit of Christ Jesus and they are fellow heirs with Christ.  Amen.

The New Testament teaching on who can and cannot become an elder in the church doesn't contradict the fact that we stand (in Christ) on equal ground.  Not everyone is qualified to be an elder, and if God Himself decrees that women cannot be elders, then the question before is not whether or not that agrees with our culture - it is a question of whether God's word has more authority than our culture.

The reason there have been no women pastors or elders until only recently (historically speaking), is not because our generation is more enlightened than previous generations, or even because our bible are better translated, or because this generation finally understands what the scriptures really meant.  There probably isn't any single reason above all others.  Certainly the fact that pastors are being academically qualified rather than biblically qualified plays into it.  The fact that fewer and fewer Christians are biblically literate is a large factor as well.

Whatever the reasons are, the fact remains - a great many people think it is okay for a woman to hold the office of elder in the church - not because of what the bible says or doesn't say - but rather because they are so sold out to their culture, or alternately afraid to offend it, that refuse to stand on the clear word of God, because that would mean rocking the boat.  The idea that only men can be elders is to them an antiquated, out of style notion that has no place is the "enlightened" church age.

If I go onto a third part in this series,  I'll address the appeal to modern knowledge - the kind that says, "oh no, the text doesn't actually mean what it says, it means the opposite, you're just misunderstanding it."

That is typically the third cord in the rope that binds this nonsense to some people's conscience.  No promises though.

posted by Daniel @ 2:52 PM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Why I'm not an Egalitarian - Part -I-
A couple of questions we should answer for ourselves as we consider this topic:

Is the bible true?
If we don't believe the bible is entirely true, then what we're saying is that it is only a somewhat reliable witness to truth.  it can be relied upon for some things, and not for other things.  How do we know what it can be relied upon?  We don't - and because we don't, we set ourselves up as the judge of what is true.  If something seems true to us, it is true, and if it seems false to us, it is false.  Said another way - we all do what seems right in our own eyes.  If I think the bible is only as true as it feels to me - then it may as well all be false, because I have no way of knowing which parts are really true, and which parts are not.

Is the bible the word of God?
If the bible is true, then it must be what it claims to be, the inspired word of God.

Are we as Christians subject to the word of God?
If the bible is true, and it is the word of God, it follows that it in matters of conduct, the word of God is mankind's ultimate authority - and moreso for those who claim that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is their Lord (i.e. Sovereign King).  If the bible is the word of God, then Christians are obligated to obey its teachings in our personal lives, and in the corporate life of the church - as ordained and constrained by the word of God.

If we can't agree on these these three points up front, no discussion on egalitarianism is going to amount to more than a sharing of dissimilar opinions, and a polite agreement to accept each others position, regardless of whether or not they line up with the scriptures.

First - for those of you who hear such words and Egalitarian and Complementarian, and wonder, what do these to $20 words mean - I will quickly explain them:

An Egalitarian is someone who believes that woman can be pastors and justifies this believe by appealing to those passages in the scriptures which either seem to suggest that there is no distinction between men and women in the church, and/or which show women in the scriptures exercising (in various capacities) that seem congruous to an opinion that women can be pastors.

A Complementarian is someone who believes that men and women are equal partakers of the promises given to Abraham (concerning his Seed: Christ),  and therefore equal in their reliance upon God's grace for both their entrance into, and the health of their subsequent life within, the church are never-the-less allowed roles within the church which complement one another, but are limited in some cases by gender.

Why I am not an Egalitarian (Part 1)

OKAY HOLD UP!  If you haven't read the first three chapters in Paul's epistle to the Galatians in a while - you should give it a quick read before embarking on this journey with me.  Seriously, better to have these things in your head as you look at what I have set forth here, in order to confirm or deny the things I say.

Arguably, the "holy grail" verse for the Egalitarianism position inevitably ends up being Galatians 3:28:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [ESV]

Without knowing the underlying context, the only qualifying context available to us (in this small snippet which is all to often recklessly lifted from its much larger context) is found in the final qualifying phrase, "for (i.e. for this reason or because)  you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Note that Paul doesn't use the word equal here, but in saying that former distinctions such as ethnicity, gender, and citizenship are now irrelevant in Christ, the notion of equality is to some extent obviously implied - though nuanced in a way that is unclear from the snippet itself.  So Paul isn't saying that everyone is unilaterally equal, so much as he is saying that all distinctions are removed in Christ.

One thing that is clear from the snippet:  If Paul intends to say that God makes no personal distinctions, he intends to limit this equality to those in Christ - and whatever distinctions we feel God is ignoring in the church, we have no grounds to imagine that God ignores the same distinctions outside of the church.  Just because Paul has said that this is something that is true for those in Christ, we shouldn't (and certainly have no grounds to) imagine that this same thing is true outside the church.

In other words, if Paul is saying that God unilaterally makes no distinction between ethnicity, citizenship, or gender within the church, the only reason one would need to identify that this is something that is true "in Christ" - would be because it is not true for those who are not in Christ - if it were true of all, adding "in Christ" would be not only unnecessary, but somewhat confusing.

Without further context, we really can't mine much more out of this passage than that.

There is an implied equality amongst Christians - all are equally... something.  ...We don't know from the snippet what that something is.  Whatever it is, we know that it ignores external distinctives such as ethnicity, citizenship, and gender - things that might otherwise have been regarded or thought to be either an help or an hindrance.

It is not like God is hiding what the something is.  It is clear and plain from the context, but to understand what it and the scope of what Paul is saying (and to avoid the error of taking Paul's words out of context to serve as a pretext to ideas and notions that Paul was neither promoting nor even imagined) we need to look back in the text and see just what Paul was talking about when he wrote this snippet.

We know that after Paul had founded various churches throughout Galatia, certain Jewish converts visited these churches and taught them that Paul messed up the gospel (when in fact they were the ones who were messing up the gospel).  They taught that both justification and (subsequent) sanctification were all dependent upon keeping the Mosaic Laws (i.e. "Old Covenant").  These Judaizers regarded Christianity as a Jewish sect, and concluded that in order to join the sect you had to first become a Jew.

To be fair - this was how the Gentiles converts had always been proselyted under Judaism.  The Judaizers must have believed themselves to be correcting an oversight on Paul's part - since Paul was treating these Gentiles as though they were already Christians when they hadn't yet become Jews.  They didn't understand that Christianity (i.e. the New Covenant) was something God had promised would eventually replace Judaism (ie. the Old Covenant) - and in ignorance of this fact, they imagined that Christianity was just another Jewish sect. 

Of course, they didn't realize that the Mosaic Covenant was a place holder, and that Christ had ushered in this new and better covenant all according to what the prophets had said would happen, etc.  They regarded Christianity as a patch sewn into the fabric of Judaism or as new wine which was poured into the old wineskin of Judaism.  Christianity to them was a teaching to be appended to the Mosaic Covenant, it added to it, and clarified it a bit - but they didn't understand and/or believe that Christianity was supposed to replace it.

Their (i.e. the Judaizers) teaching demonstrated a profound misunderstanding of Christianity, Christ, the gospel, and the purpose of the Law. They didn't realize that they were corrupting the gospel, and polluting the church with their false teaching.  What Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia (his epistle to the Galatians) was written to correct (in whole or in part) the corrupt doctrine the churches had received from these false teachers.

It should be plain, from even a cursory reading of this epistle, that what these Judaizers had been teaching stood in stark contrast to the gospel of grace that Paul had previously taught to those new believers in Galatia when Paul originally planted those churches.

That is a sound starting point. 

Whatever Paul says in Galatians 3:28 should (and will) make sense in the context of a letter intended to correct whatever errors these false teachers had introduced.

In other words, if we understand the point Paul is making when he gets to Galatians 3:28, we will be able to understand how Galatians 3:28 satisfies or serves that point.  What we want to do is understand what Paul was saying, so that we don't make the mistake of reading something else into the passage - and running with that instead of the truth.

Paul opens his epistle to the churches in Galatia with a charge against these churches - that they were setting aside the gospel he had preached to them, in favor of the distorted gospel that these Judaizers had brought to them.  He introduces himself and quickly begins to defend both the (true) gospel which he had formerly preached to them and they received, and he defends also his ministry and his credentials as a genuine Apostle of Christ.

To demonstrate his genuine authority, Paul recalls the day that he had to rebuke the Apostle Peter - for giving into the very sort of thing that these Judaizers had been teaching the Galatians. In this retelling of the events at Antioch, Paul makes it crystal clear, that his authority is genuine, and that these Judaizers are the real charlatans.

He then goes on to correct the errors he suspects have been propagated.  We are made righteous by grace through faith and not through the keeping of the Mosaic Laws.  Paul summarizes the difference between the true gospel and the doctrine of these Judaizers by showing that if the righteousness we need for our salvation came through the law then Christ would have died for nothing.

Following Paul's line of reason (in typical Pauline fashion) the Apostle takes the teaching of the Judaizers to its logical conclusion to demonstrate how wrong it is. These false teachers had been teaching that you needed to become a Jew before you could become a Christian. So Paul explained to his readers what exactly a Jew was (and was not) and how entrance into the kingdom was neither dependent upon, or hindered by the fact that one was or was not a Jew.

Ethnically speaking, a Jew was a physical descendant of Abraham.  Many Jews at the time believed that they were partakers of the promise given to Abraham because of their ancestry, and irregardless of their conduct, faith, or anything else.

Paul argued that being a physical descendant of Abraham counted for nothing since the promise given to Abraham was referring to spiritual descendants and not physical ones.  Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations - which should make clear this one thing:  one doesn't have to be a Jew to count Abraham as his or her father.

As we get close to Galatians 3:28 - Paul is showing that being a physical descendant of Abraham counts for nothing insofar as being under the promise given to Abraham was concerned.  Paul explained that Gentiles become children of the promise given to Abraham through their holding to a faith that was like Abraham's.  He showed that the promise given to Abraham was received by the gentiles, not through their ancestry lineage, but through faith.  He shows that the Jews are no different: they also must become children of Abraham through faith (as opposed to depending upon their physical ancestry).

Here is the context then for Galatians 3:28 - Paul is saying that neither your ancestry,  your citizenship, or your gender contribute anything to becoming a partaker of the promise given to Abraham.  You cannot merit this promise, nor bring it into being through your ancestry, your gender, or your citizenship - nor will any of these hinder you in inheriting it - for the promise is received by faith, not by ancestry, citizenship or gender.

So Paul isn't saying, or trying to say/suggest that everyone is so unilaterally equal that God makes no distinctions between the roles of men and women in the church.

There are a great many people who feel that women should be allowed to be elders/pastors.  Most believe this, or strive to believe it, because it is culturally savvy to do so - and who wants to be thought of us insensitive or unfair (or worse, as a closet misogynist)?

Egalitarianism is becoming quite popular in those churches where scripture is routinely understood through the rose colored lens of our modern culture.  Today's lick-spittle generation bends over backwards to conform itself to the moral of the moment - and in our "moment", gender roles are bad, everyone should be "equal" - whatever that is - and people who think otherwise are just ignorant bigots.

Since we all live in the culture we are born into, it shouldn't surprise people that this sort of thinking finds its way into the church - and in doing so it clashes against those passages in scripture that I will discuss in Part II of this series.

The question you should be asking yourself if you still believe that this verse is unilaterally implying that God no longer makes distinctions between genders, such that what Paul writes elsewhere specifically disqualifying women from certain roles in the church - is how would declaring that God makes no distinction whatsoever between men and women prove the point Paul was laboring to prove in Galatians 3:28?

Think that through.

Would declaring that men and women are equal and as such can hold any office in the church really contribute to convincing a church that the doctrine they received from the Judaizers was in fact flawed? 

Remember, Paul was arguing that gentiles did not need to become Jews in order to become Christians.  That is the point he was making and supporting in Galatians 3:28.  He only mentions women/men and slaves/free to exaggerate the point he was making: it doesn't matter if you were born a Jew or a Gentile, a man or a woman, a free man or a slave - what matters is not what you were born into, it matters that you are born from above.  It matters that you become a partaker of the promise given to Abraham - and you don't become a partaker of that promise through being born into the right ethnicity, gender, or social rank. 

The notion that Paul (in the middle of an argument that is concerned with whether or not you need to become a Jew in order to become a Christian) decided to arbitrarily mention that all people Christians are so unilaterally equal that you should hereafter interpret everything that was ever written in the scriptures through this new and capricious lens - which has nothing to do with the point he is making -- is preposterous.  In fact, Paul had yet to write the epistles to Titus and Timothy at this point - Paul wasn't writing this to clarify what he would write - I say, if anything, he was clarifying this in his later writings which disqualified women from the office of elder/pastor, etc.

Surely dear reader, you see that being a Jew or a Gentile is neither a hindrance nor a help to your becoming a Christian - that is, to your becoming a partaker of the promise given to Abraham?  How would pontificating on gender roles in the middle of convincing you of that serve the point I am making?  This has nothing to do with gender roles, and no one reading it in Paul's day would have ever pulled from it the notions that people are trying to support from it today.

This passage has nothing to do with roles in the church. The only reason people go to this verse to support an egalitarian position, is because they want to use it as a pretext to dismiss other verses (which were written later on by Paul) which clearly disqualify women from the role of elder and pastor. 

In Part II I am going to show that most of the remaining arguments for egalitarianism fall under the umbrella of Hebrews 1:1-2

"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." [ESV]

In Part III I hope to show what Paul's letters teach concerning the roles of women in ministry is neither complex nor complicated - it just counter-cultural and offends people because the bible teaches something that this culture (mistakenly) rejects.
posted by Daniel @ 12:48 PM   2 comment(s)
Monday, March 16, 2015

Finally updated my profile pic.

I trust the Internet can overlook the obvious effects of SnapSeed's™ drama filter, and the faux frame on the left - meant to look like this is some sort of film proof or something.

I just liked the shot because I didn't look an hundred years old (this was taken today), and I happened to be playing my latest acquisition, a black, 2005 Heritage 157CM.

For those who are not in the know, when Gibson decided to move their operations in 1985 from Kalamazoo MI, to Nashville, some of the former Gibson employees who had raised families in Kalamazoo, opted out of the move, purchased the old Gibson factory, and continues making guitars using the same machinery that formerly made Gibson products.

The truth is the quality of these guitars matches or exceeds the quality of Gibson's prior to 1985, and some would say, and I count myself in this group - the quality of their guitars since, exceeds the increasingly production-line quality of Gibson's recent efforts.  I have a 2005 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and this 2005 Heritage 157CM (the equivalent of a Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop), and this one plays and sounds better (not to mention is built better IMO) than my Gibson Les Paul Standard.

I am not paid to endorse the guitar - but I just want to be up front.  I think it is an amazing guitar, and though I am a brand-slave at heart, and have loved and owned Gibson guitars for 30 years - I can't deny that these guitars are every bit as good or (and often) better.

Anyway, I figure leaving the same profile pick up for almost a decade is a bit misleading, so I put this one up.

My daughter made that necklace.  You can't tell, but it is supposed to be a polar bear.
posted by Daniel @ 3:29 PM   0 comment(s)
Friday, March 13, 2015
Repentance (Should the Christian...? Part I)
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. - 2 Timothy 2:24-26 [ESV]

I used to pray from this passage that the Lord would grant me the grace to repent. 

Let me not mince words or notions either.  What I am saying is that I would find myself from time to time depending too much on a sort of Christian auto-pilot. You know what I mean, right?  Having developed moral habits, in times of weariness where instead of repenting of my self reliance, I would beach myself on the shore of "I don't feel like dealing with this right now" island, and vacation there and let my moral habits do all the work. 

In other words, like every other believer, I would find myself at times unwilling to deal honestly and biblically with myself - justifying my spiritual stagnation with an inarticulate and delusional notion that it wasn't really my fault somehow.  

Having read in the scriptures that repentance was something the Lord grants, I concluded that unless and until the Lord granted me the grace to repent that I needed, I would be stuck in the rut, and so I would pray in this way. 

Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit within me was certainly willing that I repent, but my flesh being weak continued to rule over me through my own selfish desires - and my flesh did not want me to repent.   So I would ask for this same grace that enabled my first repentance, hoping to find in this "new" grace the strength to suddenly desire obedience over disobedience.

But it was hit and miss and mostly miss at that. Unanswered prayer such as this kind tell us that something is not right in what we are praying for. God is generous and lovingly kind, and desires our sanctification far more than we do. If God isn't answering a prayer that I think would result in my being closer to the person He calls me to be, there is probably something wrong with either my prayer or my heart. 

But since the desire to repent does not come from my flesh (which cannot produce a good fruit such as that) I know this desire is from my Lord who is in me through the Holy Spirit. His heart is right

So the problem isn't a matter of a wrong hearted prayer. I must be asking the Lord to do something for me that He is either not going to do, or that He has already done, and I am ignorant of. 

Let's figure out which it is. 

Given how our Lord commands believers to repent six times in the book of revelation, and the command to believers to repent is functionally identical to the command to walk in the Spirit, I became persuaded that while God does in fact grant that first repentance (that ended in my justification), it wasn't just a one-time ability to repent - it was the Holy Spirit quickening my "dead-in-trespasses" soul, so that I was able to believe and repent.  

In the moment I believed, this same Holy Spirit began to indwell my life - binding my life up in the life of Christ, who through the Spirit was now within me.  Since that moment I have, by way of the Holy Spirit within me, the ability to act upon the will of God which the Spirit within me makes known.  That is, I have the persistent grace of being led by the Holy Spirit - and in this way, I have all I need already to repent. 

Problem solved. 

I should pause here however to clarify that last part - lest some reader interprets what I wrote through the wrong lens. 

I don't receive private vocal instructions from the Holy Spirit, nor do I imagine that He is communicating instructions to me through random thoughts, signs, or goosebumps. I have no dialogue with the Holy Spirit whatsoever. The way I know His will is far from mystical: He causes me to desire to live a life that pleases the Lord; He makes me see my sin for the rebellion it is and causes me to hate it contrary to my own desires. He testifies to the truth of the scriptures so that I know them to be true.  It is a soul deep communion, but not the kind where I convince myself that every mundane happenstance in life is actually a coded message from the Holy Spirit that I must interpret by way of my "Spiritual maturity".  In short, I perceive these things as coming from my own mind and thoughts - recognizing that those thoughts which the scriptures make plain cannot arise from my fallen flesh (which can produce no good thing) must arise from the mind of Christ through the Spirit within me.  The bad tree of the flesh does not produce the good fruit of the Spirit. 

So I certainly don't mean to imply any mystical hocus pocus.  If that sort of  stuff is your bag, I encourage you to get honest with yourself. 

Getting back to my main line, I discovered that, when it comes to repentance, God had already granted me the ability to repent when I received the repentance that led to life.  What (or rather Who) I received in the first work of the Spirit, I received for the rest of this present life - the Spirit Himself. 

He has continued to give me the desire to repent of my disobedience - an ongoing grace which is more than sufficient for my temporary deliverance from temptations.

I am not suggesting that the Lord does not from time to time grant profound (seemingly effortless ) deliverance (He can and sometimes does!) but this is the exception and not the rule.

I have come to understand that repentance for the Christian means turning away from sin by faith through obedience to the will of God as revealed by and through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  

This is not a prayer request; this is commanded of us: Repent!  

Even if the old man, is incapable of unaided repentance, the Christian is able to obey the will of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is simply a matter of faith and genuine worship.

The bottom line for me when I saw this was to conclude that I shouldn't continue in my fruitless prayers for God to make me repent (against the will of my flesh), since the fact that I am asking that shows that I am in the flesh and not in the Spirit. This is being double minded. What I need to do is stop obeying the flesh and it's desires. I need to repent.

Obviously I, that is my 'old man' or my 'flesh' (not the meaty part of my body or even my physical form, but rather the 'me' that desires to slake ever passing desire) doesn't have the ability to repent, but Christ within me, through the Holy Spirit, has proven Himself victorious over both sin and the grave - so my job is to not walk (ie conduct myself) according to the desires of the fles, but rather according to the desires of the Spirit- in faith

That last part crowns all. Listen: when you want to do a thing you know is sin, or not do a thing you know you're called to do, and in that moment you reason that Christ is your Lord and so you struggle with finding some way to justify the sin you want to pursue - but instead decide to obey Christ over and against obeying you own desires- this hinges on whether or not you believe Christ has the right to expect and receive your obedience. If you believe Christ is your Lord, you submit to Him - and if you deny it, you don't.  Some people don't realize this struggle is a struggle of faith.  Listen: there is no magic key to Christian obedience - it just comes down to faith. 

You cannot truly repent except that you believe Jesus has the right to command your obedience. Walking by faith, walking by or 'in' the Spirit, and 'repenting' are all ways of describing the same thing - the 'How' part of being a right and proper Christian.  Your ongoing sanctification depends upon growth in truths such as this. 
posted by Daniel @ 9:54 AM   6 comment(s)
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