Category Archives: Church

Israel Folau teaches false doctrine

Wrong labelling of Folau’s orthodoxy

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(image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In an article in news.com.au (20 July 2019), it was stated:

‘ACL[1] managing director Martyn Iles told the newspaper: “I have never heard from him (Folau) anything which contradicts mainstream Christian belief’” (NZ Herald).

The information in The Sydney Morning Herald was:

In written comments provided to the Herald, Martyn Iles, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby Group confirmed that he had “never heard” Folau say anything that contradicts mainstream Christian belief.

“That is not to say there is no disagreement – I am sure there is – but some disagreement is normal between Christian denominations,” he said (McClymont & Power 2019).

1. Alarmed by lack of biblical knowledge

I am shocked by the deficiency in understanding of Folau’s theology to place him inside ‘mainstream Christian belief’ when he and his church promote false doctrine that goes back to the third century.

I especially am distressed over a Christian leader’s …

  • Lack of knowledge of Folau’s theology, and this relates to
  • A gap in Martyn Isles’ understanding of historical theology.
  • Overlooking Folau’s false teaching by stating he has ‘never heard’ Folau state anything contradicting mainstream Christian beliefs.

Could it be that Isles is caught up in the freedom of speech / freedom of religion issues and sees this as a test case for Christianity? If so, it pays to gain knowledge before speaking.

I’m reminded of the wisdom in the Book of Proverbs concerning this topic:

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
Their ears are open for knowledge.

The first to speak in court sounds right—
until the cross-examination begins (
Prov 18:15, 17 NLT).

2. Christian woman disagrees

A Christian woman who visited the Truth of Jesus Christ Church[2] established by Israel Folau’s father, Eni, begs to differ. According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald (Ahillon 2019), she had this experience and made the following assessments:

  • When Folau began inviting young rugby players to his church, this Christian woman became concerned about what was taught.
  • The 30-strong congregation at Kenthurst, Sydney, she said, believes most Christians are going to hell and that includes the ACL donors as well as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
  • She went along to hear what they were preaching and teaching in Bible studies.
  • She was so disturbed she said, “I honestly do not want my son involved in what I have come to understand is false teachings and counterfeit Christianity. I’ve gone, I’ve checked it out and I would call them an isolated hate group,” the woman told Nine newspapers of her experience attending bible studies at Pastor Eni Folau’s home.
  • Pastor Eni Folau and his 20-year-old nephew, Josiah Folau, told her, “Only we have the truth”.
  • Those not baptised in the Folaus’ way were heading for hell, she said.
  • She continued: Pastor Eni Folau states that people must renounce the evils of their ways, get baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and become “reborn” in water in order to become a “born again believer”.
  • Israel Folau said on Twitter (discussed below) that “if you’ve done it a different way from this then you aren’t born again”.
  • The woman said the Truth of Jesus Christ Church, according to cousin Josiah, regarded the [Roman] Catholic Church as “false and filled with lies” and “Any devout Catholic person IS NOT A SAVED CHRISTIAN WHATSOEVER. Look at Catholic doctrine, almost 100% of it is false and is filled with lies,” Josiah wrote to the concerned parent. “The blasphemous Catholic mass is a paganistic ritual rooted in heresy, evil and devil worship” he answered.
  • What about the baptisms of mainstream Christian churches? The baptisms of those who believe in the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are false according to the Folaus and reported by the parent who attended the church.
  • The church opposed women deaconesses and preachers. Josiah Folau said, “If you believe in women preachers, Satan’s got you”.
  • Homosexuality is a sin “worthy of death”.

3. Israel Folau affirmed some of the views stated by the woman.

Take a read of this Twitter post and the replies to see that Israel Folau is not an orthodox, evangelical Christian. I refer to this Twitter feed: Take a read of this thread on Twitter started by Israel Folau @IzzyFolau:[3]

Izzy began:

To be born again you MUST, repent of your sins, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and then prayed upon asking God to receive the holy spirit. If you’ve done it a different way from this then you aren’t born again. John 3:3, 5 Acts 2:38 Acts 19:1-6

2:06 AM – 18 Jan 2018

Indications are that he is a ‘Jesus only’, Oneness Pentecostal, non-trinitarian promoter. This appears to be evident in his statement that people need to repent of their sins, ‘be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’ and ‘if you’ve done it a different way from this then you aren’t born again’.

What is the Jesus Only false teaching?

Jesus Only, movement of believers within Pentecostalism who hold that true baptism can only be “in the name of Jesus” rather than in the name of the Trinity. It began at a Pentecostal camp meeting in California in 1913 when one of the participants, John G. Scheppe, experienced the power of the name of Jesus. Many accepted his revelation, and they found support for their belief in “Jesus Only” baptism in John 3:5 and Acts 2:38. This led to the denial of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity…. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019. s.v. Jesus Only).

As we’ll see, this rejection of the Trinity was found way before 1913. In the early church under the names of Modalism,[4] Monarchianism,[5] and Sabellianism. It was declared a heresy in the early third century when Sabellius, one of its promoters, was excommunicated from the church because of his modalistic theology (see Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019. s.v. Sabellianism).

3.1 Israel Folau’s unorthodox theology

I’ll pick up his theology as Folau responded to tweets in this Twitter thread:

  • “And the holy spirit is the characteristics or functions of God. But it’s not 3 or the trinity but just him alone”.

This is non-Trinitarian modalism. It was declared a heresy with Sabellius who promoted this view in the third century. It’s like Oneness Pentecostalism today (see Slick n.d.).

Modalism and Monarchianism are two false views of the nature of God and of Jesus Christ that appeared in the second and third centuries AD. A modalist views God as one Person instead of three Persons and believes that the Father, Son, and Spirit are simply different modes or forms of the same divine Person. According to modalism, God can switch among three different manifestations. A Monarchian believes in the unity of God (the Latin word monarchia meant “single rule”) to the point that he denies God’s triune nature. Both modalism and Monarchianism inevitably hold to the doctrine of Patripassianism, the teaching that God the Father suffered on the cross with (or as) the Son, and are closely related to Sabellianism.[6]

  •  Folau: ‘When someone hears the good news of Jesus Christ this is what happens. They believe in him and want to turn away (which is repentance) then comes baptism then laying of hands for the holy spirit. That’s born again!’

What happens with the laying on of hands? Does this bring the Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues? If this is what Folau refers to, his church’s belief is that a person hears the Gospel, repents, is baptised [in Jesus’ name?], receives the baptism of the Spirit with tongues, and that is the only way a person can be born again.

If this is Folau’s position (and it appears to be), it promotes baptismal regeneration[7] and glossolalist regeneration,[8] both of which are unbiblical and are part of the doctrines of Pentecostal Oneness.

This does not promote orthodox theology but Jesus Only theology.

3.2 False teaching affirmed

As I wrote this article, I became aware of the excellent expose of Folau’s teaching by Tom Richards, ‘Israel Folau’s problem with the Trinity’ (Richards 2019). Richards is a missionary with the Australian Presbyterian World Mission in Vanuatu. Of Folau’s theology, he referred to the tweet that I’ve examined above and assessed Folau’s doctrine of the Trinity which is stated as follows:

Jesus Christ was the vessel of God, God is a spirit. He formed the body of Jesus Christ and was in him. And the holy spirit is the characteristics or functions of God. But it’s not 3 or the Trinity but just him alone. Isaiah 43:10

This is an expression of what is called modalism; a teaching that is nearly as old as the church itself and rejects the Trinity as expressed in the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds. The Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Sydney (TOJC) where Folau attends and teaches, has confirmed that they teach that “God is ONE” – meaning that he cannot be understood in any sense as three.

Modalism has taken on different shapes over the course of church history, but collectively these various forms seek to preserve monotheism or the “oneness” of God by expressing the Father, Son and Spirit as “modes” of God. Roughly speaking, this means that in order to achieve certain things, God sometimes works as the Father, sometimes works as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. God the Father is incarnated as God the Son, the Holy Spirit is an active expression of the one God who is spirit (Richards 2019).

In this article, Richards examines five main problems he sees with Oneness theology. I highly recommend the artile.

4. Become a co-belligerent with Izzy

Where does that leave orthodox, evangelical Christian believers and their support or rejection of Izzy’s sacking by Rugby Australia?

If it is an issue of freedom of religion or freedom of speech, I will stand with him as a co-belligerant.

Read what Francis Schaeffer meant by becoming co-belligerents with people who have similar values in certain organisations. I do this when I support Cherish Life, an anti-abortion group that used to be called Right to Life. Although many Roman Catholics are associated with this group, we give common support in opposing the abortion holocaust in Australia / Queensland.

See Daniel Strange’s article, ‘Co-belligerence and common grace: Can the enemy of my enemy be my friend?’ (September 2005).

The Australian Macquarie Dictionary defines the noun, cobelligerent, as ‘a nation, state, or individual that cooperates with, but is not bound by a formal alliance to, another in carrying on war’. As an adjective, it is ‘relating to such a cooperation’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:422-423).

clip_image003Francis Schaeffer (courtesy Wikipedia)

The late Francis Schaeffer defined a co-belligerent this way: ‘A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice’ (Schaeffer 1980:68).

Politipower provided this explanation:

Co-belligerence, strictly speaking, is waging a war in cooperation with another against a common enemy without a formal alliance. The term co-belligerence indicates remoteness and differences between the co-belligerent parties although jointly pursuing a common objective. In Christianity, it refers to an alliance between denominations, which are normally opposed on doctrinal grounds, for a common social goal.

According to one author, it can be defined as a cultural philosophy that warrants questionable alliances in order to make social impact and change against the moral slippage that plagues our nation — these alliances created and fostered “on the basis of one thing and one thing only – the cause at hand.”[9] A case in point would be conservative evangelicals allying with the Roman Catholic Church in joint efforts to oppose abortion.

Some Christians take issue with a co-belligerence perspective. See Steven J Camp’s article, THE NEW DOWNGRADE…12 dangers of Evangelical Co-Belligerence related to the Manhattan Declaration (Camp 2009). There are dangers in being a co-belligerent, but these are reduced when one focusses on why one is joining with another group with which there may be major differences on other occasions.

This is not a proclamation of salvation through Christ alone and a promotion of Trinitarian Christianity. It is generally associated with cooperating with others on moral and national issues for which they have a common opponent.

Steven J Camp, based on this article, lists 12 dangers of co-belligerence.

These dangers are minimised, in my understanding, when one acknowledges the real purpose of co-belligerence as defined by Francis Schaeffer: ‘A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice’ (Schaeffer 1980:68).

As a co-belligerent, a person is not joining with people to evangelise them with the Gospel of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We are joining others for a common cause in dealing with vital cultural issues of public justice in our society.

I join with Izzy Folau for the battle of free speech and freedom of religion in Australia. However, I do NOT support his view of salvation by baptism, laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit, and the teachings of the Truth of Jesus Christ Church, Kenthurst, Sydney, Australia that ‘only we have the truth’ (Josiah Folau). Such a view is cultic, in my understanding.

5. Conclusion

I urge Christian leaders not to present Israel Folau’s theology as evangelical and orthodox. There is information available from Izzy’s writings on Twitter and speaking to the mass media that indicates he’s promoting theology “which contradicts mainstream Christian belief”.

He belongs to a cult that promotes anti-trinitarian, Oneness Pentecostal theology that was deemed a heresy in the church of the third century as Modalism, Monarchianism and Sabellianism.

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(image courtesy christart.com)

6. Works consulted

Ahillon, P 2019. Israel Folau’s tiny congregation could soon be forced to find a new church space to rent after footy star blasted transgender kids in his latest sermon. Daily Mail (online), 17 June. Available at: https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/israel-folaus-tiny-congregation-could-soon-be-forced-to-find-a-new-church-space-to-rent-after-footy-star-blasted-transgender-kids-in-his-latest-sermon/ar-AAD0R5z (Accessed 20 July 2019).

The Macquarie dictionary 3rd ed 1997. Delbridge, A; Bernard, J R L; Blair, D; Butler, S; Peters, P & Yallop, C (eds). Sydney, NSW: The Macquarie Library, Macquarie University, Australia.

McClymont, K & Power, J 2019. Folau’s group’s far from mainstream Christianity, leaders say (online), The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/folau-s-group-s-far-from-mainstream-christianity-leaders-say-20190720-p5292n.html (Accessed 23 July 2019).

news.com.au (from NZ Herald) 2019. Former Wallabies star Israel Folau’s church believes most Christians are going to hell (online), 20 July. Available at https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/former-wallabies-star-israel-folaus-church-believes-most-christians-are-going-to-hell/news-story/7354195b88416ac9e574df9059a605dc (Accessed 20 July 2019).

Richards, T 2019. Israel Folau’s problem with the Trinity. Eternity (online), 20 July. Available at: https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/israel-folaus-problem-with-the-trinity/ (Accessed 23 July 2019).

Schaeffer F 1980. Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race?’ Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H Revell.

Slick, M n.d. What is Oneness Pentecostal theology? CARM (online). Available at: https://christianreformedink.wordpress.com/bad-theology/cults-heresy/what-is-oneness-pentecostal-theology/ (Accessed 20 July 2019).

Strange, D 2005. Co-belligerence and common grace: Can the enemy of my enemy be my friend? Jubilee Centre (online), September. Available at: http://www.jubilee-centre.org/co-belligerence-and-common-grace-can-the-enemy-of-my-enemy-be-my-friend-by-daniel-strange/ (Accessed 23 July 2019).

7.  Notes

[1] ACL, the Australian Christian Lobby, ‘is a grassroots movement made up of over 150,000 individuals who [are] seeking to bring a Christian influence to politics. ACL is non-party partisan, non-denominational’. See: https://www.acl.org.au/about (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[2] Folau’s church is based in Kenthurst, Sydney, Australia (Ahillon 2019).

[3] Available at: https://twitter.com/izzyfolau/status/953931675011919872?lang=en (Accessed 23 July 2019).

[4] See: Michael 2013. Is modalism biblical? Youth Apologetics Training (online), 12 June. Available at: http://youthapologeticstraining.com/modalism/ (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[5] See ‘What is Monarchianism’. Available at: https://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/46673 (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[6] Got Questions 2019. What is modalism / Modalistic Monarchianism? (online) Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/Modalistic-Monarchianism.html (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[7] To refute baptismal regeneration, see my article: Baptism & Salvation: I Peter 3:21. Available at: https://truthchallenge.one/blog/2009/12/29/baptism-salvation-i-peter-321/ (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[8] See the article, Tongues and baptism for salvation. Let Us Reason Ministries. Available at: http://www.letusreason.org/Onenes15.htm (Accessed 20 July 2019).

[9] The footnote at this point stated: ‘By Steve Camp in the article, The Great Divide’. However, I was unable to locate the primary source for this article.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 July 2019.

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Australia is in deep trouble: Droughts, floods and fires

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This title page points to five articles following that need to be read consecutively to see the message unfold.

1. Get to the heart of the BIG drought, fires and floods

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(photo courtesy WordPress at The University of Melbourne)

We can’t make it rain. But we can ensure that farming families and their communities get all the support they need to get through the drought, recover and get back on their feet” the government said in a statement’.[1]

2. Pointing towards a solution: Australian disasters

But there’s not much we can do about it.”

3. Connection between spiritual condition of the nation and disasters

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(image courtesy Pinterest)

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(image courtesy http://100abortionphotos.com/#64)

They are only examples of two bits and pieces (euthanasia, abortion) in Australia. The bigger picture is what Francis A Schaeffer described as the inevitable consequences that follow for any nation that follows this world view:

Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality, whether they are Marxist or non-Marxist, not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of Man is what Man is not, just as their concept of the final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.

They have reduced Man to even less than his natural finiteness by seeing him only as a complex arrangement of molecules, made complex by blind chance. Instead of seeing him as something great who is significant even in his sinning, they see Man in his essence only as an intrinsically competitive animal, that has no other basic operating principle than natural selection brought about by the strongest, the fittest, ending on top. And they see Man as acting in this way both individually and collectively as society (Francis A Schaeffer 1981:25-26).[2]

4. This deep-seated problem brings ruin to the outback and to the Australian nation

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(image courtesy Askideas.com)

The Australian Constitution of 1900 begins:

WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established.[3]

Where is God in the media, marketplace of ideas, government and education? Labelling Australia as a ‘secular’ (nonreligious) nation demonstrates how secularists don’t understand the consequences of a secular-humanist world view. We see the consequences in Australia today.

5. The path Australia treads to ruin

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(image courtesy www.afain.net)

6.  Notes


[1] Stephanie Bedo 2018. Australia’s crippling drought crisis: Overcoming past mistakes to save ourselves for the future. news.com.au (online), 6 August. Available at: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/australias-crippling-drought-crisis-overcoming-past-mistakes-to-save-ourselves-for-the-future/news-story/136436de96fee5f33809de8d607f413c (Accessed 7 January 2019).

[2] Francis A Schaeffer 1981. A Christian Manifesto. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books. The chapter from which this citation is drawn, ‘The Abolition of Truth and Morality’ is available from The Highway at: https://www.the-highway.com/articleOct01.html (Accessed 28 May 2019).

[3] Available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Constitution/preamble (Accessed 6 November 2018).

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 May 2019.

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Sleeper cells and Australian election victory

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was first published as ‘Sleeper cells and Australian election victory’ in On Line Opinion (21 May 2019).


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(Photo Scott Morrison family, courtesy frasercoastchronicle.com.au)

The Prime Minister gave credit to ‘quiet Australians‘ for his shock election victory on 18 May 2019. Pollsters predicted a Labor win. They got it wrong – very wrong.

Who could the ‘quiet Australians’ be? I’m not thinking of the ones mentioned by Morrison: Those with hopes of getting jobs, apprenticeships, and starting businesses. There are those with personal aspirations to form a family, buy a house, labour to provide for kids, and to save for retirement.

They sure were ones who spoke at the ballot box, after viewing the policies of the two major parties.

The forgotten quiet ones

Remember Morrison’s statements about dealing with the drought? He was in Albury, the birth place of the Liberal Party in September 2018, addressing the Liberal Party: ‘I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that’. Were these among the quiet ones?

Was it a ‘miracle’?

Morrison said he ‘always believed in miracles‘ as he gave his victory speech at Liberal HQ on the evening of 18 May 2019. He added: ‘I would like to wish [Bill Shorten] and Chloe, and his family all the best, and God’s blessing’, concluding with, ‘We are an amazing country of amazing people. God bless Australia’.

Was it a ‘miracle‘ win, as ScoMo labelled it?

Yes it was in this sense: ‘A remarkable event or development that brings very welcome consequences’ for the Coalition government (Oxford English Dictionary). However, I don’t see it as ‘an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency’ (OED) like Jesus’ resurrection.

The God factor was included in ScoMo’s blessing on the Shorten couple and exhorting God to bless Australia? Do we deserve blessing or his chastisement?

The sleeper cells I’m thinking of were not highlighted in the mass media coverage. They weren’t mentioned in what I heard and read after the voting.

God’s people, some of them elderly, distributed leaflets house-to-house about Labor’s extreme abortion agenda in public hospitals. I know of a couple in their 70s who did this and thought it might be a waste of time. It wasn’t.

The call to prayer

One not-so-quiet Australian was tennis great and pastor of Victory Life Centre, Perth, Margaret Court. In addition to praying through the election campaign period, Margaret and other Christian leaders called Australians to:

Image result for photograph Margaret Court public domain (photo courtesy Blue Mountains Gazette)

gather in praise and worship on the evening of Friday 17 May, on the eve of our election day. Encourage the people in your networks to get together and hold a combined church praise and worship night to declare that God is on the throne in our nation. ‘Your Kingdom Come! Your will be done by us in Australia, as in heaven’.

She previously wrote to ScoMo:

God impressed on my heart – that once the election date was announced, we should stand together and call 21 days of Pray[er] & Fasting. Through the Bible, Prayer and Fasting has (sic) impacted the course of history and adjusted the spiritual course of Nations. I’m reminded of – ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Let our united prayer be: ‘Thank you Father that the righteous rule in our Nation of Australia, in Jesus Name. Amen’.

On 15 April 2019, the Australian Prayer Network began 30 days of prayer for the nation and the 2019 election. This prayer included ‘asking God’s forgiveness for where we have in the past failed to collectively pray for our national leaders and Government’.

These are some of the ‘quiet Australians’ who were praying and acting behind the scene, seeking God’s action for his intervention in the government of the nation.

Freedom of religion

The agenda of the ALP and the Greens threatened freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Only 5 days out from the election, The Catholic Weekly, warned: ‘ALP-Greens win would be a disaster for Catholics‘. Why?

The ALP policy pamphlet A Fair Go for LGBTIQ Australianssigned by Bill Shorten does not equivocate when it states ‘A Shorten Labor Government will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the exemptions that permit religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity’….

There is also no doubt what the Greens Party intends to do if it forms an alliance with an incoming ALP Government. Its policy also denies religious freedom when it states, ‘The Greens will protect LGBTIQ+ rights in law, through a Charter of Rights and by legislating to remove religious exemptions in federal and state anti-discrimination laws’.

After the election, this led The Age (20 May 2019) to report that ‘Christian leaders say religious freedom was among factors that influenced voters‘.

Before the election (8 May), Martyn Isles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) confirmed the:

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…ALP’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus [stated] a Shorten government would remove important legal protections for religious schools.

‘This is out of step with what Tanya Plibersek said last week when she seemed to show a willingness to support religious schools’ right to teach their values, and employ staff that faithfully represent those values,’ commented Mr Iles. Religious freedom for schools remains a critical issue for millions of Australians, and so far, it has been sidelined from the election campaign’, he stated.

Labor and the Greens should have seen this coming. They were warned before the election, ‘Parents of Christian school students urged to vote for religious freedom‘. SBS reported 329 Christian schools had sent a pamphlet to parents whose children attended those schools. Mark Spencer, Christian Schools Australia national executive officer, told SBS News, ‘We have to be very careful, we’ve provided the policy information and it’s really up to parents to work out which parties are going to protect their values’.

Mr Spencer said this was an unprecedented move and ‘we have certainly ramped it up a lot because this issue is so important to us’.

SBS reported on the alarm by Christian schools last year of proposed change ‘to the Sex Discrimination Act to prevent religious schools being able to expel students or sack staff on the basis of their sexuality’.

If ‘millions of Australians’ were concerned about this, the ALP and the Greens should have seen it coming and so deserve to lose because of policies that discriminated against religious values.

Who brings a government to power?

In the New Testament, Romans 13:1 states ‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God’.

It is God who raises governments and tears others down. If the values of governments clash with God’s law, Christians need to pursue what Peter and the apostles did: ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority’ (Acts 5:29).

These could be some of the sleeper cell issues that led to defeat in Labor’s unlosable election.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2019.

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Husband of one wife (for deacons and elders): Have churches distorted the meaning for centuries?

 

I Tim. 3:12 states, ‘Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well’ (ESV).

 

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

 

It doesn’t matter whether we go to the laity support of men-only in public church teaching/pastoring ministry or seek explanations from the anti-brigade of pastors and scholars, this group has a resounding message:

Women must not exercise their teaching gifts over men in the context of the church.

Leading California pastor, John MacArthur, uses 1 Tim 2:8-15 as his foundation for this conclusion:

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. That is true not because women are spiritually inferior to men but because God’s law commands it. He has ordained order in His creation—an order that reflects His own nature and therefore should be reflected in His church. Anyone ignoring or rejecting God’s order, then, weakens the church and dishonors Him (MacArthur 2013).

It was a common thing for women to be teaching women and children. One member of the laity owned up to attending a ‘very traditional Baptist church’ where women sang, had exclusive Bible studies among women and were engaged in activities that pertained to children. ‘But when it comes to the main sanctuary, it is only men at the pulpit’. Why? ‘Everyone knows’ that is what the Bible teaches, or more specifically, ‘it is what Paul teaches’ [1].

This statement  from 1 Tim 3:12 also is a qualification for a church elder, according to 1 Tim. 3:2, ‘an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, stable, sensible, respectable, hospitable to strangers, and teachable’ (ISV; also NLT). Some translations use ‘overseer’ for ‘elder’ (ASV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET, NIV, NJB, LEB, TPT, YLT), Others translate as ‘bishop’ (DRA, KJV, NAB, NKJV, RSV, NRSV [2]).

The word, ‘episkopos’ in 1 Tim 3:2, translated as overseer, elder or bishop, means ‘superintendent, guardian, bishop’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:299). It is significant to note that in 1 Pet 2:25, Jesus Christ is called episkopos, ‘the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls’ (ESV).

On the surface, this verse looks as though all debate is ended. Deacons can only be men because the qualification is “the husband of but one wife.”  In context, if we look at v. 8, Paul is speaking of male deacons who “are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, . . . etc.”  That’s how it seems with a surface reading.

Let’s observe something about the phrase “husband of but one wife” (NIV).

1.   Must deacons and elders be male?

The word translated, “husband” is the Greek, aner.  This Greek-English lexicon (a lexicon is a dictionary) by Arndt & Gingrich gives the meaning of aner (1957:65-66): 

Flower Also, aner speaks “of a woman having sexual intercourse with a man” referring to Joseph and Mary in Lk. 1:27, 34;

Flower Yes, it can be translated as “husband” See Mt. 1:16; Acts 5:9ff;
Flower It also means a “man in contrast with a boy” (I Cor. 13:11);
Flower It refers to a “full-grown man” (Eph. 4:13);
Flower Aner is also used as equivalent to “someone/some people” in Lk. 9:38; John 1:30; Acts 6:11.

Flower  Remember the story of the feeding of the 5,000 people by Jesus.  In Matthew 14:21 it reads, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men [aner], besides women [gune]and children.”  These are the words translated as “husband” and “wife” in I Tim. 3.  There is no way that we would translate Matt. 14:21 as “The number of those who ate was about five thousand [husbands], besides [wives] and children.” Aner in this context means “man in contrast to woman.” In addition to Matt. 14:21, you’ll find find “man in contrast to woman” used also in passages such as Mk. 6:44; Acts 4:4; I Cor. 12:3;

So, there is no reason why aner should be translated only as “husband.”  It is just as valid to translate as “a man, a mature man, or a person.”    

2.  What about one wife?    

Is the ministry of being deacons and elders restricted to those who are married?

In the phrase, “the husband of but one wife,” the word for “wife” is the Greek, gune.  Arndt & Gingrich (1957:167) state that gune can refer to the following:

blue-arrow-small Remember Matt. 9:20? It reads, “Just then a woman [gune] who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. So, gune here refers to “any adult female.” You’ll find a similar kind of use for gune in Lk. 1:42; 1 Cor. 14:34ff.


blue-arrow-small It can refer to “wife” as in Matt. 5:28; I Cor. 9:5; Col. 3:18ff.
In Luke 4:26, we read, ” Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” The “widow” is gune in the Greek.

blue-arrow-small In Matt. 1:20, Mary is said to be Joseph’s bride or wife.

blue-arrow-small In Rev. 12:1-17, gune speaks of “the woman in heaven.”

So, gune can mean an adult woman, wife, or widow.

What then is the meaning of “the husband of one wife” in 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 as it refers to qualifications of deacons and elders?  Greek exegete, Dr. Gordon Fee, wrote that this ‘is one of the truly difficult phrases in the Pastoral Epistles’ (Fee 1988:80) Fee considers there are at least four options for what it means:

First, it would require that overseers & deacons should be married.  Support could be found ‘in the fact that the false teachers are forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for the wayward widows’ (see 5:14; cf. 2:15) [Fee 1988:80]] But, this would contradict what Paul says in I Cor. 7:25-38 that singleness was best for most effective ministry.  Besides, in the Roman culture, it was assumed that most people would be married.

There’s a second possible interpretation: to prohibit polygamy (having more than one wife at the same time).  This would emphasise the one wife aspect, ‘but polygamy was such a rare feature of pagan society’ (Fee 1988:80). Even further, if you go to I Tim. 5:9, it states that ’no widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband’ (NIV).  So, warning against polygamy would have been irrelevant.

A third possibility: ‘It could be prohibiting second marriages…. It would fit the widows especially and all kinds of inscriptional evidence praises women (especially, although sometimes men) who were ‘married once’ and remained ‘faithful’ to that marriage after the partner died.” (Fee 1988:80)  So, this view would mean that a widow or widower could not remarry and be a church leader, and divorce and remarriage would be prohibited for deacons and elders. But, the scriptures give biblical reasons for divorce and remarriage in passages such as Matt. 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-9, and 1 Cor. 7:10-15.

The fourth alternative explanation is that ‘it could be that it requires marital fidelity to his one wife’ (Fee 1988:80). That’s how the New English Bible translates the phrase, as ‘faithful to his one wife’.  Again I quote Fee:

In this view the overseer is required to live an exemplary married life (marriage is assumed), faithful to his one wife in a culture in which marital infidelity was common, and at times assumed…. The concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best—given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (4:3; cf. 3:4-5) [Fee 1988:80-81].

Therefore, the ‘husband of one wife’ can also be translated as’“the man of one woman’.  He was a one-woman man.  While the English Standard Version  translates I Tim. 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6 as ‘the husband of one wife’, it gives this footnote: “Or a man of one woman.”  The New International Version translates as ‘faithful to his wife’.  It is giving an example of the need for faithfulness in marriage relationships.  Commentator R. C. H. Lenski explains:

The emphasis is on one wife’s husband, and the sense is that he have nothing to do with any other woman.  He must be a man who cannot be taken hold of on the score of sexual promiscuity or laxity… Paul had a reason for beginning with “one wife’s husband.” In those days mature men were chosen for the eldership, who, as a rule, were married and had families; there were no seminary graduates who were awaiting calls. The bulk of the membership from which the elders had to be chosen had come from paganism. What this means as to sexual vices is written large in the New Testament and in the moral records of the day. Even the early apostolic conference in Jerusalem warns against “fornication” and uses this wide term to cover all the prevalent pagan sexual excesses (Acts 15:29). The epistles fairly din the word into their readers’ ears. There was the regular institution of the hierodouloi, pagan temple prostitutes; the common custom of having hetaerae (“companions,” see Liddell and Scott ???????), girls from non-citizen families who were used by unmarried and by-married men; and thus, besides these standard practices, all the rest of the vileness that formed the soil from which these grew. Converts to the gospel did not at once step into perfect sexual purity. Hence this proviso regarding the “overseers”: to begin with, a man who is not strictly faithful to his one wife is debarred. [from service as an overseer] (Lenski 2001:580-581).

3.  Females are included as deacons

The biblical record cannot restrict deacons to males.  We know this from Rom. 16:1, which states, ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchre’ (NIV).  We need to note that Phoebe, in the Greek is said to be a “diakonos.”  Paul used the Greek masculine, “diakonos,” in 1 Tim. 3:8 (cf. 3:11) to indicate male deacons.  Here in Rom. 16:1 we have clear biblical evidence that the feminine “diakonos” was used to refer to a female deaconess (Arndt & Gingrich 1957: 183-184).

You will miss this in some English translation. The NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [footnote: “or deaconess”] of the church in Cenchrea.”  The NASB, ESV, KJV and NKJV, all refer to Phoebe, “the servant.”  The New Living Translation and NRSV read: “Our sister Phoebe, a deacon in the church.”  The RSV translates as “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church.”  Phoebe was a female deacon, i.e. a deaconess.

In the first four centuries of the NT era, archaeology has found grave sites that have confirmed there were women presbyters (elders, bishops). ‘One tombstone reads, (don’t remember the names in order) ___ the daughter of Lois the presbyter [3] He stated that in many areas around the Mediterranean Sea, there have been discovered paintings of women in leadership positions and inscriptions in churches and on tombstones. These women are named and their positions are that of bishops and deacons. His view was that ‘archaeology demands that we reconcile what we have from Paul with the evidence’. [4]

(image courtesy Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome)

4.  Female elders / presbyters

What is the evidence from archaeology? ‘As far as the statement that there is no tradition of women priests, there’s good evidence from archaeology and iconography, in areas of what is now the former Yugoslavia, and southern Italy, that there were women presbyters, leaders of Christian communities in those places, in the early centuries. And a presbyter is what we would call a priest today’ (Johnson 2010:98).

Madigan and Osiek’s research discovered that ‘while synods and councils, both East and West, repeatedly condemned the practice of women presbyters, the epigraphical [5] and literary evidence suggests their ongoing existence, even if in small numbers’ (Madigan & Osiek 2005:163).

5.  Conclusion

The most likely explanation of a deacon or elder being the husband of one wife is that in the promiscuous society of the first century (and the twenty-first century), the person must be one who is ‘faithful to his wife’ (NEB, NIV). We know that females can be deacons (see Rom 16:1) and that apostles can be females (Junia in Rom 16:7).

Kenneth Berding of Biola University also accepts this interpretation:

I believe that the weight of the arguments move in the direction [that] Paul wants a potential overseer to be one who is above reproach in his commitment to his wife (if he is married).  He should demonstrate both marital and sexual fidelity in relationship to his wife (Berding 2011).

For too long, women have been closed down in public ministry, especially in teaching men and women in the church. In my understanding, this situation is based on a rigid, literalistic interpretation of certain biblical texts. On this website, Truth Challenge, you will read several articles challenging this traditionalist perspective. See ‘Women in Ministry’.

Blue Golden ButtonFor an exposition of the place of female apostles in the church, see: : Are there apostles in the 21st century?

For further exposition, see my articles,

Blue Golden ButtonWomen in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages.

Blue Golden ButtonThe heresy of women preachers?

6.  Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Berding, K 2011. What is the meaning of “husband of one wife” (mias yunaikos andra) in 1 Timothy 3:2? The Good Book Blog, Talbot Theological Seminary, Biola University (online), 1 November. Available at: https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2011/what-is-the-meaning-of-husband-of-one-wife-in-1-timothy-3-2 (Accessed 13 August 2018).

Fee, G D 1988, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (W. Ward Gasque, New Testement ed., New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Kroeger, C C 2000 Women in Greco-Roman world and Judaism, in C A Evans & S E Porter (eds), Dictionary of New Testament Background, 1276-1280. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Lenski, R C H 1937, 1946, 1961, 2001, Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

MacArthur, J 2013. Can Women Exercise Authority in the Church? Grace to You (online), 29 August. Available at: http://www.gty.org/blog/B130829/can-women-exercise-authority-in-the-church (Accessed 13 August 2018).

Madigan, K & Osiek, C 2005. Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.

7.  Notes

[1] Christian Forums.com, Christian Communities, Baptists, ‘Female deacons’, August 26, 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/female-deacons.7904366/ (Accessed 13 August 2018). See, Crowns&Laurels#9.

[2] The footnote states, ‘or, an overseer’.

[3] I have not located this statement in an online search.

[4] Christian Forums, op cit, Hank77#23.

[5] Epigraphy is ‘the study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions’ (Oxford Dictionaries online 2018. s.v. epigraphy).

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 August 2018

Image result for decorative single lines public domain

One Woman’s Legacy

A shanty town in Jakarta, Indonesia (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer Gear

My wife and I supported children through Compassion International for many years.

In 2010, we supported 6 children. I urge you to consider sponsorship in this Christian ministry to the children of the world who are in desperate need.

In the Autumn 2010 edition of Compassion magazine, there was a touching story of “One Woman’s Legacy”.  Dr Ranu’s story is told in, Let Your Compassion Live On. Here’s a portion of it:

Perhaps to Ranu, it was a simple gift to the children of the world. We will never know, but what we do know is that Dr Ranu Basu, a sweet and humble lady originally from India who worked and settled in Australia as an anaesthetist, has left a powerful mark on the world.

When she passed away, she left Compassion Australia a donation of $1 million–enough to distribute more than 66,000 malaria nets to African villages, to provide fresh water to hundreds of Indian villages or perhaps to fully fund the tertiary education and Christian training of 50 Leadership Development Students.

Dr Basu has left an undeniable mark on the children of the world and on the work of Compassion. With one gift, she allowed us to help so many.

To this beautiful woman who sponsored six children with Compassion before she died, who overcame great personal adversity including serious illness, and who was described as “the most kind, compassionate and caring person, we say thank you (Compassion magazine, Australia, Autumn 2010, p. 27).

I thank God for this incredible example of a woman who loved the Lord, suffered greatly, and was able to leave of her wealth to help underprivileged children through Compassion.

May the Lord bless her legacy. Should you wish to sponsor a child with Compassion Australia, please email: compassion@compassion.com.au.

About Compassion

Compassion is a Christian international holistic child development organisation. Through our Child Sponsorship Program, more than 1.8 million children are currently being released from poverty in Jesus’ name. With over six decades of experience, Compassion’s unique approach to solving poverty works: research proves it.

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 July 2018.

James 2:10-13 (NIV): Break one law and you’ve broken the lot[1]

Image result for clipart James 2 public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:10-13 (NIV),

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A. Introduction

How do we play favourites in church? So far in James 2 we have learned that some churches do it by being partial to the rich and snubbing the poor.

In my last message, you responded to my question: How do we play favourites in this church? Two of you from the floor of the congregation said:

6pointMetal-small Some do it by not talking to one another, and

6pointMetal-small Not being involved in evangelism

I gave you an example of how some churches in Australia, like Corrie ten Boom, have offered sanctuary to asylum seekers. Should we be doing this? Do you think the ten Boom family was wrong in hiding people from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2? Do you think it would be wrong to offer sanctuary in our churches to asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and are now on Manus Is., Nauru, and in Cambodia?

1. What was James’ first argument against favouritism?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

You favour the rich and reject the poor.

2. The core reason why we shouldn’t play favourites (2:8)

a. The crux: Love your neighbour as yourself

‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’.

This is God’s law of love of the unlovely, loving your neighbour with God’s kind of sacrificial love.

Now we examine the new verses (vv 10-13):

B. Commit one sin & you break all of the law (v 10).

The NIV reads, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’. Simon Kistemaker explains James’ hypothetical, conditional sentence like this: ‘If anyone of you tries to keep the entire law of God, but stumbles in regard to one of the commandments, he is guilty because the whole law condemns him’ (Kistemaker1986:81).

Surely that’s unfair! How can the God of truth, love and compassion be so biased? I’m not making a statement, but asking a question.

Let’s pause a moment to consider which law we are talking about.

1. To which law could James be referring?

Done in Love

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I preached on this in the last sermon on James 2:1-7. It is the ‘royal law’ (v. 8), but there is another dimension to this law in v. 12, ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV, NASB), or ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We’ll get to the meaning of ‘the law of liberty’ soon. The royal law is ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’. Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”’ (NIV).

If this were the law against drink-driving in Qld, it would not make sense to say that if we break that one law then we are guilty of breaking all of Qld laws, including stealing, murder, lying in court, etc.

Is that how it happens with Australian law? What makes a Queenslander a criminal? Does breaking one criminal law mean a person breaks the whole of the criminal law? That doesn’t make sense for me as a Queenslander.

Remember that this is a hypothetical example in James 2:10, ‘whoever keeps … and yet stumbles’.

Notice the first two verbs in this verse, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point….’

‘Keeps’ and ‘stumbles’ are Greek aorist tenses, which means they happened at a point in time, but that person ‘has become’ (perfect tense) ‘guilty of breaking all of it’ (NIV), ‘accountable for all of it’ (ESV). The perfect tense refers to something that has happened but the person continues to experience the result of what that person has done. So, here the person who stumbles at one point of the law continues to be guilty or accountable for all points of the law. The continuing, abiding result is that that person continues to be guilty.

Remember that James is writing to a Jewish Christian audience and he has already exposed how they favoured the rich and were against the poor. However, he is pointing to this Jewish law that Jesus exposed in Matt 23:23 (NIV),

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin [i.e. small, flavouring herbs].[2] But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former’.

2. Let’s look at some background information

In the time of James, the Jews distinguished between the more important and the less important laws. They considered that the law of the Sabbath was more important to observe than the one against swearing.

Some Jewish rabbis (not all of them) took the view that ‘in many matters a sin was not a sin, or, in small matters, that a law was not a law, and that even when it was a sin or a law a [person] could run a sort of credit and debit account with God, of good deeds and bad, and so need not try to do more than keep the balance right’ (Adamson 1976:117).

Two leading rabbis were Akiba and Hillel and they believed that ‘to wear phylacteries was to observe the whole Torah’. The Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Bible. That meant for these rabbis that sometimes a law of God was not a law (in Adamson 1976:117).

‘Phylacteries, sometimes called tefillin, are small, square leather boxes containing portions of Scripture worn by Conservative and Orthodox Jews during prayer services. Phylacteries are worn in pairs—one phylactery is strapped on the left arm, and one is strapped to the forehead of Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. The word phylactery comes from a Greek word meaning “safeguard, protection, or amulet”’.[3]

clip_image001

[A set of tefillin (phylacteries) includes the arm-tefillin (left) and the head-tefillin, courtesy Wikipedia]

 

James is looking at an extreme case where a person claims to keep the whole law of God but stumbles on one point. James is not putting up the case that this actually occurs because if we read James 3:2 (ESV), it states, ‘For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body’.

If a person were ever able to keep the whole law and yet stumble at one point, this one case of stumbling (of sinning) makes this person guilty of transgressing the law in all of its points.

If a stone strikes your car windscreen or house window at one point, the window is shattered. God’s royal law, the law of liberty, is a unit. We’ve discussed this previously; it’s the law of loving your neighbour as yourself. If you violate this law of love at one point, you violate love, the whole of it (Lenski 1966:572).

Yes, there are many commandments in God’s law, but if we transgress one of them, we have sinned against God’s law. The law of God is a unity.

On the human level, we know how this works. Penny has broken her ankle. Has it only affected her ankle? Of course not! She will experience pain and discomfort in other parts of her body because every part of the body is related to the whole. I know this from 5 open heart surgeries and what that means to my inability to walk far without getting out of breath. Running is off my agenda. I have to keep my blood at a certain level of thinness through the use of that horrible drug, warfarin. But it helps to keep me alive.

This also applies to the body of Christ, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it’ (1 Cor 12:26 NIV).

God created the law; he enforces it; through his law God’s will is put into effect.

James reminds us of the seriousness of sin. We tend to minimise it. James shows us the condemnation of the whole law, the depth to which we need God’s repentance. If we break one of God’s commandments, we sin against the whole law of God.

James explains further, with two examples:

C. Examples (v 11)

In James 2:11, James gives 2 examples from the 10 commandments,

Law for the Lawless

(image courtesy ChristArt)

1. ‘Do not commit adultery’, and

2. ‘Do not murder’.

These are straight from the 10 commandments in Exodus 20:13-14 and Deut 5:17-18, although here they are the opposite way around to the Hebrew. Here James probably follows the LXX.

We can tend to look on the 10 commandments as negative, ‘Thou shalt not….’, but there is a positive aspect to them: When we live within the boundaries of the rules God has set for healthy Christian living, we experience God’s freedom, the law of liberty. We learn this from Psalm 19:7-8 (NIV):

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes
.

Do you get it? To submit to God’s law, the royal law, the law of liberty, we are submitting to this set of laws:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The law of the Lord is perfect

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The precepts of the Lord are right

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes

 

So, are you an ill-informed evangelical Christian who submits blindly to the myths your parents told you?

Or, are you submitting to the royal law of perfection that is trustworthy, right, radiant and giving light to your eyes and worldview.

The secular world will not understand this light until their eyes are opened by the living God.

Why has James selected the commandments about adultery and murder? They are the first two of the 10 commandments that deal with how to treat one’s neighbour – the very topic James is addressing.

The logic is pretty simple: If a person keeps one commandment but breaks the other, he or she has …

3. Become a lawbreaker.

And God declares that person guilty.

In James 2:11-12, James presents an excellent summary of what he has been trying to say. It is like what he said in James 1:26-27 (NIV):

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

D. How to speak and act (v 12)

How should Christians speak and act? The Greek is ‘so speak and so act’. But, both ‘speak’ and ‘act’ are verbs that are both in the present tense. What does that mean? Continuous or continual action! This is speaking and action as a lifestyle. Keep speaking and keep doing!

We are to do this as people who will be….

1. Judged by the law that gives freedom (law of liberty)

I’m reminded of Heb 4:13 (NIV), ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’.

We are going to be judged according to ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV), ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We have already encountered this law in James 1:25 (NIV), ‘But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it–not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it–they will be blessed in what they do’.

Our conclusion there is the same as here. The law of liberty, or the law that gives freedom, is:

snowflake-light-green-small It promotes the paradox of the law of liberty. How can a horrible thing called law be a promoter of liberty or freedom? The law of the boundaries of a football field surely does not promote freedom when you have to stay inside those boundaries.

I love the way Alfred Plummer, an expositor from over a century ago, put this:

It is when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men [and women] either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men [and women] long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes “the law of liberty,” not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey.[4]

So, it’s the law of liberty because you want to obey God’s word. You have been set free by redemption in Christ so you desire to obey God’s law. The Scriptures are not burdensome. You love to obey God’s perfect law. Is it easy? Never! Try writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper in support of traditional marriage and family and you watch the tirade of negativity, even abuse. But I urge you to continue to do it.

2. I thought laws are meant to bring restrictions and not liberty.

A high view of the perfect law is at risk in March 2016. Only this week I read these comments in an article in the Brisbane Times (online), Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory (14 March 2016). This article was written by Hugh Harris. His points against religious instruction included:

golden foward button ‘Religious instruction [in public schools] is inherently discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘I was reassured by the state government Religious Instruction policy statement pledging to “respect the background and beliefs of all students” and not to promote “any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”’.

golden foward button ‘My son came home singing songs about Jesus, and exclaimed how “amazing” it was that “God created the whole world”’.

golden foward button ‘Colouring-in books with pictures of Jesus. Fill in the gaps – “Jesus ___ you”. So much for not promoting “any particular set of beliefs” in “preference to others”.

golden foward button ‘So we opted-out of the program. As a result I joined the Rationalist Society of Australia so I could campaign against religion’s pernicious influence’.

golden foward button ‘The Queensland RI program fails to “respect background and beliefs of all students” because it fails to offer non-belief. This is discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘Bible-thumpers not only proselytise kids, they organise outreach camps so our children can “meet God” and have “faith in Jesus”. It’s creepy.

golden foward button We need to put an end to the intolerable incursion of preaching in Queensland schools.

So, the Brisbane Times gave Hugh Harris, a member of the Rationalist Society of Australia, the opportunity to promote his Rationalist views. What does this society believe? Its website listed these beliefs:

It has a ‘10 Point Plan for a Secular Australia’ (The Rationalist Society of Australia):[5]

  1. A secular, pluralistic and democratic Australia
  2. Clear separation between religion and the State
  3. ‘One law for all’, with no recognition of parallel legal systems
  4. Religious organisations subject to the same laws as other organisations
  5. Children not to suffer because of the religious views of their parents
  6. Education to be strictly secular, not promoting any particular religion
  7. No discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, sexuality or gender identity
  8. Freedom of reproductive choice, with no religious interference
  9. Healthcare available to all regardless of the religious views of the provider
  10. Guaranteed control over one’s own body, free from religious interference, when facing the end of life.

I ask you: Why is the 10 point plan of the Rationalist Society of Australia not a prescription of the law of liberty, the law that brings freedom? The answer is hinted at in the first line. This society requires that Australia be,

snowflake-rosewood-small Secular (‘Not connected with religious or spiritual matters’. Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v secular). So God and Jesus are automatically excluded.

snowflake-rosewood-small Pluralistic (two or more sources of authority);

snowflake-rosewood-small Democratic (Democracy: ‘A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives’ – Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v democracy).

The biggest issue is that the Christian law of liberty comes through a heart change where a person is redeemed and accepts that ‘The law of the Lord is perfect’. That is not the law of the Rationalist Society of Australia that alleges it can bring liberation through a secular, pluralistic, democratic society.

James makes one final emphasis in this passage:

E. Judgement with or without mercy (v 13)

‘Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment’ (James 1:13 NIV). There will be

1. Judgement without mercy if you have not treated others with mercy

The last judgment will be horrific for those who have not shown mercy. Jesus could not have been more specific. This is what he said according to Matt 25:41-45 (NET Bible):

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’

This commentary on the James 2:10-13 passage is so obvious. We can’t miss it. This is especially so when we compare this treating others with mercy an the other alternative which Jesus also will state, according to Matt 7:22-23,

22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (NET Bible).

What is mercy? It is ‘pity for those in distress’. This is what Hosea 6:6 (NIV) taught, ‘For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings’ (also quoted by Jesus in Matt 9:13; Matt 12:7).

How does James 2:13 conclude?

 

2. Mercy triumphs over judgement

Where does that leave you and me? Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (Matt 5:17 NIV). In the OT, God spoke through Zechariah, the prophet (Zech 7:9 NIV): ‘This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another”’. The Jews didn’t listen and hardened their hearts.

Let’s tease out a few applications of mercy. Remember the definition of mercy is to ‘show pity to those in distress.’ Since Jesus said we are blessed if we show mercy and then we will be shown mercy by God, how can we in Brisbane in 2016 show mercy to those in distress? Let me get you started:

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of you are visiting with those from our church who can no longer come to church?

snowflake-greenglass-small I used to work for Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation ministry. Here in Qld, the TC website has plenty of opportunity for volunteers.[6] Could you show mercy by becoming involved? Australian Senator Jacqui Lambi’s son, Dylan, who was addicted to the illicit drug ice, has been to this Qld Teen Challenge drug rehab near Toowoomba.[7]

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of us could become involved in showing mercy to those in prison?

snowflake-greenglass-small What about churches providing sanctuary for asylum seekers?

snowflake-greenglass-small How could you show mercy to those in distress? Any further suggestions?

F. Conclusion

Mercy and Truth(image courtesy ChristArt)

 

What’s the conclusion we reach? Any person who refuses to show mercy to people will experience God’s justice – but without mercy. That’s what Scripture says.

You and I know that no human being can ever claim to receive God’s mercy by doing any kinds of acts of mercy. That would be works. We can’t earn God’s mercy, but it is granted by God when we seek it. Commentator on Edmond Hiebert, put it this way,

‘Mercy does not triumph at the expense of justice; the triumph of mercy is based on the atonement wrought at Calvary…. The practice of mercy toward others is the evidence that God’s grace has produced a transformation in a person. Having himself received God’s mercy, he will be able to stand in the judgment that otherwise would overwhelm him’ (Hiebert 1979:172).

To show favouritism violates God’s royal law, the law that gives freedom, the law of liberty. What ungodly favouritism are we showing in this church?

G.  Works consulted

Adamson, J B 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James. F F Bruce gen ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[8] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes


[1] This sermon was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, on Sunday PM service, 20 March 2016

[2] These 3 were ‘small flavouring herbs of which a family might grow a few…, the latter being like anise seed but larger and used to a greater extent’ (Lenski 1943:908). What is ‘anise seed’? ‘The humble anise plant is native to Middle-East and Mediterranean region; probably originated on the fertile plains of Nile delta in the Egypt.… Anise is a perennial herbal plant; generally, grows up to a height of about 2 feet. It bears white colored umbelliform flowers by July, and harvested by bringing down the whole plant once its seed-heads matured enough on the plant itself. Its seeds then separated from the flower heads by threshing. Anise seeds feature oblong or curved, comma shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown color and fine stripes over its outer surface. The seeds feature delicately sweet and aromatic bouquet with a distinctive liquorice flavor. Their special fragrance is due to essential oil, anethole in them’. Available at: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/anise-seed.html (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[3] ‘What are phylacteries?’ GotQuestions?org. Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/phylacteries.html (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[4] Plummer (1907:108).

[5] Available at: http://www.rationalist.com.au/10-point-plan-for-a-secular-australia/ (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[6] See: http://teenchallengeqld.org.au/how-to-help/volunteer/ (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[7] See, ‘Magistrate sends Jacqui Lambie’s son to rehabilitation program’. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), October 26, 2015. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/magistrate-sends-jacqui-lambies-son-to-rehabilitation-program-20151026-gkijlj.html (Accessed 16 March 2016). A more lengthy article is in the Courier-Mail of October 27, 2015 at: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/crime-and-justice/jacqui-lambies-son-ordered-to-attend-queensland-rehab-ccentre/news-story/269b5a399e909b56e242064ca1023503 (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[8] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

James 2:8-9 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 2[1]

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:8-13 (NIV):

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A.  Introduction

When I was attending Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, USA, in the early 1980s, one of my fellow students, Glen, told of how he visited this church in southern California a few times.

(Crystal Cathedral 2007, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

When he attended that church, there were ushers at the front door who escorted all people to their seats in various parts of the cathedral. You couldn’t sit where-ever you wanted. People were led to certain areas. When he inquired after the service, he was told that if men came in suits and ties, they went to a place wherever they could be caught on the TV cameras. That’s also where the women went who were nicely dressed with hair styled, all for the benefit of the TV cameras.

However, if you were a commoner, without a tie and not as swishy in dress as the others, you were ushered to a place elsewhere in the cathedral where you were out of site of the TV.

Why was this? Glen was told that those who were captured on the TV cameras that were telecast in Robert Schuller’s ‘Hour of Power’ TV programme were the well dressed. This is a picture of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, southern California. What happened there was an example of favouritism, partiality shown towards a certain class of people by that church – those who were visual to the TV cameras. Schuller wanted his TV show to convey a message to the well-dressed middle to upper class. There was discrimination against others.

Sadly, the Crystal Cathedral went into voluntary administration (it was broke) in 2010 with the court settlement with creditors in 2012.[2] It has now been purchased by the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County and is known as Christ Cathedral.[3] Schuller, a minister in the Reformed Church in America, died in April 2015 at the age of 88.[4]

My point is that here we had an example of partiality, favouritism, discrimination that was alive and well in the 20th century. I ask you to consider how the church in the 21st century could also show favouritism, partiality and discrimination which James condemns.

Could it be happening in this church? What would it look like here?

In my last message on James, I gave the

B. First argument against favouritism (vv 1-7)

1. What was that first argument?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

3d-gold-star-small God has chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith, but you have dishonoured the poor (2:6)

3d-gold-star-small Instead, you have paid special attention to those who are rich, but they are the ones who oppress you and drag you into court.

3d-gold-star-small So, you Christians, says James, have played favourites in church by judging by outward appearances.

That’s the first argument against favouritism: Do not discriminate, based on external circumstances.

Now we get to the second argument against partiality in the church.

C. Crux of the problem (v. 8)

Here’s the core reason why we should not play favourites or discriminate in the church (v. 8).

Look at a few translations of the beginning of v. 8:

designRed-small ‘If you really keep (NIV)

designRed-small ‘Yes indeed, it is good when you’ (NLT)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (ESV)

designRed-small ‘If, however, you are fulfilling’ (NASB)

designRed-small ‘If ye fulfil’ (KJV)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (NKJV)

designRed-smallNevertheless, you are doing the right thing’ (ISV)

designRed-smallIndeed, if you keep’ (HCSB)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfil’ (RSV)

designRed-small ‘You do well if you really fulfil’ (NRSV)

The KJV, even though the word is in the Textus Receptus, doesn’t translate it, possibly following Tyndale’s translation[5] which also left it out, but the earlier Wycliffe translation included it as, ‘Nevertheless if ye perform….’

What we have here at the beginning of verse 8 is the construction ei mentoi. Ei is a conjunction, meaning ‘if’, and it assumed that this statement in v. 8 is true,[6] ‘if you really keep the royal law found in Scripture’, which you will do.

Do that which is right by keeping the royal law in Scripture (v 8). The words I’ve underlined in those verses are probably the translation of the connective particle, mentoi. It’s called a connective because it is meant to connect back to the verses that have immediately preceded it. An old fashioned translation would be ‘howbeit’, which is an archaic word that means, ‘nevertheless, however’.[7]

The connection is with the first argument against favouritism by outward appearances. Mentoi appears 8 times in the NT (John 4:27; 7:13; 12:42; 20:5; 21:4; 2 Tim 2:19; James 2:8; Jude 8).[8] Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning in James 2:8 as ‘really, actually’ and in the NT is mostly adversative, i.e. in opposition to something.[9]

So if you really, actually do the right thing by dealing properly with the poor and rich, you are

D. Obeying the royal law (v. 8)

Verse 8 reads, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’ (NIV).

1. What is the ‘royal law’?

Notice what it does not say. Even though James is written to Christian Jews, it does not say, ‘If you really keep the Mosaic law found in Scripture’ The word ‘royal’ is an old adjective for royal or regal. It is based on the Greek word for king, basileus, like addressing an officer. The word is used in John 4:46, ‘Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum’ (NIV).

Commentators have had theological heartburn over why James would use the term ‘royal law’ as this is the only time the term appears in the NT. The reasons for using this term seem to boil down to three meanings that have been suggested by commentator Desmond Hiebert:

(a) Firstly, It describes ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’.[10] Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (NIV).

(b) Secondly, it is ‘fitted for kings and not slaves (cf. vv. 5, 12)’;

(c) Thirdly, ‘as given by the King’.[11]

The most common suggestion is the first one: The ‘royal law’ refers to the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of God. I’m supportive of that view as other Scriptures confirm it.

Now James gives a specific example of this ‘royal law’ and it points towards a prominent application:

a. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

We hear this so often in the church that it is easy to gloss over its practical application. It comes from Lev 19:18 in the Mosaic Law but it has now been endorsed by James for NT Christianity.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matt 22:36-40 (NIV)?

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Let’s pause for a moment to consider its application. This is where I think that many evangelicals waver on how to be relevant for today. I’m going to raise a controversial example.

On 4 February 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

clip_image004 Sanctuary: The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt. Photo: Glenn Hunt. Courtesy, The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Churches have taken the extraordinary step of offering sanctuary to asylum seekers facing deportation in the wake of a High Court verdict, raising the prospect of police raids on places of worship and possible charges for clergy.

This is a hugely significant action for any Australian church to take.

Ten Anglican churches and cathedrals have invoked the ancient Christian tradition to offer protection to the 267 people – including 37 babies – facing imminent transfer to Nauru after the court on Wednesday [3 Feb 16] upheld the legality of the government’s offshore processing regime.

The movement is being led by the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt, who has declared his St John’s Anglican Cathedral a place of sanctuary.

Dr Catt said if any asylum seekers sought sanctuary in his church he would do his best to keep the authorities out. He said he fully accepts that he and other clergy could be charged with obstruction and potentially even face possible jail time.

“We are aware it’s a high-risk strategy,” he told the ABC.

Dr Catt called it an extraordinary step that would attract the attention of church communities around the world.

The sanctuary principle has its roots in the Old Testament and was once enshrined in English common law but its legality has never been tested in Australia (Adam Gartrell, SMH, ‘Churches become potential flashpoint after offering sanctuary to asylum seekers in wake of High Court verdict’, Feb 4, 2016).

Is this an example of how the church can demonstrate the royal law in action, by showing impartiality, love in action through sanctuary, loving asylum seekers as themselves – especially when we know some of them are escaping persecution and end up on Manus Island and Nauru, which have been described as having conditions that are a ‘weeping sore’ of detention.[12]

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 2015,

Liberal MP, Russell Broadbent has implored Mr Turnbull to act, in the first instance by removing children from Nauru. Mr Broadbent is the last MP from the group of Liberals who forced John Howard to soften his border protection policies in 2006.

“You know what happens to a weeping sore if you don’t deal with it. It becomes a raging ulcer,” he told Fairfax Media.

In The Brisbane Times, 7 February 2016, there is an article with the headline, ‘Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia’. It states:

Queensland will join Victoria and New South Wales in calling for the federal government to stop asylum seeker children and their families being sent back to immigration detention centres (Cooper 2016).

What will we do to address this crying current need?

Where are the genuine Christians who are demonstrating the royal law of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in this very contemporary situation? Should it be hands off? Or, is it: How dare you mention this example in an evangelical church? I’m raising this issue that has practical consequences for those of us who want to obey the royal law.

Do you remember this lady?

clip_image005

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

What did Corrie ten Boom and her family do during World War 2?

The Ten Boom family were devoted Christians [in Holland] who dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man. Their home was always an “open house” for anyone in need. Through the decades the Ten Booms were very active in social work in Haarlem, and their faith inspired them to serve the religious community and society at large.

During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms’ way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.

During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch underground.  Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another “safe house” could be located for them. Corrie became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem underground. Corrie and “the Beje [pron. bay-yay] group” would search for courageous Dutch families who would take in refugees, and much of Corrie’s time was spent caring for these people once they were in hiding. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers (Corrie ten Boon House Foundation: History).

clip_image007

(This is a drawing of the Ten Boom family home, Barteljorisstraat 19, Haarlem, Holland)

Would you do that today? Should we be doing it for the asylum seekers? I raise it as a point for discussion.

However, there is a restriction on the meaning of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in v. 8. What’s that restriction? It’s found in the parsing of ‘love’ in ‘love your neighbour’. ‘Love’ is future tense but used like a command, ‘You shall love’. In this verse, the verb love is in the singular (one person) future tense. It is referring to a single person and not to a plural group of people. So, love your neighbour as yourself is not referring to a group of Christians or churches doing it, but to a single believer loving his or her neighbour as himself or herself.

This kind of love is intelligent, sacrificial love with a purpose where you will voluntarily seek the welfare of your neighbour, just as you would look after yourself. This standard is impossible to achieve without the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling you. Remember what Jesus said?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Here ‘Love one another’ has ‘love’ as a plural verb. It’s obvious: Christian brothers and sisters, love one another in this group with a sacrificial love. How is that possible when we don’t like some people? The command is still to sacrificially love them (plural).

One warning before I move on: Too often it has been the liberal church that has lost the Gospel, denigrates the authority of Scripture, that takes this royal law and claims that this is Christianity in action. Yes, it is Christianity in action, but it must not be separated from the Gospel of grace through Christ alone that the evangelical church proclaims. We must not fall for the Gospel-less liberal Christianity that only wants to see the love of God in action – but without the wrath of God associated with Gospel proclamation.

Now to verse 9:

E. If you show favouritism (v 9)

Verse 9, ‘ But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers’. That little particle, de, translated as, ‘but’, shows the sharp contrast James has just given. He has said, ‘Love your neighbour’, but now the contrast: If you don’t love your neighbour but show favouritism – you discriminate – what is the outcome?

The NIV translates the verb as ‘show favoritism’; ‘show partiality’ (ESV, NASB, NKJV); ‘you favor some people over others’ (NLT). The NLT is an excellent translation for everyday language. It’s a compound verb[13] that is found only this one time in the NT. This is what I love about the Greek NT. The verbs give much more precise information than English. It’s second person plural, so there is a group of these people favouring some people over others, but the verb is in the present tense. So it refers to continuous or continual action. This is not something that happened as a once off or occasional; it continued to happen.[14]

It means if you as a group deliberately have respect of persons. It is not an unfortunate action that you occasionally do. It is something that you deliberately practice – partiality, favouritism, and discrimination.[15]

The ‘if’ clause[16] recognises that there is a definite possibility of Christians violating the law of love. James said that if we are demonstrating acts of partiality which are not only incompatible with the royal law of love, then something terrible happens in the Christian community. This is very straight forward. If you do this,

1. You sin

That’s the NIV translation. The ESV translates as ‘you are committing sin’. The literal translation would be ‘you (plural) are working sin’. Again it’s the present tense, so this group of people who are continuing to deliberately disrespect people are continuing to sin.

Remember what God said about partiality in the OT, according to Lev 19:15, ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly’ (NIV).

What’s the solution for sin, deliberate sin that is continuing in the congregation where there is favouritism by way of discrimination? The one and only solution is repentance and forgiveness. But don’t gloss over this as though it doesn’t mean much. When this kind of continuing sin is in the camp of Christians, what happens?

2. You are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

These Jewish Christians were treating this favouritism as something that was ‘a trifling fault’.[17] No! No! says James. Present tense again. You (plural) are being convicted continually as transgressors (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:248).

Which law were they breaking? Not once or now and then, but continually. Which law have they transgressed?

It’s the royal law, the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of action for the believer. This is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. If you have continually broken this law, you are continually convicted as lawbreakers.

What’s the solution? Repentance and seeking forgiveness of the ones violated.

Let’s pause for some applications: How could continually breaking the royal law be taking place in this congregation? What could be some examples? I’ll wait for your responses:

Only 2 answers were given from the congregation:

coil-gold-sm Not sharing the Gospel;

coil-gold-sm Ignoring people, not including them in conversation.

coil-gold-sm I don’t think we have any problem with the way people dress; the Crystal Cathedral’s partiality is not happening here as I see it. There’s no discrimination in how you dress. What would happen if a bikie arrived dressed in his club’s gear?

clip_image009

(http torturedforchrist.com/)

‘Pastor Wurmbrand resisted the communists’ control of the church [in Romania] and went underground’. He founded Voice of the Martyrs.

flamin-arrow-small What about joining with other churches around the nation for churches to become sanctuaries for asylum seekers? Or do we think too highly of the Aust. Government law to step outside of that protection? Remember the example of Corrie ten Boom and Richard Wurmbrand.

flamin-arrow-small What about people in churches who are not talking with others; conversation with them is avoided?

flamin-arrow-small Do we show partiality to some people who have certain beliefs? [e.g. Eschatology, aspects of salvation, creation]

flamin-arrow-small I’m raising some possibilities. It may not be happening here, but it could be.

Next sermon, I’ll continue this series in James, ‘Faith & Playing Favourites, Part 3’, in verses 10-13:

pink-arow-small How can we stumble at one point of the royal law and be guilty of breaking all of the law? Sounds strange by Aussie standards.

pink-arow-small Christians are going to be judged by the ‘law of liberty’ or the ‘law that gives freedom’. How is it possible to have a law; law means having boundaries, yet this law is one of liberty. Sounds like strange logic for the natural person. We’ll unpack that next time.

F. Conclusion

This example deeply moved me when I read it. It’s a practical illustration of ‘faith and playing favourites’. It was told by

HomeBernie May, who served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and was formerly executive director of Wycliffe’s Jungle Aviation and Radio Services (called JAARS). He had been a missionary pilot for over twenty-five years. On one occasion a large church invited him to be a special guest so they could present an airplane as a gift to JAARS. “It was a Bible-believing church,” Bernie relates, “filled with scrubbed-faced fundamentalists – the kind I like to be around. I was the main speaker for the Sunday morning service – a real VIP.”

His story continues. “During Sunday School a friend introduced me to a beautiful black woman, who was visiting the church for the first time, because she learned I was to speak. I immediately recognized her, although we had never met. She was Josephine Makil, a Wycliffe translator home on furlough from Vietnam.

“Some months before, she and her family had been ambushed on a lonely Vietnam road. She and three of her children had watched in horror as her husband and the fourth child he was holding in his arms were murdered in cold blood. She is one of God’s special people.

“That morning, before I spoke, I introduced Josephine asking her and the children to stand. She gave a brief but powerful testimony, closing by saying, ‘I can testify that God’s ways are perfect and His grace is sufficient.’

“The words burned deep in my heart,” Bernie stated. “I wanted to remove my shoes, so hallowed was the ground as I stood beside her. It took me long moments before I could speak. I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat.

“After the service the people flocked around me shaking my hand and patting my back. During the adulation I happened to look to one side. There stood Josephine and the children. Alone. In fact, the people were deliberately avoiding her. She was black.

“I could hardly restrain my anger,” Bernie states. “I wanted to rush through that magnificent building, overturning the pews and shouting, ‘Keep you money. Keep your handshakes. Keep your airplane. It goes up as a stench before God.’

“But,” said Bernie, “I didn’t. Perhaps I was too much the coward. I did break from the group and go to Josephine. We chatted, but she said nothing about her rejection. She reacted to those church people the same way she reacted to those who murdered her husband – with love and forgiveness.

“These people found it strange that God could use a black person like Josephine. I, in turn, found it strange that God would use people like those in that church; yet their gift has been a blessing to the kingdom.

“But then, I’m sure some folks find it strange that God would use a fellow like me.

“Josephine is right. Love is the only way to react. For all our sakes, we must leave judgment to God”.[18]

Josephine’s obituary began:

MAKIL, JOSEPHINE YVONNE JOHNSON went home to be with the Lord on Friday, April 25, 2003. Born May 7, 1932, to Orville and Alberta Johnson of La Junta, Colorado, Josephine had a wonderful childhood-enjoyed her parents and five brothers, attending La Junta public schools, playing the piano, and her church family-the Mt. Zion Baptist Church  (Josephine Yvonne Johnson Makil, the Dallas Morning News, Obituaries, April 30 2003).

G.  Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[19] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Cooper, N 2016. Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia. Brisbane Times, 7 February. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/queensland-to-join-call-for-asylum-seeker-children-to-stay-in-australia-20160207-gmnsal.html (Accessed 7 February 2016).

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes


[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 21 February 2016.

[2] See ‘Crystal Cathedral: Schullers lose in court’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2012. Available at: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/creditors-378830-cathedral-claims.html (Accessed 4 February 2016). The Roman Catholic ‘Diocese of Orange escrow closed on the $57.5 million court-ordered sale during the Protestant ministry’s bankruptcy proceedings’ and it will now be known as Christ Cathedral (see: ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/church-357293-name-cathedral.html, accessed 7 February 2016).

[3] See ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/church-357293-name-cathedral.html (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[4] Reformed Church in America 2015. ‘Robert H. Schuller dies’ (online), April 2. Available at: https://www.rca.org/news/robert-h-schuller-dies (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[5] Hiebert (1979:162, n 55) wrote: ‘The King James Version, following the lead of Tyndale, left the particle untranslated, apparently regarding it simply as the equivalent of men to balance the de in verse 9’.

[6] It’s a first class condition with the present, active, indicative of the verb (Robertson 1933:31).

[7] Oxford dictionaries (2016. S v Howbeit).

[8] Hiebert (1979:162).

[9] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:504).

[10] Hiebert (1979:163).

[11] These 3 suggestions are in Hiebert (1979:163).

[12] ‘Malcolm Turnbull urged to fix “weeping sore” of Manus, Nauru asylum seeker detention’ (Michael Gordon, SMH, September 25, 2015. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-urged-to-fix-weeping-sore-of-manus-nauru-asylum-seeker-detention-20150925-gjv14a.html. Accessed 5 January 2016).

[13] Pros?pol?mpteite .

[14] Hiebert (1979:165) alerted me to this.

[15] Hiebert (1979:165).

[16] It’s a ‘condition of first class by contrast with that in verse 8’ (Robertson 1933:31). In James 2:8, ‘the particle ?? introduces a simple fact condition that depicts reality’ (Kistemaker 1986:83).

[17] ‘Trifling fault’ was the language of Robertson (1933:31).

[18] Bernie May (1979:41-42). I was alerted to this quote in Getz (1984:15-16).

[19] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

James 2:1-7 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 1[1]

Image result for clip art favorites public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting [synagogue] wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:1-7 NIV).

A. Introduction

clip_image002(photo courtesy Chicago Now)[2]

Have you been following the recent story from Wheaton College, an evangelical college near Chicago, where one of its political science lecturers has been threatened with the sack because …

‘Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God’.

In trouble … Dr Larycia Hawkins faces termination from her job. This news has even reached Australia. I read this information from news.com.au, Reuters News Corp Australia Network, January 6, 2016

A POLITICAL science professor is being fired after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university outside Chicago, says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins, who wrote on the social media site on December 10 that she was donning the hijab headscarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said “we worship the same God.”

Hawkins was placed on administrative leave after the comment drew criticism, and on Tuesday the school said in a statement Wheaton’s provost had delivered a notice to President Philip Ryken recommending her employment be terminated.[3]

Isn’t that discrimination against Dr Hawkins? Isn’t that an example of Wheaton College showing favouritism towards Christians and not towards Muslims? Is this a practical, contemporary example of the kind of issue that was addressed in James 2 of ‘faith and playing favourites in church’?

Buckle up as we examine James 2:1-7 and James’ challenge on partiality, favouritism and discrimination.

B. Christians must stop doing it

Some of your translations in v. 1 will read,

murky-arrow-small ‘show no partiality’ (ESV; NAB; NKJV);[4]

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show prejudice’ (NET);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show favoritism’ (HCSB);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’ (NKJV).

In the Greek language, the verb is a present tense imperative with the negative, m?. It is used for ‘forbidding a practice already in progress’.[5] Those who received this letter from James were already doing this. They were showing favouritism or prejudice towards certain people and they were told to stop doing it. We’ll learn in verse 6 what this partiality was.

1. Remember the background of James 2.

It is in James 1:19-27 (NIV):

snowflake-red-small ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (v 19);

snowflake-red-small ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves’ (v 22);

snowflake-red-small If you consider yourself religious, ‘keep a tight rein on their tongues’ (v 26);

snowflake-red-small What is pure religion that is faultless? ‘Look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (v 27).

What causes this difference from worldly thinking? What brings about this other centredness to care for orphans and widows? We get the answer in James 2:1

2. It’s the Jesus’ difference!

It’s too easy to say this phrase quickly, ‘glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (NIV). Your translation could say something like, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory’ (ESV). The biblical emphasis is that he is

(a) Lord – kurios is used 14 times in this epistle.[6] For a Jewish audience, it had the implication that Jesus is God – deity. In the Greek OT (LXX), kurios translated Yahweh, the name for God that speaks of his sovereignty.[7]

(b) Jesus – Jesous is his human name given to him at his birth and it speaks of his saving work in his incarnation. Matt 1:21 indicates this, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (ESV). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua that means ‘salvation’. In the name and person of Jesus, we have all that is represented in the gospel story.[8]

(c) Christ – Christos is the Greek for the Hebrew, ‘Messiah’ (see Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26), meaning ‘the anointed one’. For these Jewish readers of James, when the term Christos was placed with Jesus, it meant that he fulfilled OT prophecies.[9]

So Lord Jesus Christ refers to the one who is sovereign saviour of salvation, the fulfiller of OT prophecies.

He is the one who is spoken of in Col 1:27 (ESV), ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. However, we must remember that in this verse, ‘you’ is plural so Paul is saying to the Colossians and to all Christians that when Christ in the Christian community, the church, he is the hope of glory. When the Lord Jesus Christ dwells among us, he makes a radical difference in our behaviour.

What difference?

3. You must quit showing favouritism in the church gathering.

It doesn’t matter whether you were a newly converted Jew in the first century or in a church today in Somalia, India, Russia, France, UK, Chile, or here at 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie. You will face this same challenge to play favourites with some and to ignore others who come into this church gathering. James now gives …

C. Two hypotheticals (vv 2-3)

‘Suppose a man comes into your meeting’. The noun for ‘meeting’ is sunag?g?. What does that sound like? Synagogue! It could be that these Jewish Christians were still meeting in a Jewish synagogue but it could mean that after leaving the synagogue these Christians were still using the word, sunag?g?, to indicate their church meeting place.

James gives an example of two men who come to a church gathering and look what happens:

1. You suck up to the rich (v 2)

Image result for the rich public domainWhy? He’s ‘wearing a gold ring and fine clothes’. The Greek word for ‘fine’ is lampra which was often used in the first century to ‘describe the clothing of a rich person or a dignitary. In the Roman world it was the toga [an official robe] of a candidate of public office’.[10]

What do we do with this man? We show him ‘special attention’ and refer him to ‘a good seat’. Where is that in this building? Does he get a cushioned seat? In Derbyshire, UK, in the 1630s, there are Derbyshire Record Office entries that tell of wealthier, male householders who had ‘pews in the high status area near the pulpit’ and there were ‘common & vulgar seats’ for the common folks (Wood 2013:214).

Then there is the contrast in v. 3:

2. You belittle the poor (v 3)

‘A poor man in filthy old clothes comes in’. ‘Filthy’, rhypara, means shabby and is often associated with someone who is dirty and grubby. Today we’d call him a tramp or hobo.

Four Pink Towels In PovertyWhat did these people say to this grubby man who entered their church meeting? The NLT rightly translates this: ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’. He is treated as worthless scum.

What have these Christians done with both the rich man and the bloke in filthy clothing? They have judged by outward appearance.

The Scriptures could not be more forthright in the assessment. For those who do this:

 

D. Bigotry God condemns (v 4)

Notice how the text puts this in question form in v 4:

1. This is terribly wrong behaviour

Here’s the question: Have you not discriminated? It comes with the negative particle in Greek, ou, and James expects his readers to agree with him. Yes, we have discriminated.

The examples in vv 2-3 demonstrate that there was unjustified discrimination – favouritism. What you have done is terribly, terribly wrong because …

2. You have become judges with evil thoughts (v 4).

There’s an interesting play on words in the original language in v. 4. The word used for ‘discriminated’ (diekrith?te) is built on the same root as the word for ‘judges’ (kritai). Donald Burdick has conveyed this play on words well: ‘In so judging between men, the readers had become unjust judges’ (Burdick 1981:178).

(a) Do we get it?

(b) In so judging, you promote injustice because you are unjust judges.

If people come into this church and one looks lavish and you show him special favours and the other scruffy bum comes in and you show him where to go, you have committed injustice through your evil thoughts which led to evil actions.

James would not be including this example in his epistle if it was impossible to commit this discrimination in the 21st century. We are as vulnerable as the Jewish Christians in the first century.

Now James gives

E. Argument against favouritism (vv. 5-7)

The next example is in the next sermon. We should be convinced already that showing favouritism towards anyone coming into the church is wrong, discriminates against them, and Christians are guilty of judging unjustly. But James is not finished with driving the point home. He does it through two main arguments. I’ll deal with one of them tonight and the second argument in the next sermon.

The first argument against favouritism concerns what we Christians have done. Look how v. 5 begins, ‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters’. It’s the imperative – a command. Some of your translations may have only ‘brothers/brethren’ (like ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV) but whenever the Greek adelphoi is addressed to a mixed audience (like a church group in James), it means both males and females, so it refers to brothers and sisters in Christ.[11]

1. We have distorted God’s view of the poor (v 5)

The early church did not come from the realm of the high and mighty. It came largely from the poor; there were exceptions. Look at v. 5, ‘Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?’ The expected answer is, Yes. God chose ‘the poor in this world’.

We know this from verses such as Matt 11:5 (NIV) where it is recorded that Jesus said, ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’.

This is implied in what Paul said to the Corinthians:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:26-29 NIV)

Image result for the poor AfricaThese people are poor ‘in the eyes of the world’ but they are really rich. They are ‘rich in faith’ and their destiny is ‘to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him’ (James 2:6). The inheritance of the kingdom is yet to come. Aren’t you looking forward to that day?

But what do Christians do to the poor? Verse 6:

(a) We have degraded the poor (v 6)

We can screw up what James says about the poor if we have a superficial evaluation. James does not say that all poor people have a rich faith. Also, he doesn’t say that that because you are rich, you are disqualified from receiving salvation. God’s choice of the rich or the poor is not based in any merit because they are poor or disqualification because they are rich. We come before God on an equal footing. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour.

(b) Why does God choose the poor?

We find 2 reasons in Scripture:

(1) One reason is given in the story of the rich young ruler

Mark 10:23-25 states,

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (NIV).

Their dollars and riches stand in the way of entering God’s kingdom.

It is only those who recognise they are spiritually bankrupt before God, will be blessed. Again, Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5:3 NIV).

(2) Second reason why God chooses the poor

According to 1 Cor 1:29, God chooses the poor ‘so that no one may boast before him’. God chooses the poor, as he has stated, because they have nothing and have nothing within themselves to brag before God.

What a contrast between how God was choosing the poor and why he does it, and how James readers were treating the poor and shabby. James 1:6 says that his readers ‘have dishonoured the poor’.

But there’s a contrast that we see with the rich according to James 1:6

2. What were the rich doing to their Christian witness?

James answers with 3 piercing questions in vv 6-7.

(a) Aren’t they exploiting you?

The word for ‘exploit’ is very strong in the Greek language. Katadynasteuw. It describes ‘the brutal and tyrannical deprivation of one’s rights’. We see it in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) in passages such as

flamin-arrow-small Ezek 22:29, ‘The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress [katadynasteu?] the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice’ (NIV).

flamin-arrow-small Zech 7:10, ‘Do not oppress [katadynasteu?] the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ (NIV).

(b) Aren’t they ‘dragging you into court?’ (v 6)

Yes, ‘drag’, helkw, can mean ‘to draw and attract’, as in John 6:44, but in other places it can mean ‘the act of forcibly dragging a person’. We see that meaning in Acts 16:19, ‘When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities’. We see it meaning that kind of dragging also in Acts 21:30, ‘The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut’ (NIV). That’s no gentle drawing of attracting. It’s giving the meaning of forcibly dragging the person.

That’s what they were doing with the poor. The rich were dragging them into court.

But the rich were doing more:

(c) Aren’t they ‘blaspheming the noble name’ of Christ (v 7)?

When I read this question in James 2:7, it reminded me of the language, plastered across the mass media many times, from the late Kerry Packer.

Some of you are old enough to remember the story of what happened to him.

On 6 October 1990, Australia’s richest man, the late media mogul Kerry Packer, was playing polo at Sydney’s Warwick Farm racecourse when he suffered a massive heart attack. His heart stopped for eight minutes, but he was revived by an ambulance crew using a defibrillator (which produces an electric shock to restart the heart’s normal rhythm).[12]

Other reports said ‘he was clinically dead for six minutes before being revived by ambulance officers’ (Zinn 2005).

However, it is what he often said between his encounter with death in 1990 and his final death in 2005 that demonstrated how this richest of rich man could use foul language about what happens at death.

He repeated over and over for the media to grab their one-liners. He told his interviewer friend, Phillip Adams: ‘I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, [blankety blank][13] there’s nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you [blankety blank] like’.[14]

That’s just one example of how the rich blaspheme God and the afterlife. It is recorded in Scripture that ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement’ (Heb 9:27 ESV).

I’m backing Scripture over Kerry Packer. As James warned us about the rich, ‘They are blaspheming the noble name’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

F. Dangerous favouritism

What would you say after listening to the message I’ve preached tonight? (wait for an answer before giving the following. What’s the danger of playing favouritism in church?

1. It destroys our witness (v 1).

2. Outward appearance is a shocking way to judge spiritual intent (vv 2-3).

3. God’s love is of all people, but the poor respond to his offer more readily (v 5).

4. The rich have been known to blaspheme God (v 7).

5. Next sermon: The crux of the matter is to do what is right through practising the royal law. And it has nothing to do with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles.

G. Conclusion

I began this message with the illustration of Dr Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science at Wheaton College, Illinois, who is being threatened with the sack because of her statement on Facebook that ‘we worship the same God’, i.e. her claim is that Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

Secularists will see it as discrimination, but from the information available to me, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, wants to be faithful to its heritage and statement of faith.

On the Wheaton website, ‘Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose’, it states:

The doctrinal statement of Wheaton College, reaffirmed annually by its Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, provides a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity….

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life….

WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.[15]

However, what is Islam’s view of God and Jesus? I will be very brief:

1. Allah: Is he the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Bible?

Quran 112:1-4 (Yusuf Ali translation) succinctly gives the Muslim understanding of Allah’s nature:

1. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

2. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

3. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

4. And there is none like unto Him.

2. Curse on those who call Christ, the son of Allah

Quran 9:30 states: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’

In summary:

gold foward button Allah is Unitarian and not Trinitarian;

gold foward button Allah does not beget a son.

Therefore, the God of Christianity is not the same as the God of Islam.

What Wheaton College is doing is dealing with a faculty member who denies a part of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. Wheaton, in wanting to be faithful to Scripture and its Statement of Faith, is taking action to sever the professor’s employment as her view is not consistent with being an evangelical Christian faculty member at Wheaton.

It is showing that the Wheaton College action is not practising partiality or discrimination but is dealing with a faculty member who has moved away from the standards of Wheaton as affirmed in its Statement of Faith. It is being obedient to its godly vision.

[See Appendix for final decision reached by Wheaton College regarding staff member, Dr Larycia Hawkins.]

Appendix

The Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2016, reported on what seems to be the final outcome of this situation:

A tenured professor at Wheaton College [Dr Larycia Hawkins] suspended for saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has reached an agreement with the west suburban evangelical school to end her employment there, while the administrator who called for her termination has apologized for acting in haste.

Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones told professors in an email Saturday night that he had turned over the decision of whether to vacate the administrative leave of their colleague, Larycia Hawkins, to college President Philip Ryken. But two hours later, faculty received another email from Ryken, informing them that Hawkins would not return to teach.

“The administration and Dr. Hawkins have come to a place of resolution and reconciliation,” Ryken wrote. “With a mutual desire for God’s blessing, we have decided to part ways.”

Ryken invited faculty to a private worship service at Edman Memorial Chapel Tuesday night and a reception, where Hawkins will say goodbye.

“This is a time for prayer, lament, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ryken said.

The settlement agreement appears to bring to a close a drama that began in December when Hawkins announced on Facebook that she would don a hijab as part of her Advent devotion to show support for Muslims who had been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself in a hijab. “And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God.”

Within days, the college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave through the spring semester, pending a review.[16]

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[17] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Burdick, D W 1981. James, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 12, 159-205. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kelly, W J 2015. Wheaton College must fire Larycia Hawkins. Chicago Now (online), 17 December. Available at: http://www.chicagonow.com/kelly-truth-squad/2015/12/wheaton-college-must-fire-larycia-hawkins/ (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Pashman, M B 2016. Wheaton College reverses efforts to fire professor, but she won’t return to teach. The Chicago Tribune (online), 6 February. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-firing-reversal-20160206-story.html (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs About the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Wood, A 2013. The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England.. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Zinn, C 2005. Kerry Packer: Australian media tycoon who built on his family fortune and transformed world cricket. The Guardian, 28 December. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/dec/28/guardianobituaries.cricket (Accessed 9 January 2016).

Notes


[1] This message was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 17 January 2016

[2] Kelly (2015).

[3] Reuters New Corp Australia Network 2016. Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God (online), 6 January. Available at: http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/wheaton-college-says-it-is-taking-steps-to-fire-dr-larycia-hawkins-for-her-views-on-islam-and-god/news-story/1a040e7641fc2a6e493d73158c8b06da (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[4] The NKJV reads, ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’.

[5] Burdick (1981:177).

[6] They are 1:1, 7, 12; 2;1; 4:10, 15; 5:4, 7, 8, 10, 11 twice, 14, 15 (Hiebert 1979:62).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 178.

[11] See Arndt & Gingrich (1957:15-16); Thayer (1885/1962:11).

[12] ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’, Oxford University Press 2015. Available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[13] He said, ‘Fucking’.

[14] Cited in Rowe ( :205)

[15] Available at: http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[16] Pashman (2016).

[17] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 September 2017.

Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

https://i0.wp.com/veritas.kr/files/fckeditor/image/kimhubyoung/africa_2013.jpg?w=625

(photo courtesy veritas.kr)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has brought many positive dimensions into the church, one of the chief being the teaching on every-member gifts to the church gathering or small groups. See my articles that deal with some of these issues:

clip_image001 Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

clip_image001[1] Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

clip_image001[2] Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

clip_image001[3] Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

clip_image001[4] St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

However, there is….

1. A BIG negative of Pentecostalism

One of the most devastating influences on the church from Pentecostal-charismatic theology has been the subjectivism and esoteric knowledge that has replaced sound interpretation of the biblical text and solid exposition of Scripture. I encounter it in a growth group led by a Pentecostal and in posts on the Internet. Let’s examine a few examples from Christian forums on the Internet.

I came across a group of Christians who wanted to use types and shadows from the OT to present their subjective opinions of the meaning of these types and shadows. I began this thread,

2. Old Testament types and shadows need New Testament support[1]

Trees With Late Afternoon Shadows(photo courtesy publicdomainpictures.net)

 

A person claimed that these OT words were direct references to Christ and not types or shadows? The words to which he referred were LORD (YHWH), LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), God (Elohim) and Almighty (El Shaddai).[2]

Is it true that we need to go beneath the surface of a word or statement to gain a true understanding of the meaning? Is Noah’s Ark a type of Christ? See 1 Peter 3:20-22 (NIV).

I raised some biblical examples of types from the OT that are affirmed as types in the NT:

clip_image003 John 5:45-46 (NIV), ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me’.

clip_image003[1] Rom 5:14 (NIV), ‘Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern [tupos = type] of the one to come’.

clip_image003[2] In I Corinthians 10:11 (NIV) Paul spoke of the OT patriarchs, ‘These things happened to them as examples [tupikos = typically] and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come’.

clip_image003[3] Colossians 2:17 (NIV) ‘These [laws] are a shadow [skia] of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’.

clip_image003[4] Heb 10:1 (NIV), ‘The law is only a shadow [skia] of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’.

We are told in 1 Cor 10:4 (ESV) that ‘all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, the Rock was Christ’. To which rock is Paul referring in the OT? We know that there are two Meribah incidents involving the rock (e.g. Ex 17:6-7 ESV; Num 20:10-13 ESV) that were about 40 years apart. The first one was at Horeb, Mt Sinai, which was near the start of their wandering in the wilderness. The last one happened at Kadesh which was as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (ESV) confirm Jesus as the Rock and the 1 Peter 2:6-8 example cites various passages from the OT to lend support for the statements. In 1 Cor 10:1-7a (ESV), Paul tells us:

For I want you to know, brothers [and sisters] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were….

The issue I am raising is: Do Christians have the right to create their own understanding of what is a type or shadow from the OT that is fulfilled in the NT or do we need the NT’s confirmation that it is a type or shadow? To me, the latter seems to be the biblical means of identification.

How can we confirm that YHWH, Yahweh Elohim, Elohim, and El Shaddai are references to Christ in reality and not in type or shadow? What’s the biblical evidence?

3. New Testament confirmation needed of types

What kinds of responses do you think the above statement would engender?

clip_image005’I agree there must be relevance to Jesus in the names used, but we read in 1 Cor 10:11, Now all these things (Judgments?) happened unto them for ensamples (analogies): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As a type or description of Jesus I read the word “Image,” and that being other than spirit we read of in Col 1:15.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God, the Holy One of Israel (Jesus?), thy Saviour (Jesus?).
Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD (Jehovah); and beside me there is no savior (Jesus)?
In power Jesus is described as the almighty in Rev 1:8 during His reign.
He is the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:45.
Other OT references are in Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.[3]

My response was:[4] Apart from 1 Cor 10 (ESV), I don’t think you are giving examples of types or shadows in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, as demonstrated by NT statements.

In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows. My question is: Is it legitimate for Christians to make up, create, decide their own opinion on what is a type or shadow of Christ or some other theology – without the NT confirming that such is a type or shadow?

I’m not discussing the fulfilment of OT prophecy as in the example you gave from Isa 9:6 (ESV), which is fulfilled according to Luke 2:11 (ESV). My discussion is about types and shadows that Christians want to push from the OT, but with no confirmation of such in the NT.

Eugene’s response was: ‘Can you give an example? I may also be guilty of that, although I don’t always attempt to prove the OT with proof from the NT’.[5]

3.1 Example of New Testament application

There are at least 4 different interpretations of 1 Cor 10:3,[6] ‘And did all eat the same spiritual meat’. This is not the place to discuss these. They are articulated by Charles Hodge in A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 172-174. See HERE.

We see Israel’s example in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV) and that example applied by giving a warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-13 NIV).

In vv 1-5, it is a powerful type with the language of ‘our fathers’ and their form of ‘baptism’ and the ‘Eucharist’. It prefigured our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
What was the purpose of the type given from the OT and articulated in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV)? It continues with some of the events in Exodus to warn the Corinthians (vv 6, 11-12). These Corinthians enjoyed blessings like those of Israel but the Corinthians were in danger of losing those blessings because of their idolatry: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters….’ (1 Cor 10:6-7a NIV).

These things in Exodus happened to be ‘examples’ to the Corinthians ‘so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ (1 Cor 10:12 NIV).

That’s my understanding of this type. But it is important to realise that it is only a type or shadow because it is specifically mentioned as such in the NT. We are not left to speculate that types and shadows are on nearly every page of the OT. That isn’t true.

Yes, there are types and shadows that are mentioned in the NT that draw attention to examples from the OT, but the NT has to mention them as examples to make them types.

3.2 You limit us too much. Be free to encounter Jesus in other ways

clip_image005[1]This one came out of left field, but it demonstrates the spiritual subjectivism of some people. I don’t know if this person has any Pentecostal leanings. She wrote:

I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?
The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that relationship. I see Him all over the O.T., as one poster said from the other thread. Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises.
So is the prophetic scripture and the fulfillment scripture not valid unless one of the N.T. writers speaks of it as such? I am trying to understand you better. When I open up my bible, am I entering into a classroom?
Could it be that ALL must be said or it is not valid? Was EVERYTHING written down? John 21:25
1 Corinthians 10:3
All ate the same manna. Jesus is the new manna which does not rot after one day but lasts forever. We must, even today, all eat the same manna.
Manna = Spiritual food.
Jesus is the new manna.
Jesus is our spiritual food.
Now very learned persons will have 3 other meanings for this scripture.
But most of us are not learned and will be satisfied with the above.
I mean, how much do you want us to know??[7]

That one did press my theological buttons, so I came back with,[8]

3.3 Individualistic interpretations

If there is no NT confirmation, then the alleged OT types become no more than individualistic interpretations with no more weight than a person’s assertions or experiences.

Now to some points (not comprehensive) from this person’s post:

  1. ‘I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?‘ If you invent the types and shadows, that amounts to postmodernism in action. There is no hermeneutical way of countering anyone who comes to this forum and says, ‘Jesus told me X, Y, Z’ and it is not endorsed by Scripture. There are droves of people in my region who have existential experiences of ‘mystery’ that are a country mile from biblical fidelity. I have no way of knowing whether the postmodern, existential interpretation is for real unless I have my thoughts firmly planted in the revealed Scripture. In fact, I have no Gospel to proclaim unless it is biblically based. If I am free to encounter Jesus wherever I have a new revelation of him, are you going to extend that same ‘Jesus encounter’ privilege to the Mormon in the Temple or the New Age practitioner in an occult group?
  2. ‘Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises’. That kind of demeaning put down is totally unnecessary on an evangelical Christian forum. If it were not for people with knowledge of the original languages, you wouldn’t even have a Bible you can read in English.
  3. One more, ‘The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man’, you say. Try telling that to the Amalekites who were slaughtered by Saul, ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’ (1 Sam 15:3 NIV).

There are many other red herrings that this person raised in her post that are unrelated to the topic of my original post.

3.4 Postmodern reader-response

clip_image005[2] An earlier poster came again with input:[9]

Stating that many Christians today create their own understanding of shadows and types I think is the product of precept upon precept, and line upon line as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Over the years I’ve changed certain views; some due to experience, and at other times maturing in the word of God.
I’ll just give one example how I’ve use (sic) the striking the Rock instead of speaking to it. At first Moses was instructed to strike the Rock, and that to me was a type of the crucifixion of our Lord in Exodus 17: 5-6.

Next I read in Num 20:8 that Moses was to speak to the Rock, but he struck the Rock twice, and God said to him in Num 20:12, And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Here there was evident consequence, and we read in Deut 32:50, And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Deut 32:51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.

Now how could or would I use this as a type pertaining to Christendom? We read of a sin that is unto death in Rom 6:16, Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Did Moses die as the result of his unbelief? Of course, but do any think he went to hell; we see Jesus with Elias and Moses on what has become known as the mount of transfiguration in Mt 17:4. As an example of things, 1 Cor 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (or warnings), upon whom the ends of the world are come. Could lying [to] the Holy Spirit be justification for such judgment such as that of Ananias & Sapphira of Acts 5:1? I think so.

Image result for clipart reader-response public domain(image courtesy clker.com)

 

My reply was:[10] Have you ever heard of postmodern reader-response criticism? Do you know what it means?

For a brief mention of its meaning, see D A Carson & Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 61, 62, 66 (online). How do you think your comments here fit with reader-response criticism?

His reply was interesting and revealed some lack of knowledge of the content of the link I gave:

I had no idea that my discussion to a question was a criticism rather than tossing some ideas around concerning types and shadows portrayed in scripture.
Having read the excerpt of Post Modern Reader-Response Error Theology, it seems to suggest there is no right or wrong leading me to wonder at God’s purpose in having the Bible written.[11]

How should I reply? Here goes:[12]

It seems that you are misunderstanding the theory and practice of postmodern reader-response criticism in your own writing. What you did in #10 was give us a string of verses that were interpreted as Eugene’s postmodern reader-response theology.

So, prior to my giving you the link to reader-response theory, it seems that you did not have an understanding of what you have done with these verses at #10.

Reader-response errors happen when a reader accepts that the writer of any document does not determine its meaning but that the reader’s understanding and response are what matters, i.e. the reader’s meaning is the meaning of the text. That seems to be what you have done with the verses you gave in #10.

This is such a serious error infiltrating the Christian church that Kevin Vanhoozer has addressed it in an entire book, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan 2009)

Do you think you would read the local newspaper like you did the verses you gave in #10?

9780310324690(image courtesy Zondervan)

 

Now the discussion progresses to:

3.5 The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks

Could you imagine that spiritual individualism and Holy Spirit magic would deteriorate to this point. A fellow wrote,

clip_image005[3]‘We don’t need everything written when we have the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks’.[13]

That’s like a red rag to me as a theologian and apologist, so I responded:

Subjectivism, whether by the Spirit or any other measure, is very difficult to discern because of the variation from person to person. ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for me’ is in competition with ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for you’, the Mormon, the occult practitioner, and the information provided may be very different for the same topic. Subjectivism, whether spiritual or humanistic, is a poor measure of competent content of revelation.[14]

3.6 Multi-faceted wisdom

clip_image005[4]Another said, ‘That’s why it’s called “multi faceted” wisdom, because the truth that is found in wisdom, is like a diamond or precious stone and is relevant as God sees each circumstance’.[15]

The rag for the apologist’s bull is getting redder and more worn from over-use:[16]

That’s why it is called subjectivism and/or Gnosticism as it is impossible to obtain objective information from that ‘revelation’. Your subjective revelation has no more impact than another believer’s or a Gnostic’s insight of esoteric knowledge. I understand this person is using ‘multi faceted wisdom’ as esoteric knowledge, which means:

“Esoteric” refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or “wisdom tradition” that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness (Kazlev 2016).

This definition of ‘esoteric’ comes from Kazlev who is involved in analysing the philosophy of Ken Wilber and his ‘psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da[17] and Andrew Cohen[18])’ (Kazlev 2016).

It seems to me that these Christians on Christian forums who are advocating ‘multi faceted’ wisdom and deeper meaning revelation, are following a parallel path with these mystical gurus or postmodern, reader-response advocates. It is a dangerous, subjective and mystical experience that is outside of Scripture and runs the risk of contradicting Scripture.

3.7 Do we need NT confirmation for a type or shadow?

That’s the question I asked for this forum thread? This was one retort:

clip_image005[5]‘Only if you want to impress it upon someone as undeniable fact. Otherwise you can only share it using your best efforts of honest debate you can muster and leave the rest to God’.[19]

How should I counter?[20] Here goes!

That makes you a supporter of subjective interpretation and reader-response ideology. It also makes you a sitting duck for any kind of hermeneutic that comes along and wants to dethrone your reader-response. It makes no fixed interpretation possible.

Try that approach with your next electricity bill, a letter from a lawyer, or reading a local newspaper. Creating your own reality in reader-response theology or esoteric revelation amounts to Gnosticism in action in the 21st century.

That approach makes Jesus a moving target of any kind of interpretation. If you don’t believe me, take a read of John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998).

What is reader-response theory?

Reader response is a school of literary criticism that ignores both the author and the text’s contents, confining analysis to the reader’s experience when reading a particular work. Reader response theorists are particularly concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply that a work of literature has a particular interpretation. According to Louise Rosenblatt, one of the primary figures in reader response, all reading is a transaction between the reader and writer (as represented by an immutable text). She further posits that the “stance” of the reader, either “aesthetic” (reading by choice or for pleasure) or “efferent”(reading by assignment or because one has to), has a major influence on the textual experience (source Chegg).

In Christian scholar, Kevin Vanhoozer’s, words, ‘Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader…. Meaning is the product of the interaction between text and reader (e.g. the “two horizons”)’. The more radical reader-response practitioners such as Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida agree that ‘there is no such thing as “disinterested,” that is, innocent or objective reading. All reading is ideological and guided by certain interests’ (Vanhoozer 1998:27-28).

This fellow came back with this response:[21]

3.8 No fixed interpretation with plain words of the Bible

clip_image005[5]It makes no fixed interpretation possible in regard to hard and fast and plain words of the Bible. That’s all. That hardly means it can’t possibly be true.

That’s not a good argument to make [about the example of the electricity bill].

No one is suggesting that personal interpretation – meaning that interpretation isn’t spelled out in the Bible word for word – can somehow be inconsistent with what is written in the Bible. Perhaps that is the big mistake you are making about this. This isn’t about saying your electric bill is $30.00 when it plainly says it’s $150.00 on the written bill.

What is being defended in this thread fails to meet the criteria for this being a matter of ‘Reader Response’:

1. Personal interpretation does not ignore the author of the Bible and the context, nor content, of the Bible. One of the rules of personal spiritual revelation not spelled out in scripture is that it can not contradict what the Bible already says.

2. Personal interpretation is not about ‘confining analysis to the reader’s experience’ because it does not consist of analysis confined only to the reader, and is not based on an experience other than the experience of spiritual revelation itself. It’s not about having experiences, and an analysis of spiritual matters that contradict what the Bible does say about a particular subject.

3. The spiritual interpretation that is being defended here is exactly the opposite of being “concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply a work…has a particular interpretation”. Because it is open to a greater spiritual depth and insight and understanding of scripture it sometimes grates against the traditional interpretation of scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 NASB. Not a terribly good example because so much of the non-traditional interpretation of that passage is directly supported by the Bible).

This promotion of reader-response, subjectivism became more obvious in that post, so I responded:[22]

And that’s the problem. If there are no hard and fast rules for the plain words of John 3:16 (ESV), then you have postmodern reader-response Gnosticism in action. It leads to hermeneutical shipwrecks. If there were not hard, fast and plain meanings to words of the Bible (and to any other writing), what you and I write on CFnet would not be understood. I think you are whistling in the wind of subjective vagueness.

It is a good argument to make [analogy with an electricity bill] because personal, subjective interpretation, is a bummer when it comes to understanding the meaning of your electricity bill. You must read it literally to obtain its plain meaning. There is no other means of interpretation of your electricity bill and it is a fixed interpretation. Esoteric, deeper knowledge ideology will not work.

He also asked if Joseph (OT) was a shadow and type of Christ. My reply was that, as I’ve stated a few times in this thread, an OT person or incident is not a type or shadow unless it is confirmed in the NT as such. Some see the OT story of Joseph (Gen 37-45) as a type of Christ because of Joseph’s humiliation and glorification that could be compared with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. However, the NT does NOT confirm that the OT Joseph is a type of Christ. Joseph’s story is an illustration with a parallel with Jesus – but it is NOT a type or shadow because the NT does not confirm it as such.

As to personal interpretation not ignoring the author, context, etc., I wrote: That might be what you see, but in this thread I’ve seen too many personal interpretations that were subjective impositions on the biblical data. So you say that a rule of personal spiritual revelation (not revealed in the Bible) must not contradict the Bible. That’s your own personal opinion and it is open to contradiction by another personal interpretation. You are building your interpretation on the slippery sands of personal revelation.

As to his point #3, I wrote: That’s subjective Gnosticism in action and it is what the church apologists had to battle in the first few centuries of the church’s existence. Seems like it is alive and well in your posts.

He didn’t seem to like this labelling of subjective Gnosticism, so gave his deconstruction:[23]

I think what you really mean to say is the idea of esoteric knowledge upon which Gnosticism relied seems alive and well in my posts.
If being able to discern things by the Spirit of God that others can’t, or aren’t yet able to discern, is considered esoteric knowledge, then yes, that broad definition and application of esoteric knowledge is alive and well in my posts. That is the very foundation of teaching. I guess your problem is that you feel that is not allowed.
“we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood…” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB)
By pure definition, if that isn’t esoteric knowledge, then nothing is.
All I’m saying is, it is allowed as long as it does not contradict, or can not be reconciled with what we already know to be true in the Bible. In Paul’s case, his esoteric knowledge did not contradict, or not reconcile with the scriptures of his day, what we call the OT.
The use of Paul’s esoteric knowledge to teach spiritual truth shows us it’s okay to say that Joseph, for example, is a type and shadow of Christ. Does Christianity and the truth of God come crashing down in a worthless heap if, technically, God did not say it’s a type and shadow of Christ? Of course not. You’re tossing out all privilege of personal interpretation and suggestion and it’s value in spiritual education just because there certainly are those who would abuse it. Yours is a misguided, contentious argument. What you should be arguing against is not esoteric knowledge, but esoteric knowledge that has no basis or support in scripture.

Esoteric knowledge in 1 Cor 2:6-8 when it speaks of ‘God’s wisdom in a mystery’?? I replied[24] Where does the Bible provide an exposition of the need for and the meaning of ‘esoteric knowledge’?

Another definition of esotericism is: ‘Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, cover’ (source).

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB is hardly an explanation to cover this meaning of esoteric knowledge in the secular world or in a biblical worldview.

3.9 The shifting sands of ‘biblical discernment’

clip_image005[6]Another person entered the discussion:

This is supported [Adam & Eve as types] by the NT (see Ephesians 5 and other passages). Ideally, we should have NT corroboration, but that may not always be found, yet the interpretation will not be in violation of Scripture. There are things which can be spiritually discerned.[25]

I do not find a word in Ephesians 5 that supports what I asked: ‘In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows’.[26]

4. The plot thickens: ‘Esoteric knowledge’ enters

I’ve already mentioned this promotion by one person of 1 Cor 2:6-8 in support of esoteric knowledge endorsed by Scripture – so he said. It is necessary to respond.

4.1 What ‘secret wisdom’ is not[27]

Image result for esoteric public domain (image courtesy esotericonline.net, public domain)

 

This person seemed to have missed the meaning of the Greek musterion (mystery) used in 1 Cor 2:7. Paul confronts his Corinthian opponents with the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:26ff) as he is dealing with ‘the mystery cults and gnosticism [that] are directly dealt with’. Wherever musterion appears in the NT it is found in association with verbs that denote revelation or proclamation. ‘It is a present-day secret, not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling. This is vividly expressed in Col. By his office the apostle “fulfills” (Col. 1:26) “the mystery of Christ” (4:3), i.e. by bearing in his own body that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ (1:24), he gives practical expression to the “mystery” and carries it on towards its final consummation’ (Brown 1978:504).

It is not esoteric knowledge (he needs to note the difference in meaning between knowledge and wisdom). It is wisdom that was previously hidden that God has revealed – in 1 Cor what is revealed is ‘the message/word of the cross’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Leading evangelical Greek scholar, Dr Gordon D Fee, does not agree with this person in his exegesis of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (he uses the NIV). In his exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (partially available online pp 102-106). He states this about the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 2:7-8:

Vv 7-8  In these verses Paul elaborates the two sides of v. 6. V. 7 explains the nature of God’s wisdom that made it impossible for the wise of this age to grasp it; v. 8 repeats the failure of the “rulers” in terms of their responsibility for the crucifixion.

He begins with a sharp contrast to the negative side of v. 6. “No,” he says, “we speak God’s wisdom,” which he immediately qualifies in four ways. The first three describe its nature, so as to distinguish it from the wisdom of this age. First, it is wisdom “in mystery” (NIV, “secret wisdom”).[28] One cannot be certain whether this phrase modifies “wisdom” as an adjective (hence the NIV’s “secret wisdom”) or the verb “we speak” as an adverb. The former seems preferable. God’s wisdom is not some inaccessible teaching, spoken in secret. As Paul will develop more fully in Colossians and Ephesians [see Col. 1:26-27; 2:2: 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9: 6:19], in the singular the term “mystery” ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but how revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. The seeds of this idea are sown here for the first time in Paul; in particular it embraces the paradox of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Second, and to clarify the phrase “in mystery,” God’s wisdom – salvation through a crucified Messiah – “has been hidden.” The perfect tense, plus the phrase that follows (“before time began”), indicates that such wisdom has been hidden in God from eternity until such a time (“now”) as he was ready to reveal it. What follows in v. 8 suggests further that God’s “secret” remains hidden from the “rulers, ” the representatives of the “wise” of this age.

Third, God’s secret wisdom, long hidden – and still hidden to some – was “destined” by God himself “for our glory before time began.” This is the clause that begins to clarify both the content of “wisdom” and the identity of the “mature” in v. 6. The verb “destined” is an intensified form of the ordinary verb for “determining.” The emphasis lies on “deciding upon beforehand” (BAGD);[29] therefore, to “predestine.” As in [1 Cor] 1:1, God’s call is the expression of his prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”). What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation – “for our glory.” What has been predestined technically is God’s wisdom; the larger context indicates that Paul has in view God’s gracious activity in Christ, whereby through the crucifixion he determined eternal salvation for his people – including especially the Corinthian believers. Just as God chose the foolish and weak for salvation and thereby “shamed” the wise and powerful, who are being brought to nothing (1:26-28), so now Paul repeats that God “destined” his people for glory (not shame), and has done so in contrast to the rulers of this age who are “coming to nothing.” “For our glory” is eschatological language, referring to the final goal of salvation, namely that God’s people should share in his own glory. Hence the crucified one is in this context also called “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Fourth (v. 8a), God’s wisdom is something that “none of the rulers of this age understood.” With this clause Paul elaborates the negative side of v. 6, but now in light of the preceding description of God’s wisdom. The reason for their failure is that it was “hidden in God” and could only be grasped by revelation of the Spirit (v. 10). The reason for repeating the idea seems twofold: first, to reestablish the contrast between “us” and “them” that is crucial to his argument; and second, to confirm their part in the historical event itself, which both demonstrated their “ignorance” of God’s ways and implicated them in the carrying out of his plan. What they did not understand was the nature of true wisdom – God’s wisdom, as spelled out in 1:18-2:5 – which stands in contradiction to human understanding; and because they were thus “ignorant” they did what human “wisdom” demanded – they crucified the one who for them was one more messianic pretender. Thus the divine irony: The very ones who were trying to do away with Jesus by crucifying him were in fact carrying out God’s prior will – “destined for our glory before time began.” Instead of crucifying a messianic pretender, they killed “the Lord of glory” himself, the one who, as Lord of all the ages, is therefore Lord of the final glory that is both his and his people’s ultimate destiny. The Pauline irony, of course, is that the Corinthians in pursuing sophia [i.e. wisdom] are pursuing what belongs to this age, which is passing away and whose rulers were implicated in the divine irony (Fee 1987:104-107, italics emphasis in original; bold emphasis added).

4.2 How to interpret Scripture

To assist with the interpretation of Scripture and any other piece of literature, see my articles:

clip_image007 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image007[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image007[2] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image007[3] Does God have a physical body?

5. Conclusion

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, in its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, has rightly pursued the biblical mandate to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:1 NIV). However this movement has introduced a down side.

That negativity is related to the subjective, Gnostic type of knowledge that entered Christian circles through existential experiences of the Holy Spirit. This article has attempted to show through posts on a Christian forum how Holy Spirit encounters, even to the point of thinking this is receipt of esoteric knowledge, has derailed the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The result can lead to Gnostic error.

Image result for Gnosticism image public domain(image courtesy gnosticteachings.org)

 

I suggest that the New Gnosticism is alive and well on this Christian forum. Part of Michael Horton’s assessment is:

Both liberals and evangelicals disdain doctrine for personal experience, and objective truth for personal transformation, and in this sense, each is, in its own way, Gnostic. The anti-intellectualism is understandable, according to Lee. “If God is immanent, present within our psyche, if we already have the truth within, then why go through all the hassle of studying theology?” [Lee 1987:111]. Isn’t this precisely the point of the division many of us grew up with between head knowledge and heart knowledge? The former is intellectual, the latter spiritual – that is, gnosis….

Pentecostalism represents an even greater dependence on Gnostic tendencies…. The outer edges of Pentecostalism are especially blatant in Gnostic emphases, as a number of works have shown, including The Agony of Deceit.[30] Salvation is knowledge – “Revelation Knowledge” (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and other “faith teachers” use the upper case to distinguish this from mere written revelation). The Word that truly saves is not the written text of Scripture, proclaiming Christ the Redeemer, but is rather the “Rhema” Word that is spoken directly to the spirit by God’s Spirit (Horton 2016).

If spiritual insight is used as an interpretive measure and esoteric knowledge is permitted as a means of gaining a biblical understanding of the text, then expect pooled ignorance to infiltrate the church. My series of interactions on this topic have demonstrated that ‘no fixed meaning’, ‘esoteric knowledge’, and ‘my understanding’ can derail biblical interpretation.

The New Gnosticism is with us and the landscape does not look pretty. There is a heightened need for apologists and theologians to be involved in addressing this heresy that is invading the church.

6.  Works consulted

Brown, C (gen ed) 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Horton, M S 2016. The New Gnosticism: Is it the age of the Spirit or the spirit of the age? Modern Reformation (online). Available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=695#footnote13 (Accessed 17 May 2016). The article originally appeared in Modern Reformation, “Gnosticism”, July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-12.

Kazlev, A 2016. Integral esotericism: A new integral paradigm in theory and practice. Integral World (online), June 04.[31] Available at: http://www.integralworld.net/kazlev5.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

Lee, P J 1987. Against The Protestant Gnostics. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also available at: https://arcaneknowledgeofthedeep.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/againstprotestantgnostics.pdf (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, 13 May 2016, ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Apologetics & Theology, OzSpen#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/types-shadows-needing-nt-support.64532/ (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[2] They were raised by Malachi#33 at Christian Forums.net, ‘Underlying types & shadows’, The Lounge. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/understanding-types-shadows.64517/page-2 (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[3] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Eugene#2.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[5] Ibid., Eugene#5.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[7] Ibid., Wondering#8.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[9] Ibid., Eugene#10.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[11] Ibid., Eugene#12.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[13] Ibid., Sinthesis#15.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#16.

[15] Ibid., JLB#17.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[17] Adi Da was the Hindu god-man cultist who was head of an abusive personality cult. See: Timothy Conway (2007). Available at: http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Da_and_his_cult.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[18] On his homepage, Andrew Cohen describes himself as, a ‘modern mystic, cultural critic, and award-winning spiritual journalist’. Available at: http://www.andrewcohen.org/ (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[19] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#18.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[21] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, op cit., Jethro Bodine#22.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[23] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#27.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#28, #29.

[25] Ibid., Malachi#34.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#40/

[27] This is my response, ibid., OzSpen#44.

[28] Fee’s footnote is, ‘This is another phrase that has caused some to see Paul as reflecting the mystery cults or Gnosticism. But again that not only misses Paul’s own Jewish background, but the whole point of the argument as well’ (Fee 1987:104, n. 27).

[29] BAGD = Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker Greek lexicon (dictionary).

[30] See The Agony of Deceit, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[31] It seems that this date is a roving date that will change daily.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.

Contemporary music in church to the lyrics of spiritual death

(image courtesy pinterest.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Recently a fellow introduced me to this Christian song by Flame, Start Over‘. You can read its lyrics at Flame Lyrics (2000-2016).

Is this an example of the type of music being heard in your Christian church service?

Has Alistair Begg hit the mark with his assessment of contemporary Christian music (CCM)? See YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJhCWrdckpc&feature=youtu.be

1. Who is Alistair Begg?

Alistair Begg(photo Alistair Begg, senior pastor, courtesy Parkside Church)

 

His ministry’s homepage states:

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church.

In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio.  He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life.  The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church.[1]

Alistair Begg is a Scotsman who has been pastor at the one church since 1983 near Cleveland, Ohio. Are you and I ready for that pointed critique of CCM in churches, by this experienced pastor, to address the trite lyrics, entertainment-oriented music, and existential feelings and mysticism that flood our Christian churches in association with the contemporary music we sing? Three weeks ago,[2] I attended a near-by Baptist church for the first time. What kind of music was presented? The band with 6 female singers up front on the stage, led the congregation in singing contemporary songs (some were identified as from Hillsong) that I had never heard before. The melodies were unsingable for me, a very average singer. The words were available on the digital screen for the congregation to see.

My estimate was that they were meant to be performed and not for congregational singing. We had to stand for about 10-15 minutes as the band took us from one contemporary song to another. I sat down after about 7 minutes as my legs were weary. I’m no youngster.

2. Contemporary music killing theology

CCM is killing theology in song. Sound biblical teaching is rapidly on the descent. Take a read of the lyrics from this song by Jesus Culture (the music ministry from Bethel Church, Redding CA):

Rooftops Lyrics
[Metro Lyrics: Jesus Culture Lyrics]
from Come Away
New! Highlight lyrics to add Meanings, Special Memories, and Misheard Lyrics…
Here I am before You, falling in love and seeking Your truth
Knowing that Your perfect grace has brought me to this place
Because of You I freely live, my life to You, oh God, I give
So I stand before You, God
I lift my voice cause You set me free
So I shout out Your name, from the rooftops I proclaim
That I am Yours, I am Yours
All the good You’ve done for me, I lift up my hands for all to see
You’re the only one who brings me to my knees
To share this love across the earth, the beauty of Your holy worth
So I kneel before You, God
I lift my hands cause You set me free
So I shout out Your name, from the rooftops I proclaim
That I am Yours, I am Yours
All that I am, I place into Your loving hands
And I am Yours, I am Yours
Here I am, I stand, with arms wide open
To the One, the Son, the Everlasting God, the Everlasting God
So I shout out Your name, from the rooftops I proclaim
That I am Yours, I am Yours
All that I am, I place into Your loving hands
And I am Yours, I am Yours

Is all satisfactory biblically with these lyrics? Is there anything we should warn people about in this song? See my assessment of this song in:

clip_image002 What’s wrong with these CCM songs?

I’ve addressed some of the music issues previously in these articles:

clip_image004 What’s happening to music in evangelical churches?

clip_image004[1] Worldliness in church music

clip_image004[2] Entertainment versus Worship

clip_image004[3] Do words matter in worship songs in church?

I’m not discussing the style of music but the content of the words. In recently written CCM, where is the depth of words such as in these lyrics?

Charles Wesley.jpg(portrait Charles Wesley, courtesy Wikipedia)

And Can It Be That I Should Gain[3]

 

by Charles Wesley

 

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain-
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace-
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray-
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

clip_image006

(music & words, courtesy openhymnal.org, public domain)

3. Crisis point

I’ve been a Christian for around 50 years. I’m considered an oldie by many, including my grandchildren, since I’ve recently reached 70 years of age. I won’t take nonsense behaviour from them and I do not tolerate theological baloney in the lyrics of CCM or older music. Much of what I hear online in the promotion of CCM and what I hear from the platform of contemporary evangelical churches lacks sound theological content. It fails to glorify God in his majesty and point to the cross and the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’ve presented only a few examples in this article, but it is representative of what is being pumped out by evangelical churches in Australia.

4. Sermons join the light-weight chorus

What is just as alarming is that the sermons from the pulpit are as theologically lite as the songs in the service. My son obtained an MDiv degree from a renowned evangelical theological college in Brisbane, Qld and he was told by one lecturer not to worry about reading any books that were more than 10 years old.

Do you understand what that means? God’s great teachers throughout church history, from Athanasius and Augustine to Luther, Arminius, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer and many others are irrelevant to the church of today. That’s a theologically noxious view that will poison the biblical life out of any church.

Then you encounter what I was exposed to on a Christian forum on the Internet where a Pentecostal believer told me, ‘I tend to stay in the Here and Now and not use authors that are way out of date’.[4] I was discussing with him the theology of D Martyn Lloyd-Jones who died in 1981.[5]

5. The here and now false teaching

I tackled this fellow’s false teaching:[6]

So you ‘tend to stay in the Here and Now and not use authors that are way out of date’. Does that mean you want to throw out the teachings of Martin Luther? If you are a Protestant (and I know you are), you are a product of the ministry of a man, Luther, who you claim had a ministry that is ‘out of date’. His ministry is as up to date as Scripture.

For Luke to be able to write his Gospel, he depended on authors who were ‘way out of date’ – those who ‘from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us’ (Lk 1:2 ESV). If church history is a waste of space to you, then forget about the Azusa Street revival for your Pentecostal verification because it is ‘way out of date’.

Your ‘way out of date’ perspective makes you a sitting duck for heretical intrusion into any church. We know how to identify heresy because of the godly teachers God has given to the church (Eph 4:11-16) who have equipped the saints for the work of ministry and the building up of the body of Christ. We are helped to identify heresy by those who have lived before us – way before us! Athanasius was instrumental in doing this to confront Arius and his anti-trinitarianism at the Council of Nicea. But that’s not important to this fellow!

Heb 11:4 (NIV) disagrees with his ‘way out of date’ view, ‘By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead‘ (my emphasis). Abel, though way out of date and dead many thousands of years, still speaks.

This fellow’s ‘way out of date’ short-sightedness will be gone in a few years, and God’s gifted teachers from history will still speak: Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Arminius, Calvin, Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Seymour, Hodge, Olson, Sproul, Mohler, etc. It really is pathetic that this person wanted to have nothing to do with God’s great teachers from church history who led the way to where we are today. His ministry will be impoverished when he denigrates or excludes these teachers.
Why did God give teachers (past and present) to the church? See Eph 4:11-16 (ESV). But this poster excludes them and their influence!

5.1 The here and now promoter in full flight

Here he how he responded to what I wrote immediately above:

I was saved in 1971 under the tutelage of Bob Johnson. He himself was mentored by Dr. C.M. Ward who was greatly influenced by John Wesley. If pedigree is your thing then there’s enough pedigree there for me. The point is that all these men had their Ministry at their time but the only historical characters that I am concerned with are those that are represented in the Bible. Nothing I have ever learned from reading any thing by the ECF’s [early church fathers] and all these men down through history has enlightened me one bit. What does enlighten me is my Bible. It is what has taught me that many of these men taught false Doctrine. I tend to want to live in the present, the Here and Now and not be preoccupied with what has gone on before, accept as it relates to my Lord and Savior. I don’t denigrate them I just don’t deify them or put them up on a pedestal for everyone to look at. They served their purpose, but they’re dead now and God is not the God of the dead but of the living. If all you have to say is based on your knowledge of what these men taught and you have none of it yourself, then exactly what is it you do know other than what you read in books about them? It’s great that you have been able to recently secure your doctorate and I applaud you for that but that doesn’t mean is that do you need to use all these past Scholars to justify your opinions. Those opinions should be justified and corroborated by the word of God.

The thing you don’t seem to get Oz is that this is a discussion forum with live people and I can’t very well question and discuss with those who are dead and gone as to why they thought what they did. You see I know how to think for myself. Maybe you should try it?[7]

Note his language, ‘I tend to want to live in the present, the Here and Now and not be preoccupied with what has gone on before’. This is Gnosticism in action. His knowledge is from living in the present, the here and now. The inference seems to be that he does not want the correction of historical teachers. He assumes that ‘many of these men taught false Doctrine’ (i.e. early church fathers), but he gave not one example in that post. Some did promote erroneous doctrine when compared with the Bible such as Origen’s allegorical preaching in which he inserted material that was not in the text. Others taught baptismal regeneration (e.g. Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose). See the article, ‘Baptism and salvation’.[8] Arius was a Unitarian heretic who did not believe Trinitarian theology, but he was corrected at the Council of Nicea.[9]

However, in what way is that different from today with the teaching of error such as modern Gnosticism,[10] baptismal regeneration,[11] Unitarianism[12] and what is taught in some Contemporary Christian songs? Living in the present without knowledge of history does not preserve anyone from exposure to false doctrine.

6. Conclusion

The best antidote for exposing false doctrine is with a person’s and a church’s thorough knowledge of Scripture. To be able to recognise the false, know the truth.

Contemporary Christian music is feeding modern Christians a new diet of doctrinally light teaching. Much of it is existential, egocentric and focussed on what Jesus can do for ME. We are not being taught theology in song like we did under the songs of Charles Wesley, John Newton, Isaac Watts, Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith, and a trail of biblical hymnists who have preceded us.

Pastor Alistair Begg has exposed the repetitive, bland material being sung in many Christian songs in the church services of the twenty-first century. The disease the church is suffering is in the trite lyrics, entertainment-oriented music, and existential feelings and mysticism that flood our Christian churches in association with the contemporary music we sing. Sadness surrounds the fact that many in the evangelical church accept this music as what is needed in a church that wants to reach young people.

If we ignore the content of the church music we sing, we will become theologically light-weight in our understanding of the Trinitarian Lord God and his mission in the world.

What’s happening in your church? Are you whooping it up with rap music and heading towards spiritual death in your congregation? Or, are you careful about the lyrics you sing and are making sure they conform with biblical integrity? Try raising this issue (at the appropriate time) in one of your church’s cell groups. Please understand that I’m not talking about hymns sung to an organ being superior to contemporary style music. I’m discussing the content of the songs you sing and how they match biblical faithfulness in content.

However, there are elements of insensitivity by musicians to the content of the word s. Today[13] I visited a local Baptist church where the congregation sang, ‘Be still and know that I am God’, which is a meditative chorus that emphasises the need to quieten a person’s heart and meditate on who God is. However, what did the drummer do (he was accompanied by organ, piano and rhythm guitar)? He created a loud, thumping, drumming interlude that was totally out of place for such a meditative song. He sounded more like a drummer for a rock band in a nightclub. Such insensitivity should be addressed by musical directors in a church.

clip_image007

(image courtesy www.pinterest.com)

Notes


[1] ‘About Alistair Begg’, Truth for Life. Available at: https://www.truthforlife.org/about/about-alistair-begg/ (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[2] I’m writing this on Tues, 2 May 2016.

[3] 2012 HymnsUntoGod.org (public domain USA). Available at: http://www.hymnsuntogod.org/Hymns-PD/A-Hymns/And-Can-It-Be-That-I-Should-Gain.html (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[4] Christianity Board, Testimonial Forum, ‘The Catholic church gets put down a lot, but it was all that could help’, 23 April 2016, StanJ#123. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22554-the-catholic-church-gets-put-down-a-lot-but-it-was-all-that-could-help/page-5 (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[5] See MLJ Trust (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Available at: http://www.mljtrust.org/meet-mlj/ (Accessed 8 May 2016).

[6] Christianity Board, op cit., OzSpen#127.

[7] Ibid., StanJ#130.

[8] By Matt Slick, CARM.

[9] See James R White, ‘What really happened at Nicea?’ (CRI 2009). Available at: http://www.equip.org/article/what-really-happened-at-nicea/ (Accessed 8 May 2016).

[10] See Dr Douglas Groothuis’s article, ‘Modern Gnosticism’ (CRI 2016). Available at: http://www.equip.org/article/modern-gnosticism/ (Accessed 8 May 2016).

[11] The Orthodox denomination promotes baptismal regeneration. See the article, ‘Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy’, available at: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2015/02/17/born-experience-baptismal-regeneration/ (Accessed 8 May 2016). The Roman Catholic Church endorses baptismal regeneration. See, ‘What is baptismal regeneration?’ Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson 2016. Available at: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/416-what-is-baptismal-regeneration (Accessed 8 May 2016).

[12] Key promoters of Unitarianism today are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, and the Unitarian Universalist denomination. See ‘Unitarian Christianity’ at: http://www.americanunitarian.org/AUCChristian.htm (Accessed 8 May 2016).

[13] This was Sunday, 8 May 2015, in the greater Brisbane area.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 May 2016.