Why Theology Matters

We live in a pluralistic society comprised of many nationalities, languages and religions. In order to accommodate all the diversity in such a society, those who shape our institutions have upheld multiculturalism as our most basic defining value. It is our tolerance for such diversity that they feel holds us together. So they call for acceptance of all manner of differences from race to gender to sexual proclivities and even perceived gender identities.

This propensity for inclusiveness has led to a profound inability to differentiate between attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to the well being of society and those that are not. Clearly some behaviors promote such things as strong families, good mental health, peace and prosperity and others do not. But to be dogmatic about these things is considered the height of intolerance. To make them a matter of contention is even worse.

Unfortunately, this attitude has crept into Christian circles, where there is a tendency to accommodate a variety of viewpoints with respect to the meaning of scripture. Yet if the purpose of scripture is to reveal the true nature of God, then any given passage of scripture can only have one meaning — the one God intended it to have. That is, unless you believe God is unsure of what He wants to say or how He wants to say it.

That is why theology is so important in interpreting scripture. A wrong understanding of God will ultimately lead to an incorrect understanding of His Word. Yet the permissive attitudes of society have so permeated the church that it is considered bad form in many Christian circles to insist upon a single authoritative theology when interpreting scripture.

Theology is important because differences in theology produce different understandings of scripture, which, in turn produce different attitudes and behaviors. For instance, the person who believes that the Bible teaches that man is so corrupted by sin that he cannot choose Christ unless the Holy Spirit first imparts some spiritual life to him will feel very differently about the security of his salvation than the person who believes he has enough spiritual vitality to make a decision for Christ in the first place. The first person will believe that he can rest on Christ’s sufficiency in preserving his salvation, since the One who chose him cannot possibly make a mistake. But the man who believes he was the one who chose Christ has no such assurance because he is relying ultimately on his own flawed will. Ironically, the man who has a greater consciousness of his own sin is the one who also has a greater confidence in his own salvation!

The man who relies wholly on Christ for salvation also approaches evangelism differently from the man who accepts Christ of his own volition. He realizes that it is Christ through His word who draws men and women to Himself, and not his own ability to persuade through rhetoric or methodology. So he proclaims the word and then lets the Holy Spirit use that word to bring repentance and faith to those whom God chooses. The other man couches the gospel in appealing terms in order to reduce objections because people make choices based on perceived benefits and a belief in their ability to judge what is best. This attitude produced the “seeker friendly” movement, which spawned the “megachurch” which has placed the appeal of worship in the pleasure of man rather than the pleasure of God. The result is that there are a multitude of comfort seeking Christians rather than sacrifice keeping saints in the pews. That is why much of secular society considers Christians a bunch of hypocrites.

So the difference between wrong theology and right theology can be the difference between a people pleasing church and one that provides a striking contrast between the holiness of God and sinfulness of man. That’s not inconsequential!

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Easter and Evil

We are all familiar with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But several things jumped out at me as I considered the Easter story again this year in the run-up to Holy Week. These are observations I had not made before.

1. Christ did not die from the wounds inflicted upon Him on the cross. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18) He had to willingly give up his spirit when He died on the cross.

2. Every other crucified person eventually lost the strength to lift up their body so they could take another breath. When they no longer had the strength to do so they suffocated. So they all lost consciousness before dying. Jesus was not only conscious when he took His last breath, but his last words were a loud cry which took a full lung of air, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! And having said this he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:46) He did not suffocate. He gave up His spirit. 

3. Jesus was nailed to the cross at about 9 am. The first three hours He received merciless ridicule and torment from the bystanders. But God’s wrath did not descend upon him until noon when the sky suddenly went pitch black as though someone had flipped a switch and turned out all the lights. There was no sun or moon or stars. This was not an eclipse. We know because Jesus was crucified on Passover. Passover is based on the lunar calendar and always occurs during a full moon. When Jesus was on the cross, the moon was on the side of the earth opposite the sun, not between the earth and the sun. The darkness that enveloped the earth was supernatural. It was palpable and absolutely terrifying.

4. The crowd was so terrified that they stopped mocking and immediately began beating their breasts in fear. Now God the Father began pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin. A violent earthquake broke rocks into pieces. Graves were opened up and dead people came to life. (Lk 23:44-49, Mt. 27:45-54) Amazingly, this display of divine fury was directed against the One God called, “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” ( Mt 3:16-17). It was not directed against those who mocked Him and scourged Him and crucified Him, as one might expect. Jesus was absorbing the punishment of those very people. So for three hours Jesus endured the hatred of man against God and for three more interminable hours he suffered the wrath of almighty God against sinful man. He could have chosen to stop the whole ordeal at any time, but He didn’t. He yielded to His Father’s will which was to make Him an offering for sin.

5. Jesus died at 3 pm, the exact hour the priests began the Passover sacrifice of thousands of lambs for the sins of the Jews. At that same time, the massive curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jewish Temple was ripped from the top to the bottom as though an invisible hand had torn it in two, no doubt throwing the Temple into chaos and disrupting the sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice had opened access to God.  Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.

6. Some years later in 70 AD the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans as Jesus had predicted. This effectively abolished animal sacrifice. Now the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the same site, desecrating the place where the temple once stood.

Jesus’ Boundless Love
Think about the events leading up to Good Friday from Jesus’ perspective. From the very beginning Jesus knew how He would die and when it would happen. Because He knew all things, He knew what it would feel like. Yet this was the very purpose for which He had come and the time he called, “my hour.” He had an eternity to think about it, to anticipate it. In the days leading up to His crucifixion, he said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:50). As he contemplated what awaited Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his anguish was so great that he sweat great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Even so, He was not consumed by His own troubles to the extent that He could think of no one but Himself. Any other human being facing the same fate would have been unable to think of anyone but himself. But even in the midst of His agony, Jesus’ foremost thought was still the welfare of His loved ones.

Consider Jesus’ prayer for His disciples the very night before His crucifixion. This was the night Judas betrayed Him. See how he pleads with the Father to protect the disciples, to sanctify them, to fill them with the love of God and to unify and glorify them together with Him and His Father (John 17:6-26). What a heartfelt and selfless prayer given the awful events that await Him in just a few hours! The entire prayer is devoted to His followers. He made not one plea for Himself.

Then consider the selfishness of the disciples. Rather than share Jesus’ sorrow after He told them they were going to Jerusalem where He would be killed, they began to argue about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven! Jesus had to sit them down and wash their feet to show them that in His kingdom the way to greatness is through humble service (Luke 22:14-27)! Another selfless act of compassion.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, Where are you going?” (John 16:5)  He is disappointed that they show no concern about His troubles. He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v16). Finally the disciples want to know what He is talking about. But He tells them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v 12). Despite their indifference to His sorrow, He is worried about how they will take the news! He does not want to burden them with the details of His coming death because it would crush them! And yet He is the one who is about to be crushed for their sins, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is 53:5). And in a very magnanimous gesture toward such heartless friends, He says to them, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me,” (John 16:27). Shortly after that, they all abandoned Him. That is hardly something someone would say to His closest friends on the eve of their betrayal!

Then Jesus asks His disciples to pray for Him as they await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. While He is pouring out His soul in prayer to His Father, His disciples fall asleep! Finding them all asleep, He says, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). Even then He didn’t chastise them for their lack of compassion. Instead, He warned them against falling into temptation, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt 26:41). Then when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Jesus interceded with them to let the disciples go free, leaving Himself without any earthly companions to provide comfort through the coming ordeal (John 18:8).

After His trial when Jesus was carrying His cross to the place of His crucifixion, a great crowd followed Him. The women were weeping loudly. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28) because He knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans just a few short years later in judgment for their unbelief. He was grieved because of the ruin that would soon come upon them!

In the days just before His crucifixion, he gazed longingly at Jerusalem and speaking of its coming devastation said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 13:34)He was grieving for the bloodthirsty mob that was about to ruthlessly scourge Him, mock Him and nail Him to a cross!

His very first words as He hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He told the thief who had been mocking Him along with the others but suddenly decided to repent, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). No hesitation, no recrimination, only compassion.

Then, Jesus saw his mother standing with John. The Bible describes John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). He was very close to the family and was there offering comfort to Mary. The Bible says, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” Then he told John, “Behold, your mother! ” (John 19:26-27) After that John took her into his home to care for her. In Jewish custom, it was the practice of the elder son to look after his mother in her old age. Now, out of compassion for Mary, Jesus was handing her care over to the disciple who was closest to Him.

God Absorbs Evil
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the epitome of evil. Man’s rebellion against God had culminated in the murder of His only Son. And people ask, “How could a loving God allow evil?” Evil is our fault! Nonetheless, Christ is not indifferent to the evil we have brought upon ourselves. He absorbed the full force of that evil — the worst that man can do– the first three hours on the cross. Then He absorbed the full fury of God’s wrath against evil the second three hours on the cross. He was betrayed by man and abandoned by God. That is how God dealt with the problem of evil — by absorbing it and then destroying it so that evil-doers can be set free from the power of evil. The book of Hebrews puts it this way, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

Jesus did this to show the extent of His love, mercy and grace to a people who were hostile toward Him. It is not good people who go to heaven, but forgiven people like the thief who repented on the cross. Some of the sinners in heaven are worse than those in hell. But the sinners in heaven have all been forgiven.

The Immeasurable Riches of God’s Grace
In the book of Revelation we have an account of heaven as seen by the Apostle John. All of heaven gathers round the throne of the risen Christ and says:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
(Rev 5: 9-10)

What makes Jesus worthy of such praise is the gracious way He responded to His Father’s will — to endure the physical abuse and utter humiliation of the cross and the wrath of Almighty God for the sake of the very people who were so determined to destroy Him. Without Easter it would be impossible to know the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and mercy.

As the book of Ephesians says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7).  Jesus Christ took the worst both man and God had to offer and in exchange offered love and life and even a place of honor in His kingdom! In the words of that great hymn, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Jesus. What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord!

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Where America Went Wrong

While listening to the news the other day I heard a leader in the Democratic Party ask the most recent Supreme Court nominee if he took the extreme position that abortion is murder. Then I heard a report about a legal case in California involving two folks who exposed the officials of Planned Parenthood on video discussing the harvesting and sale of aborted baby parts. The story was not about Planned Parenthood violating federal law but about the violation of their free speech rights because they were recorded secretly. I don’t see how taking the actual words of people and disseminating them widely without commentary can be considered a violation of free speech. To  me it seems more like amplification of free speech. There was a third item about a county in Maryland that was taking action to protect the rights of two illegal immigrants who had violently raped and sodomized a fourteen year old girl in a school bathroom. The fourth report was an update on the overturn of a piece of legislation in North Carolina that would have protected the privacy of women and children from members of the opposite sex who want to share their bathrooms in public places.

There was a day when these kinds of views would have been considered extreme. But today those who condemn them are called extremists. When I was young, homosexual behavior was not accepted by society. Gay people were referred to as “queers” and “faggots.” In those days, these were not complementary terms. Although there were effeminate men and female “Tomboys,” no one would have suggested that the men should be allowed to use the women’s bathroom and the girls to use the men’s facilities. In fact, all the Tomboys eventually outgrew their boyish ways and many turned into beautiful, very feminine women. And most of the effeminate boys later developed masculine identities.

Don’t Force Your Morals on Me
But I think I know where all this began and how it all came about. When I was a child, there was a running debate about whose morals were right. Although no one advocated the kind of perversion that passes for evolving morality today, people did rebel against the idea that the Ten Commandments should be the moral standard for everyone. The argument “Who are you Christians to shove your moral standards down my throat” was often heard. Nevertheless, people in those days would have been abhorred at the idea of ripping babies out of their mother’s wombs and selling their body parts for medical research. Almost everyone would have considered such actions abominable and tantamount to murder. Becoming pregnant outside of marriage was looked upon askance. The high school girls who were sexually active were considered “loose” and  easy targets for sexual predators. They were in the minority and generally such behavior was frowned upon. The notion of “consensual sex” was not considered a justification for extra-marital affairs. And if some guy were to suddenly come to school dressed “in drag,” as they said in those days, he would have been scorned by every self-respecting male. All of these values are expressed in one form or another in the Ten Commandments.

So even though people objected to the Ten Commandments as a universal moral code, biblical morality was nonetheless deeply embedded in the social order. But even back then the foundation was being laid for the day when an anti-moral minority would hijack the media, academia and the courts and use them to impose their own upside-down view of morality on the rest of society. So today, what used to be considered good conduct necessary to the flourishing of a healthy and prosperous society has come to be called extreme, right-wing and dangerous to the rights of people who insist on undermining the common good.

So, for example, while prayer, the Bible, the cross, the creche and other symbols of Christianity have been removed from the classroom and other public places, prayer rooms have been provided for Muslims, adherents of a pagan religion that oppresses women and brutally murders people of other faiths. While the left-wing zealots insist on rights for practitioners of sexual perversion, they deny the rights  of Christians to practice and share their faith in public. They oppose censorship when it comes to pornography, but attack advocates of conservative ideas and values when they speak on college campuses. While touting  “tolerance” they have imposed their own oppressive moral code of “Political Correctness” in place of the Ten Commandments.

Moral Chaos
The result has been a very mixed bag of morals that has no coherence or consistency because it is based on the dictates of a few radical extremists rather than an objective moral order. For example, the proponents of these extreme views insist upon the right of people suffering from gender dysphoria to use whatever public restroom they like, whether male or female, violating the right of normal men and women to take care of personal business in private. On the other hand, they insist on the privacy of women who choose to abort their own offspring, denying unborn babies their right to life. So in their moral order, or lack thereof, the right to privacy trumps the right to life but not the right to use whatever bathroom one chooses. By extension, the right to use the bathroom of one’s choice trumps the right to life. This is the kind of moral chaos we live in today.

In today’s moral universe, the top rungs of the moral order are “tolerance,” “inclusion” and “diversity.” Every viewpoint must be respected including the viewpoint of those who are the most intolerant. In this scheme, right and wrong is evolving with changing moral standards and should therefore be decided in the public arena.   However, it is not majority rule. A small, but very vocal group of political and social elites has set the agenda by virtue of an aggressive strategy to take control of those levers of power that are least susceptible to public persuasion, like the courts, academia, and the media. This view is called “Secularism.” According to this view, those who insist on an unchanging moral order are “on the wrong side of the arc of moral history.”

The Tyranny of the Left
As long as these folks get their way, everything goes along fairly peacefully. There was comparatively little social unrest during the Obama years. But when Trump got into office, things rapidly went south. Rather than using the legitimate means of dissent provided by our system of government to express their opposition, they immediately took to the streets in violent protests. They have employed the media and courts to intimidate those who used the lawful means of a popular election to promote their views. These self-styled champions of tolerance will use whatever means they deem necessary to silence their opponents.

That is why those who stand for traditional values are loathe to openly express their political and religious views publicly. The left, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same fear because their opponents are law-abiding, peaceful citizens. It is not unusual to see liberals emblazon their cars with all kinds of stickers protesting everything from global warming to the right to life. But I didn’t see a single Trump bumper sticker during the last election cycle. People don’t want some angry leftist to “key” their car.

How We Got Here
I still remember when our side warned that gay rights would eventually lead to gay marriage. Back then, the left said we were over-reacting. Since then the courts have not only affirmed the right to gay marriage but the right of one gender to use the public bathrooms of the other. And the idea that traditional morals are in retreat is openly embraced as inevitable.  No one on the left accuses the right of over-reacting to their radical moral agenda anymore. They just consign them to the “basket of deplorables” who are on the wrong side of the “arc of moral history.” They don’t have to hide their agenda anymore because they have so thoroughly intimidated conservatives.

There is no single cause for this moral collapse. But there were significant mileposts on the way. Many people cite the removal of prayer from the public schools. Back in the early 1960s when that happened, America had the best schools in the world. Now they rank below some former third world countries in math and science.

Another significant milepost was the opening of stores and other businesses on Sundays. There is a very memorable line from a recent popular movie that captures the importance of this development for the rise of secularism. It is based on the true story of a doctor who established the relationship between serious brain trauma among professional football players and collisions on the football field. When he tried to publish his research, he was met by fierce opposition from the National Football League. In a meeting with one of the officials, he was asked, “Do you really think you can win this battle? Do you know who you are up against? Why we’re so powerful we actually own a day of the week. The one that used to belong to God!

The Importance of a Sabbath Rest
God set aside the last day of the week as a day of rest from the very beginning of creation. He told the Israelites, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must surely be put to death ...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:15-17). This was so important that refusal to obey carried a death sentence. Not only did God command his people to refrain from work on the Sabbath, but he also commanded them to give their land a rest from cultivation every seventh year. Their failure to do so was one of the reasons they were eventually banished from the land he had given them (Lev 26:34).

Why is keeping the Sabbath so important? By setting aside their daily tasks and coming together as a people to worship the Lord, God’s people not only honor him but identify with him publicly. For the Jew, the importance of the Sabbath was to honor God as Creator, the giver of every good thing. For the Christian believer, the reason is to honor Jesus Christ for saving us from our sins. We keep the first day of the week as our Sabbath because that is the day on which Christ arose from the dead.

When merchants began opening their stores on Sundays many years ago, Christians stayed home. But over the years as the practice became more widespread, they eventually began shopping on Sundays too. Now there is no longer any one day of the week dedicated solely to the worship of God. Life goes on at the same pace as it does the rest of the week. There is no opportunity to completely rest from our labors and withdraw from worldly pursuits. Because there is no break in the rhythm of daily life, people come to church distracted by all the things that occupy their minds during the week. The family has no opportunity to set aside its normal activities to spend time together in worship and quiet reflection. Instead, it is pulled apart as adults pursue their pastimes and children participate in sports and other activities after church. The only quiet time left is Sunday evening when everyone is preparing to go back to work and school. Instead of spending this time in evening worship like so many people used to do, now many spend it watching Sunday night football.

So What is the Remedy?
It is probably too late in the game to turn things around on a societal scale. We will never be able to get stores to close their doors on Sundays again. Nor will we ever persuade people to give up their Sunday sports and shopping. But one small thing we can do. We can begin coming to church early, making a beeline for the sanctuary and spending ten or fifteen minutes going over the order of worship. I like to read all the scripture passages and the lyrics to the hymns.  This quiets my heart for worship and gets me thinking about the content of the message.

I don’t know about you, but I am terribly weary of people coming into church on a Sunday morning at the last minute, spending time talking noisily with their friends in the lobby, and making their way to the sanctuary to take their seat at the very last minute. We all have enough control over our own behaviors to at least change the way we approach worship on a Sunday morning. Maybe if enough of us get seated early, others will take notice and follow suit. At least that way we can change the church worship culture to make it a little bit more reverent and respectful of the One who deserves our adoration. It may seem like a very small thing given the overwhelming secularization of our society, but it might be a small first step in combating the secularization of the church.

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The Orphaned Church

In Jude 1:3-4 the author says, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Christianity
The faith once delivered to the saints is the same gospel preached by Jesus Christ, the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, and the Puritans. It is orthodox Christianity. These doctrines are affirmed in a number of confessions of faith produced by various church councils throughout the past 2000 years. They include the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the London Baptist Confession. These are all proclamations of the essential doctrines “once for all delivered to the saints” formulated to defend the church against false teaching.

Progressive Revelation
Since these doctrines were “delivered once for all” they never change.  But God has revealed them progressively throughout history. The Old Testament prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand the significance of their own words. The Apostle Peter affirms as much when he says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory.” (1Pet 1:10-11) Peter goes on to say that the prophets did not fully comprehend what they were saying because the meaning was reserved for the church in coming ages, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to [j]look.” (1 Pet 1:12)

Although Peter spent three years with Christ, he himself had an incomplete understanding of Christ’s mission. In the eighth chapter of Mark, he acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. But only moments later he rebuked Jesus for saying that he must be offered up to die at the hands of Jewish leaders. Peter did not understand the Old Testament teaching that the Son of God must suffer and die. None of the other disciples did either. After his resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and  had to explain to them at great length how the events they had witnessed fulfilled scripture. The significance of Christ’s death and resurrection became evident only after his resurrection.

The Apostle Paul adds to the understanding of the church by explaining such doctrines as the sovereignty of God in salvation, the inclusion of  Gentiles in the plan of redemption, the relationship between Christ and his church, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the significance of the sacraments,  and the future hope of believers. All of these teachings were revealed to Paul personally by Christ. This probably took place during the three years that he spent alone in Arabia after his conversion. (Gal 1:18-2:2) He describes how this revelation came to him on at least one occasion in 2 Cor 12:1-6 and Eph 3:3.

The church fathers continued to build upon the foundation laid by the prophets and apostles as they defended the faith against various false teachings that arose in the course of church history. Saint Augustine organized the teachings of scripture on the Trinity into the first systematic theology in the fifth century to defend the deity of Christ against false teachers. Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other reformers reclaimed the great doctrines of the faith from the Roman Catholic Church which had made the church the mediator between God and man rather than Christ.

Building on The Past
As the book of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1-2) With each revelation has come more clarity and definition. With the advent of Jesus, God arrived on the scene to deliver the message in person. In those days Jesus pronounced judgment on the towns where he had performed great miracles because they had received not just an indirect message by way of a prophet, but the very Living Word of God. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Mt 11:21-24) Because we have a record of the life and works of Jesus Christ, we are no less accountable than the people of Jesus’ day. As Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Lk 12:48)

The Price of Ignorance
When God gave the law to the children of Israel, he said through his servant Moses, 
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Deut 11:26-28) On that day the Israelites agreed to do all that the Lord commanded. But it was not long before they went astray. In fact, they so completely abandoned the way of the Lord that they eventually lost the book of the law. It was not until some 800 years later that they rediscovered it when King Josiah of Judah commissioned the renovation of the temple. It  had come into disrepair from years of neglect. The discovery prompted great anxiety, for when the priests read the law, they realized they were under the wrath of God for their idolatry. Although the king destroyed all the idols and killed all the false prophets, God did not spare the Israelites from judgment. Shortly after the death of Josiah, he sent the armies of Babylon to invade Israel and take the people captive. The price they paid for abandoning God’s word was seventy years of humiliating captivity in the land of Babylon.

Orphaned
Because of the rapid progress that has characterized our present age, we tend to think that we are smarter than those who went before us. We have amassed great fortunes compared to previous generations. In our arrogance we have shunned the faith of our fathers, replacing it with a man-made religion that conforms to modern science.  Christian bookstores are filled with popular titles on how to fix just about any aspect of your Christian life. Contemporary Christian therapy has replaced orthodox Christian theology.  Go to almost any church small group meeting and you will study some popular contemporary Christian author or listen to one of their CDs or watch one of their DVDs. Your Sunday School teacher probably uses their materials in class and your pastor likely bases his sermons on them. Try to find a church that affirms the great creeds of the faith or teaches them in catechism class or features sermons that draw upon the great works of the church fathers and reformers and you will be sorely disappointed.

Although rich in material ways, today’s church is poverty stricken when it comes to knowledge of God because it has severed its ties with the past. It is like the the Laodicean church described in the third chapter of Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17) What does God say to this church? “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Gold, white garments, and salve were the products of the Laodiceans’ commercial success and the source of their self-sufficiency and pride. 

Today’s church has become far more wealthy and self-reliant than the Laodicean Church. The annual Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse said recently: “Two generations ahead, future extrapolation of current wealth growth rates yields almost a billion millionaires, equivalent to 20 per cent of the total adult population.(http://ind.pn/2lnch). Because we have become so self-sufficient, many Christians believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved by modern means. And in its pride, it has forsaken a rich theological heritage for a form of self-help religion. But therapy is  a poor substitute for theology because it is based upon the knowledge of the creature rather than revelation from the Creator.  The attributes of God go well beyond human comprehension. They cannot be apprehended apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They are so profound that God has had to reveal himself over generations of redemptive history. We would do well to build upon that foundation  rather than to assume we can do a better job with tools acquired through human progress.

Modern Apostates
The modern progressive mindset has so thoroughly compromised today’s church that it no longer accepts the plain teaching of the Bible on certain important doctrinal issues. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that in the beginning God saw that everything he created was good. He didn’t go through some sort of trial and error process until he finally got it right. Yet many professing Christians choose to believe the evolutionary version of origins which says man was only the most well adapted version of a long line of  failed creatures  that weren’t well suited to their environment.

Many of these same people believe that the universe is some 14 billion years old because science tells us it would take that long for light from the farthest stars to reach the earth. But Genesis tells us that vegetation was created on the third day and the heavenly bodies were created on the fourth day. It is clear from the Genesis account that the stars can be no older than the earth. When they were created they were already billions of light years away.

It is not just the biblical account of creation that Christians reject. They also refuse to accept the biblical teaching on the severity of sin. Because sin is so deeply embedded in human nature, the bible is very clear on the importance of corporal punishment for training in righteousness. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” Many Christian parents believe that any kind of physical discipline is harmful to a child’s normal social development. For the same reason, few pastors will preach repentance for sin and few churches practice church discipline.

Another major area of compromise is the biblical teaching on sexual purity. In a day and age of sexual permissiveness and perversion, many professing Christians have chosen to disregard the Bible’s condemnation of  homosexuality and effeminate behavior. They have bought the lie that gender identity and sexual proclivities are inborn traits, as if God would create something which he then calls evil. He pronounced everything he created good and he made mankind male and female so that their external genitalia reflect their actual sexual identities.

Jesus said over and over again that the one who loves him keeps his commandments. In the book of Hebrews, faith is equated with taking God at his word. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Many Christians today reduce believing faith to a personal decision to accept Jesus as Lord. They think that what they choose to do and to believe after that has no bearing on their eternal destiny. But Jesus is not Lord if you do not obey him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15). Matthew 5:19 says, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Conclusion
In 1 Timothy 6:20 Paul tells Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” We have not taken pains to guard the truth that has been handed down to us from generation to generation all the way from Abel to Abraham to David to the Apostles and church fathers.  We have replaced it with a cheap counterfeit void of anything that might contradict the conventional wisdom of our age. And so we have forfeited the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ and to further his kingdom until he comes again.

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Retransforming America

For years now we have had to watch helplessly as our President, the man entrusted with our safety and security, has systematically undermined the economic and military power of the United States. He repeatedly took actions that endangered the public such as releasing dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo to return to the battlefield, unfreezing and returning billions of dollars in assets to the chief state sponsor of terror, turning his back on our closest ally in the Middle East, reneging on pledges to defend our friends against dangerous enemies, withdrawing missile defenses from  Poland, delaying arms shipments to the Kurds in their fight against the Taliban, failing to defend our ambassador in Libya whose naked corpse was dragged through the streets and publicly sodomized, and vilifying local police for their battle against inner city crime. He called Jesus a cynic and condemned those who spoke out against ‘the Holy Prophet’ Muhammed. He quoted the ‘Holy Koran’ in unaccented Arabic. He promoted gay marriage and transgendered bathrooms, but condemned Christian bakers and florists and photographers who refused to participate in gay marriages. All of this he called “Fundamental Transformation.”

This is a man who has shown himself hostile to the people and values of America. He is and always has been anti-American. This has become painfully obvious in the final days of his administration when all political restraints have been removed. He has commuted or pardoned more criminals than all of his predecessors – 1715 combined. Among them are people who have committed treason like Bradley, aka “Chelsea” Manning. Private Manning released over 700,000 classified military documents to Wikileaks. The Taliban used these documents to identify and kill scores of military personnel in Afghanistan and to counter U.S. military operations. Another recipient of Obama’s beneficence was Oscar Lopez Rivera, a member of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN,  who was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in 1981. He was behind the bombing of 140 government installations, killing and wounding innocent Americans who had nothing to do with government oppression.

If this president were, in fact, concerned about Russian operatives giving hacked documents to Wikileaks as he pretends, he never would have pardoned private Manning for doing the same thing on a much larger scale. He also would have taken action when the Chinese government stole millions of records from the Office of Personnel Management.

If the Taliban had wanted to insert a “Manchurian Candidate” into our political system, they could not have picked a more suitable man than Barack Hussein Obama. The fact that this man ever became president is a tribute to the insanity of political correctness that insists on an inane “inclusiveness” that embraces not just members of different races, beliefs and genders, but the very religious bigots who push homosexuals off of roof tops, subjugate women, and lop the heads off Christians and Jews.

Thank God this man will soon be gone and the Oval Office will once again be occupied by someone who puts America and Americans first. Thank God that rational people won the day this past November.

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Appropriating the Gospel

I have often wondered why some professing Christians show so little progress in the faith while others develop an immediate love for the Word of God and experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way.

For example, we met a Chinese woman who became a believer simply because she was curious about why people kept saying “Thank the Lord.” Her curiosity led her to get a Bible and read through the entire thing from cover to cover in a couple of weeks. Raised on evolution in Communist China, she immediately recognized the truth of the creation account in Genesis. Sensing the significance of the Ten Commandments, she committed them to memory. When she came to the Lord’s Prayer, she realized its importance and memorized it as well. She had no one to teach her the fundamentals of the faith, yet she had a natural grasp of the truth just by reading the Bible by herself. She was filled with joy even though her life was full of hardships.

Another woman attended our church for years and accepted the Bible as God’s Word – true in every detail and a trustworthy foundation upon which to build her life. Yet she couldn’t get free from her struggle with depression. She would find temporary relief after receiving prayer from the pastor or other believers, but the depression would always come back.

Then her church hired a new pastor. This woman joined a Bible study led by the pastor’s wife and learned the fundamentals of the faith all over again from another perspective. The truths were the same, but ordered around the sovereignty of God rather than the needs of man. She began to see God with new eyes and suddenly her depression was gone. Now she says she knows it will never return.

Focusing on God

What do these two women have in common? One came to the truth on her own without the aid of the four spiritual laws or some other formatted gospel presentation. She came to Christ by reading the word of God. She learned for herself that the Christian life is not about her but about her Savior. The other one had been exposed for years to the “Therapeutic Gospel” which is taught in the vast majority of Evangelical churches. This is a gospel that centers on meeting the needs of man. Ironically, this gospel was unable to provide genuine healing for her depression. Focusing on herself only made the depression worse. When she focused on God, it went away by itself.

In Philippians 3, Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” His life was all about developing an increasing intimacy with God. This intimacy was more important than anything else as he acknowledges in the next verse, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Later he says that he even rejoices in his sufferings because they bring him closer to Christ, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

You Don’t Choose Christ – He Chooses You

You won’t find many Christians who are genuinely eager to suffer for Christ’s sake in order to get to know Him better. That has something to do with the way they came to Christ in the first place. Many, if not most, professing Christians made a “profession of faith” that included saying a formal prayer or raising a hand at an evangelistic meeting. These folks all believe they chose Christ. But the fact of the matter is that true believers don’t choose Christ. They are chosen by Christ.

The book of Ephesians says that God chose believers before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5), that he redeems them, sanctifies them, makes them His sons, gives them an inheritance, bestows His Holy Spirit on them, and ultimately glorifies them (vs. 3-14). This is all God’s doing and not one bit of our own, not even the faith part. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that (i.e. “faith”) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God gave us the faith to believe in Him because we were dead in our sins and incapable of even acknowledging Jesus as Lord. As Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

You Have No Part in Your Own Redemption

I only began to appropriate all of the spiritual blessings of belief when I finally realized that I owed my redemption lock stock and barrel to Jesus Christ and God the Father. Suddenly I realized I had nothing to be proud of, no qualifications to commend me for salvation. God in His mercy had chosen me entirely at His own discretion and for His own purposes. I too had suffered from depression for years, even though I had professed faith in Christ. That depression immediately went away and has never come back. I have a new love for the Word of God and a desire to obey it. I want to please Christ more than anything else in the world. And I want to know Him even more intimately by sharing in His sufferings.

So many Christians feel insecure about their salvation. Because they came to Christ on their own, they feel it is solely up to them to sustain their salvation. They don’t realize that the One who justifies them will in no way cast them out. If the Judge Himself justifies them, who can condemn them? (Rom 8:34). Christ is thoroughly able to complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6). He chose them and He holds them securely. It is not a matter of our ability but His sovereignty.

Those Christians who come to Christ on their own not only have an innate insecurity about their salvation, but they have an inability to trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to save others. For them, evangelism is a matter of man-made method and persuasion. They feel the onus is on them to make the case for Christ. So they try to entice people into the kingdom by lowering the demands of discipleship. They avoid talking about the unpleasant aspects of salvation like remorse and repentance for sin. They try to meet people’s needs as a way to win a hearing for the gospel. But the fact is that the gospel deserves an audience simply by virtue of the fact that it cost God His only Son to purchase our salvation.

Paving the Way for the Gospel?

So many churches waste precious resources of time, money and talent by providing services to people who have absolutely no intention of ever embracing Jesus Christ. Works of mercy are intended for the church first and foremost. Galations 6:10 says, “let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Him. Most of those unbelievers to whom we minister in hopes of  winning a hearing for the gospel will just take what we offer until our patience runs out.

Our church sponsored a family of refugees from Bosnia through a local relief agency for years, helping them find housing and jobs and learning English. When they finally got comfortably established in their new surroundings, they just disappeared. We haven’t heard from them since. The same thing happened with a young Chinese woman who was here on a student visa. She overstayed her visa and then because she knew the church would not approve, cut all connections and moved to Las Vegas (as best we knew). This type of experience is not uncommon.

Works-Based “Faith”

Coming to Christ on your own not only produces insecurity, it results in a “faith” that depends on constant works to validate it. Those who believe it is up to them to “accept Christ” find themselves continually striving to confirm their faith by their good works. That is why some Christians burn themselves out serving others, yet seem so joyless in the process. Sure we should serve our brothers and sisters, but we should also realize that meeting their needs is not entirely up to any one of us individually. Others have gifts of ministry that they can use. We need to find those ways where we can be of best service and major on meeting those particular needs. God is sovereign and fully capable of providing the resources to meet the needs He deems important.

Conclusion

We cannot find true peace and joy until we come to realize that salvation is the work of a sovereign God who chooses us, redeems us, makes us holy, adopts us as His own children, and provides for us an inheritance that will last forever. None of this is our own doing, so we can neither sustain it or lose it. We can trust God to bring the good work He has begun in us to completion because He cannot fail. If He could, He wouldn’t be God. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says, ” For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, evangelism, new birth, Redemption, Reformed Theology, salvation, sanctification | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Technology Proves Ancient Man Was More Intelligent

I have started watching the show “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel. I am absolutely fascinated by all the technological wonders of the ancient world, some of which cannot even be duplicated today. How did they build structures on such a massive scale with such fine engineering tolerances? How did they move massive blocks of stone without modern cranes and earth moving equipment? How did they form marble into columns and statues without iron and diamond cutting tools? How could the Roman army build a bridge across a two mile stretch of river in just ten days? How could they drill a four mile long tunnel through a mountain starting from both ends and connecting in the middle without laser technology?

For lack of any other explanation, popular science says aliens from an advanced society in outer space gave them a hand. But there is a much more logical explanation and that is that despite their lack of modern technology, the ancients were smarter than we are. If you believe God created man without defect, as He did all creation, then you won’t find these technological marvels so puzzling. Before sin ravaged the human species, man would have had superior mental capacities. Adam and Eve were probably much smarter than Einstein. They just didn’t have the accumulated knowledge base of coming generations upon which to build.

The book of Job was written long before the book of Genesis. In fact, it may have been written before the flood, given the references to prehistoric animals. Listen to this description of a creature called “Leviathan” in Job 41 and tell me if it doesn’t sound like the description of a dragon:

Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook,
and tie down its tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?

Is it not fierce when it is awakened?
Who is he, then, who can stand before it?

I will not keep silent about its limbs,
and the extent of its might,
and the grace of its arrangement.

Who can uncover its outer covering?
Who can penetrate to the inside of its armor?
Who can open the doors of its mouth?
Its teeth all around are fearsome.
Its back has rows of shields,
shut up closely together as with a seal;
each one is so close to the next
that no air can come between them.
They lock tightly together, one to the next;
they cling together and cannot be separated.

Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the red glow of dawn.
Out of its mouth go flames,
sparks of fire shoot forth!
Smoke streams from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning rushes.
Its breath sets coals ablaze
and a flame shoots from its mouth.

Strength lodges in its neck,
and despair runs before it.
The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm on it, immovable.

Its underparts are the sharp points of potsherds,
it leaves its mark in the mud
like a threshing sledge.
It makes the deep boil like a cauldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment,

It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had a head of white hair.
The likes of it is not on earth,
a creature without fear.
It looks on every haughty being;
it is king over all that are proud” (Job 41)

Here is a creature with armored flesh, rows of shields on its back, powerful limbs, iron jaw, fearsome teeth, flashing eyes and smoking nostrils that breathes out fire and creates a foaming wake as it swims. This is like no other creature scientists have ever found even in the fossil record. So it must be an antediluvian creature of enormous strength and size.

And yet as ancient as his times were, Job describes technologies that include iron working. This is from Job 19:23:

O that my words were written down,
O that they were written on a scroll,
that with an iron chisel and with lead
they were engraved in a rock forever!

In chapter 28 Job describes the mining of gold, iron, silver, copper and precious gems using powerful explosives:

Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place where gold is refined.
Iron is taken from the ground,
and rock is poured out as copper.

Man puts an end to the darkness;
he searches the farthest recesses
for the ore in the deepest darkness.
Far from where people live he sinks a shaft,
in places travelers have long forgotten,
far from other people he dangles and sways.

The earth, from which food comes,
is overturned below as though by fire;
a place whose stones are sapphires
and which contains dust of gold;
a hidden path no bird of prey knows –
no falcon’s eye has spotted it.
Proud beasts have not set foot on it,
and no lion has passed along it.

On the flinty rock man has set to work with his hand;
he has overturned mountains at their bases.
He has cut out channels through the rocks;
his eyes have spotted every precious thing.
He has searched the sources of the rivers
and what was hidden he has brought into the light.

It is indeed possible that before the flood, technology was advanced far beyond what it was for thousands of years afterwards.

And as for an advanced race of aliens lending a hand? Well, according to the creation account in Genesis, the stars were not created until after plant life. Vegetation was created on the third day and the “lights in the heavens” were created on the fourth day (Gen 1:11-19). So no intelligent life existed anywhere in the universe before Adam and Eve.

 

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