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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Testing Testing

... one, two, three.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5).
Samantha over at Carry your Candle has linked to a sermon to a youth group by Paul Washer. I'm afraid the good preacher didn't score many points with his audience. He spoke on a taboo topic: "Test Yourself." You see, poor Paul is deluded. He thinks that simply saying a prayer to accept Jesus isn't enough to make you a Christian. He thinks that not only is there a narrow gate into heaven, but a narrow path. He actually believes that real Christians have a new nature that alters their lives, changes their way of living, and demands personal holiness. In other words, Paul Washer agrees with ... Paul the Apostle.

We are not privy to many sermons on this topic. "Test yourself." We are told that Christians can be "carnal", meaning that they may never ever display any hint of "Christianity" once they become Christians. We are told that all it takes to become a Christian is to say the Sinner's Prayer. And when folks like John MacArthur write books about the evil "Lordship Salvation" concept, there is an uproar. In a Tina Turner parody they cry, "What's works got to do with it?!?" Unfortunately, their outcry isn't against Washer or MacArthur, but against Scripture.

What do we know? We know that "each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work" (1 Cor. 3:13). We know that "the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:8-10). We know that Peter, writing to "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours" (2 Peter 1:1), warns, "Brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (2 Peter 1:10).

Now, I'm one who believes in the "Doctrines of Grace" which means that I believe in Election. Yet Peter warns that we should each be diligent to make certain that we are among the chosen. Look at that passage and find out what Peter suggests as a test:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:2-11).
Apparently Peter suffers from the same silly delusions that John MacArthur and Paul Washer suffer from -- works are a necessary part of being a Christian. Let's look more closely at what Peter actually says here.

Peter affirms Election when he refers to "Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." He affirms the sufficiency of salvation when he says, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness." So far he's right in line with modern American Christianity. Then he deviates. He suggests that we become "partakers of the divine nature" by ... escaping the corruption that is in the world? No, no, Peter, we're just fine with all that. It's ours. We possess it. We're redeeming it. We can be in the world but not of it, and it's okay. We can watch the garbage that the world feeds us, listen to the garbage that its music plays for us, indulge in all the same sin that the world does and still be Christians. No need to "escape" ... right? No, not right. Peter says that we must add to faith. What is added? "In your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love." Oh, yeah, love ... that's good. That's the end of the list. It starts with things that much of American Christianity has jettisoned: Moral excellence, knowledge, self-control. Wait ... it gets worse. "If these qualities are yours and are increasing ..." This climb from faith to love is an ever increasing spiral, building on lower level excellence to greater and greater excellence.

And here's my point ... or, rather, Peter's point: These are not trivial issues. They're not "nice to have." I'm not suggesting you feel badly and get to work on these things. Peter says that if you are not working on these things, you aren't merely being a bad Christian -- you may not be a Christian at all. Peter says that practicing such things are the means by which "the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."

Christians, these aren't small matters. God is not in the business of making bad people into good people. He is in the business of making dead people into living people. Living people respond differently than dead people. So when we think we're among the living, but our lives reflect nothing of the sort, it's not a matter of self-improvement; it's a matter of being dead. The fix is not to work harder; the fix is to fall on your knees and repent, to come to Christ with nothing in your hand and beg of Him forgiveness and new life.

I suspect that a large number of folks calling themselves "Christians" in America today will have a rude awakening come Judgment Day. The authors of Scripture (and, therefore, their Inspiration) worked hard to warn us away from "casual Christianity." We have largely ignored that warning. We even get angry when people suggest that not all Christians are Christians. Well, don't take it up with me; take it up with God. These are His warnings. We dare not despise them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Innocent Until ...

One of the fundamental positions in our justice system is the premise that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. When you stop to think about that, it seems an impossibility.

Recently I read a report about an Iranian student at UCLA who was tasered by the campus police when he failed to comply with an order. I don't know the source of the story or I would cite it, but for the purpose of this thought, not knowing the source is helpful. Having been given this information, it is inevitable that we will draw our conclusions. What do we know? Well, we know that the man was attacked for being a Muslim. No, no, we don't know that. He was clearly attacked for being from the Middle East. No, we don't know that either. Well, obviously it is a case of police brutality. Maybe, but the information I've offered doesn't give you that. Apparently the student was disruptive and combative and required these measures to get him to comply. No, we don't have that, either. What do we know? Well, to be honest, we don't know anything. We don't know what the problem was, why the student was asked to leave, if race or perceived religion was an issue, how much force was actually used, or who was actually at fault. However, everyone has come to their own conclusion. The cops are bad. Or the student had it coming. Someone is guilty without ever having been proved guilty.

You know you do it. I do. O. J. was guilty and we all knew it. Now, I'm relatively sure that none of my readers were on that jury, and I'm absolutely sure that none of my readers knows all the facts, but we're mostly convinced that O. J. killed his wife even though the courts acquitted him. That is, Simpson was guilty after being declared innocent.

I'm not just speaking to you here. It's me, too. It is not possible to read or hear an account of something without coming to a conclusion regarding guilt or innocence. And it doesn't really matter the source. If you dislike or distrust the source, you might come to a different conclusion than they do, but you will come to a conclusion. Someone is guilty. No proof. Just an assumption. Maybe even a good assumption, but still an assumption.

One of the fundamental positions in our justice system is the premise that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, yet we all come to our conclusions without the requisite proof. Is there is any hope for justice in our courts? This isn't one of those complaining pieces. I am pointing out that "innocent until proven guilty" runs against our grain and yet I think that justice is often the result of our court system. This is a case of imperfect people in an imperfect premise producing a flawed but pretty impressive system of justice. Kind of makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's cold here ... miserable cold. I've had to start wearing long sleeves to work. The highs barely break the 70's, and the lows drop way down into the upper 40's. I don't know how anyone lives in these cold climates.

Of course, most of you are saying, "Oh shut up!" Bear with me; I'm making a point.

I live at the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert. From mid-May to mid-October we average 93 days above 100°F. This year Phoenix had 105 days at or above the 100° mark, with a peak at 118°. Beyond that, from the first of April to the first of November we have an average high over 80° each day. In this climate, it is really easy to become used to warmth. In fact, it is a necessity if you are going to live here. My wife and I actually like it. We've grown accustomed to this heat. So for us, when it drops below 80°, we're headed toward "the dead of winter" -- "miserable cold". My point? One word: acclimated.

It's very easy to get acclimated. You immerse yourself in a place or a culture or some such. Before long the novelty wears off, the oddity is no more, and you're ... acclimated. Your comfortable with your surroundings. It is this very human phenomenon that accounts for a big problem today with Christians. We are acclimated. We live in our culture, immersed. We're accustomed to the sin, so much so that we begin to consider it not only "not sin", but normal. We develop tendencies like an equivalent divorce rate with our culture, even though the Bible is undeniably anti-divorce. We begin to not only accept fornication around us, but to defend it for ourselves. A couple of weeks ago, on a Christian radio station, they had people call in and explain if it's okay to live together before getting married. I was amazed at the number of people who called themselves Christians and defended sex before marriage. "How else are you going to know if you're compatible?" Women's Lib has taken the culture, so it has seeped into the Church. Gay pride has taken the culture, so it is has seeped into the Church. We have become those of whom Isaiah warned: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" (Isa. 5:20).

How did this happen? We got acclimated. We immersed ourselves in our culture. We forgot the command: "Come out from their midst and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17). We invited the world into our churches without being cautious of the sin they would bring. We stood so silent when sin crept in all around us that sin is no longer an allowable topic in some churches. Like the frog in the pot, we became comfortable in water not our own, and when the heat was slowly turned up, we were unaware that we were getting cooked.

We are called to be a light on the hill. We are to "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). We are to be salt and light to the world. Instead, we have lost our savor and hidden our lights and, instead of supplying what our world lacks, we've joined in their loss.

Of course, 70° is not cold. When you're used to 100°, that 30° difference feels cold, but it's not cold. By the same token, much of what we've come to view as "normal" is not normal or, worse, not right. Moving from the "normal", the "popular", the "currently acceptable" to the biblical will also not "feel right". It will be a change. It might feel "cold". It isn't. But move we must. It is necessary to stand for what is true, for the biblical perspective, rather than the pop-culture.

It's not popular or pleasant to stand. In Scripture you won't find much in the way of "Onward Christian Soldiers", but you will find many times that it says, "Stand firm." We are not anticipating better times. We're expecting it to get so bad they will "mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:24). The people around us cannot afford to have us hanging around, knee deep in sin, lights covered. We need to recognize our acclimation and begin the difficult process of climbing out of it -- else our frog will be cooked.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Trinity Question

As indicated way back in this post, even though the question was settled some 1600 years ago, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity continues to surface and face argument. It is not uncommon to hear people say, "The Trinity is not found or taught in the Bible" or "The Trinity is an antichrist doctrine cooked up in the church of Rome." They'll tell you it is tritheism, borrowed from pagan beliefs, an invention of the Roman Catholic Church. They are not dealing with the facts.

There is one question (at least one) that I have never had answered from the anti-Trinitarians. Most don't even try. It comes from one of the clearest expressions of the Deity of Christ as well as His "difference" with God -- John 1.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:1-3).
First, the easy stuff. What can we see without doing any real work?

We can see that "the Word" is an enigma. This "Word" is both God and with God. This Word, then, has both the same nature as God and yet a distinction from God.

We can see that this Word is the Creator. This is really problematic to those who claim that Jesus was a created being, because John goes out of his way to say this as categorically as he can. "All things were made through Him." No, that's not sufficient. Let's see it another way. "Without Him was not any thing made." Yeah, that says it again in reverse. But wait ... there's more. One might think that "any thing" refers to "any thing but him, of course." But John is equally clear as to what "any thing" refers: "Any thing that was made." Well, let's see ... what was made? That would be all Creation. That would exclude God. Anything but God was "made." So if "the Word" made everything that was made (which would include everything except God), then "the Word" cannot be a created being, else He would have made Himself -- an absolute impossibility.

So the "sticky" question ... who is "the Word"? Well, John doesn't leave us in the dark about that, either.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
That leaves little room for guessing. "The Word" is "the only Son from the Father," who, as John goes on to explain, is Jesus.

Putting it together, we have Jesus (prior to becoming flesh) who is both the same nature as God and yet distinct from God who is also the Creator of all that exists. (If you still trip over "But ... God exists", perhaps it's a good time to review.) This seems to be an insurmountable question to me. To the modalist -- those who hold that God has operated in different modes, starting as YHWH and now as Jesus (including the "Jesus Only" crowd) -- you have a problem. John presents a distinction between God and the Word. To the Arians -- those who hold that Jesus was a created being -- and the Socinians -- those who teach that Jesus was a deified man -- you have a problem. John presents Him as the Creator of all things that were created. How did He make Himself? To the monophysite -- those that hold that Jesus only had one nature ... a divine one -- you have a problem. John clearly states that He became flesh. To the tritheist -- those who hold that there are three distinct gods (Yes, there are those who actually argue that.) -- you have a problem. John clearly says that Jesus was God -- a unity.

Now, admittedly this passage does not address the third person of the Trinity, but I have yet to have a valid answer from an anti-Trinitarian that explains this passage. The worst, the ones that don't even try, are the ones that claim that Jesus was a created being. How is it even remotely possible that this created being created Himself?

So the next time you hear "The Trinity is not found or taught in the Bible," keep in mind this passage and try to figure out for yourself how it is possible that such a claim could stand on its own for long.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Marriage at its End?

Is marriage on its way out?

I was initially sparked to ask this question when Arizona defeated the Protect Marriage Act. But one begins to wonder if it can be protected. Arizona's defeat of this proposition (even though it was on the basis of what the proposition said about unmarried couples rather than what it said about homosexual marriage) has hit the news media as a victory for homosexual marriage. It's still illegal here in Arizona, but many news outlets have assured us that the gay and lesbian community see this as a win. And as the media continues to pour out a steady fare of "There's certainly nothing unusual or noticeable about homosexuality" on its entertainment screens, public opinion is swayed.

Of course, the homosexual community is only one aspect of the marriage question. The heterosexual community is adding its own contributions. The New York Times announced, "To Be Married Is To Be Outnumbered", citing census information that says that there are fewer people living as married couples than those who are not. Many couples are in "alternative living arrangements". They're ... shacking up. With the prevalence of this kind of arrangement, one has to ask, "Why marry?" Children from divorced homes tend to be less likely to marry and more likely to "shack up". ("Live together" sounds so nice; I don't want to portray it as such.) Most of society believes that shacking up isn't only acceptable ... it's advisable. I mean, how can you know what a person is really like if you haven't lived with them? Two facts -- the fact that shacking up is not the same as marriage and, therefore, not a valid test and the fact that couples that live together before marriage tend to have higher divorce rates -- don't seem to have any sway in this popular wisdom. So couples are shacking up, forming "domestic partnerships" in which they buy houses, engage in sex, have children ... do most everything that married couples do without the commitment. Why marry?

Divorce is a major problem in America today. Many states have "no-fault" divorce. That means that there does not have to be a genuine reason for terminating a marriage. If he says, "I don't want to be married anymore" and she says, "I do", it's considered "irreconcilable differences" and the marriage is terminated. Despite all the difficulties that divorce brings and despite the studies that have repeatedly said that divorce causes more problems than it solves, divorce rates continue to rise.

Christians aren't helping matters. Statistically, people who identify themselves as Christians are just as likely to shack up and just as likely to divorce as anyone else. One would think this wouldn't be the case, since Christianity is clearly against both, but those who call themselves followers of Christ are blatantly ignoring His views on the subjects of sex outside of marriage and divorce in growing numbers.

Marriage is in trouble in America. Who knows if it can be saved? Should it be saved? The biblical answer would be a resounding "Yes!" Marriage has a variety of positive values. First and foremost, it is ordained and blessed by God. That alone should be sufficient. But there are other values -- practical ones. People who marry and stay married tend to live longer than those who don't. Marriage -- a father and mother indefinitely committed to each other and the family -- provides the healthiest environment for raising children. Marriage tends to "domesticate" men. Now, guys might say, "How is that a positive value?" By "domesticate" I mean it tends to rub off the wild tendencies -- you know, the ones that cause all the problems. Married men -- men committed to their wives and their families -- tend toward less crime, less violence, less problems in society. Instead, they tend toward better selves, better contributors to society, better involvement in their neighborhoods and the lives of others. If, for instance, a man is married -- truly married with no thought of escape -- the instances of adultery plummet. It becomes an untenable option. Children in homes where their parents are married tend to be better adjusted -- better people. They tend to propagate this improvement as well. One other benefit of marriage is a Christian one, again. Marriage is God's image of His Son's relationship with His people. The Church is "the Bride of Christ". It carries a variety of images from caring to unity, from protection to intimacy. It is an image created by God to bring more sharply into focus the relationship of His Son to His people. Tarnishing that image is an affront to God.

Marriage is worth saving. Will America step up and do it? There's no way to tell right now. Will Christians step up and do it? Even that is hard to say. So it falls on us, as individuals, to protect it in our homes and our lives. The troubles marriage faces in our society is no excuse for us. While we wonder, "Exactly how 'Christian' is a 'Christian' who disdains the obvious commands of God?" we still need to proceed with doing what we know to be right, being lights in the darkness, so that they may see our good marriages and glorify God.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Unpardonable Sin

The "unpardonable sin" ... what is it? Growing up, I was taught, "The unpardonable sin is not accepting Jesus as Savior. It is the only unforgivable sin." Unbelief ... that was it. It's a comfortable position. It makes God seem "broad-minded" and grace seem large. But when I read the text in which we find the reference to the unpardonable sin, it doesn't seem to fit, and, worse, when I begin to analyze it, I run into serious problems.

First, the text:
22A demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons" (Matt. 12:22-24)
Jesus was causing a stir among the people. The Pharisees had to shut it down. So they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. This gives rise to a famous saying that Jesus gives in response:
25And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:25-28).
"A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." Lincoln used it to explain why we had to fight against the South seceding from the Union. And Jesus, in the context of the accusation of the Pharisees and His assurance that their accusation is impossible, speaks of a sin that cannot be forgiven here or in the afterlife:
"29Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:29-32).
There you have it. Other translations use the term "blasphemy." The NASB here uses the term "speaks against," which is the general meaning of "blasphemy." Jesus here appears to caution the Pharisees. He appears to say, "Be careful, guys ... you are really close to putting yourself in a category without hope. You've spoken against Me, and that can be forgiven, but you are right on the edge of speaking against the Holy Spirit, and that is unforgiveable." There appears, from the context, to be an unbreakable link between the accusation of the Pharisees and the sin we call "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit."

It doesn't seem that the context supports the idea that "The unpardonable sin is not accepting Jesus as Savior." Instead, it appears to be that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is more like attributing to Satan the actions of the Holy Spirit. I can't see how "not accepting Jesus as Savior" fits anything in the context of the statement.

Beyond that, it becomes problematic when you analyze it. If the unpardonable sin is not accepting Jesus as Savior, everyone is guilty of that sin at some point. Everyone has a time frame in which they did not (read "refused to") accept Jesus as Savior. (Oh, how I hate that phrase. But let's move on.) No one is innocent of refusing Jesus as Savior at some time in their life. So it would seem that if this was an accurate representation of the unpardonable sin, then it must require more clarification. The standard addendum is "for life" -- "The unpardonable sin is not accepting Jesus as Savior ... for life." In other words, no one can commit this sin until they die. Now, trying to fit that into the context of Jesus's warning to the Pharisees gets even more difficult. If that was what He intended to say, it is extremely obscure. "You Pharisees be careful! Don't die with that attitude of rejecting Me." Further, if the sin is dying without having received Christ, then the fix is ... self-help. "Do it yourself." I avoid committing the unpardonable sin by receiving Christ. The problem here is that if the only thing that can keep me from Heaven is that one thing, and I accomplish (or rather avoid) that one thing, how have I not earned Heaven?

I'm sorry, but none of this makes sense to me. Context doesn't seem to support it. Reason doesn't seem to support it. I like the idea, to be sure, but I cannot bring myself to agree with it. From my perspective, it makes God quite narrow-minded, and grace becomes totally dependent on my choice ... nullifying grace. I can only conclude that the unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit -- assigning to Satan the acts performed by the Holy Spirit. Anything else just doesn't seem to make sense to me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Work ... the Curse?

I was listening to my local Christian radio station at a time I would not normally be listening to my local Christian radio station (I typically listen for an hour driving home from work and no other time.) when I heard the speaker tell me that work is a curse. Works is a curse????

As proof, we were offered this tidbit from God's curse of Adam and Eve in the Garden:
"Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life" (Gen. 3:17).
Well, there you have it, plain as day. "Toil" is part the curse. Work is a curse.

I find that notion completely bizarre. There is more than one reason. First, didn't God give Adam work to do before he sinned? Let's see ... oh yes:
The LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it (Gen. 2:15).

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them (Gen. 2:19).
So, Adam was given a one-time task of naming all the animals (Imagine the magnitude of that task.) and an ongoing job of cultivating and maintaining the Garden. Adam had work to do.

Second, it seems that Man is built for work. The story is told of a Nazi prison camp in which the Jewish prisoners were dying from nothing to do (among everything else they were enduring). The commandant decided to give them something to do, so he ordered them to move a large pile of sand that was on the compound. When they started into the task, the guards noticed a dramatic change in the prisoners. Poorly fed, poorly treated, and in miserable physical condition, they still displayed a sense of confidence and pride. Their morale improved. They had meaning. When the task was done, the commandant decided to prolong the work by having them move the pile back to its original position. Interestingly, when the prisoners discovered that their task had no meaning, their attitudes reverted to the depression they had before.

Man is built for work. Everyone needs a sense of meaning, of accomplishment, of significance. Males in particular are wired for this. The most common cause of the "mid-life crisis" is when a person gets past the middle point of his (or her) life and thinks that they haven't accomplished what they hoped. Accomplishment, meaning, significance ... these are essential to the well-being of the human being.

Based on the fact that Adam had a job to do before sin, and based on the intrinsic need of human beings to do work, I have to disagree with the teacher on the radio. I have no doubt that it is a popular perception. I have no doubt that many Christians think that work is part of the Curse. But that's not the case, nor is it what God said to Adam.

What did God say to Adam? He didn't say that work was the curse. He said that hard work was the curse. He said that the ground was cursed because of sin. That meant that the work, which originally would have been easy, will now become difficult. God, in essence, sentenced us to hard labor. Labor is not part of the Curse; just hard labor. Work itself is a gift from God, designed by God to meet the needs of His creation. If we disdain that gift and call it a curse, we miss out on the blessings that God intended when He originally designed us.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ted's Eatery

Meet Ted. Ted is the proud owner and operator of a small little take-out place. Ted is running his business fairly, not overcharging customers and not underpaying workers (according to the law). After all the cost of running his business is done, Ted takes home $40,000 a year.

Ted has four employees. Two are minimum wage earners, working 40 hours a week for $5.15 an hour. Ernie, his cook, has been with Ted for a year, so Ernie is making $6.15 an hour at 40 hours a week. Bill has been with Ted for a couple of years. He is the night shift supervisor, so he makes $7.15 an hour at 40 hours a week. In total, Ted is currently paying $49,088 a year in wages for his workers.

Enter the minimum wage hike. When Congress raises the minimum wage to the projected $7.25 an hour, Ted will comply. The two minimum wage workers will get a $2.10 an hour raise. Of course, Ernie could get a $1.10 an hour raise to bring him up to minimum wage, but that hardly seems fair to put him at the same level as the entry-level workers. And it is less fair for his long time employee and shift manager to make the same as the entry-level workers, even though he would see a $.10 an hour raise. So Ted does the fair thing and shifts everyone by $2.10 an hour. Now Ted is paying $66,560 a year in wages for his workers.

Ted has a tough decision now. He can take the loss himself, requiring him to live off of $22,528 a year, or he can find some other way to equalize the business. If he lets one of his entry-level workers go, he would gain $15,080 a year and only drop to $37,608 a year. Of course, that would leave him short handed. He could avoid making the wage hikes for Ernie and Bob, but they wouldn't stick around long at that rate, and he'd be short handed and out of the experienced workers he had. So Ted has another option. He can hand off the cost to his customers. Dividing it over hundreds of customers shouldn't be too bad, so he boosts his prices to compensate for the $17,472 he has lost in income.

Funny thing. While not everyone is making the same decision, many are. Of course, those with more employees make bigger changes because those with more employees are having more dramatic effects on their businesses. Ted is not hiring that new employee he was hoping for. Others are laying off some of theirs. A lot are adjusting their prices to compensate. And, as it turns out, the cost of living ... everywhere ... goes up. As it happens, when Ted's wage requirements match California's wage requirements, the cost of living matches California's cost of living.

Well, of course, now those minimum wage workers are having trouble making ends meet ... again. They boost in pay was nice, but everything costs more now, so it doesn't feel like much of a pay boost. And the losses of entry level jobs is having a drag on the employment market. It was nice for a short time, but now $7.25 is a sub-poverty wage. Why doesn't someone do something about it? Shouldn't the government raise the minimum wage? Surely anyone who works for 40 hours a week deserves not to live in poverty ...

Maybe it will happen this way, and maybe it won't. But those who argue that the minimum wage needs to be increased, I think, are not taking into account all the factors, including the fact that it hasn't made those workers in other states with higher minimum wages any better off where they live than those with lower minimum wages. Yes, yes, I know ... economists are not in agreement about how this all works itself out. Yes, yes, I know ... my scenario is overly simplified. I'm not really trying to prove a point here. All I'm asking is this: Are we really thinking this through ... for everyone?

Thursday, November 23, 2006


It's Thanksgiving Day. What a unique opportunity! Most countries don't have a day set aside to give thanks. And even though many Americans don't know to Whom they're giving thanks, we still have Thanksgiving Day.

According to Paul, a lack of gratitude is one of Man's main problems. In his explanation of the decline of Man in sin from Rom. 1, he says early on, "Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

A lack of gratitude, spawned from a refusal to honor God, produces ... insanity. It produces futile speculations and foolish, dark hearts. The result is a continuing decline in Romans 1 until we find that people "know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death" and yet "they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32).

Climbing out of the natural condition of "ungrateful" isn't easy. It takes time and effort. We need to work at "thanks." Today is a day to do that.

I'm grateful for so much, and I should be grateful for so much more.

I'm grateful for Christ, His sacrifice on my behalf, and His offer of salvation. I'm grateful for a wife who loves me, for children, for family. I'm grateful for employment and all that that provides. I'm grateful for a house to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear. I'm grateful for running water. (Are you aware that a majority of Earth's population does not have indoor plumbing?) I'm grateful for reliable transportation, for friends, for health. I'm grateful for the painful lessons God has taught me and the comfort He provided afterward. I'm grateful for His promises on my behalf. I'm grateful for answered and unanswered prayer. Where would I be if God did everything I asked Him to do? I'm grateful for the things He has given me and the things He has taken from me. I'm grateful for the plans He has for me. I'm grateful mostly that "me" is not His primary view.

The list goes on and on. It is woefully short. If I am honest, I have to admit that I am too often among the ungrateful. So I'm grateful to live in a country that recognizes a day, at least, to remind us to give thanks.

(As a postscript, I also need to shout out a "Happy Birthday" to my youngest son. On rare occasions his birthday aligns with Thanksgiving Day. On the other hand, I rarely forget to be thankful for him.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Can We Talk?

Have you ever noticed that there are some things that we can't talk about?

I recently read a piece on why it is that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable and Christians should back off and let it be because it's normal and biblical -- so there. Now, if I were to respond to this line of thinking, there is only one possible conclusion -- I'm a homophobe. I could explain the biblical perspective. I could tell why the Bible is against homosexual behavior. I could respond to the piece point by point. And I could even state with all clarity that God doesn't hate homosexuals and neither do I. Love the sinner; hate the sin. You know. But it doesn't matter. I would be branded a right wing anti-gay. The only way to avoid this kind of slander is to agree with the piece.

I recently read a piece on why it is that women should be allowed to be head pastors of churches and anyone who disagrees is a throwback to the Dark Ages. If I were to respond to this line of thinking, I'd be shot down from two directions. First, I'm a male. Males are not allowed to comment on things about females if they are perceived to be "keeping the woman down". If my position from Scripture is not that women should be allowed to be head pastors of churches, I would be a male chauvinist, a power-mad fool trying to keep women in their place and prevent them from being all that God intended. Second, I'd be a "traditionalist", a throwback, too narrow-minded and too steeped in history and tradition to see the truth. Even in a discussion of the merits of the arguments and the reasons why Scripture appears to contradict the idea that women should be allowed to be head pastors, I'd be branded "backward". Clearly I am placing on Scripture my own twisted perspective, as every enlightened person (male and female) can tell. How do you know who is enlightened? Well, you're clearly enlightened if you agree with the idea that women should be allowed to be head pastors of churches.

I float these two, without merit of discussion, points of Scripture, or real explanation of the ideas on either side, as illustrations of things that we can't talk about. To do so would be narrow-minded, bigoted, sexist, and so on and so forth. The merits of the arguments are not up for discussion. Why the Bible might disagree is not an allowable course of conversation. And heaven help the ones who disagree with the current "new views". You're simply being disagreeable. You don't like "seeker-sensitive services"? Clearly you're not progressive enough. You think that churches should have a biblical government? You're obviously not keeping up with the times. And that limited idea that the Bible is the Word of God ... come on ... where are you from? No, no, we won't be discussing the merits of any of those ideas. They disagree with the majority; therefore, they have no merits and there is nothing to discuss. If you do decide to discuss it, you're just being argumentative and mean-spirited. And you call yourself a Christian? Troublemaker! We're just not going to talk about it. You're too judgmental and intolerant.

Or take this example. There is a young lady where I work with whom I have occasional conversations. She lives with her boyfriend whom she followed from her home of origin back on the east coast. Now, me, being the curious type ... I simply want to ask "Why?" I don't mean it as judgmental. I'm just curious what would make someone choose to live together, especially with that amount of conviction, and not marry. But try asking that question without sounding like some outraged parent-type or offended moralist. Try asking that without sounding like, "What in the world were you possibly thinking???!!!" I don't know. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's that I would possibly be thinking that very question. Maybe it's because in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "What would make you do such a foolish thing?" But I wouldn't mean it that way. I just want to know ... you know, like a survey question. It's not like the answer impacts me in any significant way. A data point, that's all. But I will likely never ask that question because it cannot be asked without sounding jugmental and intolerant. One thing I cannot tolerate is intolerant people.

Maybe not. Maybe we can't talk. But I suppose I'll keep trying.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Do I Do It?

Scripture is replete with pleas and commands for unity. Time and again we see the Bible asking us to "be of the same mind." Instead, we see division. There are thousands of denominations and probably an exponentially larger number of theological viewpoints. Some have complained that this kind of ongoing discussion and division simply tarnishes Christianity to the world. Still, undaunted, we continue to set forth what we believe to be the truth and explain why opposing views are not.

Why do we do it? I suspect that the answers to that is as varied as our theology. Some want to be right. Some want to argue. Some want to defend the truth. And lots of other reasons. I wouldn't be so grandiose as to try to answer that question for anyone else, but I feel I need to answer it for myself, else I would need to stop.

Why do I continue to defend the truth? If it was simply because I want to be right, I'd have given up long ago. I've seen too many times where I am defending my position only to be overwhelmed with the irrefutable logic of the opposing position. I've had to admit that I was wrong and change my view. If "being right" was my aim, I'd be a dismal failure. No, it's not about that. Nor is it because I like to argue. I don't. I tend to be a "peace at all costs" kind of person. So why do I do it?

The answer isn't a simple one. I have multiple reasons. I do it because we are commanded to "contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3). I don't always enjoy it, but I am commanded to do it, so I do. We are commanded to "be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). We are commanded to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). As much as some would like to silence the dialog, it appears to be a command from God, so I do it.

I do it because it is the history of the Church. Almost every single doctrine of Christianity is born out of controversy. Starting with Paul's letters to the churches, reaching throughout the New Testament writings, and continuing through all of Church History, nearly every major doctrine was marked out because of the counterfeits that showed up on the scene. Indeed, the New Testament has multiple warnings that false teachers will appear, and it was right. So, as if God intended this mechanism, godly people have arisen each time to make a defense for the truth. Paul shot down gnosticism (Colossians), legalism (Galatians), experientialism (Corinthians), and more. John addressed antinomianism (1 John) and other topics. The author of Hebrews defended the deity of Christ against some "created being" concept. The Council of Nicea explained the Trinity against the heretics. Luther and Calvin took on the established church at the time to push it back toward biblical doctrine. And on and on. It is the history of the Church. I do it because it is biblically and historically required.

I do it because I want to be right. I mean this different than earlier. I want to be right, even if I am not currently. I want to think correctly. I want to alter my views as need be to bring my ideas into line with the truth. None of us are 100% correct. I don't do it because I think I am. But if I never submit my ideas to the "marketplace", so to speak, then I can never have my thinking corrected. And I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. So where I think wrong (i.e., I know that I do), I want to correct it.

Finally, I do it because I think it is important. I think that there is absolute truth. I think that truth matters. I think that faulty thinking leads to faulty living. For those who are mistaken where I am correct, I hope to point to the truth for them to correct their thinking. The truth, you see, isn't mine. It's the truth. If I can point an erring brother or sister to the truth, I have done them a service. And for those who are correct where I am mistaken, I want to see the truth. This only happens when dialog occurs. So I examine viewpoints contrary to my own. I look at ideas not my own. I test my thoughts against Scripture and evident reason. All because I think that the truth is real and that it matters.

Why do I do it? Why do I maintain this dialog? I do it because we are commanded to do it. I do it because historically it has been the way the Church has operated. I do it because I want to correct my own thinking. I do it because ultimately I believe truth is important. I can't answer for anyone else, but I think these are sufficient reasons to continue the conversation.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Disproving Election

Proof that the concept of "the elect" is a lie!
8 Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
There you have it, in plain black and white. It is God's will to save all. How can anyone think that God chooses to save some? Is "all" all or not?

I've been fascinated by this matter-of-fact approach to this passage, as if it's "clear as day." So very, very few seem to recognize the problems. There are a couple of difficulties here. First, we have the problem of a Sovereign God who wills to save all ... but cannot, for some reason or another. It cannot be that He will not because we've already determined that it's His will to save all. So it must be something preventing Him. This, in fact, is a skeptic's dream. Either God is unable or unwilling to save everyone. Apparently He is willing, so He is unable. Therefore, God is not sovereign or not omnipotent. So the nature of God is in question.

Second, there is the problem of the language. Note that the passage doesn't say that God is "not willing for anyone to perish." It is a blank "any". There is no explanatory term after the "any". Now, we can assume that the "all" is in terms of the "any" -- that is, "all" of the "any" are part of God's will to come to repentance. But people are randomly filling in the descriptive to "any" without any examination of what should go there. Here, let me see if I can explain. In the absence of a definitive term, people are filling in "one" or "men" or some such. But why can't I make it "cats" or "pigs" or "trees"? God is "not willing for any dogs to perish" is just as possible as anything else, isn't it?

Well, of course this isn't the case. The "any" is determined by the context. You can't just fill in whatever you want for "any"; you have to do it from the context. I'm not allowed to fill in "dogs" because it's not in the context. So what is the context? Peter is saying that God "is patient toward you." "You" is the context. Who is "you"? It is the ones to whom this is written. It is the "beloved" of verse 8, the "beloved" of 2 Peter 3:1. And who is the "beloved" of 2 Peter 3:1? "This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you ..." It would be the same people to whom 1 Peter was written. Who is that? "To those who are elect." Now we can go back to the "any" and fill in a descriptive term to explain it. Just as we couldn't insert "dogs", we must not insert "one". We can only insert what the context requires. So it would say that God is "not willing for any of you (the elect, the beloved) to perish but for all (of that same set of people) to come to repentance."

Now, those who are in denial of the doctrine of Election will still stand there shaking their heads and saying, "No!" So, if context doesn't help, is there any other reason to think this is the case? As it turns out, there is. As it is with any passage in question, it is good to look at the language used, so let's look at the language used here. The first word in question is "any". The Greek word used here is tis. The dictionary says this word means, "a certain one, some one". Now, that's interesting, isn't it? Apparently it isn't intended as much of a catch-all, but as a separator. So the word here would say, "God is not willing that certain ones perish." That's very much like "any of you" versus "anyone at all." The second word in question is "all". The Greek word here is pas. Strong's says it means "collectively, some of all types." Oh, my, that's too close to one of the popular Calvinist interpretations in which "all" means "some from all types of people." Let's see if we can avoid that. Strong goes on to illustrate ways in which the term is used without meaning "each and every one."
"the whole world has gone after him" Did all the world go after Christ? "then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan."Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem, baptized in Jordan? "Ye are of God, little children", and the whole world lieth in the wicked one". Does the whole world there mean everybody? The words "world" and "all" are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture, and it is very rarely the "all" means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts -- some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile
It seems as if this "all" may not mean "each and every individual" after all. It does, however, fit into the "all of the elect" reading.

What is the ramification of this passage if this be so? Going back to the first problem -- the question of the nature of God -- we are able to reinsert a sovereign, omnipotent God. It is His will, then, that each and every one of His elect come to repentance, and being the sovereign, omnipotent God that He is, they will. This verse, instead of weakening God's character and giving a blanket "wish" that all be saved, provides instead assurance to "the beloved" that every single one whom God intends to save will indeed be saved. That is what we are waiting for ... which is the intent of the passage in the first place. The Lord is not slow about His promise; He is waiting until every single person He intends to save is indeed saved. Instead of disproving Election, then, it seems as if this passage defends Election and Eternal Security. Now, that's not a bad thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fear God?

In his horrible diatribe against the condition of natural man, Paul concludes with this accusation: "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18). Lest you think that this is a commentary on Paul's time, he borrows it from Scripture. David writes, "Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes" (Psa. 36:1). Instead of an isolated description, it appears to be a common problem of Man.

What is this "fear"? We often try to mitigate it. Many translations like to use "reverence" instead of "fear". We aren't supposed to fear God, are we? No, of course not. And yet, it seems as if the universal response of human beings who experience the true presence of God is ... abject fear.

Jacob had a dream of angels descending and ascending into heaven. He awoke and his immediate response was to be afraid. "'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.' And he was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven'" (Gen. 28:16-17). Isaiah was a prophet of God. In Isaiah 6 he describes his encounter with God in a vision. His response was, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isa. 6:5).

These aren't just "Old Testament" responses. When Jesus told the fishermen, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4), Peter recognized Deity. He didn't suggest a deal; he begged for distance. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). And when the seasoned fishermen experienced a storm on the Sea of Galilee, they were frightened, but when the Son of God silenced the storm with a command, "they became very much afraid" (Mark 4:41).

It appears that the normal response of humans to God is fear. Not "reverence" -- fear. Paul capitalizes on this when he says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). That can't be rewritten to "reverence". It is fear. In Greek, it is phobos (from which we get our concept of "phobia") and in Hebrew, pachad. In both languages it is a sense of dread, alarm ... fear. Yet, to even suggest that people should actually, literally fear God draws fire from Christians.

The primary source of this objection is found in 1 John:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).
There it is. We have no need to fear God. But is that what it says? Well, I suppose it could be, if we don't mind reinterpretting the "fear" concept found throughout Scripture. Or could it be that this is not what it says?

Look at the context. John writes, "God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). It would appear from this statement that "perfect love" is only arrived at when we abide perfectly in Him. It seems to me, then, that this isn't saying, "Don't fear God." Instead, it seems to be saying that when we arrive at perfect love for God we will have no need to fear consequences. Until we arrive at that point, we have this promise: Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb. 12:6).

We live in a time that epitomizes Paul's accusation. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Unfortunately, Christians are eager to include themselves in this accusation. "We don't need to fear God; we need to reverence Him." And we fall into the very same category that Paul bemoans as the evil state of Man. Are we really sure we want to stand on this ground?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Correlate the "alls"

As a quick recap, so far we've defined "atonement" as all the necessary components -- expiation and propitiation -- that provide reconciliation. That is, atonement means that one is "at one" with God. I also explained why it cannot be that all sins are covered under this term "atonement". So we need to address the "all" passages that seem to say that the atonement was unlimited.

What was paid for at the Cross? This is the key question. We find many passages that are "all" passages. Now, it's important that this be done carefully. Some of the "all" passages, properly understood, have a limit to the "all" in mind. This isn't contradictory. The term "all" is always limited to the set in question. "All of my family" would limit this "all" to "my family". "All of you" would limit this "all" to the set that is being addressed -- "you". In Heb. 10:10, for instance, we read, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." There it is. He offered His body "for all". However, verse 14 of the same chapter limits this "all". "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). So the "all" in mind here isn't "each and every person", but all of "those who are sanctified." We need to be aware, then, that sometimes "all" doesn't mean "each and every human being". We need to be aware of the "all" being referenced.

Another thing to be aware of is emphasis. What is the point? Is the "all" the point, or is there something else? A prime example would be a number of passages that include the phrase we see above: "once for all." The point here is not the "all", but the "once". A prime example of this is Heb. 7:26-27 -- "For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself." The point is not the scope of the sacrifice, but the singularity of it. This "all" isn't necessarily any more than "all that it covers" because the view is not "each and every person" but "once".

All well and good, but there are still more passages that state or imply "all" that aren't managed by their content.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18).

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Rom. 5:18).
Two verses in particular are most often trotted out to prove without any doubt that "Limited Atonement" cannot be:
He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves (2 Peter 2:1).
There are certainly more, and we should list them as well:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6).

"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19).

We do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9).

And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).
Now, let's take a look at this problem.

We've already seen that "Unlimited Atonement" is an oxymoron. If "atonement" means "at one with God", "Unlimited Atonement" means "everyone is at one with God". It necessitates Universalism. On the other hand, we have these passages that seem to speak of "unlimited atonement". What do we do with this? First, we do not delete them. Although some might be tempted to highlight them with that special black highlight pen, that's not the answer. The answer is careful analysis.

Some of these, as I said, don't fit the mold. They may look at first blush like universalist passages, but simple context fixes that problem. Some aren't so easily dismissed. Look at 1 John 2:2. Some are tempted to say, "It's about the elect", but John goes out of his way to shoot them down. "Not for ours only (the elect), but also for those of the whole world." However, if we think this through, John is either saying that all sins for all people for all time are "propitiated" and, therefore, all people are saved, or he has something else in mind despite the best efforts of the anti-Limited Atonement folks. So what is John saying? He is clearly speaking of "the whole world", but what he says here is not about what is accomplished, but about Christ. Here, let's shorten it to make it clear: "He Himself is the propitiation." Does that help? Think of the old West with the one-room schoolhouse and the single teacher. She was "the town teacher". That didn't mean that she taught everyone. It meant that if anyone was going to be taught, they had to go to her. John is saying that if any sin is going to be propitiated, it is going to happen through Christ alone. No one has any other means by which to gain the favor of God. Christ is the propitiation not of our sins only, but of the sins of the whole world. Nothing in the statement suggests that all sins are atoned for.

I would suggest that several of the favorite "all" passages fall in that category. Jesus is "the Savior of the world", which is to say He is the only available Savior the world has. He "takes away the sins of the world", which is to say that all sins in all the world that are taken away are taken away by Him. So we have this other category of "all" passages that indeed mean "all" but do not mean that atonement has actually occurred.

Still, what about that pesky 2 Peter passage? This one refers to "false prophets" and places their purchase ("the Master who bought them") in the past tense. This seems like we're up against it here. Might as well give up. Universalism, here we come. But wait ... maybe there is an alternative.

Satan is sometimes described in Scripture in terms of authority. He is called "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) and "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). He is obviously limited in his reign, but he has, nonetheless, God-given rights. He has the rights to the world. When Jesus was in the wilderness, he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world. But after Christ died and rose again, He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). What happened?

A couple of the terms that Scripture uses to describe our salvation are along the lines of "redemption". They are "purchase" terms. They refer to "buying back". Could it be that Christ "bought the world"? Now, understand, purchasing the debt doesn't mean that the debt is paid. Imagine a mortgage on a house. It is very common for a mortgage company to buy a mortgage from another company. The homeowner doesn't suddenly find that his debt is paid. He simply owes a different creditor. Could it be that when Christ paid the price on the cross, He purchased all the mortgages? It sounds somewhat similar to the parable of the treasure in the field. Remember? The man sold all he had to buy the field because there was a treasure in it. He wanted the treasure; he bought the field.

This would make sense of 2 Peter 2:1. When it says that He was "the Master who bought them", it doesn't mean that their debt was paid, but that their debt was purchased. Indeed, in this sense Christ "taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). This would largely expand the idea of what Christ accomplished on the cross. It would more fully explain the sufficiency of the sacrifice while keeping it distinct from the efficacy of the sacrifice. It would agree more fully with some of the "all" concepts without lapsing into Universalism. It actually maintains "Limited Atonement" while agreeing with a universal effect of the cross.

Maybe you don't like it. It makes utmost sense to me. But you let me know if you can come up with a different satisfying way to correlate the "all" passages with the certainty of judgment and Hell. Remember ... no fair redefining "atonement" for you anti-Limited Atonement folks or "all" for you pro-Limited Atonement folks. And no fair simply deleting the ones you don't like. I find this a satisfying correlation. What about you?

Friday, November 17, 2006

How Limited is Atonement?

Now that we've explained "Atonement," let's look at "Limited Atonement." Yes, it's a hot topic -- "hot" in the sense that it really draws fire. (Yes, that was a pun.) It is commonly misunderstood and even when it is understood properly, it is still largely the object of dislike (at best) of many Christians.

The problem arises in the term, "limited." Most Christians agree with this proposition: "Christ's death was sufficient to pay for the sins of all men, but efficient in paying for the sins of some men." To suggest that the atonement paid for all sin for all men for all time is simply to affirm Universalism, and very few who call themselves "Christians" can hold to that position very long. So both the "Limited Atonement" folks and their opponents agree on the sufficiency of Christ's atonement as well as the efficiency of Christ's atonement. The truth is, unfortunately, before we ever get to this agreement, the shooting has started and few realize that they are in agreement thus far.

Let's start with an easy agreement. Unless you are a Universalist -- everyone gets saved -- we are all in agreement that the Atonement, the "at-one-ment" is not unlimited. That is, if anyone goes to Hell, then there is a limit on the sin for which Christ's death atones. I think we can all agree on that. Unfortunately, that is not the contention of "Limited Atonement."

What is the contention of "Limited Atonement"? The idea is that when Christ died for us, He died with the intent of saving some. He intended, on the cross, to actually pay off the debt of "the elect". Now, we can debate "the elect" 'til the cows come home, but let's not go there right now. The question at hand isn't "the elect". The question is "What did Christ actually accomplish on the cross?" The pro-"Limited Atonement" folks say that He actually paid in full the sin debt of those who would be saved. The anti-"Limited Atonement" folks say that He potentially paid in full the sin debt of all mankind, but actual payment in any individual case is pending until the individual accepts the payment on his or her behalf.

What causes this difference of opinion? Well, if we're fair, we'd realize it's the Bible. You see, we find both positions in Scripture, clearly stated, explicit. We know, for instance, that there will be people who are judged for their sin, so it cannot be that all sin for all people for all time is paid for. Yet we also find too many passages that use terminology like "all" in the context of Christ's death and payment for sin. It appears that the Bible supports Limited and Unlimited Atonement.

The trick, then, is not to argue it, but to align it. You can't make sense of it by ignoring part. And simply redefining terms doesn't help, as is often the case ... from both sides. Some well-meaning Calvinists will tell you "'all' doesn't mean 'all'." What does that mean? On the other hand, those opposed to the idea will also hold to unlimited atonement ... with limits. Maybe they redefine "atonement" -- "Well, it was potential payment" -- or they redefine "unlimited" -- "It was not limited to anyone, but not everyone gets the benefit." Some will just turn a blind eye to one group of Scriptures or another to avoid the problem. But this doesn't solve the problem. What we need is a solution. What we need is a way to align the "all" of the atonement with the "few" of salvation.

This is likely a lengthy discussion, so I'll do it in two parts. The first part I will address here. Why not "unlimited atonement"? The second part I'll address tomorrow. What about the "all" passages? I'm addressing first the problem with unlimited atonement because if there is no problem with unlimited atonement, then there is no question in regards to the "all" passages.

Remember, now ... we've covered "atonement." It is a market term, mostly. It refers to payment of debt, of balancing the books. The word in English was actually an invention of William Tyndale. He recognized that English didn't have a word that encompassed "reconciliation" and "expiation" and "propitiation" and "forgiveness", so he coined "atonement" to factor in all these parts. In the New American Standard Bible, the word in its various forms only appears in the Old Testament. The New Testament carries words with individualized meaning, all playing into the idea of "atonement". It includes the concepts of sin covered, sin paid in full, a removal of debt and a return to a right standing. All of this is incorporated into the concept of "atonement".

Since "atonement" contains all these factors, if it is universal and "unlimited", we would all need to subscribe to Universalism. There are no sins not paid for. Now, I know the popular idea is that "the payment is in the bank and you need to draw it out before it is actually paid." This, however pleasant it sounds, places atonement as potential, not actual. And no matter how you decide to word it, if the factors that make up "atonement" -- reconciliation, expiation, propitiation, forgiveness -- are not actually applied, then it cannot be said that Christ atoned for all sin. You could say that He could atone for all sin (scope), but you can't put it in the past tense because it isn't done (effect). And if it isn't done, then He wasn't quite accurate when He said, "It is finished" or "Paid in full."

But there are other reasons by which we can know that the atonement is limited -- that not all sin is paid for. One of the easiest is Jesus's warning to the Pharisees. "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Matt. 12:31). Without even digging about or delving into what exactly that means (I do that here), we can say without any doubt that there is some sin that "shall not be forgiven." Therefore, it cannot be that all sin is forgiven, potentially or actually.

The other reason is found in the assurance from multiple Scriptures that there will be judgment and that there will be those found wanting. If atonement is unlimited, then God cannot judge sin that is paid for. That is unjust. And God is not unjust. The only sin that can be judged is the sin still pending payment. The only debt that can be collected is the debt still pending payment. Expiated sin is not pending. Sin atoned for is no longer "on the books". If there are those who will face judgment and found wanting, it cannot be true that all sin is paid for, else God is unjust.

Logic lends its own little hand here as well, clearly explained in John Owen's Triple Choice. There are a few possibilities with the atonement. Assuming the reality of atonement, it can cover:

1. All sin for all men.
2. Some sin for all men.
3. All sin for some men.

One of these is obviously problematic at the outset. If the atonement covers some sin for all men, then no men have all sin covered ... and no one is saved. We can eliminate #2 if the Bible accurately portrays anyone as "saved". That leaves us with two options. Either the atonement covers all sin for all men, or it covers all sin for some men. If it covers all sin for all men, then no one has sin needing to be covered. Of course, the popular response is that unbelief prevents this from happening. But if the sin of unbelief is what keeps all sin from being covered for all men, then it is a sin that is not covered, and the first option cannot be true, nor is unlimited atonement.

The only possible option, given Scripture and reason, is that the atonement covered all sin for some men. "Limited Atonement" would say that it actually covered all sin for some men (the elect). Regardless, Unlimited Atonement cannot be true. We would first have to redefine terms like "atonement" or "sin", or we would have to be Universalists.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Christianese: "Atonement", et al.

Several common terms are tossed about as if we know what they mean, but I'm not so sure we do. Let's make a brief trek through Christianese to see if we can figure out some of these concepts.

We've likely all heard these terms: atonement, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation. We generally nod as if we know exactly what is being said. We do that because we're unwilling to admit that we don't really know what is being said, but, hey, we're Christians so we should be able to speak the language. Wouldn't admitting that we don't really know the differences or actual meanings be an admission that we are "outsiders"?

Well, I'm offering a different solution. Let's see if we can actually determine what they mean. Then we won't be lying when we nod as if we know what is being said.

In the New American Standard Bible, the word, "atonement" and its various forms only appear in the Old Testament. Other words offer the same concept in the New Testament. "Expiation" only occurs in Num. 35:33. "Propitiation" occurs in four places in the New Testament:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith (Rom. 3:21-25).

Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17).

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).
That leaves "reconciliation." Now, this word appears more often and in more forms in the New Testament.
10If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled , we shall be saved by His life. 11 We also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Rom. 5:10-11).

13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:13-15).

18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation , 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Eph. 2:14-16).

19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. (Col. 1:19-22).
Good. Now we have the references. So ... what are we talking about?

The Old Testament concept of "atonement" encompasses the New Testament concept of "reconciliation", "expiation", and "propitiation". The Old Testament concept includes all aspects. Now, if you look up "expiation" in an English dictionary, you'll find that "atonement" is a synonym. If you look up "propitiation" you'll find ties to both "atonement" and "expiation". In other words, all of these words are very similar. So what is the difference?

It has often been said and is, in fact, accurate that "atonement" essentially means "at-one-ment." The concept is that the debt is paid, the gap is closed, the two parties are reconciled. There is no end of discussion in various quarters about the mechanism and the process, but there is little disagreement about the meaning. There are nuances, however, in these various terms -- shades of meaning that we don't want to miss.

To "expiate" is to make amends. The idea is that the error is corrected. Expiation occurs when a debt is repaid, or when the punishment is handed out and the matter is ended. To "propitiate" is similar, but there is a difference. Propitiation is to favorably incline. It is an appeasement, a removal of anger. It was the idea behind the barbaric practice of offering a virgin to the volcano god. Appease the angry god -- propitiation. Note that the two are linked and rather similar, but not exactly the same. One is removing the blockage and the other is inclining to favor. They are two halves of the equation. One removes the problem and the other restores the relationship. Together these provide "reconciliation." Reconciliation is when the debt is paid and the relationship is restored. These three concepts -- "expiation", "propitiation", and "reconciliation" -- form the singular concept of "atonement."

Now that we have this, I think it's a good idea to proceed with other conclusions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Coop'ed Up

Meet my friend, Coop. Okay, that's not his name. Coop is my local Cooper's Hawk.

Coop is a regular around here. He appears to be a juvenile, as the adults have redder eyes, but his are turning. We see him weekly at irregular intervals. And when Coop is in town, the birding goes quiet.

We thought for some time that he might be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. But the Sharpie is typically jay sized, and this bad boy, well, he's bigger than that.

Cooper's Hawks are magnificent birds. They eat medium-sized birds and mammals. That means that the pretty little sparrows and finches around are safe (yeah, right) ... but watch out pigeons! The domestic pigeon, it seems, is one of their favorite treats. A single Cooper's Hawk can wipe out an entire colony of pigeons if left alone. In other parts of the country it is known as the "chicken hawk." You can guess why. Cooper's Hawks capture and kill their prey using their feet. They won't bite their prey like a falcon does, but simply hold it away from their bodies until it stops wriggling. Sometimes the mere impact kills their prey. Some have been known to drown their catch!

These are swift fliers. They catch their prey by surprise, making sudden dashes at high speed. They will chase their target into the trees. Estimates are that nearly a quarter of all Cooper's Hawks have healed from broken bones suffered in these hunting forays. And they are tricky. They will hide behind things or sneak around things to give them the element of surprise. One of the interesting accounts of the Cooper's Hawk hunting skills includes a hawk hunting a quail. The quail was flying as fast as it could, but when it got over a thicket that could give it some cover, it folded its wings to drop into the protective cover. Not to be outdone, the Cooper's Hawk dove under the falling bird, rolled onto its back, and caught the quail as it fell into his claws. Indeed, some have reported that these birds might attack for the mere sport of it.

Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are in the acipiter family. There is such competition between them that they cannot tolerate each other. The larger hawks, known as buteos, don't seem to have such a conflict, and Coopers have been known to nest within the hunting range of a buteo without any problems.

Cooper's Hawks are vicious defenders of their nests. When there are young in the nest, they will become quite aggressive, attacking larger, more dangerous birds to ward them off. They use their impressive speed and agility to harass their opponent until they give up and leave. In a local community near us there is a nest that is occupied annually by a pair of these hawks. The nest, unfortunately for the residents, is located in the vicinity of the community mail box. Therefore, at a certain time of the year, for a few weeks, you take your life in your hands when you go to retrieve your mail. Many people have suffered bird strikes from these aggressive parents, willing to take on even humans to protect their young.

Cooper's Hawks are living demonstrations that nature is red of tooth and claw. That doesn't stop me from admiring them ... and their Maker.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


In the book of Job we find, in my opinion, a terrifying story. Don't misunderstand -- it's a good thing, but it's frightening, just the same.

The story begins with Satan in God's courts. (Get that? Most people don't realize it, but Satan even in his rebellion is still subject to God.) God has a conversation with Satan, in which God brings up "My servant Job" (Job 1:8). (Now, if I were Job, and I heard that, I'd be trying to shush God. "No, no! Don't mention me to Satan! Please!!) It is God, then, who starts all of Job's famous suffering. It is also God who controls it.

Satan decides to show God that Job only trusts God based on God's goodness to Job. God allows this test (He knows the truth), but carefully regulates it (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan is wrong. "'Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).

The vast majority of the rest of the book is a dialogue between Job and his three "friends". These guys gather around to "console" him, but their "consolation" is by way of affirming beyond any shadow of a doubt that This kind of torment doesn't happen to anyone but the worst of sinners. Job, of course, defends himself against the accusation.

In Job 38, God comes on the scene, and thus begins one of the worst possible Inquisitions of all time: God asking the questions. Have you ever wondered what took God so long? Why didn't He speak up earlier? Why didn't He explain it to Job earlier on? Since God is perfect, and His timing is perfect, I have to assume that He waited for the right moment. What moment?

In Job 31:35, at the end of Job's responses, we read:
"Oh that I had one to hear me!
Behold, here is my signature;
Let the Almighty answer me!"
Now, there are five chapters of dialogue that follow this statement, all from Eliphaz, the youngest friend who hadn't yet expressed his views. But this is the last thing we hear from Job.

I believe that God was waiting for Job to realize the truth. What do I mean by "realize the truth"? I use the term in a specific sense. There is truth out there all the time. Sometimes we know it; sometimes we don't. But sometimes, even when we know it, we don't "realize" it. I mean, we don't make it real to ourselves. Let me give an example by way of illustration. We all know that there is a war in Iraq, and that Americans are dying there. Fine. Truth. But do we realize it? Is it real to you? When you are acquainted with one who is there, or a parent of one of those who die, or one of those who is actually there, then it is no longer abstract truth: you realize it. That which is true externally becomes true internally to you.

What truth was God waiting for Job to realize? Job had a problem with sin. Job knew that. How do we know Job knew that? When we meet Job, he is introduced as one who was "turning away from evil" (Job 1:1). You can't turn from evil if you don't recognize it. And note that it was an ongoing, present tense concept. Further, he regularly sacrificed for his sins and the sins of his family (Job 1:5). Job was not blind to sin. It was "real" to him. But there was sin that, even with his recognition of the truth of it, hadn't been realized. What was that sin? The sin was that of pride. Job believed that, despite his sin problem, he was righteous enough to demand of God an accounting. It was only when Job got to this reality that God was able to step up and respond, both to him and to his misguided friends.

Job gets the message. After several chapters of interrogation by the Most High, Job responds:
"I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me.' I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:2-6).
Job got it. He got the true nature of his sin. He got the true nature of God. He got the true relationship between the creature and the Creator. He realized his pride and repented. He realized the problem.

What's my point? The point -- the reason I started with the "frightening" statement -- is that this is true for all of us. God will do what God will do to make His children what He wants them to be. With Job it was the loss of his health, family, and belongings. But God will do what He will do. "No purpose of Thine can be thwarted." The author of Hebrews assures us of the same:
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives."

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:5-11).
Are you encountering trials? Are you enduring hardship? Have you lost a loved one? Maybe you're suffering from a broken marriage? Financial difficulties? There are a variety of reasons for these difficulties, but ultimately, to the believer, God is working to help you to realize things. We need to realize, for instance, that God is sufficient, and often the only way to do that is to lack sufficiency on our own. We need to realize that we make people (spouses, family, friends, etc.) into idols, pouring our whole existence into them, and sometimes the only way to realize that is to lose them. We need to realize the secret sins that even we may not see, and sometimes that takes painful surgery on the part of the Master Physician. But ultimately, "afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness". That's something else we don't often realize.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Being Ready Always ...

It is said that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded. I don't know that the "only" part is accurate, but the point is well taken. Often we tend to snipe at our fallen brethren rather than attempt to heal them. But don't assume that this means that it is only our wounded who we shoot. Oh, no. Christians are good at taking shots at just about anything that moves. We'll pick off our opponents with grim accuracy and then turn the weapon on our allies if we don't rightly understand their point. We do it with glee, sometimes, making it our life's mission to point out how wrong those who we perceive don't agree with us really are ... and possibly damned.

The tone of too many Christian conversations, be they verbal or electronic, is one of anger. Well, we call it "righteous indignation", but, truth be told, it's anger. Peter says we are to always be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you," (1 Peter 3:15) but he adds, "yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). "Gentleness and respect," that should be obvious. Peter says it is "so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:16).

Have you ever tried to call a Christian who is not operating out of gentleness and respect on this? I don't recommend it. As I said, Christians are good at turning their guns on just about anyone. And this one meets with seriously stiff resistance. You see, many see themselves as "Paul to the Galatians" or "Paul to Cephas" or even "Jesus to the Pharisees", where tough words are trotted out to correct serious error. So if you suggest that they are not being gentle or respectful, they simply tell you that they are acting as Paul or Jesus, and to butt out. In other words, as long as you have "righteous indignation", it's okay to be unkind, unfair, and disrespectful.

"Gentleness and respect" -- what are these terms? King James calls the first "meekness". About this word Vines says, "It is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting." But the word differs from the English "meekness" because that word expresses weakness. The Greek word expresses no such thing. Instead, this term comes from strength. It suggest enormous power under control. The idea behind "gentleness" or "meekness" here is that there is such power available that there is no need to defend myself. Here, let me try this. In the world of stereo equipment, the rule of thumb is to get a system with high power output. The purpose isn't so that you can create a civil disturbance with the equipment. The idea is that when there is an overwhelming availability of power, the fidelity is extremely good at low volume. If the power isn't there, then there is distortion, but with available power, reproducing the sound is easy. That's "gentleness" or "meekness". When we remember the power behind the truth, we don't need to wield a sword or fire a cannon to get it across.

"Respect" is the other term ... and this one is very interesting. The NASB translates it "reverence". Others give us "respect". The King James says, "fear", and, interestingly, that's exactly the word used here -- phobos. The word refers to fear, dread, terror. It is rooted in the concept of flight, as in fear that makes you flee. It is one of the motivational influences of the Christian life: "the fear of the Lord". Most object to this concept and turn into "reverential awe". I suppose this isn't too far off ... if we hadn't moved "awe" from its original concept. You see, "awe" originally meant "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like" (Random House). It included the idea of "dread". The word is used in Paul's instructions to women's attitude toward their husbands: "respect" (Eph. 5:33). It is a term rooted in fear and includes the ideas of respect and reverence and awe.

Look around you. Listen to believers' dialogues or examine Christian blogs. Do these bespeak "gentleness and respect"? Is there a sense that "We don't really need to come across harsh because there is such power in the truth"? Is there a sense that these communications are respectful, even fearful? Or is it that while we "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 1:3) we have become more bold than even Michael the archangel disputing with Satan and "did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 1:9)?

Well, here's what I suspect. Those of you who are equally concerned about Christian communications, some of the mean-spirited and unkind approaches some Christians take, and the sad lack of gentleness and respect being displayed in the name of Christ will say, "Amen!" The rest will be indignant. "Would you tell Christ He was lacking gentleness and respect?" True. Paul did use some harsh words at times. Jesus wasn't polite in His scathing rebuke of the Pharisees. But if you examine their overall approach and the overall approach of too many Christians today, it would seem that while they spoke softly and carried a big stick, we too often wield a big stick and have forgotten that a soft answer turns away wrath.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stay Safe

Here are some statistics:

1. Riding in automobiles is responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents.

2. Seventeen percent of all accidents occur in the home.

3. Fourteen percent of all accidents happen to pedestrians.

4. Sixteen percent of all accidents involve air, rail, or water forms of transportation.

5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% die in hospitals.

BUT, you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services at church, and these are usually related to previous conditions. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for us to be at any given point in time is at church.

And, Bible study is safe, too. The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less.

So, for SAFETY'S sake, attend church, and read your Bible; IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Church Attire

Does what you wear to church matter?

Debates shuffle back and forth on this topic here and there. I would say "rage", but they don't. Most people have decided that what you wear to church isn't of any importance at all, so it's just a few squeaking voices out there trying to raise the flag on this one.

What are the arguments? Why is it that most people believe that what we wear to church is of no real importance? Mark Driscoll writes "Why should we press for formal dress in church when one of the only passages in the New Testament that speaks about what to wear to church rebukes women for dressing up to the degree that they turned church into a fashion show (1 Timothy 2:9–10)?" The thinking is that we are always in the presence of God, so what's so special about church? God is our Father, so we should be comfortable in His presence. There's nothing sacred about a church. Churches are supposed to welcome everyone, so why make someone feel uncomfortable because they didn't dress up? One of the very common things you might here is "What about those without formal attire? Do you want to exclude them just because they don't have the right kind of clothes?" And, of course, the very common, "We shouldn't be looking around at what other people are wearing. We should just be focusing on God."

There is a lot of sense in these arguments. Surely someone without means shouldn't feel like they're an outsider just because they cannot afford a suit and tie. And certainly God is our Father -- referred to as "Abba", "Daddy" -- and we should be comfortable in His presence. And the church is populated with our brothers and sisters. We shouldn't be concerned about what we wear around our family, right? And we really are in the presence of God all the time. So ... what's so special about church? And why would anyone suggest anything other than weekend casual attire for Sunday morning service?

Well, here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking that what I wear to church on Sunday morning betrays what I think of God and this special gathering of the saints. It's not so much what you wear that matters, but what I wear. You see, what I wear tells you what I think.

We know this to be the case. No one goes to a job interview in shorts and a t-shirt. It is inappropriate. It tells the interviewer, "I don't really care what you think. I have no respect for you. I'm only thinking of myself." We don't attend funerals or grand balls in jeans because it isn't appropriate. We show proper respect. So imagine with me for a moment a parallel situation. Meet the King and his son, the prince. The King loves his son, and the son loves his father, the King. When the King sits with the prince in the library and talks, they are comfortably attired. When the King and the prince go for a ride in the forest, they are suitably attired. The prince is not required to refer to his father as "your highness" when they meet in the halls of the castle nor wear particular clothing when they sit down to breakfast. But when the King is in his court, things change. The prince is now required to show respect. He will not show up to the King's court in a bathrobe. He will dress appropriately and show proper honor ... to the King, not his father. How he appears in this instance to the King betrays what he thinks of the King. Are they "buddies", or is there also a relationship of fear and respect?

You see, it isn't what you wear to church that matters. It's what you think. When the poorest man puts on his cleanest pair of jeans and cleanest shirt to go to church, it says, "I'm dressing the best I can to come into this formal presence of the King." It is driven by an attitude, not an income. On the other hand, when a man with means puts on shorts and a shirt to go to church, he is saying, "God and I are pals; there is no need for additional respect in this formal setting." What we wear to the gathering of the saints in the presence of the King reflects an attitude of the heart.

What attitude does it reflect when we say, "It doesn't matter"? It reflects the terrifying, yet actually defended position, "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18).