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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Corporate Election

I have long contended that if you want to properly and wholly understand a perspective, you must also properly understand its alternative perspective. If you want to argue for believer's baptism and against infant baptism, for instance, you must have a good understanding of the perspective of infant baptism. (I chose that example because I researched infant baptism so thoroughly that I managed to defend the view against the believer's baptism folks well enough to confuse an infant baptism proponent into thinking I was one, too. I had to explain that I was just explaining, not agreeing.) What most people do, however, is gather a peripheral understanding, just enough to use as ammunition, and then use that ammunition to shoot it down. I've seen it happen so often. Atheists use arguments against theists that demonstrate how badly they have misunderstood theism. Arminians use arguments against Calvinists that only show that they never really understood the view they oppose. Or, to put it succinctly, people routinely oppose views they don't know and consider that sound opposition.

The doctrine of Corporate Election versus Individual Election is one of these. The difficulty with these things, though, is that it's hard to actually find someone to dialog with. I'd like to find someone with an opposing view and sit down and hash out the opposing view. "When you say ____, do you mean ____?" That kind of thing. But this almost inevitably leads to emotional conflict rather than simple dialog. So I'm looking here at the opposing view to mine from as many sources as I can find to see if I understand. The text in question here is Romans 9.

Romans 9 has two basic perspectives available. One is that it is talking about Individual Election. Paul is explaining clearly in this text that God says "'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom 9:15-16). What more do we need? Of course, the other very common perspective on this passage is that it is about Corporate Election. God chose Israel ("Jacob") as a nation, and God has chosen the Church as a group, but who populates these groups is not part of God's election. He simply ordained that these would be and not who would be in them. Well, I suppose there is a very common third perspective as well: "I don't know, but since there's a disagreement I'm not going to bother." Anyone who is under the conviction of God to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15) should not be in that category.

The Corporate Election perspective for Romans 9 is the classic Arminian view. Here is the basic approach to election in general. God's choice of certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. Election was conditioned upon what man would do. The faith was not given the sinner by God but resulted from the man's will. Thus, the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner is the ultimate cause of salvation. Corporate Election, then, would hold that God ordained there would be a body -- call it "the Church", "the Body of Christ", "the Bride", etc. To be part of that Body, that Elect, you need to be "in Christ". (Now, there are two views on that within that perspective. One claims that you need to be "in Christ" in order to be among the Elect and the other allows that you can be among the Elect because God knows what your choice will be. But both affirm that God's initial Election is group, not individual.)

So, holding to this Corporate Election view of Romans 9, you would need to read all references to people as groups, not people. Now, that's not as crazy as it might sound. I mean, the name of God's chosen people, "Israel", is the name of an individual. Referencing "Jacob" and "Esau" in Rom 9:13 should not, then, be viewed as references to individuals. It comes from Malachi 1 where God is indeed referencing Jacob as the people of Israel and Esau as the people of Edom. And isn't the chapter context talking about what happens to Israel? So clearly this is about the people group of Israel and, by extension, those who are grafted into Israel (Rom 11).

Now, I have all sorts of problems with this view. I can't fit it into the text or the context. I can't make it fit the objections (Rom 9:14, 19) Paul raises. I can't make it fit the fact that every reference is to individuals. Nor can I make it fit into a vision of a Sovereign, Omnipotent, Omniscient God who apparently simply built a Church and then waited for it to be peopled ... by "whosoever will". But all of these would be questions, you see. These would be the kinds of things I'd ask a proponent of the Corporate Election view to explain. Why are there so many references to individuals in the chapter if the view is corporate? How do the objections Paul raises (and answers) to his own arguments make any sense if he is simply speaking of groups, not individuals? How does Romans 9:16 make any sense in a corporate view rather than an individual view? An individual view of the text would include a corporate outcome, but a corporate view excludes the individual -- not the point. So what is the point? That is, "Paul, you're telling us that God has elected a body of people to be His own without actually electing people. So ... what do I do with that?" You see, I've got questions and no one to answer them. This would be much easier if we could just sit down and talk, wouldn't it? Well, I can dream, can't I?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


In the wake of the pope's retirement announcement, I heard a brief bit of a roundtable discussion among American Roman Catholics voicing their opinions. They hoped for a younger pope, one who would be more sympathetic to their concerns. They wanted a pope who wasn't so strong on abortion and homosexuality and women in ministry. They wanted a more ... sympathetic, "in touch" pope.

In an article in Christianity Today, Dr. Al Mohler discussed Tebow's change of heart in speaking at the Dallas church. The comments below were largely critical of ... the church. We don't need to be "hateful" (defined, apparently, as "having a biblical worldview"). Standing on Scripture and the historic positions of the Church are all well and good as long as they don't violate public opinion. One commenter wrote, "The church needs to rethink this issue because right now it's becoming irrelevant ..." Same idea as those Roman Catholics.

There are a lot of suggestions out there on this topic. If you are standing on biblical principles in agreement with the historic Church, you are "irrelevant". You are "out of favor". You are perceived as "hateful", "bigoted", even "foolish". And clearly "irrelevant", "out of favor", and "hateful" (to name a few) are bad things to be. One thing that never seems to come up, of course, is "right". Pilate asked Jesus with derision, "What is truth?" Our society (including many in the realm of Christendom) has gone far beyond the derisive question and set aside any such notions.

We live in a world that thrives on "favor", "relevance", "comfort", "pleasure". We claim to oppose "hate" but will hate anyone who opposes us in what we love. We reject judgmentalism and intolerance and will not tolerate those rotten folk we deem judgmental. Missing the schizophrenic positions we take, we stand defiantly against historic Christianity and the clear teachings of Scripture and call for repentance -- the repentance of the Church. And the reason we give is "favor", "relevance", "comfort", or "pleasure", but never "truth".

So you need to decide your priorities. If your priority is relevance, then you will likely need to oppose historic Christianity. If your priority is favor with your world, then you will likely need to move Scripture from its historic, reliable, authoritative position. If comfort is your primary aim, then you will certainly need to reevaluate what the Bible and the Church have taught all along and discard much of it.

Many today who are in Christendom believe that our primary task is to mollify those around us. I like the word, "mollify", here. It means "to soften in temper". It's root is the source of our "emollient" creams -- skin softeners. And that's how we see it. Be softeners here and soften up the opposition. The problem, of course, comes when you compare this approach with Jesus (you know, the Christ whose title is in the word "Christian"). He certainly wasn't being very soft when He drove moneychangers out of the Temple with whips. I'm sure that the woman caught in adultery, while appreciating His refusal to stone her to death, wasn't feeling very softened with His massive command, "Go and sin no more." And surely Jesus's disciples could have done a much better job of PR work when He started going off on the Pharisees with His grand "woes" (Matt 23). I mean, seriously, Jesus, "hypocrites", "blind guides", "whitewashed tombs", "brood of vipers" ... You had to know that those were not "mollifying" terms, right? Look, Jesus, if You want to remain relevant, if You want to be viewed favorably, if You want to retain any sense of comfort, You need to rethink Your stand here. You need to choose less hateful terms and take less judgmental and intolerant positions. Come on, Jesus. Oh, look at what it got You! Death! See?

Well, you decide. What is your priority? Is it truth? Or is it relevance? Is it favor? Or is it Christ? Is it comfort? Or is it conformity to the One you call Lord? Because "No, Lord" is the ultimate oxymoron, so decide this day whom you will serve and realize that sometimes following God will result in irrelevance, disfavor, and discomfort in your world. It did for the One we call "Lord". Expect it. Or discard Him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not for Prophet

What is a prophet? We all know that one. It is a soothsayer, a fortune teller, a seer. Look at that word, "seer". The word is rooted in seeing, and clearly implies "the future". That's what a prophet is, right? A prophet sees the future. A "foreteller". No, no, we won't really want to classify them with "fortune tellers" and the like because they're silly and frivolous and, well, wrong. But a true prophet, in our understanding, is one who can rightly predict the future.

Is that biblical? I'm not so sure.

The Old Testament (Hebrew) word was naba'. It meant "to speak by inspiration". (Interesting that the Strong's dictionary says "speak (or sing) by inspiration", because much of the Old Testament prophets wrote in verse rather than prose.) In this form, it is not "foretelling" in view, but forth-telling. "God said it and I'm passing it on." Now, in this approach, it is entirely possible that what God said and they were forth-telling was indeed in the future ("foretelling"), but certainly not all was in the future. Thus, the prophet did not become a prophet when he told the future and not a prophet when he simply called them to repent (for instance). All of it was "prophetic", telling what God had to say to the people.

So we come across this interesting phrase in Peter's second epistle. Peter is writing about the validity of his own testimony. "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). To what was portion of majesty was Peter an eyewitness? They were actually there when a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (2 Peter 1:17). And then he takes it one step further. "And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention" (2 Peter 1:19).

Peter is arguing here a three-fold proof. First, we have the Apostolic Authority of Peter telling us the truth. But it isn't merely his position. We have the fact that he was an eyewitness. It's not clever teaching. He saw it. But that's not all. Beyond his position and his experience, we have something that he says is "more sure" -- "the prophetic word". What is that?

The reference is to the entire Old Testament. Written by "prophets" -- forth-tellers inspired by God to tell what He had to tell -- the Old Testament was more sure than the eyewitness or the Apostle. If the eyewitness Apostle's words were not "cleverly devised myths", then how much less was the prophetic word, the Old Testament? Not something to be trifled with. A certainty beyond an actual authority or eyewitness.

This is quite telling when you continue to read, because 2 Peter 2 speaks of another type of prophet -- a counter prophet. "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). In context, then, what is a false teacher? That would be the ones who disregard the Apostolic Authority, the eyewitness accounts, and the Old Testament. It would be those who argue, in effect, "Did God say ...?" Peter goes on to characterize these false teachers. They are marked by sensuality as their theme (2 Peter 2:2). They "exploit you with false words" (2 Peter 2:3). They "indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority" (2 Peter 2:10). Read on. That 2nd chapter of Second Peter is eye-opening. Compare 2:12-19 with many of today's loudest voices in Christendom and you'll see amazing parallels, beginning with an overwhelming assurance that personal pleasure is the highest good and descending from there. About these Peter says, "What the true proverb says has happened to them: 'The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire'" (2 Peter 2:22).

Prophecy is not for the prophet. Prophecy is not even about the future. Prophecy is simply a "Thus saith the Lord", a forth-telling of what God says. It is throughout the Bible, men speaking under inspiration telling what God had to say. These are not cleverly devised myths despite the overwhelming claim to the contrary by so many in the liberal churches today. Nor is God's primary concern your comfort and pleasure as opposed to those other loud voices that extol the certainty of health, wealth, and happiness. The loudest voices in the streets are not typically the voices of those sent by God with a message. It is the false prophet, the false teacher. They are marked by an emphasis on sensuality and defiling passions, boldly denying the authority of the Church or the Bible, and arguing instead for indulgence and blasphemies. It wasn't my idea. Read Peter's warnings for yourself. I'm amazed that it can be so up-to-date when it was written so long ago. I suppose that, too, says something about the author and his Source.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Following the Trail

Perhaps you heard that Tim Tebow decided to opt out of a speaking engagement at a church in Dallas. At this point, no one can be absolutely certain why (except, perhaps, Tim himself). Conjecture is that the media's certainty that the church in question is a "verulently anti-gay, anti-semitic" church is the reason and would be "Tebow's greatest sin." He didn't say, so I am not here to comment on Tebow's decision. What I want to do is follow the logic trail being laid down for Christian life-hikers.

Here's the claim. The First Baptist Church of Dallas has gone on record that Islam and Mormonism are false religions "from the pit of hell". They have argued that you can't be saved by being a Jew. But, wait! It gets worse! They also argue that homosexuality is a sin and do so ... hold on to your seats, folks ... based on the Bible. Shock of shocks! I know! Hard to believe, isn't it? I mean, in this day and age that any thinking Christian would believe something is true and right simply because it is abundantly clear in Scripture and has been agreed upon by the Church since the beginning! What nonsense!!

So, there you have it, Christians. You have a choice. Two paths. Two possible trails to follow as you hike through life. One is much easier than the other, of course. The hard path is to stick with a biblical worldview, follow Christ, retain the Word of God as your guide for living, and, even according to that Word of God itself, anticipate that the world around you will hate you. Not easy.

The other alternative is much simpler. The easy trail is to go along to get along. To hike this trail you'll need to lighten your load, so to speak. Give up that silly biblical worldview. Surrender that nonsensical "The Bible is God's Word and defines truth and right" concept. That should be fairly easy. After all, it is a 2,000-year-old book written by men. Things change. Cultures change. Perceptions change. Morals change. Sticking with that old book is not reasonable. After that it gets easy.

It should be noted that these two trails are not simply parallel. They lead to two different locations. Because, you see, the "easy trail" requires that you surrender your Bible as valid guide to life. Thus, both Scripture and Church history become useless aids to life. They are gone. But, of course, if Scripture and Church history are of no value, you have to recall that they are the primary source of what Christ taught and what God said. Thus, you'll be abandoning Christ on this particular trail. To argue that the 1st Baptist Church of Dallas is "anti-gay", "anti-semitic", and anti-tolerant because it aligns with Scripture and the unbroken position of the historical Church is to argue that belief in the Bible and Christ Himself is "anti-gay", "anti-semitic", and anti-tolerant. If you want this easy path, you will need to abandon those things. Oh, maybe not right away. "We like Jesus." That works. But only as far as "Jesus loves everybody". Don't got to His instruction to the woman in adultery, "Go and sin no more." Don't look at His intolerance of the Pharisees of His day. And absolutely don't consider His assault on the moneychangers in the Temple. But that should be easy to do since you've already given up any authority that would make such claims, since that would be the Bible, God's Word.

Go along to get along. That's the path offered ... no, demanded. It can only end badly for Christians because "Christians" requires "Christ" and "Christ" is only found in Scripture and Scripture demands that it is God's Word and, as such, it is authoritative. In other words, go down the easy path and you haven't a leg to stand on. Hmmm. Maybe that's not the best choice.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thinking about Heaven

Awhile ago I got a phone call from a former coworker who had moved out of state. "Hi, Stan," she said. "I have a question that you might be able to answer. When dogs die, do they go to heaven? You see, if my dog isn't with me in heaven, I don't want to go." She, of course, was suffering from a fundamental failure to comprehend heaven. But she exhibited the classic understanding of what heaven is all about: I want to be happy. And she got me to thinking about Heaven.

Heaven means different things to different people. To the skeptic and to the child in many cases it is not a good thing. Perhaps you've seen the t-shirt that reads, "I'd rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven." Clearly a failure to comprehend. But to this mindset, heaven is not a wonderful place. And it doesn't take the angry, hardcore skeptic to think so. The classic understanding of Hell is a place of fire with a bunch of naked, wailing people and the classic understanding of Heaven is a bunch of people with wings and harps sitting on clouds. Now, from the child's mind, how long do you think you'd be happy sitting on clouds playing harps? In a word, "Boring!"

Of course, most think of Heaven as a wonderful place. My confused coworker offered a hint of the most popular view. Heaven is a place where we will see our loved ones. Oh, you know the standard storyline. "Pa, where's Ma?" "She's gone to Heaven, little Sally. She's up there right now looking over us all." "Pa, will we ever see her again?" "Oh, we sure will, Sally. Someday we'll all be together again in Heaven." And the idea isn't entirely without biblical roots. Perhaps you remember the story of David and Bathsheba. Their illegitimate son was sick at birth and David sorely wept to the point of frightening his servants so that when the baby died they were afraid to tell him. But he heard them talking, determined that the child was dead, and got up, cleaned up, and went to worship God. They asked what was up with that and David answered in part, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Sam 12:23). He was confident that he would see his son again in Heaven. It's biblical. And we like that.

Others are more interested in other things about Heaven. The biblical descriptions conjure up images (right or wrong) of pearly gates and streets of gold. We imagine mansions and luxury unparalleled. We are told "no more tears". What a marvelous place that will be!

Then there are those interested in the people we never knew. We want to find Abel and ask why his sacrifice was different from Cain's, or find Abraham and ask what he was thinking when he was taking Isaac to be sacrificed. We want to catch up with some of the prophets and find out what that was like. What exactly was it like for Isaiah when he saw the Lord? Seriously, Jonah, what was going through your mind? Elisha, why did you curse those boys for calling you "Baldy"? Oh, and definitely find folks like Paul to pick his brain on what he meant when he wrote this or that or the other. Oh, yes, Heaven is a wonderful place!

To me, though, I cannot imagine any of that. Certainly it's not clouds, wings, and harps. Nonsense. And while I'm quite sure that loved ones who went on before will be there and pearly gates and pavement of clear gold (Yes, clear gold -- Rev 21:18 -- a phrase that doesn't work in my head) will be there and even Abraham and Paul will be there, none of this seems to be of any consequence to me. These things carry no weight in my mind. Heaven, to me, while certainly beautiful and joyous and the final "communion of the saints", will be heaven to me when I can bow prostrate at the feet of my Savior and worship. No questions. I can't even think of words. But to be there, eternally, in the presence of my God will be all of heaven that I'd care about. Streets of gold? Long lost friends and family? The finest saints of all time? All well and good, but as for me I want to see Jesus. I want to bask in His eternal light. Everything else pales in comparison.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Little Help, Please

Someone help me out with this. I searched and searched and found multiple references to this news item, but only one in anything except Christian news sources. Apparently a Muslim man in New Jersey has been arrested for murdering and decapitating two men. So help me out here. Why is the media silent on a massive story like this? A Muslim man murders two Christians because they are Christians (that is, a religious assassination), and they're silent? A reasonable explanation would be nice. Not likely forthcoming, but nice.

Talking about the Weather

I've lived a few places in my life. Everywhere I moved, I learned new weather terms. Coming from southern California where the only weather terms we knew were "sun" and "rain" and the latter only in rare occurrences, I was a bit surprised with all the new stuff I found.

In San Antonio I experienced "hurricane". Yes, San Antonio. Yes, it was a long way inland, but we got hit just the same. Loads of fun. Sign me up for another. Or not.

In South Dakota it was "wind chill factor". It never occurred to me before, but it makes sense. The wind blows -- you feel colder. So I got to experience a -40°F day (yes, that's a negative number) with a -25° wind chill factor, giving us a balmy -65° day. Nice. And then there was the "ground blizzard", the effect that occurs when there is no actual snow falling, but the wind kicks up the snow on the ground so much that you can't see the ground. Very odd. In South Dakota I learned that the way to tell a native South Dakotan ("SoDak") was if the wind stopped blowing, they fell down.

In Syracuse, New York, I learned about "lake effect snow". We didn't actually have to have any clouds to provide snow there. The wind would whip across large bodies of water like, oh, I don't know, Lake Ontario or, closer to town, Oneida Lake and it would end up dumping a pile of snow downwind. So you could be driving along on a cold but sunny day and suddenly find yourself in a snow storm that isn't happening anywhere else. (Ask the people in Buffalo. They get this all the time.) And, of course, there was "freezing rain", a non sequitur where rain falls and freezes on surfaces as it hits, creating a wonderful coat of ice everywhere. Not pleasant at all. Really. (Try chipping away at an inch-thick coat of ice on your car ... in order to start it up and warm it up inside enough to be able to get the ice off the windshield to drive ... in order to take your life in your hands on the roads which are, at this point, defined as "black ice".)

In Charleston, South Carolina, I picked up "heat index". It was 105°F and 100% humidity. Welcome to "unbearably hot". I was looking around for scuba gear in my room there. The air was practically unbreathable and I understood then that humidity adds to the feeling of heat -- heat index.

I suppose the most unusual weather terms I've picked up, however, have been in Arizona. We've had haboobs
and we've seen virga.

That haboob was a dust storm some 75 miles across and 5 miles high. Makes for interesting driving (not recommended). And virga is very popular here in the desert. There's enough water to fall from the clouds but too much heat to hit the ground, so we end up with what one person described to me as "cloud jellyfish", these clouds trailing tentacles of rain showers that no one ever actually feels.

In Phoenix this last week we experienced a new one -- graupel. No, seriously. Look it up. It's not quite snow and not quite hail. It is soft hail or snow pellets. Very bizarre.

All this, of course, is mildly amusing, I suppose. Where you're from there's likely other phenomenon that you experience. It tells me, however, that we have a very creative God. I mean, seriously, snow in the desert? Who else would think of such a thing? Very cool. No, I mean, literally, very cool.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Grand Divorcee

I wrote earlier about The Problems of Divorce where I examined the texts on the topic. Before that I wrote several essays on Scripture's input on marriage including one I titled In Context where I examined Peter's commands to wives and husbands (1 Peter 3:1-7) in context. Someone commented to me about that one that I ought to be careful there. "Just remember that God divorced Israel for her adultery and evil ways," they said.

Did He? Did God divorce Israel? When we consider divorce and the biblical view on the topic, is it true that God Himself is the Grandest Divorcee of all? The assertion comes from Jeremiah.
The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: "Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to Me,' but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore" (Jer 3:6-8).
Well, look, that's the answer, isn't it? God told Jeremiah regarding Israel "I had sent her away with a decree of divorce." Clear as day! Next question? I mean, it could even be claimed that those who are divorced are more like God than those who are not! Right?

I'd like to point out a couple of problems here. First, the text begins with "'If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to Me?' declares the LORD" (Jer 3:1). The context of God's statement here is Mosaic Law from Deuteronomy. In Chapter 24 we find instructions on the topic. As it turns out, the instructions are not at all regarding when one can divorce, but about what happens after. If a man divorces his wife, she marries another, and is again divorced, "then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD" (Deut 24:4). That is, remarrying your wife whom you divorced after she has been remarried and divorced is something that God hates. He affirms that in the first verse of Jeremiah 3. So if God divorced Israel, by what possible means could He reunite with her? I ask, you see, because the rest of Scripture is abundantly clear that He does. Paul wrote, "I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means!" (Rom 11:1). We didn't replace Israel; we were grafted into Israel (Rom 11:17-29). If, then, God actually divorced Israel who married then to her other gods, and God then remarries her, God would be guilty Himself of that which He hates.

So, I ask again, did God divorce Israel? And I would argue, "No! He did not." You may say, "Apparently, then, you don't take the Bible literally." And I would argue that I'm taking it as written. Let me explain. First, there is the problem of the apparent contradiction that I've pointed out. In order for God to actually divorce Israel and then return He would need to violate His own nature. Problem! So I look at it again. What else might be going on?

Well, first, there are the clues found in the text. If God is affirming (as He does) that divorced people must not remarry each other (short version), then why does He say what He says? "Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, '"Return, faithless Israel," declares the LORD'" (Jer 3:12). He just said that such a return was ... what was the word ... "pollution". Why would He call for it? You see, the text is not about divorce; it's about repentance.

So what is He saying in verse 8 with that whole "decree of divorce" thing? Well, clearly God is not a man, so clearly God is not married to Israel. Our version of marriage is indeed a picture of Christ's relationship with the Church, but not a precise one. I mean, really, just take a few steps into "marriage" at its most literal and you'll find it's ... problematic. No, it is an image, not the reality. We are made in the image of God, but that doesn't mean we are God. In the same way, marriage is a mystical union and a covenant and all, similar to God's relationship with us, but God is not actually married to Israel nor Christ to the Church. Thus, the "decree of divorce" was not intended as a literal "God divorced Israel" since 1) it would violate His own nature and 2) He was not actually married to Israel. Instead, it was intended as a picture, a metaphor, an image of God's seriousness regarding Israel and Judah and their idolatry. "You don't want to go there," He was saying. "You really do not want to go there."

I can, of course, be mistaken on this point. If you believe I am, you will need to determine how it is that God is able to violate His own commands and disregard His own nature. You'll have to figure out how God (not a man) can marry Israel (not a woman). And you'll have to explain to others, "Just because God did it doesn't give you the right to do it," because that's a very common perception. "God divorced His wife, Israel; I can certainly divorce mine." Using God over against Christ (Matt 19:4-6) like that is very dangerous. So it is your call. But I would argue that God was using imagery that we can understand to warn His people against vile sin and not actually doing that which would violate His own nature and make Himself irrational. That would be my view. God is not the Grand Divorcee.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Problem of Prayer

Okay, let me say right up front here that this is about me and my problem(s). This is not about genuine problems with prayer, but the difficulties I face and the questions I have. There it is, right up front, so no one is thinking I'm dispensing wisdom or sounding warnings or any such thing.

It is not really possible to separate "Christian" from "prayer". Religion in general demands prayer. Christianity is no exception. Paul said we should "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Jesus spoke of perseverance in prayer (Luke 18:1-5). "He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." He taught His disciples to pray and prayed Himself. We have several of His very prayers recorded in Scripture. "Christian" and "prayer" go together like hand and glove. So ... what's the problem?

My problem is that I don't really fully get it. First, there is the problem of God's Omniscience. He already knows what I will ask before I ask it (Matt 6:8). That's not my opinion; Jesus said it. So how is my asking going to alter anything? Next is the problem of God's Immutability. He doesn't change. Specifically, He doesn't change His mind (Num 23:19; Psa 110:4). Is it my view that my prayers are going to change His mind? "Oh, thank you, Stan. I hadn't considered that possibility. You're right; your way is much better than mine. Thanks for pointing that out." Not gonna happen. And, of course, there is the problem of His Sovereignty. In the end, God will always do what God will do. There is nothing upon which God is unsettled. "Will I do this? I don't know. I'm waiting for Stan to ask." There is no point at which God would say, "Well, my will was to accomplish this, but Stan never asked, so I couldn't." Conversely, there is nothing about which God would say, "Well, I intended to do that, but since Stan asked for something else, I didn't." God always does what God plans to do with or without my input. Consider this. I am, from my particular biblical understanding, "Reformed" in my view. That means that I believe that God chose from all eternity who would be saved. So, here I am, talking to God about that person who really needs to know Him. Someone I really care about. I beat the throne of grace with my fists and call out, "Dear Father, call him/her to Yourself!" Because, you see, while I believe God knows whom He will save, I don't. So I ask. I beg. I cry out. I persevere in it. And it doesn't really make a difference, does it? I mean, God isn't going to choose to save someone He didn't plan to save because I asked, nor is there anyone He planned to save that won't be saved because I failed to ask. It isn't a function of my prayer or my perseverance. It's about God and His work. So, what is prayer about?

Part of my problem (my problem, not God's or the Bible's or ...) is what the Bible says about prayer. Jesus, for instance, told His disciples, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7). Wow! That's pretty broad. But, of course, I can do the language dance. "If you abide in Him you will want what He wants so you will be asking for whatever is in His will." Is that true? Or how about where Jesus said, "If you ask me anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14:14)? So, if I pray "in Jesus name, Amen" it is a magical formula that gets me what I asked for? Well, of course not. I'm asking "in His name" meaning under His authority and for His purposes. But ... does that really solve my dilemma? Those were actually the least troublesome things Jesus said on prayer. He said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt 7:7). That one is without conditions except to ask. He told His disciples, "I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). Two conditions there. 1) Ask. 2) Believe that you have received it. Done! So apparently if I ask and have some sort of positive thinking mind trick going on -- you know, I can psyche myself out to believe something that is not true (because I have not received it yet or I wouldn't be asking) -- I can convert God into the biggest, best Cosmic Butler of all time. Doesn't matter if it was His will. Doesn't matter if I was abiding in Him. Doesn't matter if it's godly or sinful. As long as I believe I received it, it's mine! Promise made! I'm waiting ...

Well, you can see that this isn't easy for me. I don't believe that God bends to my will or supplies my wishes against His will or is even in need of any input from me. Why, then, do I pray? John Bunyan wrote, "Pray often; for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan." That's odd, isn't it? Where is the "When do I get mine?" I don't see where the "God will give you what you want" part is found. And that is the conclusion I've come to on prayer. Prayer is not about getting what I want -- noble or ignoble -- from God. Prayer is about connecting to God. It focuses my attention where it ought to be. It turns my thoughts toward God. It provides a link, a connection, a conversation with God. I am convinced that too often we pray in order to get. James says, "You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:2-3). We are asking God for what we want. If He fails to provide what we want, He hasn't come through for us. He's ... wrong. That should throw up all kinds of red flags in our heads. If we are praying to get God to ... there, you see it? If we are praying to get God to ... do anything, give us something, to act, then are we not seeking our own rather than His benefit?

I am clearly not settled on the topic of prayer. Here's what I do know. Christians are supposed to pray. We're supposed to pray often. We're supposed to pray in faith. We're supposed to pray for God's will. And while God is not limited to nor dependent on our prayers, He uses them. All of that I know. For me, then, prayer has become a ... conversation piece, so to speak. I get to sit in my Father's lap and tell Him about my day, my fears, my dreams, my wishes. I tell Him what I want and don't want. I ask for things and thank Him for things and by all means confess things. Prayer is not my magic tool to get God to do what I want. It's an amazing instrument for me to connect with God. Maybe prayer is something else to you. Maybe it's more. Hopefully it's not less. Because clearly I'm not yet completely clear on the topic. Maybe you are. Any help?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


There is nothing more necessary for us or more essential to Christian doctrine than the concept of forgiveness. Absolutely necessary to both. We need it. God provides it. We need to extend it to others. Jesus wasn't ambiguous. He told His disciples to pray to "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12) and warned that our failure to forgive would result in our failure to be forgiven (Matt 6:14). He told His disciples, "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). Forgive, forgive, forgive. We need it from God. We owe it to others. Forgive.

Odd thing, then, that we never seem to ask what it is. When the Bible says to forgive, what does it mean? I would think, given the importance of the concept both to us from God and to us toward others, we would want to know what it is.

The Hebrew is nâsâh, meaning "to lift". This idea is to lift, to bear, to carry the burden of sin. The Greek is aphiēmi, where the ap means "off" and hiēmi means "to send", or, to send off or send forth. The idea, then, is to "send forth" debts. That which is owed is sent away. Thus, in both cases, it is to lift off or send away sin.

The standard of forgiveness in Scripture is "just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). So if we understand that "forgive" means "to send away sins", in what manner did God send away our sins? Well, it's right there in the text I just quoted: "in Christ." Paul wrote "In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph 1:7). In Peter's first public sermon he preached, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). "In the name of Jesus Christ." We are not forgiven by violating justice. We are forgiven by God's mercy based on His justice. You see, when Christ paid the penalty in full (John 19:30), God was able to "be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:26). That is, forgiveness, if it is to be right, must conform to justice. God managed our forgiveness by accepting His Son's payment on our behalf.

Forgiveness in Christianity is a two-path concept. There is, first and foremost, God's forgiveness given to us. Necessary. Essential. And accomplished by the payment of Christ enabling God to "send away" our sins. He couldn't just toss them aside; that would not be just. He sent them away by placing them on Christ (2 Cor 5:21). This structure of God forgiving us by paying our debt, then, is the model for us to carry out the second path -- forgiving others. We are to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us. We are to be merciful not in a vacuum, but "as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). We are, then, required to send away the sins of others against us not by merely setting them aside. That is the oh, so popular view. "Just forget it. Let it go. Don't worry about it." Indeed, many suggest that part of the essential definition of forgiveness is "forget". You know, "forgive and forget." But that's not how God forgives. God forgives having paid the price. And that is how we are to forgive as well.

In our less-than-careful Christian world today we're not really thinking much about it when we talk about forgiveness. It's a warm term, understandably so, and we like the idea that sin is "sent away". We do so enjoy having our sin removed. And anyone -- even unbelievers -- can tell you that forgiving -- sending away -- the debts of others against us is a good thing, a healthy thing, a right thing. We, however, are very likely to miss the fundamentals.

The most common error is that we don't acknowledge the debt. Forgiving a debt is not possible if no debt exists. But what you'll often hear is "Oh, it was nothing" or something like it. "He/she didn't really mean it" is another popular approach to the same thing, but it's the same basic approach. It wasn't really that bad for whatever reason. Sure, it might make the transgressor feel better, but artificially minimizing the debt is not forgiveness. The second error is that we tend to forget justice. Thus, Christians are urged to "forgive and forget" without regard to justice. This moves "forgiveness" into the realm of "don't feel bad toward" and away from "paid in full". This error is another prime example of ruling by feelings. This version of "forgive" is just "let go of your anger" which is not forgiveness.

"Really?" Yes. You see, I can let go of my anger toward someone who owes me a debt of some sort without forgiving that debt. And I can let go of a debt someone owes me without letting go of my anger. The two are not necessarily connected. But what the most common call is for us is to not feel harshly toward a transgressor and that is not forgiveness.

How are we forgiven? We are forgiven on the basis of justice, where the very real debt we owed to God was paid in full by God. Christian, welcome to genuine forgiveness. What we, then, are called to do is not "let it go", but just as God in Christ has forgiven you, we are to make the payment for the transgression ourselves. You see, now we're not trying to manage our feelings or minimize reality. We're taking care of the issue. "It is finished." Paid in full. I no longer have any reason to feel badly toward you now because you owe me nothing, not because I've been so magnanimous (and unrealistic or unjust), but because it's taken care of.

For most of us the concept of forgiveness is nothing more than the setting aside of hostility. But while God's concept -- paying the debt in full -- would certainly bring about the cessation of hostilities (because, after all, that's exactly what the Bible says), we tend to think of it without that step. So biblical forgiveness is not a cancellation of justice, but a meeting of justice and mercy where the debt is paid, just not by the one owing it. Thus, in human forgiveness, our task is to accept our own payment on behalf of another as full payment of the debt.

Notice, however, another absolutely necessary component to biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness in the Bible is not merely for the cessation of hostilities. It is not aimed at making us feel better. It is intended for a purpose: reconciliation. We forgive in order to reconcile with others as God forgave to reconcile us to Himself. A wonderful example of that is found in Genesis 45. There Joseph forgives the brothers who wronged him. When he revealed himself to them and "they were dismayed at his presence" (as you can well imagine), his response was, "Don't worry; I'm not mad anymore." No it wasn't. It was, "Come near to me, please" (Gen 45:4). You see, forgiveness without embrace is pointless. The intention for forgiveness is reconciliation. "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 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" (2 Cor 5:18-19). That's forgiveness: reconciliation by "not counting their trespasses against them".

We live in a world dominated by feelings, so we might be forgiven if we think that forgiveness is about feeling good. You'll hear terms like "forgive yourself" like they are meaningful. When you understand forgiveness as it is in Scripture, however, you'll find that it is not a violation of justice, but an exercise of it, and that we can forgive as an image of God's forgiveness towards us. It isn't about feeling good. It's about paying the debt in order to close the books and obtain reconciliation. Of course, it will make you feel better, but that's just a byproduct. And it's a good one. But be sure to embrace both justice and mercy in order to reconcile to others ... you know, like God did with us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Gift of Faith?

There are two epistles written by Peter in our Bibles. The first is addressed to "those who are elect exiles of the dispersion." The second is addressed to a slightly different group: "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours." "Yeah ... so?" you may be asking. Well, you see, knowing to whom a letter is addressed helps to answer some very basic but important questions. For instance, when the author references "you" or "us", to whom is he referring? When Peter wrote, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you" (2 Peter 3:9), it helps to know to whom the "you" is referring. The Jews? All readers? All humans? All created beings? You see, it depends entirely on the address at the beginning. So in this particular reference the "you" toward whom God is patient is not as broad as "everyone" nor as narrow as "the Jews", but references specifically "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours." Good to know.

Now, looking at that phrase, is there anything about it that strikes you as odd? There is to me. You see, we do not typically think of "faith" as "received". Terms you will commonly hear might be "choose to believe" where faith is a choice or "called to faith" where faith is my response -- something I muster up with which to respond to a call -- but ... "received"? In what context do we ever think of "faith" as something given to us?

In my examination of the text, I tried different versions. What do they say? Well, the King James says "to them that have obtained like precious faith with us." And that is about all of our options. The available translations all use either "obtained" or "received" (or, as in the New Living Translation, "given"). Always a term of being handed, not of mustering up. So examining a variety of versions leaves me with the same question. In what sense is faith given to us?

Maybe the Greek will help. The word is lagchanō. Thayer's says it means "to obtain by lot, to receive by divine allotment, obtain to cast lots, determine by lot" and, go figure, Strong's agrees. Now how does that help any? So, Peter said that the people to whom he was writing did not provide their own faith, but had been given the faith they had and had not been given it by some merit, but "by lot". Now, understand, in the Jewish mind the purpose of casting lots was not to obtain a random outcome, but to obtain an outcome directed by God. Thus, this kind of thinking would mean that Peter was writing to "those to whom God has given by His divine choice a faith of the same kind as ours." Hmmph!

That's not very satisfying, is it? I mean, aren't we all pretty confident that faith is what we provide, what we muster, what we contribute to the equation? And, yet, here's Peter suggesting that faith is, at least originally, given by God's choice to us. Oh, now wait! Doesn't Paul say something like that? You see, Paul (writing to "all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" -- see how the address makes a difference?) says that each (remember, "of you") is given a measure of faith (Rom 12:3). Oh, how odd! There appears to be agreement.

And let's not interrupt Peter in mid-sentence. He says he is writing "to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Oh, that adds a new flavor, doesn't it? I mean, we still have faith bestowed, given, transmitted, but now we have the conduit, the circuit, the method. Peter here (and it is in his address, so it is simply assumed, not debated or argued) says that the faith that we have -- the shared faith among believers -- is given to us by means of "the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." No righteousness of God, no faith. No Savior, no faith. Linking this thought to Paul's writing, we know that "He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). Thus, it is the concerted work of Christ on the cross and God's acceptance of that sacrifice that makes available "the righteousness of God" to us. Or, closing the loop, "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" because God made Him to be sin on our behalf. And that kind of makes "received" mandatory, doesn't it? I mean, if faith, in order to be valuable and effective, must be predicated on the work of Christ and the righteousness of God, it would have to be given rather than produced internally, wouldn't it? We would need to first be made the righteousness of God in Christ before we are given the faith we need in order to align with this formula. Wouldn't we?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Truth and Sin

Jesus came into the world for a variety of reasons. He "came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). He came to "proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18). One specific thing -- something Jesus specifically states as a purpose -- is found in His conversation with Pilate. "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). Truth. A key issue. Indeed, Jesus claimed for Himself "I am ... the Truth" (John 14:6). John said, "We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6). Thus, there is truth and there is error. No other alternatives. According to Paul, the fundamental problem for Natural Man is this very problem -- Truth. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom 1:18). Instead of believing and acting on the truth, we suppress it. Instead of embracing the truth, "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie" (Rom 1:25). Indeed, literally "the lie", where we exchange God and His truth for creation and the lie. Our primary problem, then, is an absence of truth.

This realization got me to thinking. God is not arbitrary. He doesn't tell us to do stuff "because I said so." He does things for a reason. And, in fact, since He is by nature good, He does things for a good reason, and that reason is good. I have, for a long time, understood that God's commands are for our good, but this rumination on the problem of truth leads me to another perspective as well. If our basic problem is a truth failure, that would suggest that our embracing of sin is a truth failure. That is, we sin because we don't have the truth. And that would suggest that the commands of God are based on truth for which we have substituted a lie.

Here, look at an example. Without going to anything controversial, how about the first commandment? "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exo 20:3). The first commandment forbids other gods in the presence of God. Okay. We get that. But ask yourself, why? What is the truth expressed in the command? What truth does that command express for which we are likely to buy a lie? What truth are we exchanging for a lie here? Well, we can find that answer elsewhere in Scripture. "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God" (Isa 45:5). The uniqueness of God is expressed often in the Bible. Putting it simply, we are monotheists. We are not to have other gods in the presence of God because there are no other gods. Thus, the gods that we drum up and worship, whether it is a Baal or a Molech, power, popularity, or prosperity, or perhaps the most common, self, all are not gods. God commands, then, that we don't lie to ourselves and have other non-existent beings in our lives that we treat as gods because there is only One. Don't be stupid!

You see, then, that God is not simply making a command. He is making a command for our benefit. And He is making a command based on a truth claim. If you violate that command, you violate truth. What is truth? Truth is defined quite simply as that which conforms to reality. The opposite of truth, then, would be ... insanity. Insanity is being out of touch with reality. So God's commands are 1) out of His authority (so "because I said so" is a perfectly valid reason to obey), 2) given for our good (so self-interest is a perfectly valid reason to obey), and 3) based on truth (so reality and sanity are perfectly good reasons to obey). The question you would want to ask yourself, then, is this. When God commands, what is the truth behind the command? When God tells His people, "You shall not commit murder", what truth do we miss to commit murder? When He says, "You shall not commit adultery", what lie do we buy to commit adultery? I offer those because they might be easy. But don't stop at the easy ones. He says, "Honor your mother and father", a command sorely ignored these days. Why does He command it? Yes, for your best interest, to be sure, but what truth is behind it? What is the lie we have bought that allows us to discard that command?

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32). To His people He promised "the Spirit of Truth" (John 15:26), and "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). Truth is a key issue. Perhaps the key issue. Our lack of it is certainly our key problem because we know that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). I wonder if it wouldn't be quite instructive if we were to examine what God tells us to do from the question, "What is the truth?" Paul said that the primary problem is "those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth" (Rom 2:8). He affirmed, "Let God be true though every man is a liar" (Rom 3:4). Assuming that God commands rightly and God commands based on truth -- a truth that we will likely exchange for a lie -- what lie are we buying when we violate what God tells us to do? What truth is behind what God tells us to do? I think this line of examination might be very instructive for those of us who want to listen to God's voice and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Maybe you could give it a try.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perfect Peace

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes,
It is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.
For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will lift me high upon a rock (Psa 27:1-5).
The signs are all around us. In Canada the "hate crimes" laws are being used to bring "evil Christians" to "justice" because they "hatefully" agree with God that certain human activities are sin. In the U.S., while the justice system hasn't quite gone that far yet, we have seen an erosion of religious freedom. People of principle are being sued because they refuse service based on their beliefs that God said something was sin and they don't feel they can support it, and they're losing. There is a growing voice in public calling for the removal of "religious zealots" with, for "some reason", a specific aim at Christians and not other religious zealots ... you know, like the ones who blow up buildings and venerate killing infidels. The signs are all around us. We are not yet persecuted in America, but you'd be quite foolish if you didn't expect it and soon.

That kind of talk leads a lot of people to a "fight or flight" response. Either we need to gear up our lawyers and get ready to sue anything and everything that threatens us or we need to run and hide and pull the rocks in over our heads to escape.

David thought otherwise. "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" It comes from a different perspective. Not a perspective of power. "I am right and, therefore, unassailable." Not a perspective of "it can't happen to me!" David admits that evildoers will assail ("when", not "if"), that we will have foes, that war will rise against us. It comes, then, from a perspective not that we are impervious, but that it doesn't matter. "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" It comes from a look in a different direction. "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple."

Yes, it's coming. The surprising part is not that tribulation is coming, but that it held off for so long. And our safety doesn't lie in divine intervention that keeps us from it. It lies in our attention being elsewhere. It lies in seeking after Him. Beholding His beauty. Dwelling in His presence. "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace." Because, when we are there, "He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock."

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. " (Isa 26:3).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Harbinger

Have you heard about this? A coworker was telling me about the recent Inaugural Prayer Breakfast where Rabbi/Pastor/Author Jonathan Cahn spoke to the gathering about returning the nation to God. Yes, that was his message. Look it up. You can listen on YouTube. I read a transcript.

Rabbi Jonathan Cahn is President of Hope of the World ministries, Senior Pastor and Messianic Rabbi of the the Jerusalem Center/Beth Israel in Wayne, New Jersey. He is also the author of a recent bestseller, The Harbinger, a fictional novel. No, you need the full title: The Harbinger: the Ancient Mystery that holds the secret of America's Future. Presented as fiction, Cahn believes it is, instead, based on biblical truth. His fundamental launch pad for his presentation is Isa. 9:10.
"The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place."
The text is about Israel's impending judgment. The problem, you see, is that they have decided to go ahead without God's input and without repentance. The promise, then, is destruction.

Cahn, then, works this text as a prophecy against America. He argues that September 11, 2001, was a judgment from God, a call for repentance. We didn't. He references in The Harbinger nine signs, harbingers of destruction, warnings of impending judgment. The fifth harbinger is "The Stone of Judgment". Three years after 9/11 they laid this "Stone of Judgment" at Ground Zero. The sixth harbinger is "The Sign of the Sycamore". As it turns out, when the twin towers fell, they knocked down a sycamore tree at the base of the towers. A bronze sculpture of roots of that very tree are on Wall Street now as a reminder, and Cahn points to that as proof. Stones and sycamores. See?

This kind of stuff disturbs me. I really want to cheer when someone stands in front of Washington's powerful and declares, "You need to repent and return to God!" To that I say, "Amen!" When someone gets into the public eye shouting, "Outside of Him there is no safety, but inside of Him there is no fear", I want to say, "Amen!" When the call for national repentance is sent out and people get interested, I want to cheer. When a coworker says, "This is really good stuff", I'm happy. So when the stuff turns out to be really far out prophecy-making with remote connections to disconnected Scripture and random current events cobbled together to make the connection, I'm really, really disappointed. Cahn is warning of a 7-year cycle. Seven years after 9/11 in the same month as 9/11 on the 29th day of Elul (Jewish month) we had a financial crash on Wall Street. See? God's judgment on a 7-year cycle. A Jonathan Cahn fan gives you a helpful list offering evidence that all of this is true and we're facing judgment from God. Expect the end of America on the 29th of September, 2015.

See, I really agree wholeheartedly that America (rather, Americans) needs to repent. American Christians need to repent. American unbelievers need to repent. God told His people "if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron 7:14). Whether or not that qualifies as a promise for America, I will affirm with my whole heart that we who are God's people need to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. But do we need to hear that message peppered with extrabiblical prophecy, irrational and irrelevant eisegesis, and bizarre "proofs" from current events? What will that do to people like my coworker when the false prophet is revealed? What does that do to the needed message of call to repentance? I hate mixed messages like that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Death and Taxes

Okay, just taxes. I won't talk about death.

I go to a church that has a school attached to it. You know, a good Christian school. All well and good. As the calendar year ended and now as the tax season progresses, they keep reminding us of the wonders of Arizona state tax law. If you give a donation to a school (you know, like theirs), Arizona will deduct dollar for dollar that amount from your tax liability. Think about that. If you owe $5000 in state income tax and you donate $5000 to a school, the state will refund you $5000 and you owe no taxes. Outstanding!

Well, no one will be surprised to hear this, of course, but I seem to have a different slant on things. (I know! Shocking, isn't it?) I cannot seem to get my arms around that idea. Oh, sure, it's a good tax idea, even a good financial idea. But is it a good Christian idea? I mean, this is offered in church and in communications from church as something we all ought to do for charitable purposes and to support our church and our school. Is it biblical? I'm having a tough time with it.

Jesus told His disciples, "When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt 6:3-4). They tell me, "When you give to your needy church and school, be sure to properly document it so you can receive a hefty tax reward." Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). They tell me, "God loves a financially savvy giver." Indeed, if the notion of giving to the needy is sacrifice (Mark 12:41-44) and our notion is financial gain, isn't there a basic contradiction here? In 2 Samuel 24 David followed God's instructions to "Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." When he got there, Araunah offered to give him the property. David told him, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." If I wrote a check to the school for the amount of my tax liability and received back from the state that amount, wouldn't I be offering to God that which cost me nothing?

The liberal wing of Christendom would like to tell us that forced charity (called excessive taxation to manage the welfare state or open-borders immigration to provide for the world's needy at your cost) is a good thing. Nay, a biblical thing. A thing that Jesus commanded and endorsed. I argue that generosity is only valuable if it is voluntary. Now the church/school and the government tell me that giving to get more in return is a good thing. I'm not quite seeing it. It seems to stick someplace before my "choose to do" kicks in. Am I just confused? Is charity-required-by-law a good thing and charity to get a tax break a godly approach? I'm not getting this at all. I wonder if any of you can help.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Is It?

In the ongoing debate about "same-sex marriage" there appears to be little time spent on answering a very basic question: "What is it?" The term is tossed about. It litters the landscape. You will hear about "gay marriage" and "marriage equity" and the like and the arguments will rage around these concepts, but almost no one is asking, "What is it?" I mean, before you can answer what is right or wrong on the question, don't you need to know what the question involves?

Here is the primary question: Who should the government allow to be married? Stop. Wait. The primary question demands clarifying questions. First and most basic, what is this thing called "marriage"? Second and absolutely necessary, why does the government care? If you'd like to buy a gallon of milk, the government isn't going to regulate your milk usage. It doesn't care. If you're going to go next door and shoot your neighbor, it certainly regulates that. It does care. That is, matters that do not affect society are not the government's concern. Maintaining a healthy society is the government's concern.So why would the government have any input on marriage?

The first question you need to answer, then, is what marriage is. Debating whether a man and a woman, a man and a man, a man and a dog, or a wall and a woman can get married would preempt the question. You need to define what you mean by "marriage" before you can answer what's equitable in marriage.

Today there are two prevalent views. The traditional, historical, longstanding definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a permanent commitment to each other with the natural aim of producing and raising children. It is the only definition found in the Bible. It is the only definition found in history (until the last century or less). The more modern, revised version is the union of two people (without regard to gender) who commit to love each other romantically and share life's burdens together. I would suspect that for a large number of people today that's the only definition that springs to mind. Children? Perhaps. Lifetime commitment? Maybe. Man and woman? Well, sure ... but ... maybe not.

Your definition of "marriage", you see, will determine a lot in the questions of "same-sex marriage" and "marriage equity". If you go with the only definition that anyone knew from the start of humanity, "same-sex marriage" is a non sequitur. It isn't "wrong" or "immoral" or "evil"; it simply doesn't make sense, like a "square circle" or a "silent yell". If marriage is "the union of a man and a woman" (for starters), then calling the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman a "marriage" would be a violation of the definition. You can call it something else, but not a "marriage". And, of course, if that first definition is the definition you're going with, then the question of "marriage equity" also changes. No one is saying that same-sex people can't get "married" when "married" means "the union of a man and a woman". Everyone is given the same right to be involved in that union.

You need, then, to ask yourself what your definition is. You need to get that nailed down first. Most people involved in the debate are not asking that question. Most people are operating on a feeling-level definition without actually looking at the word and what it means. They know how they feel about "marriage", but do they examine what it actually means? Most do not.

In nailing down that definition, then, you may want to consider the other question. What does the government care? Why is civil authority involved in "marriage" (by whatever definition you choose)? If you choose the first, the government would be involved in regulating "the union of a man and a woman in a permanent commitment to each other with the natural aim of producing and raising children" because this is the cornerstone of society. The union is necessary. The permanence is important. The children are fundamental. Government, in order to insure a continued and orderly society, would have a vested interest in unions that produce offspring and the proper care of those offspring. And there really is no doubt whatsoever that a permanent union of a man and a woman as parents of offspring is the best platform for the proper care of that offspring. Thus, government regulation makes sense.

Does it make sense if you go with the new version of marriage? Well, first, the union of "two people" seems random. Why two? Why not more? If the aim is love and sharing burdens together, can't you love more than one and certainly isn't it best to have many hands to share life's burdens? So, why "two"? Second, the new definition has eliminated both any real need for permanence or children. Indeed, the CDC reports that in 2010 nearly 41% of all children were born to unwed mothers. No "union", no "commitment", no "marriage". The USA Today last year reported that the numbers of kids born out of wedlock are increasing, tripling from 2003 to 2010. Something around 80% of first children born to black women were outside of marriage with only 18% of these even cohabiting. For Hispanics the number was 53%. Look, "children" used to go with "mom and dad" like "glove" went with "hand", but no longer. Society as a whole is deciding to intentionally and repeatedly shortchange children to provide no "mother" and "father" let alone any sort of permanent relationship. And we're all aware that permanence is not part of marriage. Again, the CDC reports that, on the whole, something around 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Now, be careful with that. About 41% of first marriages (less than half) end in divorce. From there the numbers go up. Some 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. Other factors seem to include such things as the age at which a couple marries (20-24 appears to be the worst at just under 40% while 35-39 is way down below 10%) and their level of education when they marry. Living together increases the likelihood by some 40% and having children decreases the likelihood by 40%. (Think about that when you're defining "marriage" without children.)

Welcome, then, to the new "marriage". What was a lifelong commitment, a genuine union, and aimed necessarily at offspring (requiring, then, a man and a woman) is now a commitment of no time frame without a genuine union with or without children. So I ask why the government would care about regulating that? If this is the new "marriage", then the government should probably just stop. They don't need to regulate something without form or purpose to society like that. They aren't telling you to eat pancakes. Why are they passing laws on who you can be related to? How is it their problem?

My primary aim here is not to prove a point, but to ask questions. What is marriage? If your answer is "We should all be able to marry the person we love," you're not paying attention. Because we can't. We can't marry siblings. We can't marry parents. We can't marry multiple people. We can't marry non-human entities. That answer is naive. You need to ask yourself what marriage is. If it is what is commonly viewed today, then the question of "marriage equity" is pointless. The real question is "Why should the government be involved at all?" If your definition is the new definition, then let them get out of the equation. They're not needed there. But, of course, if your answer is the new definition, then the further question is about social justice, what the children need, proper parenting, the effects of failures of parenting on society as a whole, the increase of the welfare state ... oh, this just gets really, really big. So answering the question "What is marriage?" is essential before you head down the road of demanding government intervention in "marriage equity". There are meanings and there are ramifications. They need to be considered.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


MSNBC commentator Touré (That's a name?) commented on Roe v Wade 40 years after. He was in favor. He told of a time when he got a girlfriend ("I was in a committed relationship with a woman who I knew was not the one." I'm sorry, what do you mean by "committed"?) pregnant. Having that baby -- becoming a father 15 years ago -- would have changed his life direction. "She decided it was best to have an abortion and days later she did. We did. And in some ways that choice saved my life."

Welcome to the logical fallacy known as Equivocation. Equivocation occurs when you use a term as the same thing when what you mean by it is two different things. Here's a silly but appropriate example:

- All banks are beside rivers.
- I put my money in a bank.
- Therefore, the financial institution where I deposit my money is beside a river.

Yes, silly, but that illustrates the fallacy. You take a word that can mean different things and then use it to mean the same thing. Touré told us that his female sex partner's (I have a hard time calling her his "committed relationship" or even "girlfriend" at this point) abortion "saved my life." You see, if she hadn't done that heroic, unselfish act, Touré would have died.

Well, of course not. He wouldn't have died. In this equivocation, "life" could mean "the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body" (as the phrase "saved my life" would typically suggest) or it could mean "a way or manner of living."1 In Touré's piece the latter was exactly what he meant ... and the two are not the same thing.

The argument of the pro-life advocate is that life -- human life in particular -- is valuable and worth defending. The argument of the pro-choice advocate is that choice -- a woman's choice in particular (not a man's choice and certainly not the choice of the unborn) -- is valuable and worth defending. The pro-abortion advocate (I'm being generous here because "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" is a hairline distinction.) might argue that life is valuable, but here they equivocate. They would argue that the life of the child in the womb is not more important than the life of the woman. Now, at face value it might be hard to argue against that. Seems reasonable. So let me show you the fallacy. They would argue that the life ("the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body") of the child in the womb is not more important than the life ("a way or manner of living") of the woman. See it now?

Equivocation is a logical fallacy. It invalidates the argument that uses it. The pro-abortion argument above, then, is not valid.

Equivocation is a favorite among those in the pro-abortion camp. It is a favorite among the anti-theists, too. Perhaps you've seen something like this one.

- Christians did the Crusades.
- Christians are opposed to homosexual marriage.
- Therefore, it is mean-spirited, contentious people who are opposed to homosexual marriage.

All kinds of errors there, but one of them is equivocation. They have defined "Christian" with "Crusades", defined "Crusades" with "mean-spirited" and "contentious", and then equated the two. The classical Equivocation Fallacy.

Now, to be honest, just about anyone can accomplish this fallacy. I don't mean to suggest that it is only "evil pro-aborts and homosexuals" that make this error. Christians do it, too. Indeed, that's why I'm bringing this up. Pay attention, Christians. Know your terminology. Know their terminology. Make sure you're not mixing terms. Making a good argument with bad logic doesn't make for a good argument. I recently read a paper on immigration where a family member was deported because they didn't have the proper documentation. It concluded, "What did they do wrong? Well, they were different – they spoke broken English – but since when was that a justification for not recognizing a person’s humanity?"2 Regardless of what you believe about immigration or how it should be handled, equating "a person's humanity" with their presence in this country is a fallacy. That is the equivocation fallacy. Bad argument regardless of the quality of the intent. Don't do that.

1 Interestingly the first definition I offered here is the first definition in the dictionary and occupies in various forms multiple definitions. In the dictionary I referenced that second definition was way down at number 6 on the list.

2 I have not given a reference to the paper because I don't wish to cause any undue or unnecessary responses to the author (or those who may be closely connected to the author). Who wrote it is irrelevant to the discussion. I saw the same kind of thinking in a TV interview of an undocumented immigrant in college. "Just because I don't have the right documentation doesn't make me a second-class citizen!" "Second-class citizen" suggests "a person of lesser value", but "citizen" has a specific meaning and not having been a legal, natural-born or naturalized citizen makes her not a citizen at all. Argument invalid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church

Interesting article on the Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church. I think there's some real insight there.

"I am not Arminian!"

Let me start this by saying that I am not going to attempt to prove a Calvinist view, solve centuries of debates on the subject, or even take a stand on one side or the other here. I want to point at the real questions at hand.

In the "great debate" between Arminian and Calvinist views you will typically find lots and lots of nuances. "I'm a four-point Calvinist." "I'm a hardcore Arminian." That sort of thing. More often what you'll find is "I'm not a Calvinist or an Arminian" and typically that's premised on "I don't follow the teachings of men."

All of this misses the point. With exceptions, of course, there are essentially no Arminians or Calvinists. That is, those who would be classified as either "Arminian" or "Calvinist" would not be so classified because "I follow the teachings of Jacob Arminius" or "Not me! I follow the teachings of John Calvin!" or the like. No, the question at hand is not "Which name do you follow?" but (and always) "What does the Bible teach?" I am classified in most circles as a Calvinist, but I've read very little Calvin (or Augustine). I like to say, "I'm not a Calvinist; I'm a biblicist. I'm just pleased that John Calvin and I agreed so often on what the Bible teaches." So set aside for just a moment the names. You see, what's in view here are certain principles upon which some genuine Christians differ from other genuine Christians. If, on these primary points, you fall on one side, you are labelled as a matter of shorthand an "Arminian" and if you fall on the other you are labelled as a matter of shorthand a "Calvinist". Neither means you follow the teachings of a man.

What, then, are the issues at hand? Back in the 17th century a Dutch professor at the University of Leiden raised some disagreements with a few of the standard theological positions of the day. Some of his students formed the Remonstrants who, after his death, submitted five key complaints (called "the five articles of remonstrants") against the theology. In response, the church called a meeting where delegates from all over Europe attended to discuss these issues. The result was that this group, known as the Synod of Dort, decided that Scripture sided with the current views on these five issues and denied that the Remonstrants had a proper biblical argument. Five issues; got it? Yes, these became known as "the five points of Calvinism" and today are painfully represented in the TULIP acrostic intended to help remember them.

Now, here's the point. Your position on these five points will classify you as an Arminian or as a Calvinist. That's because these two classifications are about these five points, not the names associated with them. (Note, in fact, that neither Jacob Arminius or John Calvin were involved in these proceedings.) In order to know, then, what is intended by such classifications, you need to understand the two perspectives. And it's an "either/or" answer. That is, you agree with the Synod of Dort or not. If not, you are an "Arminian". If so, you are a "Calvinist". Simple as that. So, what are these points and their positions?

Issue Remonstrants Synod
Total Depravity Human nature was seriously affected by the Fall, but Man is not actually spiritually dead. He still retains the Free Will to choose Christ and gain salvation. God provides the calling, but the sinner provides the faith. Because of the Fall, Man is dead in sin. The sin nature makes him blind and deaf to God, corrupt at the core. He is incapable on his own of doing good or pleasing God. He can contribute nothing to his own salvation
Unconditional Election Since Man is not spiritually dead dead and has the ability to choose Christ without any additional divine influence, God's election of who will be saved is based on who chooses Christ. That is, election is predicated on Man's Free Will choice. Since Man is spiritually dead, blind, hostile to God, he has nothing in him to commend him to God. God chooses, then, before the foundation of the world whom He will save without regard to any merit in the Man.
Limited Atonement Christ's redeeming work on the Cross paid for all sin for all men for all time. Christ's intention on the Cross was to accomplish the salvation of all. The appropriation of that payment is contingent on the individual's faith, so the success of Christ's intent is limited by Man's Free Will Christ's atonement was intended to accomplish the salvation of those whom He had chosen for salvation. On the Cross He actually accomplished this intention, paying for all sin of all the elect. The Atonement is sufficient to cover all sin for all men but efficient only for those who He draws to Himself.
Irresistible Grace The Spirit calls everyone. Not everyone is saved. Since Man is not dead in sin and possesses sufficient ability to choose Christ on his own, it is clear that all who are not saved do so by resisting the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be and frequently is resisted. However, at the point that God decides in the lives of those for whom God has decided -- given the "dead in sin" condition of Man -- the Holy Spirit can and will effectively regenerate and bring the elect to faith. When the Holy Spirit is acting in this manner, He cannot be resisted.
Perseverance of the Saints Since Man's Free Will is his contribution to his salvation, Man's Free Will is necessary to retain that salvation. The synergy of the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the believer is required to keep the believer from falling from grace and losing his salvation. Salvation can be lost. Since it is God's work to elect, to pay for the sin of the elect, and to regenerate the elect, it is God's work to retain the elect. His work is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer certainly bringing him further into sanctification. While a believer may fall into sin, he cannot remain there and will ultimately and certainly be saved.

I don't know if you followed all that well enough, but if you did I think you can see that very little of it is potentially pieced out. If you believe that Man is dead in sin, for instance, then you cannot believe that God's election is based on Man's ability to choose. Contradictory. On the other hand, if you believe that Man is "sin sick" but not actually dead, then clearly the idea that God chooses based on Himself rather than on their choice would be manifestly irrational. In other words, each position follows from the others. Of course, there are many who would argue the "Remonstrants" side for the first four and the "Synod" side for the last (as an example) or (more often) the "Remonstrants" side for the question of the Atonement and the "Synod" side for the rest, but for the most part these are a package deal.

The question, then, is not "Am I an Arminian or am I a Calvinist?" To that I say, "Irrelevant!" The question is "What does the Bible teach about ... Man's sin nature, God's election, the purpose of the Atonement, the ability of God to save, and the ability of God to keep that which He has saved?" Forget about "Arminian" or "Calvinist". Beside the point. Let the labels lie where they will. What does the Bible teach? That is the point.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Problems of Divorce

There you go ... a perfectly misleading title. I am not going to discuss here the kinds of problems that divorce causes. I want to look at the preeminent biblical text on divorce and examine the problems of the text. You see, you likely think you have a clear idea of what Jesus was saying, but I suspect it's not as clear as you might like to think. So, here's the text:
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" 4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." 10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." 11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given (Matt 19:3-11).
First observation: "Really, Stan? Did you have to include the whole text?" If we are going to understand this as written and in context, yes, I did. (Note, in fact, that I left off the verse -- verse 12 -- regarding eunuchs. Look it up yourself.) Moving on ...

The problem I want to examine is the standard question among many: Under what conditions are divorce (and remarriage) allowed in the Bible? (Odd thing, that. No one appears to be asking, "How far is too far in seeking to make my marriage last a lifetime?" I wonder why?) Let's jump right to the famous "exception clause" for this. "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (v 9). Clear enough, right? Well, hold on. First problem here. What about wives divorcing husbands? Relax. The parallel passage, Mark 10:11-12, covers that. In that one (Mark was writing to Gentiles who would have experienced it more often) Mark includes wives who divorce their husbands. In both cases, divorce and remarriage constitutes adultery.

"So ... except?" Yes, "Except for sexual immorality."

Well, we all know what that is, right? That's adultery. Done. Thanks. Bye. Now, hold on! Are you so sure? There are some problems with that view. First, note the context. The Pharisees are testing Him (v 3) and offer a trick question: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (v 4). You know, I'm sure, that there were two schools of thought. One said it was only acceptable to divorce for sexual immorality (Shammai) and the other said it was okay for any reason at all (Hillel). What was Jesus's answer to this? No, it was not "except for sexual immorality" (which, by the way, would have been a simple, "Your Shammai fellow was right and Hillel was wrong. Yes, for sexual immorality, divorce is okay."). No! Jesus's answer was an emphatic, "No!" His reasoning was "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (v 6). Next? If they had accepted His answer, that would have been His answer. You wouldn't have any addendum, any clarification, anything else. When asked under what conditions a man could divorce his wife, Jesus answered, "None!"

There are more problems here. I've already indicated that His answer was "no exceptions". And I've pointed out that He was not agreeing with either of their rabbis. If it was adultery, He was agreeing. But there is another fundamental problem with adultery as the understanding here. If adultery is the exception, how does that fit with Jesus's position "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate"? Are they joined by God or are they not? What, then, can be done to separate them? Adultery is bad, but it is done by Man and, therefore, not a means of ending that union. Problem!

Another problem. In the parallel passages (Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 16:18), divorce is condemned as adultery without exception. If you are going to offer "adultery" as the definition of "sexual immorality", you're going to have to figure out how that does not contradict Mark or Luke. And Paul (1 Cor 7:10-11) while you're at it.

And, listen, while we're here, why did Jesus use the term He used (sexual immorality) rather than a well-known, easily available, readily understood term for adultery? It's used quite often in the New Testament. Jesus used it in the same sentence. Why didn't Jesus say "adultery" if He meant adultery?

Another consideration is the issue of the historical setting. The Jewish legal system did not grant divorces in the cases of adultery. No one was ever allowed a divorce under those conditions. The Jewish legal system called for death in the case of adultery. You weren't divorced if your wife cheated on you; you were widowed.

One more problem. Look on down to the reaction of the disciples. (See? All the context.) Remember the question in the air: Under what conditions can we divorce (and remarry)? Jesus answered, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." He shot down Moses's Deuteronomy 24 text as a product of hardness of heart. And He called divorce and remarriage adultery. So if He was offering "except for adultery", why did the disciples react as they did? He would just be saying, "You already have an out -- adultery -- just like you've believed all along." So why were they stunned at His answer if they already knew it? But in verse 10 they suggested, "If there is no out, it would be better not to marry at all!" Doesn't fit with "Don't worry; as long as it's adultery, you're okay to leave."

There is a second, quite popular interpretation that includes adultery (and I've laid out the problems with that) but uses a broader interpretation for "sexual immorality". That would be any "sexual immorality". Any sexual offense at all, in this view, would be biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. Popular today because of pornography and husbands with a problem there, wives like this one because they can divorce their pervert husbands on a whim. "Jesus said, 'except for sexual immorality'. Well, that's certainly sexually immoral!" Besides the problems I've already offered for using "adultery", this would serve to create a vast hole in the "'til death do us part" scenario called for by Jesus (v 6). Did she look at someone with lust? Divorce! Did he express a sexual desire that was perverse? Divorce! Is there potential lust in his heart in general? Divorce! And who doesn't fail at some point in this area? It's a wonder we aren't all divorced! I would think that holding "all forms of anything remotely sexual in nature" as a biblical standard for divorce over against Jesus's "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" would be a problem.

What then? Well, it could mean terminating a betrothal which, in their day, was a divorce. Joseph planned to do it when Mary came up pregnant (Matt 1:19). Could be, but Jesus was speaking of marriage (two become one), not betrothal. Or it could be talking about sexually illegal marriages such as incest. Paul condemned just such a thing in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1-5). It would also coincide with Ezra 9-10 when the Israelites violated God's command to them not to marry foreign wives and such marriages were dissolved. Since Jesus's words were intended to be very restrictive and since this condition would be very rare, this might seem a more viable possibility. The bad part? Your marriage is permanent and divorce is not an option. But that shouldn't be bad, should it? I mean, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." That's good, right? Well, it had better be.
1. Just to show I'm not alone in this, see Divorce & Remarriage: A Position Paper from John Piper.

2. Divorce or divorce and remarriage are not unforgivable sins. Indeed, if the non-divorced person has a problem with the divorced person, perhaps the non-divorced person has some sins of their own to examine. This is not about how to treat people who have stumbled, but to try to obtain a biblical worldview on the subject.

3. The problem Jesus was concerned about seemed to be not just divorce, but divorce and remarriage -- the full package. It would be difficult to demonstrate that divorce without remarriage could be classified by Jesus as adultery.