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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The New Victim Class

Maybe "new" isn't the right term. It has been some time as far as I can tell. But it keeps coming up. I was watching the news the other day and they were interviewing some folk who were doing an early "Black Friday" shopping trip. They were hoping to save hundreds of dollars because their kids were demanding expensive computing devices for Christmas. "My 8-year-old wants an iPhone and my 10-year-old wants a tablet." Poor parents. In order to make their children happy, they're going to have to cough up literally thousands of dollars to buy electronic gadgets for their children.

Last week I was in on a conversation with a pregnant mother of a barely-two-year-old boy. "I just don't know what to do," she was saying. The little boy was in the habit of hitting ... everything. He hit the furniture, the dog, his mother. "I tried tapping his behind" (her words) "but it didn't do any good. I can't find any way to get him to stop. I am afraid he'll hit the baby when he comes." Poor parents. Victims of their children.

When did this happen? When did our society decide to overturn the parent-child relationship where there was a responsible adult authority figure and a child who was under the authority of that figure? When did we decide that children rule? And when we did, did anyone consider the ramifications of allowing an undeveloped, untrained young mind to command? Because I'm pretty sure it won't be a good thing.

We often think that today is better than yesterday, that we are getting better and better. We think of "progress" as always a good thing and we are always progressing. Today's parents, for instance, are better than yesterday's parents because we have "progressed". Of course, today's kids are bored and killing random strangers or walking the streets playing the "Knockout game" and so on. I can only imagine what the next generation of parents will be, given our "progress" in the last 50 years. Poor parents.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Reflections

We are, by nature (sin nature), ungrateful beings. Oh, we might, with proper training from childhood, learn to be thankful on cue. We can even feel warm feelings of gratitude when nice things are done. But, hostile to God, it is part of our sin nature to refuse to give thanks to Him (Rom 1:21). So a day of thanks built into our year is a good thing. We have much to be thankful for and many to thank. Still, I wonder, every year, exactly what atheists are doing with it.

I found an article, Grateful Without God, that gives hints on the secular view of Thanksgiving. Maggie Ardiente, director of development and communications for the American Humanist Association, tells us, "It is important for us as nonbelievers to recognize that we are lucky in the grand scheme of the universe and to spend this time with our friends and family, and the tradition of doing that once a year, whether you are religious or not, is a valuable thing to do."

"The grand scheme of the universe"? A scheme is a large-scale plan for putting a particular idea into affect. Are they suggesting there is intelligence in the universe aiming at executing a plan? Well, of course not. So ... what are you trying to say?

The article goes on to claim "Secular grace typically recognizes the animals who gave their lives for the feast, the people who prepared the meal and even the elements of nature that contributed to it", as if animals "gave their lives for the feast" willingly or that "the elements of nature" contained some intelligence, some good will with which to offer contributions.

Adam Lee wrote An Atheist Dinner Benediction that allows for a "prayer" at Thanksgiving without God. Of course, there are requests made to, apparently, no one at all. Jennifer Beahan gives thanks to "Nature" as if Nature has some intelligence to give good things to us. So what is the point?

One article entitled "Godless Thanksgiving" offers a list of possible folk to thank, including farmers, soldiers, doctors, engineers, scientists, friends and family ... all good. But they also include "Modern Technology" and "Science" as something to thank. "Science and scientists are the ones who have helped make our world more understandable and hence have improved our ability to live in it." Removing the people involved, this claim is that "Science is one who has helped make our world better." I hate to tell them this, but "Science" isn't a thing, let alone a "one", an entity, a person who has done anything at all.

Thankfulness is defined as "readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." Gratitude includes the notion of a kindness shown, a benefit given. Kindness and giving require an intelligence that is kind and generous. Despite the loud and constant complaints that we need to keep God out of the public square, it seems as if atheists are either going to be irrational, reflecting a gratitude for a kindness given by a non-existent being such as Science, Modern Technology, or Nature, or they will have to give up Thanksgiving. You know, Christmas is even harder. But, hey, I'm not suggesting that atheists can't be grateful and rightly so to people who have done nice things. Nor am I anticipating that atheists will be giving up their Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Nor am I even expecting them to be rational on these points. Sin, you see, rots the brain. I don't expect more.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving, 2013

In one of Asaph's psalms, he quotes God as commanding, "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psa 50:14). Paul told the Ephesian Christians to be "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Eph 5:20). According to the command to the Christians in Thessalonica, we are to give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18). More surprising than that (because, seriously, everything?) is the reason given: "for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." In three places we are told to give thanks to God simply because He is good (Psa 106:1; Psa 107:1; Psa 136:1).

There are lots of reasons to be grateful to God. Beyond the obvious immediate blessings of family, friends, well-being, or the like, there is the very nature of God and His faithfulness to that nature. There is His lovingkindness (Psa 136:2-3), His wisdom and might (Dan 2:23), His victory over death and the grave (1 Cor 15:57), His gift of Christ (2 Cor 9:15). There is His holiness (Psa 30:4; Psa 97:12) (which -- face it -- exceeds our comprehension). There is His providence (Rom 14:6-7) and His presence (Psa 75:1). Thankfulness is one of our primary means of magnifying God (Psa 69:30). Perhaps it is this aspect -- gratitude for the marvelous nature of God -- that makes thankfulness somewhat lacking in the normal human experience. "Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Rom 1:21).

Thankfulness to God is commanded, expected, and certainly owed. The lack thereof is a human shortcoming and, given that it is commanded, actually a sin. Since God deserves it and it is commanded, I'm beginning to think that one day out of the year is not quite sufficient. But it's a start. Make good use of it. Maybe even start a trend!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

That Nasty Double Predestination

Marc from Lorraine (France) writes in a refutation of the doctrine of double predestination, "According to the doctrine of double predestination, God actively works to save some people but also to damn others." He goes on to say that "Most Calvinists insist they just believe in single predestination", but the argument he makes in this article is how it doesn't matter. In his view if God chooses anyone to be saved and does not choose all, God is a moral monster.

Let's consider a couple of salient facts on this issue. First, it is not true that double predestination means that "God actively works to save some people but also to damn others." Not a fact. It may be a perception -- maybe even a popular perception -- but it is neither required by the doctrine nor is it the one I hold. The explanation Marc gave is called "symmetrical predestination". This version requires that God "forcibly" brings some into the kingdom and "forcibly" keeps others out. By "forcibly" I simply mean that God is the motive force in both cases. Some who wanted to come in are refused and some who are in didn't want to be. It's all a product of God's forceful efforts. I know of no one that believes in this view. Not one. "Asymmetrical predestination", then, would be where God definitely acts to save those whom He has chosen to save but makes no effort on the part of those whom He has not. There is a sense, in this view, that those who end up in Hell have won over God. He would like to save all but chooses not to, and those whom He chooses not to save were allowed to do whatever they pleased ... which was to reject Him. No force on God's part. No keeping them out. No closed doors. Thus, in terms of logical arguments (or, rather, fallacies), Marc's argument is known as a "strawman".

There is another, far more important consideration to examine. What Marc thinks or what I think or what Calvin thought or what Arminius thought are all fairly irrelevant. The important question is what does the Bible say? Marc says that if it's true, it makes God a monster. Those who defend the doctrine say it doesn't. A difference of opinion is all well and good, but since God's Word is truth, the truth of the matter must come from Scripture. What do we find there?

As it turns out, the Bible is full of predestination. In Nave's Topical Index under Predestination there are 85 references listed just for general references. Nave's lists another 14 references in specific references. That's not a few. In the New American Standard Bible, the word "predestined" shows up six times in the New Testament. (Note that Nave's 99 references would cover the concept while not necessarily using the word.) These include God's predestining actions to occur (actually, the death of His Son) (Acts 4:28), the predestination of believers (Rom 8:28-29), the Gospel (1 Cor 2:7), and our adoption (Eph 1:5) and inheritance (Eph 1:11). In other words, it is impossible to deny that predestination exists in the Bible.

And it turns out that the Bible lists both the election of those who will be saved and the advance choice of those who will not. Peter writes of those who "stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed" (1 Peter 2:8). Jude writes of those "who were before of old ordained to this condemnation" (Jude 1:4). I know. That's an awkward King Jamesism. The newer translations speak of those "who long ago were designated for this condemnation" (as if "long ago" makes it better than "before of old"). The words in Greek are prographō palai. The first is to write out before. The second is a retrocession -- a return to former things. Jude wrote that these were "written before formerly". That is, it was written before it happened, and it precedes any time considerations.

In the end, two things come to light. First, Marc is right in one part. Single predestination makes double predestination necessary. No matter how you cut it, if God chooses to save some, not all, then not all will be saved. Given His Omniscience, that group that will not be saved (Jesus's "many" who find the gate of destruction rather than the "few" who find the narrow way -- Matt 7:13) will certainly not be saved. Without any further action on anyone's part, if this is known in advance, it is "double predestination". With or without force or effort, it is double predestination. If God chooses to save those who choose to come to Him, He does not choose to save those who do not choose to come to Him and they are predestined by their own choice to damnation. No one escapes this. Second, since it is logical and biblical, it must be right. And by "right" I mean both the correct view and moral, just, right. The adjustment that must be made, then, is not in our theology, but in our failure to comprehend what God thinks of as good. I suspect we have to make those adjustments a lot.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fight the Good Fight

In examining the question of biblical prophecy, I came across this passage of Scripture:
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:18-20).
It's not very helpful in the question I was examining back then (Are there prophets today?), but it does bring up questions of its own. Take a look.

First, the command: Fight the good fight. Second, the means: keep two things -- faith and a good conscience. Third, the consequence of a failure to fight the good fight by keeping faith and good conscience: shipwreck in regard to their faith. It's all there. It's all pretty clear. What else do we know?

The word there, "keeping", in Greek means "to hold or possess". It is a constant, something not shaken loose. It is continuous. It refers to making constant use of something. You may, then, hold to faith without conscience and expect disaster, or you may cling to a good conscience without faith and, again, anticipate a wreck. Both are necessary.

What else do we know? We know that it isn't a theoretical. It isn't a kind of "If you don't do these two you will suffer shipwreck ... but if you are a believer you will certainly do these two." That may occur in other places, but here we have a specific example offered in Hymenaeus and Alexander. They failed to keep either faith or conscience or both and have, as a consequence, suffered a shipwreck of faith.

Now this is somewhat troublesome to those who read the Scriptures and see with abundant clarity that Christ cannot lose one, that God preserves His own, that He who began a good work in you will complete it. Isn't this a prime example of two guys who contradict this understanding? I would urge caution.

First, "shipwreck" is not by definition fatal. Remember, Paul himself encountered shipwreck three times (2 Cor 11:25) (plus another one later) and didn't die. Shipwreck aborts a journey, perhaps, but not a life. In the same way, spiritual shipwreck may abort a spiritual journey, but not a spiritual life. Another clue is in the phrase, "whom I have handed over to Satan." Implied here is the assumption that they did not originally belong to Satan (or they wouldn't have been handed over to him -- they would have already been his). These two were assumed to be believers. This same phrase was employed elsewhere -- "for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved" (1 Cor 5:5) -- so this doesn't entail lost salvation, but correction. And now we're back at the concept of shunning, where the aim is not punishment but repentance and restoration.

The question remains. Is this a case where Hymenaeus and Alexander were genuine Christians who strayed from their faith and/or conscience and ended up in shipwreck of faith which lost them their salvation? I have pointed out that nothing in the text requires that the two were originally Christians, but only that Paul counted them as believers. I have pointed out that nothing in the text requires that "shipwreck" requires "lost salvation". Either of these might be implied, but are not explicit. The explicit texts elsewhere say that those who belong to Christ will always belong to Christ and that those who do not belong to Christ "go out from us" (1 John 2:19) to demonstrate that they never were of us. Jesus told the false prophets the same thing: "I never knew you" (Matt 7:23).

What, then, can we conclude? Hymenaeus and Alexander strayed from the faith and/or good conscience. Hymenaeus and Alexander were assumed to be believers and were set apart for discipline. The aim of this discipline was to teach them to return to the faith and good conscience. These things we know. The assumption, based on the rest of Scripture, would be that if they remained outside the faith, they never were "of us" because "if they had been of us, they would have remained with us" (1 John 2:19). So, those people you need to shun who are classified as "believers" (because, remember, we are to shun "so-called brethren", not the immoral of the world) ... are they regarded as believers or not? Until they "go out from us", demonstrating their departure by their embracing of the separation, you have to assume they're believers in need of repentance. Paul appeared to think of Hymenaeus and Alexander that way. It requires a long term departure from essential doctrines or a practice of sin (1 John 3:9) to demonstrate that these never were in the faith. That, I suppose, is why Jesus warns us about dealing with the weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30). Our aim is always repentance and, in the case of believers, restoration; God will take care of the judgment of unbelievers.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not Evangelism

Mark Dever is a pastor in Washington D.C. and the founder of 9Marks Ministries. He wrote an interesting article about 5 things mistaken for evangelism. Dever lists Imposition as number one. We're not trying to impose our opinion. We're offering facts -- truth. Nor is it our opinion. It is God's. Neither is evangelism "personal testimony". A testimony tells what happened and might be helpful for illustrative purposes, but it isn't evangelism. Evangelism isn't social involvement like feeding the poor or helping people although these may provide an opportunity for evangelism. A common substitute these days for evangelism is apologetics. Arguing for the faith is commanded and can even support evangelism, but it isn't evangelism. Nor is evangelism a program that makes converts. Common mistakes, all.

What is evangelism? The dictionary says it is "the preaching or promulgation of the gospel." I can go with that. The word is actually based on the same word from Scripture -- euangélion -- translated "gospel". "Good news". Yeah, yeah, we got that. We all know that the "gospel" means "the good news". Is that all there is? No, indeed not.

When Jesus (you know, the Christ of Christianity) preached the gospel, here was His version: "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:10). Now clearly Jesus didn't have the benefit of Campus Crusades' "Four Spiritual Laws or Evangelism Explosion's well-thought-out approach. We might even call it crass ... if it weren't for the fact that it was the Master's version. His version of evangelism, therefore, was a two-part command: repent and believe.

Jesus expanded His version at the end of His earthly ministry.
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:18-20).
Now that is more of a program than "repent and believe". There is the "go" and the "make disciples". There is baptizing and teaching. And it isn't small in any of these measures. It includes "all nations" and "all that I commanded you" and "to the end of the age". Really big. Amazingly missing, however, is "make converts", perhaps the most popular (and apparently mistaken) version of "evangelism" today.

Okay, so what do we have? Biblically we have a problem to address. (Thus the need for "repent".) Without the bad news there is no good news, and biblically the news without Christ is really bad. Leave out the problem of sin and you're not evangelizing. There is the answer to the bad news -- Christ. That answer includes His existence, His life, His death, His resurrection. It includes faith ("believe") and submission. And we have the next step -- "make disciples". This is biblical evangelism.

None of this is an imposition of beliefs any more than it is an imposition of beliefs to tell someone "There's a bus coming that will run you down if you don't move." A personal testimony and logical defense might just assist in this process of telling the bad news, explaining the good news, and proceeding with discipleship, but they don't make up the entire reality of evangelism. Preaching the Gospel is evangelism. And we were not commanded to make converts; we were commanded to make disciples. Anything less is not evangelism. And if we are not willing to preach the Gospel, we are clearly unaware of how bad the bad news is or how good the good news is. Perhaps we need to hear the Gospel ourselves.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Honor and Glory Forever

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).
One verse. One sentence. (Okay, "Amen" might be its own sentence, but you get the idea.) One notion. To the King, honor and glory forever. And, yet, such a big idea.

It is big because of the King. He is eternal, something that typically eludes us. His "eternalness" is from forever to forever. It never started; it never ends. We can have everlasting life, but we will never have this kind of eternal life because we have a beginning. He had none.

It is big because He is immortal. This word is not the echo of the "eternal". It refers instead to "incorruptible". There is no decay, decline, no variation.

And while He is no longer visible to our eyes, He is still eternal and incorruptible ... and present.

It is big because this God is the only God. Earlier translations include the claim that He is the only wise God, which is certainly true, but the simple fact that He is the only God comes crashing in around a race of beings -- humans -- who almost predicate their existence on the notion that they and anything else they choose is also deity. He is; we are not.

It is big because this King, this one God, deserves honor and glory. No, not now; always. No, not forever; forever and ever. No, not this Sunday, but every day of the week and every hour of the day and this without end.

Big. Really big.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gender Confusion

No, this is not about the problem of "gender identity". No, that fact does not make this topic more ... palatable.

I'm reading in 1 Timothy. There we read the famous (infamous?) 1 Timothy 2 where Paul tells Timothy (among other things):
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim 2:12-14).
The "gender confusion", then, of which I speak here is not "What gender am I?", but what is intended here regarding women teaching or exercising authority over men?

There are a few approaches to this text. I will offer them as a spectrum. On one end is the "It's in the Bible; it doesn't really mean anything" approach. You know, the ultra-liberal idea that the Bible is a nice, man-made book that may or may not be of any value. We'll discard that approach at the outset.

Next is the "It is no longer applicable" idea. This is, perhaps, the most common. The argument is that in Paul's day women weren't viewed highly and, worse, weren't very educated. They weren't allowed "to teach or to exercise authority over a man" because they weren't ready to do it. It is no longer the case today. Women have higher status, better education, and the full capability of doing just that. End of story. Why are you still standing in the way of female church leadership?

Farther along this spectrum is the suggestion that the text is poorly translated. When it says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man", it should have said, "I do not permit a wife to teach or to exercise authority over her husband." The reason cited is that the words for "woman" and "man" in these texts is the same as the words for "wife" and "husband". Of course, in all texts the Greek words are the same. They didn't have distinct words for "wife" versus "woman" or "husband" versus "man". The meaning, then, has to be determined contextually. So the prohibition is not about women submitting to men in general (so that a woman should be allowed to teach or have authority in church), but just in the home.

More steps along this spectrum put us at the traditional view. It says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man." That means that women ought not teach or take authority over men. Specifically in this traditional view the idea is not "all women ought to submit to all men", but that women have certain male leadership figures -- home, church, government, etc. -- and must submit to these as required. It is not suggested that women are not allowed to teach (Titus 2:3; Prov 1:8), but not allowed to teach men or, specifically, to have the authority over them. The traditional view is in church and at home, there are specific men to be in charge and women must submit to them. This would preclude the possibility of female leadership in church (or home).

At the far end of this spectrum would be the other extreme. This one would say, "All women must submit to all men." They would argue that there is nothing in the text that limits it, so that must be the case -- no limitation. To be completely fair, the only place I've heard this argument made is by those who oppose any limitation to female leadership in the church. It is typically a parody argument. I have never known, heard, read, or seen anyone who actually holds this position. We'll discard this approach at the outset as well.

So we're left with three basic positions. We're left with three "gender confusions". They don't agree, so they can't all be right. Which is correct?

The "It is no longer applicable because culture has changed" argument is problematic for me. Paul doesn't say or even suggest it is due to education or culture. Paul gives his rationale. He indicates two reasons for this position. First, God made Adam first -- the order of creation. Second, Adam was not deceived; Eve was -- the order of the Fall. Now, unless a radical change in culture means a radical change in the order of creation and the order of the Fall, I cannot fathom how a change in culture translates to a change in this concept. The text doesn't allow for it and no rational argument has been offered yet that will biblically or historically support it.

So now we have two possibilities. Is it a reference to wives submitting to husbands or to women submitting to male authority where appropriate? (Remember, it is not women submitting to all males. We've discarded that one.) Here's where I end up ... waffling. Real, genuine, sincere Christians take the "wives submitting to husbands" view on this. People I trust and respect. They argue that since it cannot mean "all women submit to all men", there must be limitations. And since the text is contrasting women and men -- Greek gunē and aner -- then it must be referencing not all women, but wives. This could be further supported by the fact that Eve was Adam's wife. I can see all that. Makes sense. But here's where I run into a couple of problems. First, the words gunē and aner are used elsewhere in the chapter. While verses 4 and 5 mention "men", the word in these places is anthropos -- mankind. But then Paul calls on aner everywhere to pray (1 Tim 2:8). Next, he tells gunē to adorn themselves with respectable apparel (1 Tim 2:9) and to learn quietly with all submissiveness (1 Tim 2:11). So my question is this. Do these also refer to husbands, not men, and wives, not women? Is Paul calling on husbands everywhere to pray and the unmarried men have no need to do so? Is he saying that married women are required to properly dress and submissively learn and the unmarried can do what they want? If not, when does it change from "men" and "women" to "husbands" and "wives"? That's one problem. Second, how is it that the Church in history never figured this out? The longstanding traditional view on this topic has always been that women are not allowed to lead in the home or in the church. That didn't change until the late 19th century, 1900 years after Christ. How is it that they got this wrong all along?

Not to be outdone, I have to ask the other side -- to be fair, my side -- its own questions. Logically and experientially and even historically the position has been that the command here is speaking of homes and churches. Women are to submit to their husbands and to their church leadership. Easy. Plain. Historically orthodox. Fine. But ... on what basis? On what basis do we argue (as we all certainly do) that this is not a command for all women to submit to all men? I mean from the text. What in the text suggests, "I'm talking about home and church only"? We all agree that it is, but why? On what basis?

So, you see, I'm rejecting a few views without a problem. Any view that says that the Bible simply isn't applicable today when it claims to be is not a view I can live with. Nor can I go along with an opposite perspective on this topic that women as a gender must submit to men as a gender. I can't even buy the cultural argument that Paul was only talking about his day because it makes no sense with the text. Having discarded these, however, I'm still torn with the other two. Is it about wives and husbands? If so, that leaves new questions. What about the unmarried? What about female church leadership? (Can a woman be a pastor and not have authority over her husband? Is "pastor" different than "elder"? If not, in what sense can a female pastor/elder be "the husband of one wife"?) New questions. Or is it about wives submitting to husbands and women submitting to church leadership? Then on what basis is that defended? If someone could just clear up these gender questions for me, I'd appreciate it. I'll wait ...

Friday, November 22, 2013


There are two passages in Scripture that talk about the concept of "shunning". You know how that works, right? I mean, we in the modern church pretty much discard it. It's an archaic, even cruel concept. The idea is that a group of people will shun someone who doesn't submit to some sort of particular group standard. If you've ever seen a movie about the Amish, you've likely seen where our hero stands up for what is right and is shunned by the group for it. They can't eat with you, speak to you, spend time with you ... oh, just about anything at all. The orthodox Jewish communities will do it, too. It's mean; it's just plain mean. Well, we know better now, don't we?

And yet ...
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Cor 5:9-13)
... it is biblical. Ouch!

The command actually is given in two places. The second is in Paul's second epistle to the church at Thessalonica.
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thess 3:14-15).
So, what do we know now? Well, first, as I said, it is biblical. It's not "Amish" or narrow-minded or any such thing. It comes from the pages of the Word of God. Second, it isn't about "evil people". It is about "believers". Paul specifically tells them that it is not a reference to the immoral of the world. It is only about those who bear the name of brother. It's not about those outside; it's about those inside. Third, it is not mean. If it is mean, it is a mistake. The text specifies, "Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." The purpose is the purification of the group and the restoration of a brother. That is not mean.

Biblically, then, withdrawing from people who classify themselves as Christians but are openly, unrepentantly immoral is not a suggestion nor is it mean-spirited. It is commanded. It is in the best interests of the person being shunned. It is a good thing. So ... why aren't we doing it? Right, of course. Doing it right. Doing it wrong is a bad idea. But discarding a biblical command is an equally bad idea. So?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Reason Fails

There is a perception among many believers that faith and reason are distinct and separate. I (obviously) disagree and have pointed out that the Bible disagrees. There is, on the other hand, a perception on the other side that would argue the reverse. If we can only provide the most coherent, most cogent, most rational, most well-constructed line of reasoning, we should be able to convince people to come to Christ.

The Middle Ages are sometimes referred to as "the Age of Faith". The term, of course, was coined by the philosophers of the time known as "the Age of Enlightenment" -- roughly the middle of the 17th century through the beginning of the 19th century -- because they dubbed their own period as "the Age of Reason". So in the Age of Faith reality was determined by your religious beliefs. In the Age of Enlightenment they figured out that reason, the mind, the intellect ... these were the ultimate source of reality and truth. We, of course, know much better now. Our scientists and scholars and social reformers have entered the better era -- the Age of Empathy.

How is this age better? What have we figured out that religion and reason could not? Enlighten us! What does Empathy know that Christianity and Science has failed to learn? Well, religion in general and Christianity in particular failed us because it taught us that humans -- especially the body -- are sinful. And Science has affirmed that the body is primarily a machine. The Enlightenment suppressed emotions in favor of the intellect. Clearly to Science "feeling" was beneath "reasoning" and beneath "believing" to Faith. And this was all wrong. So the Empathetic Civilization -- the Age of Empathy -- has come. And we embrace our empathetic masters.

Life is much better now. "How you feel physically and emotionally defines reality." There's a definitive statement for you. And if you grasp it, it starts to answer all sorts of things you may have been struggling with. It explains the current apparent insanity of our culture. It is obviously the source of the "if it feels good do it" ethic. It explains how a sexual desire for the same gender could be classified in any sense as "normal". It explains how it is possible for a person born with the sexual make up of one gender defines him or herself as the opposite gender simply based on how he or she feels. It clears up the problem of being judgmental toward people who you believe to be judgmental, intolerant of people you consider intolerant. It explains without a problem how people who call themselves Christians can say, "Yes, the Bible says this, but it isn't applicable today because we feel it isn't." If how I feel determines what is real, then reality is irrational by definition.

Enter the rational apologist. He (or she) is going to give you the most rational, well-constructed, evidence-filled line of reasoning. He will show from the evidence, from the premises, from the arguments, from the logic, and, perhaps, even from Scripture (although that seems less likely) what the truth is. And, having constructed this marvelous edifice of calculation, he will assume that the proper response will be -- can only be -- submission to the truth. This approach fails to take into account the age in which we live that venerates how we feel over how we think. It fails to take into account the biblical claim that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). It fails to grasp that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). In short, it fails to consider the reality that a sin-sick world is surrendered to a debased mind (Rom 1:28).

Dostoyevsky said, "When reason fails, the devil helps!" True. Since our fight is not against faulty reasoning or overwhelming evidence, but "against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12), we should keep in mind while we are constructing our rational defenses and seeking to bring people to Christ that reason is not sufficient. We need something more. We need the power of the Word of God. We need the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We need divine intervention.
Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:3-5).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Faith-Reason Connection

It is often asserted that faith and reason are in opposition. Indeed, it is often asserted by believers. You know, "walk by faith, not by sight", as if "sight" and "reason" are the same thing. These are not. While faith is "the evidence of things unseen", it does not require that they are without evidence or reason.

Not only does the language not require a separation of church and mind, but neither does God. He has been in the habit of providing reasons to believe since He first started out with humans. There are many examples, but I will just go to the clearest and, in fact, the "trump card" of reasons.
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know ..." (Act 2:22).

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (2 Cor 12:12).

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will (Heb 2:3-4).
Just a quick and easy sample. What is the most common claim of the skeptic? "If your God would just do some miracle in front of me I'd believe." Shorthand: "If God would give me a reason to believe, I'd believe." What reason? "Some miracle." Well, that is what the Bible offers repeatedly -- signs and wonders.

Remember the story of the lame man in Mark 2? Sure you do. The people had crowded in enmasse to see Jesus. There were so many reporters around that these 4 guys couldn't get their sick friend in to see Jesus. (What ... you don't believe me? Well, the text says, "When they could not come nigh unto Him for the press ..." Isn't that reporters?) So they vandalized the place and lowered him through the roof. Jesus assessed his condition and determined right away what he needed. "And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven'" (Mark 2:5). Well, of course, that's much more impressive than fixing his inability to walk ... if it is true. And they didn't think it was. So Jesus told them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?" (Mark 2:8-9). This is a call to faith. It is a demand for belief. But Jesus didn't leave it there by itself.
"But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — He said to the paralytic — "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mark 2:10-12).
Jesus saw no need for faith apart from reason. He gave them a reason to believe.

The Bible is full of reasons to believe. We are commanded to love God with all our minds, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to make a defense. God didn't intend us to be mindless drones. Biblical faith is not blind; it has reasons. The Bible is full of signs. The Scriptures give reasoning and defenses and explanations. Christianity is not without rational defense. The only way to argue that faith and reason are not connected is to do so without any reference to the faith of Scripture. Don't let them trick you like that.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Problem of Election

I know people -- even people whom I count as genuine believers -- who have real problems with the concept of Election. No, not voting. (This isn't about Obama.) The idea that God chooses whom He will save. One guy told me, "If election is true, then I might as well join the KKK" because clearly if God chooses to save some and not others, this is a privileged group with a higher standing than those who are not chosen.

Of course, this is problematic for me. I mean, I understand the sentiment. But I'm bound by a prior commitment. My view is if I find it clearly in Scripture, regardless of how I feel about it, I'm forced to agree with Scripture. This starts very early in your examination of the truth. Is God right when He speaks against sexual immorality or is our culture right when we vote in favor of it ... in large numbers? Is Scripture right when it says, "In the beginning, God ..." or is society right when the "intellectuals" assure us there is no God? Is the Bible correct when it tells us that Jesus died and rose again or is the world right when they tell us it can't happen? We have to decide early on which source of truth we're going to buy into. Will culture and experience and feelings determine truth for you or will the Word of God be what is true?

Having determined which of the two you will accept, we come up, then, to the question of election. Does God choose in advance whom He will save? Regardless of how you feel about the question, what does the Bible say? That is, if God's Word tells us that God chooses in advance whom He will save, is that sufficient reason to believe it is true regardless of how we might feel about it? I ask because these are the kinds of things we read in Scripture on the subject:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out (John 6:37).

You did not choose Me, but I chose you (John 15:16).

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Eph 1:4).

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess 2:13-14).
Now, there is a lot of Scripture that demands the concept of election -- God choosing whom He will save. This is really quite incontrovertible. It's impossible to avoid. But the question becomes whether or not God chooses in advance or do we choose and God then confirms our choice?

As for me, I'm stuck with these Scriptures (and more). Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me" (future tense). He told His disciples that they did not choose Him. Paul told the Ephesians that we are chosen "before the foundation of the world". He told the Thessalonians that God chose them for salvation "from the beginning". I can do whatever fancy word dances I might do, but I can't get around these clear passages. So I'm forced by my prior commitment to the Word of God to conclude that God chose before the foundation of the world whom He would save. Does that make me special? Frankly, yes. But not because of anything in me. Believe me, of that I'm quite sure.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Obey the Gospel

Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica, says something a little ... unusual, at least to my ears.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:5-8).
The text is about the suffering of the Thessalonican Christians. The ones inflicting this suffering and, thus, on whom God will inflict vengeance, are described in two ways. First, they "do not know God." Fine. We get that. Second, they "do not obey the gospel." Now, wait. "Obey the gospel"? What exactly does that mean?

You see, to most of us the gospel is "good news". And that, of course, is because that's precisely what the word means. But what is to be obeyed? The gospel that we think of tells us that we are sinners and that Christ died to remedy that and if we believe we can be saved from our just reward of eternal death. Where is the obedience part?

The first mention of "gospel" in the New Testament is in Matt 4:23 when Jesus "went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom." And what was this gospel? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17). It was the same message in Mark 1.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15).
"The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe." That was "the gospel of God". When the Philippian jailer asked what he had to do to be saved, Paul told him, "Believe in the Lord Jesus" (Acts 16:31). So apparently there are commands intrinsic to the gospel that must be obeyed. The two commands appear to be "believe" and "repent".

Faith, then, is commanded. Paul speaks of his mission to "bring about the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5). Faith itself, it would appear, produces obedience. And this is what we see elsewhere. Jesus didn't know the false prophets who claimed to do miracles in His name because they were "workers of lawlessness" (Matt 7:21-23). They "believed" and they "did miracles", but they didn't obey, so it couldn't be called biblical faith. James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). So genuine faith -- Jesus's "believe" -- produces works of obedience.

Then there is repentance. The word doesn't mean, as some think, feeling remorse for your sin. It isn't a guilt trip. It is a change of mind. What kind of change? Well, when you start to examine it, this is a huge change ... and not, to the natural mind, quite sane. Indeed, the "repentance" -- the "change of mind" -- demanded by Scripture is radical. It was evidenced in Jesus's rebuke of Peter when He said, "You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Mark 8:33). Not setting your mind on the things of man is radical thinking. It was demonstrated when Jesus explained, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Not highly valuing family and self is radical thinking. It was illustrated when Jesus told His disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt 16:24). Denying self and purposely taking up a cross is radical thinking. Paul picked up this "other-minded" theme when he told the Philippian Christians, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Phil 2:3). Considering others as more important than yourself is radical thinking. What is called for here is a complete overhaul, a paradigm shift, in normal human thinking -- a serious change of mind.

Obedience to the gospel occurs in two areas. First, it must be received and embraced by faith. This faith isn't simple mental agreement. It isn't merely "believe". It is a faith that produces a change in action and outlook. Second, to be obeyed the gospel must include repentance, a change of mind. This is no small change. It isn't "Okay, now I feel bad about my sins." No, it is radical and serious and large. Anything less is a failure to obey the gospel, and failing to obey the gospel puts you in the category of those who don't know God. So, is "repent and believe" your response to the gospel? Or are you looking for an easier, wider gate?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Where Do You Live?

We live in disturbing times. There is Obamacare and a government moving against religious freedom -- specifically Christian freedom. There is crime and immorality. There are worse-than-useless schools and similar churches. There is identity theft and child theft and rape and murder. And on and on. The culture is turning against us. We live in a society that is opposed to insulting or attacking any group at all ... except Christians. There are political uncertainties, legal uncertainties, economic uncertainties, religious uncertainties, physical uncertainties -- every aspect of life. And then we read this:
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!"
3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
7 A thousand may fall at your side
And ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
8 You will only look on with your eyes
And see the recompense of the wicked.
9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent.
11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.
14 "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
15 "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.
16 "With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation." (Psa 91)
Two main points here. First, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." "Umm, okay ... so?" Which leads to our second point. "You will not be afraid." Not be afraid of snares or pestilence, the terror by night or arrows by day, death and destruction, evil, plague, lions, cobras, or bears (oh my!). (Okay, it's not quite in there, but it could be.) Instead, "With long life I will satisfy Him and let him see My salvation." Thus, repeated over and over in Scripture, "Fear not."

The question, then, is where do you live? Do you live in America or Europe or Asia or ...? Or do you live in the shelter of the Most High? I'd highly recommend the latter in these disturbing times. It's a really good place to be.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vive La Différence

For all the egalitarian talk in the world these days, it still cannot be denied that men and women are not the same. I mean, just from the patently obvious, there are physical differences between the two. And it is undeniable and unavoidable that these physical differences will necessarily produce other differences. As a simple and understandable example, the male production of testosterone produces a different effect on the male gender than the female production of estrogen does on the female gender. We are not the same. We don't have the same bodies. We don't have the same brains. While God created male and female, and created both in His image, He did not make us identical. And if we fail to take into account some of these differences, we can run into some serious problems.

Brain studies -- not sexist remarks or even psychology -- indicate that serious differences exist between male and female brains. Women's brains are more active in the prefrontal cortex which governs, plans, organizes and learns. Men's brains are more active in the areas of visual perception, object tracking, and form recognition. In other words, physically men are more geared to visual stimulation than women are. One brain study showed that, while men have larger brains (first and foremost because they tend to be physically larger to start with), women have a larger limbic cortex, the part of the brain involved with emotional responses. So physically women are more geared to emotions than men are. Men tend to be left-brained. This makes them more analytical and linear in their thinking. Women's brains tend to have more communication between the hemispheres. This gives them a greater ability to multitask, but less of an ability to focus on a task. All of this -- and this is just at the surface, physical level -- says that men and women are different. Note that none of it says that one is more valuable than the other. Equal, then, in value, but with differing strengths and weaknesses.

What other differences do we find? While keeping in mind that these are generalizations and that some of the nonsense that passes for wisdom today has served to twist the reality of gender differences in some people, there are more things to keep in mind. For instance, women are more intuitive and empathetic while men are more analytical and task-oriented. Men tend to have a "fight or flight" response to crisis. Women tend to have a "tend and befriend" response. Women approach problem solving by discussion, using it as an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Men see problem solving as an opportunity to demonstrate competence, strength, and commitment. In groups, women will solve problems together as co-equals. Men will establish hierarchy and operate from strategies. Women use the "collective"; men use strength and structure. Women want to be heard and understood. Men want to be significant, have an impact.

As you can see, there are a lot of differences. This isn't a value judgment. It's simply a listing. But if you don't understand the differences, there is going to be trouble. Take, for instance, the differences between the sexes when it comes to sex. For men, sex is primarily a physical thing. For women it is a relational thing. For men it is about physical oneness and for women it is emotional oneness. Men are more stimulated by sight and physical sensations and women more by attitudes, actions, and words. In sex men need respect, admiration, the feeling of being needed and women need understanding, love, and emotional connection. And all of that before we get to the obvious differences of the mechanics of it all.

Given, everyone is an individual. It is unavoidable that everyone will bring into every relationship -- male/male, male/female, or female/female -- their own private baggage. Their experiences, circumstances, history, upbringing, emotional conditions, physical conditions, and on and on all play a part in who each person is. It is possible to over-generalize. But if we fail to take into account that God made male and female different, we can anticipate problems in male-female relationships. So if wives fail to respect their husbands and husbands fail to love their wives (Isn't it interesting that the two commands are different?) and both fail to take into account that respect and love look different to each gender, we will not only encounter relationship problems, but we will also suffer from a failure to obey God's commands. And that is a problem we should really try to solve.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Good Soil

A lot of people are aware of the need for the good seed. How many are concerned about the good soil? ...

You've heard of them, I'm sure. Famous atheists who started out as Christians. Take Dan Barker, for instance. Once a professing evangelical Christian, a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, an ordained minister, a preacher, a writer of Christian musicals, he ejected the whole thing, became co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and is hard at work attacking Christianity wherever it can be found. Or perhaps you've heard of Jerry DeWitt. He was a former Pentecostal minister who tossed out Christianity, founded Recovering From Religion, wrote "The God Virus -- How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture", and is an outspoken opponent of God in society. And these are just two of a much larger number.

We're all aware of atheists in general. We get that. I mean, we aren't pleased or anything, but we understand that some people simply don't believe in God ... or at least claim such. Fine. But it is more disturbing when we hear of people who were in the church, who were even prominently in the church, and have now jettisoned their faith and even become enemies of God. How does that work? I mean, doesn't Jesus say, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29)? Apparently "no one" doesn't mean "no one", eh? Because they appear to be perfectly capable of snatching themselves out of His hand. Yes, sure, the Father is greater than all ... except anyone on the planet that chooses to oppose Him. Or what about Paul? He said, "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified" (Rom 8:29-30) -- the Golden Chain. Apparently it just isn't so. He can predestine all He wants, but if they choose to change courses, He lacks the ability to get them to that glorification end, right? Paul said, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6), and we would need to warn Paul, "You've misplaced your confidence."

Now, of course, we have to deny these problems. Either Jesus was wrong and lots of humans have the ability to remove themselves from the Father's hand, or something else is going on here. but, if so, what?

We've often been told that if you just pray the Sinner's Prayer you can be saved without possibility of damnation. You know, "Once saved, always saved." Nothing can go wrong. Not to worry. But then we're faced with all these people who prayed the Sinner's Prayer and so much more and end up tossing it all out. And we're not just faced with news articles -- anecdotal evidence. We're also faced with Scripture. We know of those who say to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?" only to hear in response, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt 7:22-23). Isn't it even found in the parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-23)? If you recall, there are four types of soil. We typically think of only two. For us there is the bad soil -- those who reject Christ -- and the good soil -- those who receive Him. End of types. Jesus describes more. There is the hard soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil. Note that of the three, only one produces fruit. Note that of the three only one rejects the Word entirely. There are, then, two more that, according to Jesus, hear the Word and receive it. In one case there is no root and it dies of tribulation or persecution, and in the other it is choked out by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. But both of these hear the Word and receive it.

There appears, then, to be a third class besides our original "those who believe" and "those who don't". This class is "those who believe for awhile." What marks those in this version is not whether or not they ever receive it, but whether they endure. And whether or not they endure appears to be based on how rooted it becomes. Thus, it appears to be biblically possible to give all indications of receiving Christ without ever actually receiving Christ.

Why would I make that final conclusion? Well, given the parable of the sower, it appears to be the case. But then you compare it with what John wrote.
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge (1 John 2:18-20).
Children, it is indeed the last hour. And we are engulfed in antichrists -- people overtly and explicitly opposed to Christ as well as "secret antichrists", people quietly or practically opposed to Christ. And where do they come from? John doesn't say they come from the world of the unsaved. He says they come "from us". From us. In the text, then, what distinguishes an antichrist from a believer? In the text, the distinction is "they went out from us." We know this because "if they had been of us, they would have continued with us."

What does John mean by "went out from us"? Not a physical move. Can't be. Lots of false prophets still exist within church walls. The "exit" that is in mind here is an exit of words, a deviation of doctrine, a departure from truth. It is when they claim to be friends of Christ but don't obey (John 15:14). It is when they claim words from God that violate the Word of God (Isa 8:20; John 17:17). It is when they claim to be driven by the Spirit while they exhibit the fruits of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) and deny the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). This is "going out from us".

We would like a simplistic view. "You're either in or you're out. If you're in, you're in forever. Now, if you could just repeat this little prayer after me, all will be well." It just isn't so. There are some, according to Jesus, who will receive that word with joy. If it doesn't take root, it won't last. If there is no fruit, it didn't take root. We do know that "if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." We just have to be careful about assuming too soon that they are "of us". What are the distinguishing characteristics? Those who are "of us" "have been anointed by the Holy One" and "all have knowledge." Interesting. Not "speak in tongues" or "prayed the prayer" or "feel warmly toward God". One of the primary marks is "anointed by the Holy One" and the other is knowledge. Good to know. One more. Jesus's "good soil" was marked by bearing fruit. Is your confidence in a warm feeling toward God? Maybe you need to do a fruit check for yourself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


My mortgage is owned by a company called Provident Funding. Kind of provident, isn't it? Oh, wait, perhaps we ought to consider just what the word means.

Providence, according to the dictionary, is "the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth." The word may refer to God Himself "when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence", or it may refer to "a manifestation of divine care or direction". Regardless of which sense is used, it is huge.

The origin of the word is pretty clear: to look out for; to provide. You know -- provide-ence. But the root of that word is even more significant. It is a two-part combination. The first is pro -- forward. Can you guess the second? It is videre, from which we get our word, "video" -- To see. So the Latin concept of providiere -- to provide -- means to look forward. Now the concept is bigger.

Biblical Providence is bigger still. W.B. Pope wrote a Compendium of Christian Theology. In it he said this on the subject: "Providence is the most comprehensive term in the language of theology. It is the background of all the several departments of religious truth, a background mysterious in its commingled brightness and darkness. It penetrates and fills the whole compass of the relations of man with his Maker. It connects the unseen God with the visible creation, and the visible creation with the work of redemption, and redemption with personal salvation, and personal salvation with the end of all things. It carries our thoughts back to the supreme purpose which was in the beginning with God, and forward to the foreseen end and consummation of all things, while it includes between these the whole infinite variety of the dealings of God with man" (W. B. Pope, Compendium of Christian Theology, I, 456). Now, that is as big as it gets.

W.B. Pope aside, the Bible says, "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains" (1 Cor 10:26). The Bible says that "all things have been created through Him and for Him" (Col 1:16). Indeed, "in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Paul told those in Athens, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Every aspect of our existence is God's gift. The Bible says, "What do you have that you were not given? And if you were given it, why do you boast as if you had not been given it?" (1 Cor 4:7).

Have you ever recovered from an illness? That is the Providence of God. Did anything good ever happen to you? That is the Providence of God. Do you have a job? That is the Providence of God. Did you just take a breath? That is the Providence of God. "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." That is the Providence of God.

If you ever wonder what God is doing in the world today, the easiest answer is found simply in the fact that you still exist. Anything good "is from above and comes down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). The Providence of God is huge. We would do well not to forget it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Modern Prophet

I'm still on the subject of being a continuationist or a cessationist. I'm still not convinced. So I have to examine another of these "sign gifts" to see which side I'm on.

Paul, in his discussion on the topic of gifts, says, "Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy" (1 Cor 14:1). Prophecy is a big one. The cessationists say that this is one that is clearly gone. Their primary argument is the close of the canon and the sufficiency of Scripture. Okay. But what do the Scriptures say (you know -- the sufficient Scriptures)? Since there is no biblical statement that says, "The spiritual gift of prophecy has ceased," what does it say?

One thing is abundantly clear in the Bible. "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Jesus warned, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). That is, whether or not there are still true prophets, false prophets we will always have with us. So the question becomes how do we test for false prophets?

There are actually several tests in the Bible. One is in the next sentence Jesus spoke. "You will know them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). Now, there may be some discussion as to just what exactly Jesus had in mind here in terms of "fruit". I mean, is it "people whose lives are changed" or "fruit of the Spirit" or ... what? I think Jesus answers that as the text goes on. When these false prophets come to Him in the final judgment and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name ...?" (Matt 7:22), Jesus says, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt 7:23). Thus, it seems abundantly clear that the "fruit" in mind in verse 16 is "moral fruit" -- godly living. An immoral prophet is a false prophet.

What else? Well, God offers some very specific, explicit tests for Israel to identify the false prophets that God knew would be coming along. Perhaps the most famous is prophetic accuracy. The biblical test for a prophet is a 100% accuracy. The reasoning is simple. A prophet is bringing words put in his mouth by God (Deut 18:18; Jer 1:9; 5:14). God cannot be wrong. Thus, if a prophet is indeed bringing words from God, the prophet cannot be wrong.
When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him (Deut 18:22).

As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent (Jer 28:9).
Anything less than 100% accuracy is the proof of a false prophet. (Note: Some may argue, "Well, look at Jonah. He prophesied that Ninevah would be destroyed under God's instructions and it wasn't. He wasn't a false prophet. That isn't a valid test." Well, while Jonah indeed predicted at God's behest (Jonah 3:2) the destruction of Ninevah in 40 days (Jonah 3:4), it is abundantly clear from the context of Scripture and from the context of the story that there was, either implied or explicit but not written, a conditional clause. The biblical message is always "repent" (Matt 3:2; 4:17; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; etc.). Apparently the Ninevites understood "repent" as a proper response to the prediction (Jonah 3:9). Certainly Jonah knew it (Jonah 4:1-2). Thus, if the actual message was "Repent or in forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown", then the prophecy came true. Or, there is the other option. Jonah spoke as a direct prophet from God, was wrong, and God Himself is disqualified based on His own standard in Deuteronomy.)

Now, a prophet is both a foreteller and a forthteller. As God's messenger, a prophet is telling the intended audience what God wants to say, and that may include future events and it may include a message. When Moses passed on to Israel the Law, he was doing so as a prophet -- forthtelling. So one test would be whether or not the prophet is accurate in foretelling, and another explicit biblical test for a prophet is whether or not he was accurate in forthtelling. How do you test that? First, acknowledge that it can be tested (1 John 4:1). Second, does it align with the Word of God? God warned Israel that false prophets would come with signs and tell them, "Let us go after other gods" (Deut 13:1-5). Since God had already given them His clear command -- "I am the LORD; there is no other" (Deut 4:35, 39) -- this would be a false prophet. God told Isaiah to warn the people when they wanted to get a prophetic "second opinion", "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light" (Isa 8:20). And Paul, just before he says, "My brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues" (1 Cor 14:39), warns, "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized" (1 Cor 14:37-38). In other words, any modern prophet will need to be in line with the existing Scriptures to be deemed a true prophet.

These are the primary tests: 1) A moral life. 2) 100% accuracy. 3) In line with God's revealed Word. There are some others that might help. God told Jeremiah that false prophets "walk in lies" and "strengthen the hands of evildoers" (Jer 23:14). Does the prophet rebuke sin and error, or does he keep silent or even walk in sin and error? True prophets magnify Christ (1 John 4:2) and not themselves. (Note that 1 John 4:2 was written in regard to an existing heresy that Christ did not come in the flesh. Thus, part of the magnifying of Christ is in orthodoxy as well.) A true prophet pays attention to God's Word (Deut 18:19-20).

Just like the whole glossolalia thing, I'm pursuing the question, "Are there still prophets?" Paul did say, "Desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues", but he went on to say, "But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner" (1 Cor 14:39-40). So I'm actually in favor of speaking in tongues and I'm actually in favor of prophecy ... as long as it aligns with what God says about it -- as long as it's done properly. And to be quite honest, I have yet to see either of these in modern expressions. But I can wait. So, does that make me a continuationist or a cessationist? I'm not clear yet.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


There you go! A fine new word for your vocabulary. What does it mean? It is the technical term for what we commonly call "speaking in tongues". It comes from the Greek, glossa, which translated refers either to the physical tongue or to human languages, and, of course, lalia, which means to talk. Talking in tongues. Got it.

Now, as I've indicated, cessationists argue that this particular gift of the Spirit is no longer available. It is a "sign gift" intended for a particular time in Church history that is now past and simply isn't used by the Spirit anymore. Also, as I've indicated, I'm not ... quite ... there yet. I'm not quite willing to say that the gift of tongues is no more.

"Oh!" some might say, "So you're a charismatic?" Oh, no. Why? I've never spoken in tongues, never seen it done (with any correlation to biblical descriptions and commands), and never been convinced that it is real. "At least," others might venture, "you're a continuationist?" Perhaps. The question is, "Do you believe that the Holy Spirit still gifts people with speaking in tongues?" I would have to answer that it all depends on what you mean by speaking in tongues. So ... what do we know about the biblical gift of glossolalia?

The gift comes up most clearly in Acts 2 at Pentecost. There the disciples "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues" (Acts 2:4). What is clear in this text is the nature of these tongues -- languages. Acts 2 says that devout Jews "from every nation under heaven" "were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language" (Acts 2:6). The text lists fifteen different languages heard that day (Acts 2:9-11), and they were known languages. If you were to ask, then, "What does the Bible say about the languages spoken when speaking in tongues?", the only available answer would be "Known human languages."

What else? The Book of Acts includes two more stories about speaking in tongues. The first is in Acts 10 when the house of Cornelius is suddenly "assaulted" by the Spirit with speaking in tongues as Peter shared the gospel with them (Acts 10:44-46). Of this Peter says, "If God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17), where the proof that the hated Gentiles were part of God's redeemed was this particular sign of tongues. The other one occurred when Paul encountered some "believers" in Ephesus (I put it in quotes because they only knew about John the Baptist) were brought to Christ, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and spoke in tongues (Acts 19:1-7). That, my friends, is it.

What else? Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth holds the bulk of the information we have on the topic. First Corinthians 12-14 are the primary locations for this information. In the 12th chapter Paul gives a list of gifts given by the Spirit, including, "various kinds of tongues" (1 Cor 12:10). What else does it say here? "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). What does that tell us? Several things, actually. It tells us that "each one" does receive "the manifestation of the Spirit". No one has no gift. It tells us that the Holy Spirit decides to whom to give what gift; we don't. (See also 1 Cor 12:10.) And it tells us that the purpose of these manifestations is "for the common good". Not for private purposes. Not for personal edification. For "ministries" (1 Cor 12:5) -- for ministering to others.

Paul tells us that "All do not speak with tongues" (1 Cor 12:30). This gift existed when Paul was writing without any doubt, but it was not a universal marker.

Pivoting around 1 Corinthians 13 because that was the main point ("Earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31).), we return to the topic in chapter 14. "One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries" (1 Cor 14:2). Now, I would be cautious about misunderstanding "no one understands" for a few reasons. First, in the earlier example of Acts 2, lots of people understood. It was just those who were doing the speaking that didn't understand. Second, even in 1 Cor 14 Paul commands, "If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret" (1 Cor 14:27). If by "no one understands" Paul meant "there is not a person on the planet who will understand", then neither Acts 2 nor his command in verse 27 make any sense. I would offer, then, that by "no one" Paul means "no one who is exercising this particular gift" -- the speaker. So what does this tell us? This particular gift gives the recipient the ability to speak in a language he himself does not know.

What else? According to Paul, "Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers" (1 Cor 14:22). The gift of tongues is intended as a sign -- a proof -- and not for believers. (Thus, if a person spoke in unknown languages, of what use would it be?) That is, the sign isn't to prove to believers that the speaker is an authentic believer, but to those who do not believe. Tongues, however, are of no real profit to believers. "If I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" (1 Cor 14:6).

As such, Paul makes the command I already referenced that requires that when this gift is exercised, it is exercised by only two or three at the most and always with interpretation -- "if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church" (1 Cor 14:30).

Okay, remember the question: "Do you believe that the Holy Spirit still gifts people with speaking in tongues?" If by "speaking in tongues" you mean what we know by what the Scriptures say. If it is a gift of a known language -- unknown to the speaker -- that is not available to everyone and is always accompanied by someone who can interpret it, and if it is always intended for the edification of others, then I can say, like Paul, "Do not forbid to speak in tongues" (1 Cor 14:39). Does that make me a continuationist? Perhaps. But I have yet to see anything approaching this, so that would be in theory only. Let me know when you find that form of tongues. I would really be interested. But, of course, I'm always interested in edifying the Body of Christ.

Monday, November 11, 2013

They Also Served

John Milton, in his poem, "On His Blindness", wrote the famous line, "They also serve who only stand and wait." He wrote it about himself after going blind and about how God could use even the disabled to do whatever God had in mind. The idea has been carried over, of course, to a broader sense. The idea is that it is not merely the "front line" that are serving.

Memorial Day is the day we honor those who gave their life for their country, but this is something different. This is the day we honor veterans. Now, almost everyone I know thinks of a "veteran" as someone who served in combat arenas. "Did you serve in Vietnam or Desert Storm or Iran or Afghanistan? Then you're a veteran." And it is true that these folks are veterans. Typically forgotten every day of the year, this one included, are those who "stand and wait."

Non-combat veterans make up the vast majority of veterans that served in the military. Those who have served "in harm's way" deserve great honor. Those who have died serving this country deserve great honor. And perhaps the magnitude they deserve is what outshines this particular group of unsung heroes, the non-combat veterans. I heard a statistic (that I can't find to back up) that for every combat soldier there are 12 others behind him (or her these days) in support roles for him/her. They do administrative work, keep records, make sure they get paid, repair equipment, provide food, supplies, and whatever else is needed, offer intelligence reports, give spiritual guidance, operate computers ... it is a long list. Twelve to one. Somehow, in our vague thinking, those 12 get ignored and the one gets attention (if any of them get attention). And I would like to suggest that they also served who only stayed behind and fed them and housed them and clothed them and supplied them and ... you get the idea. What front-line fighter pilot could face the dangers of his job without an army of troops maintaining his aircraft? What Marine platoon could go into dangerous territory without a host of support to give them ammunition, direction, fire support, medical care, and the rest? And none of this includes the support of non-military military spouses who stay behind and support their military combat or non-combat spouses.

Much of the freedom we enjoy today is a product of military might. That quite obviously includes those who stood on the front lines in harm's way to obtain our liberties and protect our country. But it also includes those who held them up there, who supported them, who made their efforts possible and effective. On this Veterans' Day, be sure to thank a combat veteran when you find one. But you might also want to show some gratitude to their far-more-numerous non-combat support structure who also served. These, too, are veterans worthy of your thanks.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Give Thanks to the God of Heaven

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of 7-11 songs. You know the ones. The same 7 words sung 11 times over. Kind of like "vain repetitions" (Matt 6:7). But I need to be careful. Because you will find it in the Bible.

Now, in ancient Hebrew -- in the Jewish mind -- repetition wasn't necessarily vain. It was intended for emphasis. And we know this ourselves. I mean, how many times have you heard things like, "You're basing your position on only six verses?" (And how many of you know to which position I'm referring?) It is a faulty stand to take, of course. All of God's Word is important, so "You only said it six times" ought to be sufficient. But what if I can find something offered 26 times ... in one chapter? That might be important, might it not?
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
4 To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
5 To Him who made the heavens with skill,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
6 To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
7 To Him who made the great lights,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
8 The sun to rule by day,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
9 The moon and stars to rule by night,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
10 To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
11 And brought Israel out from their midst,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
12 With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
13 To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
14 And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
15 But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
16 To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
17 To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
18 And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
20 And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
21 And gave their land as a heritage,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
22 Even a heritage to Israel His servant,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
23 Who remembered us in our low estate,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
24 And has rescued us from our adversaries,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
25 Who gives food to all flesh,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psa 136).
Let's see ... let me think about this. What do you suppose the psalmist is trying to convey? Hmmmm. Oh, I know! Due to my superior insight, I think he's trying to tell us that God's lovingkindess is everlasting! What do you think? Well, of course he is.

It is, apparently, something of some importance if this singular phrase is repeated 26 times in one chapter. And it is, of course, important. Its importance is illustrated in the text. What kinds of things indicate that His lovingkindness is everlasting? Well, there is the fact that He is above all. It's good to have the Sovereign God as a God with everlasting lovingkindness, right? I mean, if He's going to do as He pleases (Psa 115:3; 135:6), it's good to know that He does so with eternal kindness. He is the Creator; that's good. I mean, just look (for instance) at what science tells us about fine-tuning of the universe and you have to appreciate the fact that God is the Creator ... and He did it quite well. What else? Well, starting at verse 10 we wade into some interesting territory. Here the psalmist begins to give us illustrations of God's eternal kindness from disasters. No, not disasters to Israel, but disasters on Israel's behalf. There is the event of the killing of Egypt's firstborns, the destruction of Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea, the annihilation of great and mighty kings through the desert, and the removal of the Canaanites to put Israel in their land. Now, this is all nice for Israel, but is it nice of God? The psalmist thinks so. That is, the inspired writer believes it is. He ranks it with God's great wonders (v 4) and God who "gives food to all flesh" (v 25). I would suggest, then, that the idea that God ought to be nice to everybody does not coincide with Scripture or the notion of "His lovingkindness is everlasting."

So, what do we know? In the amazing and the mundane, the grand and the gross, the wonderful and the weird -- in all that God does -- we see that God's lovingkindness is everlasting. No, I'm not basing that on six verses. Let's start with twenty-six and go from there. A good reason to give thanks to the God of heaven, isn't it?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Omniscience versus Free Will

I'm sure you've seen (or perhaps even used) this argument:

1. A being with free will, given two options A and B, can freely choose between A and B.
2. God is omniscient (all-knowing).
3. God knows I will choose A.
4. God cannot be wrong, since an omniscient being cannot have false knowledge.
5. From 3 and 4, I will choose A and cannot choose B.
6. From 1 and 5, omniscience and free will cannot co-exist.

Now, Lenny Esposito (the author of the link I gave) gives a reasonable and satisfactory answer, but I'd like to point out a fundamental error that Lenny didn't.

It is true that humans are, biblically, possessors of the ability to make uncoerced choices ("free will"). It is true that the Bible argues for the genuine Omniscience of God. Not partial. Not limited. Complete. And it's true that, given Omniscience of that order, God will know all your choices (Point 3) and without error (Point 4). So far, so good. The error I found occurs at Point 5: "I will choose A and cannot choose B."

The error I find in this line is the term "cannot". "Cannot" expresses incapacity, inability, a lack of power. In this application, either the person in question lacks the ability or is prevented from choosing option B. And this simply isn't the case. Perfect knowledge of a choice has no effect on the ability of a person to make a different choice. As Esposito points out, the suggestion is a causal one. "Those who argue in this manner make the mistake of thinking that because God possesses knowledge about a specific matter, then he has influenced it." And that's why "cannot" is incorrect. "Will not" works. It would be accurate to say, "I will choose A and will not choose B." But the ability of the chooser is not affected by God's prior knowledge of the choice.

It's amazing to me that arrogant theologies have been produced and genuine heresies have followed from them to try to avoid a conclusion -- "omniscience and free will cannot co-exist" -- that is not accurate or logical.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A Case for Cessationism?

Dan Phillips summarizes Tom Pennington's Case for Cessationism over at Pyromaniacs. Here is the case. (Note: While I found this searching for a "biblical case for cessationism", this is not the thing. Some Bible is in there, but it is a case for -- not purely a biblical case for -- cessationism.)
1. By and large, God only did miracles during periods. First was about 65 years (Moses to Joshua), then Elijah and Elisha, 860-795 BC (about 65 years); then Christ and apostles, about 30-100 (once again, about 65-70 years). There were occasional interventions (i.e. during the ministries of Isaiah and Daniel), but only about 200 years total. Moreover, these miracles were given to validate spokesmen for God. Only prophets performed miracles in the OT, because miracles were their credentials. Miracles also attested Jesus; they weren’t for evangelism per se, as Jesus noted explicitly and emphatically in the parable of rich man and Lazarus. See also Acts 14:3 [and many other similar, search “wonders”], and Heb 2:1-4.
2. The gift of Apostleship had a terminus ad quem1. We see in 1 Cor. 12:28. and Eph. 4:7ff. that every office was a gift, though not vice-versa. The very qualifications of apostle make clear that this can’t be a continuing office. That gift ceased without a clear NT statement that it would cease. This is precedent-setting. (See also Waldron's development of this argument.)
3. The gifts of apostles and prophets were foundational (Eph. 2:20). A building has only one foundation.
4. Nature of the miraculous gifts. If modern phenomena were legitimate, they’d be the same as the NT gifts. Manifestly modern tongues and prophecy are so clearly not the same as NT gifts that the best case that can be made is the now-debunked "analogy" argument, which is an explicit confession of non-identity. If they're not the same (and they aren't), we're done here. As I've said to everyone who asks for a single "kill-verse" to counter Charismaticism: every Biblical description of genuine revelatory/attesting gifts is a "kill-verse" for modern imitations.
5. Church history. In my opinion, it is better to say "Continuationists' 1900-year failure to deliver on anything vaguely resembling 'continuation.'"
6. Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He was moving pretty quickly here, understandably. I have made the argument (in print and in preaching) that, if Scripture is what it says it is, it's awfully hard to understand what supplements are needed today. "Fully equipped" is "fully equipped," no?
7. NT rules laid down for miraculous gifts (1 Cor 14:26-32). Pennington notes that most Charismatics ignore these rules. As a preacher I heard ~30 years ago noted, when 500 people in a church meeting are speaking in tongues, at least 497 of them are out of God's will.
Note: While I found this searching for a "biblical case for cessationism", this is not the same thing. Some Bible is in there, but it is a case for -- not purely a biblical case for -- cessationism. So, while I found this argument of some use, I set out to find a biblical defense of cessationism.

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. offered a defense of the position with lots of Scripture. That's good. What does he say? Gaffin argues from Ephesians 2 that there is one foundation (Eph 2:11-22) and that it doesn't get laid twice. He backs that up with 1 Cor 3:11 which states, "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid" ... except that this verse continues with "which is Jesus Christ." Okay. Well, still, the notion is there. He also points to Heb 1:1-2 that indicates that "in these last days He (God) has spoken to us by His Son." Thus, "in these last days" God's method of communication (which was "by the prophets") has changed. Thus, if the "gifts of the Spirit" include, among others, "the apostles" and "the prophets" (Eph 4:11) and the Bible is clear (as are most continuationists and even charismatics) that these are no longer in play, then it appears from Scripture that something has changed ("cessation").

Gaffin argues from 1 Cor 14 that prophecy and tongues (two of the classic "sign gifts") are no more. Paul contrasts these two, clearly representing prophecy as superior to tongues (not my opinion -- it's in there). Tongues are only edifying when interpreted, so they fall short of prophecy. The function of these two gifts was special revelation from God. So once the Scriptures are established, no further revelation is required. (Note: This is not in the text. It is an inference from the argument of the sufficiency of Scripture. I would guess that the Pentecostal who argues for ongoing revelation from God would deny the sufficiency of Scripture.)

I should point out that Gaffin's last argument from 1 Cor 13 doesn't actually support the view, but proposes a problem with the non-cessationist view. And it is only a problem for continuationists or charismatics who argue that Apostles no longer exist. So you'll have to examine that one on your own and decide if it is compelling. Saying "Their argument is a problem" is not actually a biblical defense of your own. It's a point to consider, but not what I'm ultimately looking for.

Over at, Charles Powell presents both sides. On cessationism he offers a few things. First, he gives us "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works" (2 Cor 12:12) as proof that "true apostle" had a meaning and it was verified by "signs and wonders and mighty works", suggesting that these should stop with "true apostles". He points to Eph 2:20 as others have. Other arguments are primarily from silence (or, perhaps, "extreme quiet"?). In the New Testament, for instance, there are only two prophets mentioned. One, obviously, is Christ. The other is Agabus (Acts 21:10-14). Further, there is a radical decline in anything "sign"-like in the New Testament, beginning with a bang at Pentecost until it is completely unheard of after 1 Corinthians. Interestingly, 1 Corinthians comes early chronologically in the time that the New Testament was written. In later lists of spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8 and Eph 4:11), no mention is made of either tongues or healing. (And the mentions in 1 Corinthians appear to be primarily to curb an overexuberance for tongues, not encourage it.) So, either silence or a decline in mention suggests a decline in these gifts. He also offers Heb 2:1-4 that warns the reader to "pay much closer attention to what we have heard". Here the author of Hebrews argues that we can know that "what we have heard" came from God because of the signs and wonders that accompanied it, and we can know that this no longer occurs because the text is written in the past tense.

These are the primary arguments used to support the view that the miraculous "sign" gifts of the New Testament are no longer in effect in the Church today. These do not deny that there are still "messengers" (the literal meaning of "apostles") -- but these messengers are Scripture-driven, not "divinely inspired" -- that God can and does heal, or that miracles can still occur. The denial of the cessationist view is that specifically the gifts of prophecy and tongues -- gifts primarily designed to give special revelation from God to His people -- are no longer in use because we have a sufficient Scripture and prophecy, tongues, and healing -- gifts designed to supernaturally demonstrate that the ones using them are divinely inspired messengers -- are no longer in use because we have the Scriptures now. So you can decide for yourself whether or not this is a sufficient biblical argument.

1 A terminus ad quem is a goal, a finishing point, a final limit in time.