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Monday, September 30, 2013

What Difference Does it Make?

As anyone should easily be able to tell from my writings, I think that marriage is defined by tradition, by history, and by Scripture and is, therefore, not inclusive of the concept of "same-sex". You should also be quite aware that I believe that sexual relations outside of marriage -- which would (based clearly on that first notion) necessarily include all sexual relations between people of the same gender -- are sinful. I believe that human life is of great value and terminating it just because it hasn't reached open air yet is evil. I believe, in other words, many things that today are unpopular and offensive.

A very common response to my beliefs is this simple question: "What difference is it to you?" You understand how that goes. "What difference would it make to you if we marry?" or "How does it hurt you if we have sex?" or "How does it affect you if women have a procedure you don't like?" That sort of thing.

The first response I would have, of course, is to try to answer the question, but there is, behind the question, something deeply disturbing to me. And, I think, something that gets to the very core of the problem. Here's the question: "How does it hurt you?" What is the inference of the question? It is plain. "The only concern you need to have is your own welfare. If the things that other people are doing hurt you, then you might be concerned. If not, don't be." It is, quite obviously, a form of "Mind your own business", I understand, but it is also an indication of a serious deficiency.

Here's the idea. "The only thing that should concern you is you." Why? "Because the only thing that concerns me is me." Right? Well, maybe not, but it isn't an irrational conclusion nor is it likely far off. It isn't likely concious, but it is likely the underlying mode of thinking. The notion that I might be concerned about your behavior, views, lifestyle, choices, and the like because I care about you seems completely foreign.

This doesn't work in other applications, does it? "Hey, I'm going to walk down this path that I don't know has a sudden cliff at the end but you do, but since it won't make any difference to you -- you're not walking down this path -- you shouldn't care." "Look, I'm planning on swallowing this tasty fluid that you know to be poison and I don't, but since you're not drinking it, it won't matter to you, right?" Worse, if I do care and do wish to warn my companion on the road of life that the path he's taking can kill him or the drink she's planning to take could kill her, I'm not only "nosey", I'm a "hater". "What difference is it to you?"

What difference is it to me? I care, that's what difference it is. I am commanded to love my neighbor. That requires that I want the very best for my neighbor. So if my neighbor suffers, so do I. If my neighbor suffers unawares, it doesn't make it any better for me. If I know there is delayed consequences, it hurts me. Because I care. What difference does it make to me? That's what difference. Not to my life. Not to my well-being. Not to my comfort. Not to my choices, lifestyle, decisions, views. But it hurts me to have the people I care about suffer, and if I know that's certain, I would like to help them to avoid it.

Ultimately, of course, avoiding this sin or that is only going to provide temporary remedies. Making a more moral neighbor only makes a briefly happier neighbor. The only way to really provide a permanent difference for my neighbor is to introduce him or her to Christ. In the former -- worldly morality -- there is a short term gain with ultimate loss. In the latter, there is eternal life. That, then, would be my ultimate aim. Of course, that still gets me labeled as "arrogant" and "offensive" for suggesting that they need Christ. "What difference is it to you?" I care, that's what. So Christians will continue to bear the epithets of "homophobe" and "hater" and "narrowminded" and "religious crackpot" not because it makes us feel better, but because we have God within us to will and to do His good pleasure, including loving our neighbors. That's the difference.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wired for Worship

Let's face it. Human beings are wired for worship. We do it by nature. We cannot not worship. It's just what we do.

We normally think of worship as "reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage", and that is reasonable. But we know it's much more. It is not strange for us to hear of a man who loves a woman, "He worships the ground she walks on." And that has nothing to do with God or "a sacred personage". Thus, worship is, more broadly, "adoring reverence or regard" of anyone or anything. (So isn't it strange that some people hear the word "worship" and think "the singing we do just before the sermon"?)

John Calvin wrote, "The human heart is a factory of idols." We're good at it. We worship by nature and it might be the true God or it might be any other substitute, but we will worship. We laugh at the ancient pagans who cut up a piece of wood into the figure of their favorite god and then worshiped it, but we're not too far from that ourselves. We make money and worship it. We strive for the power we worship. We make fast cars and worship them. Maybe it's "Mr. Right", a model of a man who in all likelihood doesn't actually exist or maybe it's the woman of your dreams. In almost all cases, theists or atheists, it includes self. Theists add in God and atheists idolize materialism. We all worship.

What we worship has serious ramifications. Paul wrote,
20 Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For 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. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Rom 1:20-25).
In this passage, we understand the problem. Man, in his sin nature, serves the creature rather than the Creator. The result is a foolish heart and a surrender to "the lusts of their hearts to impurity." The final outcome is death (Rom 6:23). Nadab and Abihu were priests of God. They offered "strange fire" and God instantly killed them for it (Lev 10:1-2). Worship of that which is not God or the wrong worship of that which is God has serious consequences.

On the other hand,
9 We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything (Col 1:9-18).
Recognizing, then, that "in Him all things hold together" -- nothing exists without Him -- and "all things have been created through Him and for Him" -- recognizing ultimately that "He Himself will come to have first place in everything" -- changes how you live. "You will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light."

The rightly offered worship of God who alone deserves it has great benefits. It changes how you walk. It changes your aims. It bears fruit, increases knowledge of God, strengthens, and causes joy and gratitude. Who wouldn't want all that? We are wired to worship. Let's do it right for the One who deserves it, the one "who is blessed forever. Amen."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Church Men

I tried a new church a few weeks back. It promised "a blend of traditional and contemporary worship" and expository teaching. Expository preaching is a big thing. "Great," I can hear readers saying, "so what is that?" (They probably won't even try to pronounce it.) Most preaching today is topical. They'll cover marriage, politics, evangelism, and the entire gamut of self-help topics and pull their answers from Scripture (hopefully ... not always). Expository preaching is preaching the Word. It is a verse-by-verse, line-by-line preaching of Scripture. Topics come and go in this approach; the Word of God is central.

Well, this new church really did provide decent expository preaching. But I have to say I was left confused on their definition of "a blend of traditional and contemporary worship". What they had was a fairly talented worship band -- all young people -- singing songs I've never heard to tunes I've never heard. They did put the lyrics on the overhead (because it's not church without an overhead, right?), but trying to actually follow the stuff without knowing the songs or the tunes was hardly possible. And it's not that I'm an old fuddy-duddy (which is an admission that I am). When I looked around I saw the fairly crowded room full of people mostly listening. Maybe half the women were trying to sing along. I didn't see any of the men singing.

It made me wonder. Where are we now? There has been stuff written over recent years about men in the church and the problems therein. There is, in fact, an an entire website on the problem. Some complain about the feminization of the church, making more toward women than men. Some complain that there is precious little effort to include men because, after all, we all know that men are violent and women are loving and, seriously, ask yourself, which of those two options rightly represents Christ? I mean, come on! How hard can this be? Most complain that it's just too boring for men. Oh, sure, there are still men there, but their numbers are dwindling and their interest is dwindling. It looks bad for guys and the church.

After all, why are they there? It used to be that churches were patriarchal. Our enlightened times have put an end to that. It used to be that men were the ones doing most of the work while women played a supporting role. The decline of males in society has put an end to that. It used to be that men could at least sing in church. The modern "praise band" seems to have put an end to that. So where are we?

Men used to be able to lead, but that's being diminished and it has always been a limited number of leaders anyway. At least they could lead their families, but not so much these days. We know better now. They used to be able participate in Communion, but nowadays if it takes place at all, it takes place at relatively large intervals. They used to be able to participate in worship, but with the current climate, it appears that the idea is "Come for a concert and a sermon!" (I understand that in no small number of churches the concept of a "sermon" is no longer fashionable. Shall we go with "homily"?) So what is a man who is eager to do to do?

Friday, September 27, 2013

For a Reason

You cannot visit a difficult circumstance without hearing someone say, "Everything happens for a reason." At first glance, it is obviously intended to be comforting. A second look, of course, makes it pretty stupid. I mean, this is simple physics. Everything does happen for a reason. Nothing (except God) is self-made. Everything that has come into being has a cause. So in the light of this fact, you might wonder exactly how comforting "Everything happens for a reason" is really going to be. But let's take a look anyway.

The atheist will assure me that this is all nonsense. "Don't be silly. We are the product of natural forces at work. It is not true that everything happens for a higher-purpose kind of reason. It just ... happens." Oh, good. So now what do I do with my "difficult circumstance." Just grin and bear it, I suppose. No, no help there.

A large portion of Christianity today is quite convinced -- they will tell you -- "Everything happens for a reason" and that reason may not be God. The range of things that happen without God varies. Some are quite sure that anything bad (meaning anything unpleasant) is not caused by God. That would include everything from the passing of a loved one to the passing of a hurricane. These are on the "deist" edge, with the (unspoken) idea that God takes a kind of "hands off" approach and stuff ... just ... happens. But most use the idea to indicate that God doesn't have any input on sin -- the evil that men do. This group will likely avoid the question of natural disasters -- "Did God do that?" "Well, let's not talk about that." -- but are adamant that Man sins and God would like to stop it but just ... what, can't? Won't? Not sure here. The notion most often advanced is that God has a prior commitment to Man's Free Will and has limited Himself in order to allow Man's Free Will to operate because, after all, true love doesn't exist if it's not a product of Free Will. "Oh, really?" I will ask. "Can you give me a biblical reference for that or, perhaps, a dictionary reference that equates 'love' with 'Free Will' by definition?" No, they can't, but everyone knows it's true, so it must be. "I read it on the Internet, and they can't put it on the Internet if it's not true." That sort of thing.

So we come up to our "difficult circumstance" and we're looking for some comfort and are told, "It wasn't God. It was Man's evil." Keeping in mind that "Everything happens for a reason" (which is a necessary fact, even if it's not how most people mean it when they say it), what can I conclude? Well, apparently the reason that this happened is that God has a higher prior commitment to Man's Free Will than He has for my well-being. He could have stopped it, but, too bad, He is dedicated to limited sovereignty and letting Man do as he pleases, so, sorry, you're out of luck. And I ask, "That's supposed to bring me comfort?" "Yeah! God didn't do it." Okay, so the fact that God's commitment to the Free Will of sinners who hate Him insures that they will do bad things to me is supposed to make me feel better? When God saw that terrorists were flying aircraft into buildings to kill thousands and did nothing because He wanted their Free Will rather than His will, that's supposed to make me feel better? That's a good reason?

The God I see in the Bible is not self-limiting. He is Sovereign. He doesn't make the same mistake that we make, placing the interests of Man above the interests of God. He isn't an idolater, serving the created rather than the Creator. Everything that is done is done for His glory. And He does everything for His glory that He intends to do. The answer of this perspective to the "difficult circumstances" is, without fail, "God allowed it, planned for it, and saw to it for good. He works all things together for good -- even this." Now, I understand that this may not comfort some. They might think that God is obligated to be nice to them. I've heard of the "omnibenevolence of God" as if it's a real thing. I've heard of it, but I can't find it in my Bible. They might think that God is a megalomaniac, focusing so much on His own glory. But if He is the center of the universe, the reason for all existence, the One from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, then I'd call it "expected" and "reality", not "megalomania". (Megalomania is a disorder characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, or omnipotence. With God, it is no fantasy.)

I find great comfort in the Sovereignty of God. Others may not. I would be loath to surrender that precious doctrine because it is of such great comfort to me. But I don't believe it because it is comforting. I believe it because I've become convinced of it in the pages of my Bible. It was there that I first found this concept, somewhat against my will even. However, when I embraced it, I could find little comfort anywhere else. For what reason does God allow -- even cause -- unpleasant things to occur? Because of His great glory. You know what? That's good enough for me. To God be the glory.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Exception Clause

There is a well-known account of the Pharisees testing Jesus with a particularly difficult argument they themselves were having (Matt 19:1-12). "Is it right to divorce for any reason whatsoever?" Most Christians who have spent any time in their Bibles or in church have heard this story and know Jesus's answer. "What God has joined together let no man separate" (Matt 19:6). I would guess, however, that even more prevalent than that answer is the other answer Jesus gave. "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matt 19:9). Indeed, it is that phrase, beginning with "except", that is best known. You see, Jesus wasn't ambiguous. "Is divorce ever okay?" "No!" He didn't pull any punches or offer any escape. When pressed, He mentions in passing this singular phrase that we have come to call "the Exception Clause". Our typical aim is not full agreement with God's best, but "Is there an exception to this rule?"

It seems as if this concept is a primary thrust among believers. Among unbelievers an "exception clause" isn't needed; they just defy God. But believers, while on one hand aiming to obey God and do what pleases Him, seem to hope for exceptions. "I want to please God, but not too much." It's as if we're afraid we'll get to heaven after years of sacrificing personal pleasure in favor of pleasing God and find, "Oh, no! I didn't have to give that up!" Like we gave God too much.

Take, for instance, this very exception clause from Matt 19. Jesus states His position clearly and plainly: "What God has put together let no man separate." Next! "But ... but ...!" That is not satisfactory. Or, as His disciples put it, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt 19:10). "Oh, whew! He has an exception clause. There is a method whereby we can divorce our wives and remarry! What a relief! You see, Jesus, for a moment there it looked like You were saying that we should remain with our wives for life, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, 'til death do us part. Nice to know we have an out." Now, I don't think that phrase, "except for sexual immorality", can be taken nearly as far as we do, but we do. Wives will say, "He's a disgusting pig in bed; that's sexual immorality. I'm out of here." Husbands will say, "She refuses to do normal stuff in bed and that makes her sexually immoral." And having negated "Can we divorce for any reason?" Jesus appears to have come back around to "Well, yes, you can." And we don't stop there. We expand it to other things like "desertion" and "abuse" (which gets further expanded to "physical abuse" and then "emotional abuse" and then "I just feel abused" because he didn't thank her for fixing him dinner). And then we take it to the next step where the "innocent party" is free to remarry. And we've managed to take a narrow (and, I would suggest, in our day non-existent) exception and expanded it to cover almost every possibility.

Sadly, we even seem to find exception clauses where they don't exist. "Yeah, I know the Bible says not to forsake gathering together," (the command) "but I can't find a good church in my area, so I won't go." Or "My wife or my husband isn't interested, so I won't go." Odd. I don't find that exception clause in the command. "Of course we're not to commit adultery," (the command) "but I'm not actually committing adultery by looking at pornography, looking at other women/men, or dreaming about other sexual relationships." Jesus's "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt 5:28) doesn't seem to leave room for this exception clause. Or, perhaps the most common, "I know that we are to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Christ commands," (the command) "and I'm going to do it ... except, well, isn't 'disciple' a bit cultish? And isn't it a bit arrogant to think that I could disciple someone else? And, look, I'm no teacher, so don't expect me to teach anyone to obey Christ. But, like I said, I'm going to do it. Well, I'm going to share the Gospel. That is, unless it's inconvenient. Or it's uncomfortable. Or it is embarrassing. I'll get right around to doing that at my earliest opportunity ... after this show ... and the game ... and whatever else comes up ..." Lots and lots of exceptions.

After awhile you begin to wonder if there is any command given that doesn't have an exception clause. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart." "Well, I can't do that, so I am not going to worry about it." "Husbands, love your wives." "You don't know my wife." "Wives, submit to your husbands." "Me? Submit to him?? He doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain." "I do not permit a woman to teach or usurp authority over men." "What? What about gifted women? That can't be right." Personal experience, personal feelings, cultural clamor, a distaste for doing a particular command, all of this can serve as grounds for an exception clause in which we feel justified to go ahead with a particular sin (or sins) while still claiming to love God and long to serve Him.

Brothers, these things ought not be. We are supposed to be dead to sin (Rom 6:6; 1 Peter 2:24). We are called to die to self, to "take up your cross" (Mark 8:34-35). We are to kill our passions and desires (Gal 5:24). We are to die to this world (Col 3:5). We are supposed to think differently (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; Col 3:2). We are supposed to be different. It would seem to me that scrambling around for exception clauses wherever they might lie and making them up where they don't would be counterproductive to our aims as followers of Christ. Obeying too much isn't possible. Giving up too much isn't reasonable. Loving God too much isn't even conceivable. However, setting our minds on the interests of Man rather than the interests of God (Mark 8:33) is a real possibility for us. We don't want that now, do we?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Biblical Free Will

I gave you my understanding of free will. I'd like to look for a few moments at the biblical input on the topic. After all, we know that "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked", so getting God's input on a subject is always a good idea.

The question is whether or not actual Ultimate Self-Determination exists. Is there such a thing as Libertarian Free Will? We all agree that Man makes choices. There is no question about that. We also agree that God doesn't (necessarily) coerce those choices. We're all on the same page there. Because if we didn't have the ability to make some choices or if those choices were coerced, there is no sense in which God could hold us responsible for our choices -- for our sin. So let's all agree that human beings do, in fact, make choices without external coercion.

But does this necessitate Libertarian Free Will? Is it necessary, agreeing that humans make choices, that there be no influence, no inclination, indeed, no predestination? Does that kind of free will (which would, in the end, be Free Will with capital letters) actually exist among mankind? The argument is that God has committed Himself to that kind of Free Will and does not interfere. And what I'm asking is, is that what we find in the Bible?

A very famous passage in Proverbs assures us of this:
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will (Prov 21:1).
Now, that's a problem to the Libertarian Free Will concept. If God turns the king's heart wherever He will, then it cannot be argued that, at least, the king has Ultimate Self-Determination. The text requires that God is influencing the king.

If we wanted to limit this to "the king", we'd run up against other passages:
I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps (Jer 10:23).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations (Prov 33:10-11).
Well, now, that puts a crimp in things, doesn't it? It appears that God influences everyone's choices. Routinely. Solomon wrote, "A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?" (Prov 20:24).

At this point you have to decide. Am I going to remain committed to Ultimate Self-Determination/Libertarian Free Will or am I going to give in to Scripture? Your choice.

Some may say, "Okay, fine, God influences choices, but is completely outside of Man's sin. He does not ordain sin." Is that so? In Revelation we read:
And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled (Rev 17:16-17).
It is abundantly clear here that the efforts of "the beast" here and "the ten horns" are not godly efforts. They are sin. And yet it says here that "God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose", and that purpose is accomplished by their evil.

"Now, wait! Are you saying that, in some sense, God ordains evil?" Well, no, I'm not. That's what I find in the Bible. It's the Bible that says, "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble" (Prov 16:4). I'm simply pointing it out.

But, look, we don't need to go to some obscure, future version or even guess at what some possibly odd texts mean. How about the singularly worst sin in all the history of mankind -- the murder of the Son of God? There is no worse sin than that. What does the Bible say about that?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:26-28).
It is abundantly clear here -- irrefutably clear -- that God "predestined to take place" the murder of His Son and that He planned for "both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel" to carry out His predestined plan. If that isn't a plan for sin, I don't know what is.

The Bible isn't vague on the Sovereignty of God. While there is not doubt that humans have the ability to make choices without coercion, nothing happens without God's permission and ultimate will. Thus, the only being that actually has Ultimate Self-Determination -- Libertarian Free Will -- is God. He allows humans free choices within His plan, choices for which we are responsible either for good or bad, but we do not possess that form of Free Will that is so highly prized among sinful Man. God will even intervene in our choice to sin when it is required. So He told Abimelech, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I did not let you touch her" (Gen 20:6). That is not Ultimate Free Will.

If you're going to have a biblical worldview, you're going to have to work out in your mind some version of free will that allows humans to make choices, but only within the bounds of God's Sovereign Will and not without His permission. On the other hand, if you're going to remain committed to Man's Free Will as an ultimate good and a requirement on God, you're going to have to do so against the pages of Scripture.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Free Will

One of the most debated concepts in Christianity is the concept of Free Will. One side says that God is Sovereign and Man's Free Will doesn't exist. The other side says that God's Sovereignty is limited and Man's Free Will rules. Between the two extemes are all sorts of shades of variation. Hard determinism eliminates choice, but soft determinism (or compatibilism) allows the two to both exist. Libertarianism demands ultimate self-determination. Incompatibilists argue that neither free will nor determinism exist. (And, by the way, this isn't only a Christian discussion. Some of those most hard over on the side of both hard determinism and indeterminism are atheists who say that free will is an illusion and we're making choices based on the chemicals in our brains, or something like it.)

The difficulty I'm having is trying to pin down a definition. You know me and words. If we're going to argue about something, I think it would be a good idea to argue about the same thing. And, as hard as it may be to believe, "Free Will" does not have a standard definition. There appears to be a range of definitions, and that (obviously) makes it very hard to discuss.

Some argue that it is the power of independent action and choice. Okay. But others argue that it is the power of independent action and choice specifically to the exclusion of compulsion or predestination. That is, "If predestination exists, then there is no Free Will." Some think it's just "the ability to make a choice without coercion" and others think it is Ultimate Self-Determination. There are even some (more than a few) that suggest that it requires the "ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition". I'm actually surprised at how popular this one is, primarily because it's such nonsense. If there is nothing influencing a choice, a choice cannot be made. The best we can do is ... random. And, in fact, no one makes choices without at least internal influences. We always choose according to our inclinations.

If Free Will means that God cannot predetermine anything in any way, then I'm going to have to deny the existence of that Free Will because it contradicts the Bible. If Free Will means "Ultimate Self-Determinism", I'm going to have to deny the existence of that version as well because it contradicts the Bible. But if we're talking about the capacity to make choices uncoerced, I don't see an issue. This must exist if God is going to hold us responsible for our choices (read "sin"). And in order for that version to exist it doesn't even have to be continuous. That is, if God intervenes in Man's free will on occasion (like in Gen 20:6 where God says, "I kept you from sinning."), that doesn't eliminate all free will.

To me, free will is simply the ability to choose to do what you want to do. Clearly this is a limited concept. No one can choose what they want to do when what they want to do is impossible. "I want to flap my arms and fly to the moon" is all well and good, but it ain't gonna happen, and that's not a failure of the will. But here's the concept that makes the most sense to me. If free will is the ability to choose what you want to do -- to follow your own inclinations -- then God doesn't have to coerce anyone in order to change their choices. He simply has to change their "want to do". Here, let's couch this in biblical terms. If free will is the ability to follow your own inclinations and humans are inclined only to sin (Gen 6:5; 8:21), than humans freely and continually choose to sin. The remedy for this problem is a "new heart" (Ezek 36:26). "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor 5:17) and has God at work in him to will to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). If free will is the ability to choose to do what I want to do and God changes what I want to do, then He doesn't have to coerce me to make choices; I choose them because I want to. Is there something wrong with that version of free will?

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Theology of Sex

It is standard morality in today's society that sex is primarily a recreational pastime that carries no special meaning and ought to be enjoyed fully without any meddling from backward, moral prudes. "You stay out of my bedroom and I'll stay out of your church." Even among self-declared Christians there is a sense that we've been too narrow on our sexual ethics and we need to lighten up a bit. So more couples are "living together in sin" to use a euphemism from an earlier era. More self-professed believers are arguing for the morality of homosexual sex (which, by some bizarre convolutions, then becomes the basis for arguing for the redefinition of marriage -- "Well, if you don't want them to have sex outside marriage, you'd better let them get married!"). We're losing our rudder on the whole thing and losing track of where we're coming from and where we're going.

Is it right? Is our society correct? Is sex just a pleasurable process? I've seen Christians (even people I regard as genuine Christians) make such an argument. "Sex is for pleasure." If so, on what possible grounds can we argue that sex outside of marriage is sin? And, seriously, folks, what's the big deal? Why is sex an issue while we're not sounding the alarm on gossip, gluttony, or greed? Surely a bit of personal pleasure isn't that big of a deal, right? Or is it?

The Bible is not vague on its sexual ethics. Sex outside of marriage is sin. End of discussion. I've seen pretty little dances performed to try to explain how thousands of years of Bible readers from Israel through the Church all got it wrong. It's not wrong. Biblically sex is reserved for marriage and for marriage alone. That's the biblical standard and, as such, ought to be supported if only for that reason alone by followers of Christ. But is that it? Are we done? Or is there something more significant here? The question is the purpose of the sexual relationship. What does the Bible have to say?

I think we can see clearly that God intended for us to enjoy sexual relations with our spouses. It is, in fact, the only time that God tells us to be drunk.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love (Prov 5:18-19).
It is impossible to read that with anything less than a clear understanding that husbands are to fully and completely enjoy their wives. We read in Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth that sex is, in fact, a right in marriage (1 Cor 7:3-4). (Some translations refer to "conjugal rights", but even the King James speaks of "due benevolence", where "due" is a key word.) Biblically, then, sex between a married man and his wife are for both mutual pleasure and giving what is due -- duty.

The other obvious intent by God for the sexual relationship is reproduction. In today's world this is sorely misrepresented and ignored. On the other hand, read about Onan (Gen 38:4-10). Onan's brother was killed by God for his evil. Judah, Onan's father, instructed Onan to "Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother." Onan went in and took the pleasure of sex, but refused the responsibility of reproduction. The Bible concludes, "And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and He put him to death also" (Gen 38:10). Now, I don't think it is defensible to suggest that every sexual encounter in a marriage should be aimed at reproduction, but clearly a primary purpose for sex in marriage is reproduction and refusing to recognize and honor this particular God-given purpose is "wicked in the sight of the Lord".

We're not done, though. The Bible doesn't leave us with just that. Paul, in warning against various sins among the Corinthians, comes to this line of thinking.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh."(1 Cor 6:15-16)
This puts a new spin on sex from God's perspective. Apparently there is more than mere friction going on. The original, God-given description of marriage included "they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6). The language here appears to be referring to something much more than mere metaphorical union. It's not that they're "one in mind" or "a family unit", but more. Our bodies (in the Corinthian text) can be made "members of a prostitute". Indeed, Paul describes sex with a prostitute as becoming "one body with her". And it isn't, apparently, a temporary union. So he warns with all seriousness, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18). Biblically, then, sex is more than pleasure or even duty. It is a real union of bodies.

Paul doesn't end with that. He incorporates it into the intended image.
He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17).
Now we're talking some serious imagery. Elsewhere we learn that the marriage union is a God-given display of the union of Christ with the Church (Eph 5:25-32). Here we see that the union within marriage (sex) is a God-given image of the union of Christ to each of us. Both images are mysterious. Both are serious. Both are spiritual and both are very real.

In summary, then, we see from Scripture that sex is God's plan for married couples. He intends it for mutual pleasure, to be sure, but not merely that. Sex is for reproduction and we ignore this at our own risk. It is also intended as an actual union of two people (which, when you think about it, gets really complicated with multiple partners). It is intended as a very real representation of the union between Christ and each of us. As such, it is, again, an actual union, not mere metaphor. Neither between two humans or between Christ and His own is it ever temporary. This is why we are commanded to "let the marriage bed be undefiled" (Heb 13:4). It isn't some prudish Victorian morality. It is the Maker warning us that misuse of this gift will result in serious harm to humans. As it turns out, sex does have a theological content and does (when intended to) give glory to God. "So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Eager to Go Home

Some time ago I was having a conversation with a couple of Christian coworkers. We were discussing our eagerness to leave this world and join our Savior. Another coworker was walking by just when I was telling my friends how badly I wanted to go home.

"What's the matter?" she asked, stopping in her tracks. "Do you hate this life so much?"

So I tried to explain. "You live in a nice house with a good husband and a decent life, don't you?"

Indeed, she lived in a rather nice house in a rather nice city by the beach.

"Well, imagine one day a fellow comes to your door. You answer and he tells you, 'I have good news for you. You are the winners of a random contest recently held. Your name was drawn out of a hat. Let me tell you what you've won. We will be giving you the house of your dreams. You choose the location, the lot, the design, everything. We will build the house for you and then we will furnish it with whatever you wish to include. This prize includes servants to run the house at no expense to you. It also includes new cars for both you and your husband. You choose the cars. We will maintain the house and the staff and pay for the house, the upkeep, and whatever else is needed for the house.'"

"So," I concluded, "would you take it?"

"Oh, yes!" she answered excitedly. "That sounds wonderful!"

"What's the matter?" I answered. "Do you hate this life so much?"

In truth, any believer who grasps the truth of this life and the next is eager to go home. Some are confused. It's not because we're tired of living here. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). Living here is good. Living here is a blessing. I'm very grateful for this life and all its gifts from God. It's just that there -- to be with Christ, to cease to sin, to dwell in His presence, to finally and fully see Him as He is -- is so wonderful that this really good life we live here pales in comparison. Do I hate my life so much? Not at all. "But purer, and higher, and greater will be our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Gospel in a Paragraph

Try to find out what the Gospel is and you'll get a lot of different answers. There is the social gospel and there is the street-corner gospel and there is the "Romans Way" and so on. Some agree, but trying to actually pin down the essential pieces can be tough. So I thought I'd do it from a single paragraph in Scripture. For your consideration, then, here is the Gospel in one paragraph:
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:19-26).
There. So let's see what we can find in there.

First, the initial problem. All are accountable to God. All have sinned. This is not a small problem. The violation isn't "bad things", but an assault on the glory of God. As a result, all have sinned and are accountable to God for attacking His glory. Bad news. Oh, and, I hate to break it to you, but no amount of "being good" -- obeying the Law -- is going to help. No one makes it that way either.

Now the good news. God has figured out a way to demonstrate His own righteousness and satisfy His own demands for justice while securing a solution to our sin problem. It isn't a method of earning it. (Didn't we just see that that won't work?) It is a matter of grace -- unmerited favor. Nor is it a matter of simply dropping the charges. That would violate justice. No, this plan of God's includes paying the price (referred to here as "redemption") and setting aside the righteous wrath of God (referred to here as "propitiation") by the death of Christ Jesus. His blood paid on your behalf for your sins, allowing God to be both just and justifier. Thus, by faith, we can be judicially declared righteous on the basis of Christ's payment for our sin.

Believe that -- place your trust in that -- and you have received the Gospel.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Losing My Religion - Final Questions

I've offered a series of Scriptures that argue both that we must persevere and that God insures that He keeps His own. And I've offered a way to put them together. Because, you see, if you go with either the "Conditional Security" or the "Unconditional Security" views, you wind up slightly askew. Either you work out your salvation and have something to boast about or you don't and have dead faith. So, what about those who fall away? I mean, we all know there are those who do. How do you explain that?

The Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3-23) describes several types of soil. There is, of course, the hard soil that never gets the Word and there is the good soil that bears fruit, but between these two there are two others. One is the "rocky soil" that "receives it with joy" when he hears the Word, but affliction kills it. And there is the "thorny soil" that hears the Word, but it is choked out by the world. The key thing in both cases is that they appear to make a start. They appear to "come in faith", to "receive Christ". And in both cases they fail. They "fall away". If God insures that He loses none, how do we explain this?

According to the Bible, those who "fall away" were never "of us".
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).

No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him (1 John 3:6).
Notice that it isn't unclear. "If they had been of us, they would have remained with us." This is agreement that those who are in Christ will remain in Christ. So what about these who left? "They went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." Pretty clear. John says that the one who is perfectly happy remaining in sin has never seen Him or known Him. This isn't vague.

Look at this one from Hebrews:
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb 3:13).
Yeah, I know. Verb tense again. We have this phrase, "have become partakers of Christ", which is in the present perfect tense. Present perfect shows actions that were finished recently or ones that were completed at an indefinite time in the past. It's done. You are "partakers of Christ". End of discussion. But wait! There is an "if" clause: "if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end." Now that's interesting. That's future tense. It's something we don't know about now. But what we can say with certainty (because we assume the Bible is true) is that if you will not hold fast until the end, you are not now a partaker of Christ. See how that works?

So what are we to do? "Be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Cor 13:5). How? Well, there is the internal evidence. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor 12:3). No one willingly, joyfully submits to Christ as Lord unless the Holy Spirit does it. And there is the external evidence of works (2 Peter 1:5-9). Making sure you are in Christ is a good idea. Assuming you are without evidence is not wise. Ultimately, we trust to a Sovereign God, and I can think of no safer place to rest.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Losing My Religion - Putting it all Together

The Bible is full of commands that we need to persevere, to hold fast, to stand firm, to obey. God's Word contains many warnings that we need to remain faithful to the end. There is no doubt. On the other hand, Scripture is equally filled with assurances that we can know that we have eternal life, that we are saved by faith apart from works, that those who are once in Christ are kept in Christ.

The Bible seems to be bipolar on the subject. "Yes, yes, absolutely you need to persevere to the end! No, no, you're not saved by works! You are justified by faith ... apart from works! Of course, faith without works is dead. But Christ will surely lose none; He will certainly save those who come to Him." How do we put these together? We need to persevere ... but we will surely be saved.

It's interesting in examining the texts on the subject that you will find a perspective shift. There are two points of view being offered in these passages. One is Man's and the other is God's. The verses that call on us to persevere call on us to persevere. It's what we do. The passages that assure us that salvation is sure are all from God's point of view. It's what He does. Two different angles.

As it turns out, that's how it actually works, at least according to Scripture.
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but He who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:18).

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).
Do you see what's going on here? These are putting both views together. Believers must persevere -- and they will. God does it. God insures it. God accomplishes it. How does that look in the Christian's life? It looks like perseverance. It looks like good works and obedience. It looks like
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).
It's all there. Work out your salvation. Work it out with fear and trembling. This is a serious and solemn warning. Work! How? Well, it is God who is at work in you. And what is He doing? He is giving you two things: the will and the power. "Willing and able." The two necessities to do what God wants. He provides it. You see, then, that we work and He provides the ability to do so. In the end, then, we work but He gets the glory. We work but we have no room for boasting. We work but it's not us, but Christ living in us.

Look, I don't know about you. I know me. I am horrible at being constantly godly. When things go badly, it's easy to doubt. When things go well, it's easy to forget. It is my tendency to slip off either side. If I were trusting in my own faithfulness and my own will and my own determination to keep my salvation, I think I could say with relative certainty that at some point I'd lose it. Thanks be to God that I'm not the one in charge. You see, this is why I am so pleased with my Sovereign God. Yes, I need to persevere. Yes, I need to obey. Yes, I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. But it is of the greatest comfort to me that it is God who is at work in me to will and to do His good pleasure. He is able to keep me from stumbling. He will not allow me to ultimately and fatally fall. Instead, He will keep me growing, improving, more and more willing and able to do that which pleases Him. So, you can hang onto your "Conditional Security" and work on it yourself. Or you can place your confidence on a faith without works -- the version that James calls "dead" faith. I'm going to go with this middle version ... you know, the one I find in the pages of Scripture.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Losing My Religion - Unconditional Security

I've pointed out already that the Bible isn't vague on the topic of perseverance. In order to be saved in the end, the Bible says that believers must persevere in the faith. Without that perseverance, there is no reason to count on final salvation. That is the "Conditional Security" side. I will point out that this side goes on to say, "So, if you don't persevere in the faith you will lose your salvation" and "It happens ... a lot." And I've already gone on record as saying that I did not concur with that suggestion. The texts that require perseverance do not say anything about losing salvation. Indeed, you won't find the phrase anywhere in Scripture.

I may be confusing you now, but the question is only made worse when you consider what the Bible has to say on the "Unconditional Security" side of the question. John had a lot to say on the subject, starting with the reason he gives for his entire first epistle:
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
If security is conditional, how can you ever know that you have eternal life? John thinks you can. So he writes,
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36).
Verb tense again. "Has". Present tense. So if salvation can be lost, then in what sense is this life "eternal"? If it can come and go, how can it be called "eternal"? (See also John 5:24; 1 John 5:11-12; etc.)

John wrote:
Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith (1 John 5:4).
This one places "overcomes the world" in the category of the "born of God", not those who work for it.

John also quoted Jesus several times on the topic.
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out ... This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day." (John 6:37, 39).

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28).
Of note in these statements from Christ are the superlatives, the certainties, the absolutes. The "all" and the "nothing" and the "no one". There are some that the Father gives to Christ. Of them, all will come, all will be received, and none will be lost. These "sheep" are from the Father to the Son and, in His hand, impossible to remove. No one can snatch them out. That would necessarily include the sheep in question. These are absolutes.

Scripture is not vague on the topic. Clearly, repeatedly, over and over God's Word assures those who believe that He will keep them all to the end. (See, for instance, 1 Cor 1:8-9; Eph 1:13-14; 1 Thess 5:23-24; Heb 13:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 5:8-10.) Describing the New Covenant, God said, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me" (Jer 32:40). "They will not turn away from Me." No question. No doubt. Not gonna happen. The Bible is absolutely certain that those who are once in Christ will certainly be saved. You can be sure of it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Losing My Religion - Conditional Security

"So," the young man began his conversation with me the other day, "do you believe a Christian can lose his salvation?" He wasn't actually interested in finding out what I believed as much as trying to convince me of what he believed. And he was quite sure a Christian could lose his salvation.

It isn't a peripheral question. That is, it's a day-to-day, rubber-meets-the-road question. It's a nitty-gritty, down-to-earth, real-life question. Every Christian needs to know. Not only "What must I do to be saved?" but "What must I do to remain saved?"

The hardcore "Conditional Security" type like this guy (and you'll never hear this guy call himself a "Conditional Security" type -- it's just a way of differentiating positions) believes that it is absolutely necessary that a true believer persevere in the faith in order to be ultimately end up in heaven and Christians can and do fail to persevere. The hardcore "Once Saved Always Saved" (OSAS) type will counter, "No! That's salvation by works! Once you're saved, there is nothing you need to do to maintain or retain your salvation." Me? I would tend to disagree ... with both.

First, then, let's look at the "Conditional Security" question. Is our salvation sure without condition, or is there something we need to do to retain it? We get hints of the need to persevere in faith with passages like Hebrews 11:6 that assures us "without faith it is impossible to please God." The suggestion, then, would be that we can have some initial faith, not retain that faith, and still end up pleasing to God ... which clearly contradicts Scripture. James warned, "Faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17). John wrote, "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3-4). The "Unconditional Security" folk would like to assure us that this isn't true. Watch out! But there are far more explicit passages to consider.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain (1 Cor 15:1-2).
Two important notes. First, notice the verb tense there for "saved" -- "are being saved". It is apparently an ongoing process. Second, there is no doubt that Paul requires that "you hold fast to the word" and indicates it is possible to have "believed in vain".
Christ is faithful over God's house as a Son. And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Heb 3:6).
This one says that we are God's house, but puts a condition on it -- "if". If what? If we "hold fast our confidence."
He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (Col 1:22-23).
Aren't these verb tenses interesting? "He has now reconciled" indicating a present fact. But there is a conditional statement. He has now reconciled you if you continue in the faith. If you do not continue in the faith now and in the future you are not now reconciled.
"But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (Matt 24:13).
Not much wiggle room there. Endure to the end in order to be saved.

Paul isn't unclear either.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
Written to the churches of Galatia, Paul gives a list of the types of things the flesh does and then warns clearly "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

One that will likely cause distress and, more likely, disagreement is the one in Hebrews 6. People tend to interpret this passage from their predisposition and often despite it.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (Heb 6:4-6).
The "Conditional Security" buff will assure you that this is an absolutely clear passage demonstrating that an apostate believer can lose his or her salvation. This same one will not, however, typically agree with the text that says "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance." No, no. You can lose your salvation, but you can always get it back. Well, that's counter to the text.

The "Once Saved Always Saved" buff will need to do a more careful dance here. "Well, yeah, that's what it says, but it's not talking about genuine believers. The description is of someone who gets a little information, tastes God's goodness, that sort of thing. Doesn't actually enter in. Just on the edge, you see." You may wish to go that way, I suppose, but explaining in what sense someone can "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit" without actually receiving the Holy Spirit is tough (and not particularly biblical), and if you give in on that point, the rest seems to gain momentum to force it to be about genuine believers.

It would appear to me that the text is talking about genuine believers who actually and ultimately fall away. These types have no possibility of repentance. End of story.

I've just touched on some of the most obvious texts that say that perseverance is necessary. It is biblical. It is mandatory. It is unavoidable without doing violence to Scripture. The Bible is quite clear in these places and elsewhere that those who would be saved must persevere in the faith. Perseverance in the faith is required to ultimately be saved.

Before going off to look at this stuff yourself either in defiance or fear, let me say one more thing -- give you one more seed of thought to allow germination. Look back either over the texts or what I've written and you will find something that you may have missed. Not once did I suggest that these texts say, "You can lose your salvation and some do." I said that Scripture clearly requires perseverance in the faith. These are not the same thing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

God's Interests

He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (Mark 8:33).
I am becoming more and more convinced that this is the primary failure of all humans everywhere and, as such, the primary approach of Satan. Think about it. What is the most common complaint about God? "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Never, "What does God think of it?" Israel, after being freed from slavery in Egypt, complained that God was leading them into difficult circumstances. Never, "What is God doing?" I recently had an exchange with someone about how God tells us to do things He knows we can't accomplish. "Why would He do that?" was the sentiment. "Doesn't seem fair!" That, of course, is the complaint of someone focusing on the interests of Man, not God. If you look around you, I think you'll start to see it everywhere.

Jesus went on to talk about this further.
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35).
Now that's a little tough in the standard human thinking. "Deny himself"? "Lose his life"? "Take up his cross"? "How is any of that reasonable? I thought Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life." And then, sadly, you find that it's a running theme in Scripture.
"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).

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3).

Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (Eph 4:22).

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self ... (2 Tim 3:1-2).
Turns out that the Bible is opposed to placing our minds on the interests of Man over the interests of God. Go figure! And yet, I venture to guess that we do it every day.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Turnaround Time

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
How long, O LORD?
Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me (Psa 13).
There are only six verses in this little psalm. Six. The psalm begins with "Will you forget me forever?" and ends with "I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me." In six verses.

I want those six verses. I want that kind of turnaround time, where I go from feeling abandoned to feeling embraced. I want to go that quickly from "Help me!" to rejoicing in the Lord. What's David's secret?

It's not that God did something good. It's not that God answered, eased his fears, saved him from enemies, did anything about the things David was stressed about. Here it is: "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness." That's the change. That's the turnaround. That's all that was required. Well, now, I guess I can do that.

"But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Radical Christianity

Young people today tend toward the "radical" in many instances. While the "Establishment" goes to work every day to earn a living, they're "occupying Wall Street". While the middle class expects a business to pay a wage that will keep you employed while they make a profit (because, after all, it's their money they're investing and they expect to make a profit from it), the young are protesting and demanding a $15/hour minimum wage. While typical America believes that a nation has the right to police its borders, younger Americans are calling for "Immigration Reform" by which they mean open borders and the right of people everywhere to come here at will. While "normal" people wear "normal clothes", those cutting edge kids are cutting and marking themselves for decoration and wearing whatever might be deemed outrageous at the moment. We're kind of used to the idea that kids tend toward the radical. It's perhaps amusing at best and a nuisance at worst. It will pass.

When it comes to "radical Christianity", however, the term isn't one that engenders interest. It is not a good thing. It is generally considered a bad thing. Avoid it. Ban it if you can. It's not a good thing. It's a blight on society and an embarrassment to us all. Worst of all, it is not cool. But ... just what is "radical Christianity"?

The first "radical" in Christianity was, of course, Jesus Christ. While the rest of His world was following along, He was going a different way. While they read the Bible and looked for the Messiah, He claimed to be the Messiah. While they bowed to the religious leaders of their day, He berated these same leaders that they were hypocrites and blind. While those around Him sought a political leader to free them, He refused the offer. Instead of following anyone, He opted to do the works and words of His Father. Very radical. It was one of the surface reasons they killed Him.

"Radical" Christianity after that, however, shifted to those who were "outside". Most of the New Testament is letters written to address the radicals. Legalism, Gnosticism, and so much more are all addressed in the pages of Scripture as radical, not right. The history of the Church is one of addressing and correcting the radicals, from the Arian Heresy that denied the Deity of Christ to the Docetists that argued that Jesus's physical body was an illusion. The Church battled anti-Trinitarian forces, monophysites, Sabellians, Manichaeism, antinomianism, the Pelagian Heresy, the Ebionites, the Monatists, the Marcionites ... it goes on and on. These were radicals, rejecting orthodoxy and Scripture and picking up deviations from the core of Christianity.

Who are the "radicals" today? It's those darn Calvinists, for instance. They're claiming that God is Sovereign and Man is not and declaring all sorts of stuff ... declared by Reformers hundreds of years ago taken from the pages of Scripture. It's those "conservative Christians" who are standing boldly and daringly on a traditional understanding of the Bible and, therefore, who declare that "marriage" has a definition that does not include "same-sex" and that life is valuable and abortion is, therefore, wrong, and that sex is only moral in the marriage relationship, not outside. These radicals are standing firm on Substitutionary Atonement, the reliability of Scripture, the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the historical fact of the Resurrection, and on and on. They hold the historical view of God as Holy, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Immutable, and more. They believe in a God who hates sin and in a hell in which those who reject Him will pay eternally for it. They are conserving historical Christianity while the rest of Christendom has moved on to a "kinder, gentler" Christianity.

As it turns out, then, the "radical Christians" these days are the biblical ones. They're the ones that stand with Scripture and the history of the Church on a position that was once known as "Orthodoxy". The outlandish Christians these days are the ones that side with what was once considered "mainstream Christianity". The radical today is the one who believes what every genuine Christian from Christ on believed. Odd how we've redefined the word "radical" in this case to mean "just like all Christians before them."

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Victim Card

We ("we" is a pronoun that includes "you" and "me") have a tendency these days as American conservative Christians to bemoan the fact that we are becoming victims. We point to losses of religious freedoms and say, "See? Christians are facing persecution in America." We point to the overt willingness of society at large to insult Christians and Christianity with impunity while being meticulously polite to other religions that have already proven themselves as literally mortal enemies and say, "See? Christians are facing persecution in America." We point to the growing crowd of anti-Christian voices removing Nativity scenes from parks and the Ten Commandments from courthouses and the like and say, "See? Christians are facing persecution in America."

The truth is Christians are not facing persecution in America. If you want to know what persecution is, read about Alimjan, a Chinese Christian who lost everything and was imprisoned for "harming national security" by being a Christian. Read about the Christians in Nigeria who were bombed and attacked by Muslim extremists because they were Christians. Read about the assassination of Pakistan's Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's only cabinet-level Christian, just two months after the murder of Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, by his bodyguard, both Christians that stood against Muslim injustice in their country. Look, this could go on and on. Death, murder, assault, imprisonment, real persecution is going on in the world. Us? We face court battles that don't go in our favor. We lose a job because we stand on Christian principle or lose respect because we're Christians and we call it "persecution". This is the "victim card". And we don't play it any better than a lot of folks on the left these days play the "race card". It's not doing well.

What's fascinating to me, however, is the biblical version of the "victim card". That is, when faced with genuine persecution, how did biblical characters respond? We know that about it Jesus it was said that "like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opens not his mouth." And that trial and execution qualified as persecution. "But, wait," some might object, "He came for that end. That's not our purpose." Okay, how about Peter and the apostles? In a rage, the high priest and his party arrested the apostles for preaching and imprisoned them (Acts 5:17-41). God released them (Acts 5:19-20), so they went back into the Temple to preach. They were arrested again and beaten (Acts 5:26-40) with orders not to preach anymore. Their response? "Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). Really? Rejoicing? Read, sometime, Paul's list in his second epistle to the church at Corinth (2 Cor 4:7-10). You will note that there is not a sense in his list of a whine, of a complaint, of a protest. Instead, he explains that, even in genuine persecution, "this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17). Indeed, he boldly declares "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9-10). "Content with persecutions"? James goes a step further. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (James 1:2-3).

We face growing difficulties here. It really can't be denied. A few people have had to face consequences for their faith. Standing on Christian principle today is getting more and more dangerous in America. Not quite to the point of persecution, but it does look like it could go that way. What I'm waiting for is the flower shop owner that is fined for standing on Christian principle and says, "I rejoice for being counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His name." I'm waiting for the employee who is fired for his Christian principles and responds, "I am content with hardships so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." I'm waiting for the American Christian who feels even the early onset of an upcoming persecution and responds with "all joy".

Playing the "we're so abused" victim card isn't really working for us these days. We'll protest and go to court and complain about our ill treatment. We'll call it "persecution" which pales in comparison to genuine persecution in other countries. And we'll end up alienating those with whom we need to share the Gospel. The biblical response, however, is to rejoice in suffering for Christ's sake. "If you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed" (1 Peter 3:14). In fact, we are commanded, "Let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19). Playing that "victim card" -- the one that doesn't complain, but rejoices and continues in faith and love -- will have a considerably larger impact. And even if it doesn't, it's the biblical response to have.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Phobias Old and New

The headline reads "Craig James fired by Fox Sports for saying homosexuality is a ‘choice’ to be judged by God." And the link said "fox-sports-fires-craig-james-homophobic-comments". Apparently former NFL and politician, Craig James, made some comments during a campaign debate in Texas that those who engage in homosexual behavior "have to answer to the Lord for their actions." Now, on the face of it you'd have to ask, "So?" I mean, all humans will have to give an answer to the Lord for their actions (Rom 14:12). And, look, whether or not you believe that folks like that are "born that way", what anyone does with it is a choice. Those choices are accountable to God. So what's the big deal?

Well, of course, it's that Mr. James is "homophobic". Now, I could follow down that road like so many others about religious freedom and its erosion. I'm not willing to go there in this case. No one said Mr. James couldn't hold his view. They just said that his view would not reflect well on their organization. They didn't say he couldn't express his views. They simply said, "He couldn’t say those things here." Now, if Fox Sports finds a biblical view offensive, you may or may not want to choose a different channel on which to watch your sports, but this isn't a case of restriction of religious liberty. So I'm not climbing on that "losing our religious freedoms" bandwagon here. What I'm looking at is his "homophobia".

Now, "homophobia" is actually a fairly new word. It showed up at the end of the decade of the 1960's. And it is an odd construction, because, while "phobia" typically indicates "fear", the aim of this word appears to be more at "antipathy". Byrne Fone says it's "condemnation, loathing, fear, and proscription of homosexual behavior."1 So, first, is this an accurate term? Well, I'd say the "phobia" -- fear -- isn't (typically) an accurate depiction, although I suppose there are some who are phobic about the homosexual behaviors. As for Fone's version, I suppose there are those who would outlaw the behavior ("proscription") and loathe the behavior. But I don't think it's reasonable to assume that Craig James was doing any of that. What is reasonable to assume is that Mr. James was condemning the behavior (which, by the way, is not the same thing as condemning the person doing the behavior). In that sense and in that sense alone, sticking with Fone's definition, I think it could be said that his remarks were "homophobic".

But, wait. If homophobia is "condemnation, loathing, fear, and proscription of homosexual behavior", what is the equivalent of "condemnation, loathing, fear, and proscription" of Christian views? Christophobia? Christianphobia? Whatever term you wish to coin, is it not the same thing that is being condemned in Christians? That is, there are people in this country -- a loud group of people if not a majority -- who look at Christians with condemnation, loathing, and fear, and some who would even like to proscribe it -- make it illegal. At least the parts they don't like. (Which, by the way, is the same thing you see from those who are "homophobic". No one protests "one man loving another", for instance, because that's a good thing ... as long as you don't define "love" as "sex", which is a mistake. No, it's the sexual component that is the problem.)

Is it a step too far to classify their reaction as "phobic" in the same sense that they're using it about Christians? Not only would I suggest it is not, but I would also suggest it is biblical. Paul wrote, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). It would stand to reason, then, that to the extent that we reflect God to a world whose mind is set on the flesh, we will encounter their hostility. Jesus told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). John wrote, "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). We bring them good news -- the Gospel -- and they consider it "folly" and "a stumbling block" (1 Cor 1:18-24). It isn't, then, mere opinion that those outside of Christ would be "Christianophobic" or whatever word you'd care to design. It is a given.

Homophobia, then, is a fairly new word, while the hatred of the world for Christ and His people is thousands of years old and hatred for God is from the Fall. So which is the newer phobia?

The only question that remains is whether or not they will own the truth of it. They decry our condemnation of the act of sex between two people of the same gender (or two people of any gender who aren't married) and call it "anti-gay". The truth is that the Bible condemns the act, so we must also. The question is will they admit to their condemnation, something they consider to be despicable, of biblical Christianity? Are they going to own up to being in the same condemning, loathing, fearful, and possibly even proscriptive boat here? Or will they hold a double standard? "When you do it it's evil, but when we do the very same thing, it's good." Because there is no difference at the bottom line, except, that a biblical worldview would require agreement with God and urge others for their own benefit to agree and their anti-Christian sentiments are not intended for the benefit of Christians. That is, the Christian side, at its core, is love and the other is hate. And it may not be the one that is most often expressed as hate.
1 Fone, Byrne. Homophobia: A History Metropolitan/Henry Holt NY. 2000 p.3

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


According to New York Magazine, the total number of people killed in the 9/11 attack was 2,753. That included 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 police officers, 1,402 employees in Tower One, and 614 employees from Tower Two. At full capacity, the Twin Towers had a capacity of 50,000 workers and up to 200,000 visitors, but on that morning only 14,000 to 19,000 were inside. So the death count went from 50,000 to 6,700 to less than 3,000.

On the 4 aircraft that crashed that day, American Airlines Flight 11 lost 87 people, United Flight 175 lost 60, American Airlines Flight 77 lost 59, and United Flight 93 lost 40. The first plane had a capacity of 158 passengers and 11 crew members. The second could carry 168 passengers and 11 crew members. The third had a 188-passenger capacity and 6 crew members. The last one could seat 182 passengers and 7 crew members. The total potential was 731 souls. The actual total loss was 281.

The fact is that we've pretty much forgotten 9/11. Oh, sure, we remember that it was bad, but we remember badly. Given the huge numbers that should have been lost and weren't, we don't remember how gracious God was to us that day when the towers fell and the planes came down. While the numbers aren't certain, more people died in the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 than in this event. And I say we've forgotten because we're not grateful for that. Nor are we quite mindful of the fact that there are those out there that consider America the great Satan. While we discount Christianity and discard "conservative" and "religious" as viable in the public arena, we cater to Islam, the religion that brought you around 3,000 deaths in one day. So we're losing our grasp on reality both in the grace of our God and in the danger from those who would harm us. We definitely should remember.

The Bible portrays God as Sovereign. Using Job as an example, we see a structure where God is in charge and Satan is on a leash -- a short leash. When Satan presents himself to God (Job 1:6), God points out His faithful servant, Job. Satan assures God that it's just because of God's protection. So God allows Satan to do harm with limitations (Job 1:7-12). And Satan does. The scene is repeated in Job 2. This time Satan says, "Sure, he's Your faithful servant, but only because You're protecting his flesh." So, again, God allows Satan to do harm with limitations (Job 2:1-6). What is the biblical evaluation of these two events? Job says, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21) and "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10), and the inspired writer tells us in both cases that Job did not sin (Job 1:22; 2:10). That is, Job was right. Satan caused the pain, but it came from God. And it was good and acceptable. It is on this principle that we can stand, with Job, when painful events like September 11th occur -- truly grievous things -- and thank God. God could have moved those planes before they hit. He could have prevented all of it from happening. We can either wring our hands over a God who failed (and, therefore, isn't God) or we can accept that God allows evil things to occur for His very good reasons and thank Him that He is doing good. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Let's not forget.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Bible Speaks

Hotly contested today is the notion that the Bible is of any value at all. Of course, the claims range from "a book written by men about myths and fables without any real value or truth" to "the inspired Word of God, inerrant and infallible" and everywhere in between. There are those who claim that it is the Word of God but certainly not without error and certainly not infallible and there are those who claim that it is not the Word of God but is a fine book with lots of good things in it. One thing that most people today are quite sure is that this whole "inerrant and infallible" thing is itself a myth, a lie, a Johnny-come-lately argument tacked on in the last century and certainly not either genuine or useful.

The Bible, as it turns out, would disagree. The claim of the pages of Scripture is that "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16). Some versions say "inspired" or the like, but the word there is unique -- theopneustos. It is a single word constructed of theo, God, and pneustos, breathed, into a single, interlinked word. It wasn't merely "inspired"; it was breathed by God. Dance all you want, but that's what the text says. That's the claim of the Bible.

Peter agreed. "No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). That's the claim of the Bible. Not human-formed. Not human-superintended. Not merely human writings. The Scriptures are the product of God written through men.

"Oh, sure," some will say, "but that's just a reference to the Scripture of Paul's day, which is only the Old Testament." Well, the Bible would beg to differ. Peter wrote, "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16). Did you get that? Peter says first that Paul's writings are the product of not human wisdom, but "the wisdom given him". He goes on to say that Paul's writings are there among "the other Scriptures". Thus, the Bible holds that "Scripture" is not limited to the Old Testament, and that all Scripture is God-breathed, the work of the Holy Spirit in certain men selected by God to produce His Word. Jesus Himself recognized the authority of Scripture (Matt 5:18; John 10:35).

This puts an early crimp in the whole "The Bible is a nice book, but not literally 'God's Word'" argument. It demands a level of respect for the Bible that is not equivalent to any human book. It claims for itself to be God's Word.

But is it authoritative? Well, logically this would be a given. If God breathed it, it must be as authoritative as God is. But we're not left to logic here. The Bible says, that Scripture is God-breathed and, therefore, "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). There is the authority claim from Scripture. Teaching offers direction along the path. Reproof provides the indication of deviation from the path. Correction gives the method of returning to the path. Training in righteousness gives us the means of remaining on the path. That path is truth. And the source is Scripture.

But this claim in Scripture is not what makes the Bible authoritative. Clearly the argument will be offered that this is circular. The source of the claim claims that it is God's Word and authoritative. That's a circle. It is undeniably the claim of Scripture, but it is not the reason that Scripture is authoritative. The reason that Scripture is authoritative is that the claim is true -- God breathed it. Thus, the authority of Scripture is not merely on the claim of Scripture that it is God-breathed, but that it is God-breathed and, therefore, has the authority of God behind it. In fact, the Bible itself recognizes this. New Testament authors often refer to Old Testament writings because they are authoritative. And New Testament authors recognize both the human authorship of Scripture (see, for instance, Acts 4:25) and the divine authorship (see, for instance, Heb 1:5). God's Word has authority. The Bible is God's Word. Therefore, the Bible has authority. And if it is God's Word, in what possible sense can it be wrong? (Thus, inerrancy.)

The Bible is not the same as other sacred books. Mohammed claimed that the Q'uran was dictated to him by Allah. Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was also provided in the same manner. The Bible is not a dictation; it is breathed by God and written by men in their language, their vernacular, their wording.

Inerrancy is also a common misunderstanding. The Bible doesn't claim to be a science book. Thus, the use of, as a silly example, "sunrise" doesn't require that the Bible is claiming a geocentric view. Language, poetry, story-telling techniques, speech techniques like hyperbole or metaphor ... all of this work in Scripture and do not allow for a strict standard of "error-free" that we do not apply to any other writing. Beyond that, the biblical demand for "God-breathed" inerrancy does not extend to inerrant copying. A mistake in copying doesn't require that the Bible is in error; it means that the scribe was in error. So we use techniques of comparing manuscripts to get the most reliable outcome. Nor does inerrancy require my defense. It isn't based on my ability to prove that the original texts were without error; it is based on the claim of Scripture that this is God's Word and we know that God doesn't make mistakes.

This brings us to one interesting fact about the Bible, its claim to be God's Word, and the assersion that it is inerrant and infallible. This is not a new assersion. It has been, in fact, the historical position of the Church from the beginning. Augustine wrote, "If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." The whole purpose of declaring the canon of Scripture was to hold safe what was Scripture against claims of what was not Scripture. In the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church disagreed with the Reformers on authority. The Reformers claimed "Sola Scriptura" -- Scripture is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice. The Roman Catholic Church claimed not that Scripture was not authoritative, but that it wasn't the sole authority, not that it was in error, but that people had trouble understanding it and needed the help of the Church and Tradition. That is, they agreed that Scripture was without error and authoritative. It was ever thus.

This argument against the Word of God only arose in the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries which spawned skeptics who assured us that the Bible was not trustworthy, that belief in a "God-breathed Word of God" was nonsense, that miracles were impossible, and that modern science knew much better than any old book. It was in response to this that some raised the "inerrancy" banner. It wasn't a new claim; it was, indeed, an old one. The Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals rose up and stood firmly on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture in response to these humanist claims against it. And, of course, today this debate rages on.

Those who hold to the belief that the Bible is the Word of God, God-breathed just like it claims, the reliable output from God by the Holy Spirit speaking through men, an output that cannot be in error any more than God can be in error, are in an extreme minority now. The rest stand firmly with one foot in the spiritual grave and the other on a banana peel. Having carefully and methodically removed any sort of firm foundation or solid footing, they now stand against those who, with the saints through the ages, stand firmly on the Word of God as given to us in the pages of the Bible. They complain that we're narrowminded and backward while they don't appear to realize that they're arguing in a vacuum without authority or basis. And still the debate goes on. I suspect, in the end, only those who trust in the reliability of God Himself to speak to His own and provide a written record of it will stand, in the end, on any firm ground. Those, I believe, will be the wheat among the tares.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Answering a Critic

Recently a reader took me to task, essentially, for saying that homosexual behavior is a sin. This reader (was anonymous, so I'll call it a "he" just for ease of discussion) told me that homosexuality was just fine, that religion was bunk, and that calling it sin was "hate". The arguments he presented went something like this:
1. Someone who calls himself homosexual did something helpful (unrelated in any way to "homosexual"), so it must be okay.
2. The Bible is flawed, archaic, outdated, and pretty much useless.
3. Good and bad are determined by "your heart".
4. You have no right to declare that some people are not worthy and you are.
5. It is hate to call it sin.
I would point out, at the start, that the arguments are, almost entirely, not rational or reasonable. That is they are assertions, not evidence or arguments. An "argument" would be an assertion with reasons given that the assertion is true. The only evidence or reason offered in this set of assertions was "Someone who was a homosexual did something good." How this demonstrates that any of the assertions are true is beyond me. I only point this out because I think you will find in the vast majority of cases that the objections offered are not thought out, but "felt". But it might be helpful to consider some of the ideas because I'm pretty sure you've heard most, if not all of them.

Skipping the first (silly) assertion, we have to examine the claim that our beliefs, based on the Bible, are based on a flawed, archaic, outdated, useless standard. Is this true? We can examine the reliability of the Bible with some reasonable certainty. While the original documents are no longer extant, over 6,000 documents for the New Testament written in Greek, some dating back to the 2nd century AD, still exist. Comparing these documents to themselves and the 21,000 others in other languages gives us something along the order of 99.5% textually pure. Further, among the possible misprints or differences in manuscripts, a reasonable examination of the disagreements leaves us with a question of 1% of anything of any consequence. Further, internal evidence (such as the claims of a certain authorship to a certain text) suggests that much of the Bible was actually written by eyewitnesses. The significance of such a claim is that eyewitnesses are subject to contradiction by other eyewitnesses, so that what remains is likely reliable. External evidence is equally remarkable. Historical events listed in the Bible have repeatedly been confirmed by archaeology even in cases when they were originally sure the Bible was wrong. More interesting are such things as the prophecies made far in advance and then borne out much later in history as happening as predicted. The very fact that the Bible was written by some 20 or so different authors over a 4,000 year period with a non-contradicting and a coherent result testifies to something remarkable. No, all evidence indicates that the Bible is reliable, both textually and historically, and, as such, divinely inspired. Note: I found it somewhat amusing that, despite my critic's claim that the Bible is flawed and useless, he also opted to suggest he knew something about what Jesus would think and to quote or refer to the Bible to support his view. Isn't that a problem?)

Having demonstrated that it is not irrational to believe the Bible, how about the assertion that we determine right and wrong by "our hearts"? Well, that is problematic at its core. If morality is up to the individual "heart", and my heart says something is wrong while your heart says it isn't, who wins? You see, if it is "in the heart", then no moral code can be applied to everyone. In this condition, morality is relative and I can be perfectly right in saying "X is evil" while you deny it. Logically, of course, this can't stand very long, which is why there are arguments over it. Either there is no right and wrong, or there is. If not, no one can say I'm immoral in my views. If there is, there must be a reliable and authoritative source to make the claim. Oh, and that would be the Bible! Relative morality is, at its core, a nonsensical concept. (Moral relativism, by the way, is a highly dangerous place for the relativist to stand. If Bob believes it is immoral to kill but Bill believes it is okay, Bob is in danger of being terminated and cannot claim it is wrong.)

Is it true that we have no right to declare some worthy and not others? This accusation is rampant, but completely fails to see the point. Christianity does not claim "some worthy and not others". Never. Christianity claims none are worthy. That, in fact, is the primary problem Christianity aims to solve. Repeatedly we are told "All have sinned" and "there is none who does good" and the like. What are we to do? So Christianity doesn't apply a moral bandaid. "Be good and you'll make it." Christianity applies a solution in the form of Christ crucified and resurrected. We are never worthy. We are only saved by God's unmerited favor on the basis of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. I guess, then, the answer to the original question is "Yes! We don't have the right to declare some worthy and not others. But we don't."

Is it hate? This is my last question, but it is by far the most common objection. Is it hate? The question rarely gets addressed because the questions get crossed. "It's not hate because we believe homosexual behavior is sin." "No it's not!" "Yes it is!" And the question about hate is forgotten. There are, then, two questions that must be distinct. First, is it or is it not sin? Second, is it or is it not hate to say it is sin? The first is answered by the reliability of the Bible. The second, however, does not depend on the first. It depends, instead, on what the person making the claim that it is sin actually believes. Imagine, if you will, two friends. One is completely convinced that there is a bomb in other's car. Regardless of the truth of the conviction, what would "hate" look like? If he is convinced there is a bomb, would it be hateful to tell his friend or to fail to tell his friend? Clearly the loving thing to do is to warn the friend. And clearly it wouldn't matter about the accuracy of the conviction. The question at this point is about what is loving or hateful, and it should be clear that a person convinced that Action X is going to bring dire consequences to someone they care about should prompt them to speak up, not remain silent. Now, a bomb in the car can kill, but unrepented sin can damn. And the Bible is quite clear that the one who practices homosexual behavior cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). There is no more dire consequence than that.

It may be that the Bible is not something to be trusted. It may be that good and bad are determined internally. It may be that we are completely wrong in our accepting the biblical claim that this particular behavior is sin. But if we are convinced that such an act is sin, it is not hate to warn people. And if it is true that the Bible is unreliable, that morality is purely relative, and that we are wrong in calling the behavior sin (you can see that these three are all tied together), then nothing is moral or immoral except to any given individual, no one is worthy or unworthy, righteous or unrighteous, good or bad, and the whole exercise of telling us we're evil for saying so is an exercise in contradiction. But, I don't anticipate the critics will be seeing that as rational anytime soon.