Monday, July 30, 2007

Anyone want to talk to the Emergent Church?

Scripture is clear, Jesus told His disciples in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." Do we really need to have a "conversation" about this people? God is sovereign and He is in the business of saving souls. He did it right the first time when He inspired the 1st century authors to pen the New Testament. His message is clear and concise, and the instructions on how to "do" church are right there in His word. We don't need a barbecue pool party instead of a proper baptism. We don't need to be relevent to attract a large crowd. Yes, concern for the lost going to hell is our motivation, but that doesn't mean that getting large numbers means getting large numbers of converts. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Get that? Few who find it. Conforming our standards to those of the world is the exact reason that the Gospel (or it's watered-down variant) is not effecting salvation. Let's have a conversation about how to be true to the Gospel and share it the way it is in plain truth, not muck it up with post-modern mumbo jumbo designed to tickle the ears and stroke the ego. Matthew 7:6 says, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. It must be so, otherwise it is not the Gospel. If we talk about how to make it better or change it to become more palatable or senseless, we cannot expect victory for God.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Does a Scriptural exemption for divorce indicate an exemption for remarriage?

Many people have noticed that the plague of divorce in our culture is no different inside or outside the Church. Some have even placed divorce amongst Christians at a statistically higher rate because of a Christian mindset of insusceptibility to the matter. Regardless of current trends, does Scripture allow for divorce? If so, does that mean that we are allowed to remarry? Probably one of the more popular Scripture references on the matter is Matthew 19:3-9 ("Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, `FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."). So, it would seem that we shall not divorce except in cases of immorality. Well, what is this immorality exception? The Greek word here for "immorality" is porneia. This word is taken to mean either fornication or incest. We know that married couples cannot be fornicators, but rather adulterers because of their marriage. So what does this mean? A position known as the "betrothal view" may clear up any confusion. During the time of the writing of Scripture, betrothal (the ancient variation of today's engagement) was a very serious commitment, highly valued as betrothed were already considered husband and wife. As an example, Joseph and Mary were betrothed, and when Joseph discovered she was pregnant (not knowing by the Holy Spirit), he desired to divorce her quietly. Just as married couples, betrothed couples, too, had to divorce in order to legally dissolve the relationship. Understanding the original author's intent in the Greek, the use of the word porneia makes more sense as it relates to those who have been betrothed and not married (consummation followed after the betrothal period, about one year later). This position (betrothal view) is also supported by other Scripture as it relates to marriage and divorce. For example, Matthew 5:32 tells us, "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity (porneia), makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Other examples are 1 Corinthians 7:39, which tells us, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.", and Romans 7:2, "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband." If nothing else, these verses prohibit remarriage in that the covenant of marriage is for the life of one's spouse. This means that none may remarry as long as their spouse is alive or they shall be seen as an adulterer in accordance with Scripture. Immoral sexual acts, such as fornication, incest, and yes, adultery, seem to allow for a divorce in accordance with Scripture, however, allowing for one thing (divorce) does not necessitate an allowance for another (remarriage). Much of these verses can be hard to swallow for those in second marriages or those who have been divorced, however, this should just reemphasize the importance of the bond of marriage in the eyes of the Christian and how we as believers should not enter into it without an enduring commitment to one another. Remember, there is no marriage in Heaven other than the marriage between the Church and the Lamb (see Matthew 22:23-33).

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Sinner’s Prayer: Biblical or Practical?

One of the greatest tools in modern evangelism is referred to as the Sinner's Prayer. This prayer is essentially viewed as the official mark or moment of salvation. So the question I pose is this, "Is the Sinner's Prayer supported by evidence of use in Scripture and is leading another in this prayer necessary for their actual salvation?" One problem with the concern over the Sinner's Prayer is that it causes zealous Christians who mean well to offer salvation to those who are not ready to receive it. The promise for joy and a better life sounds like a good trade just to admit that God exists and to "ask Jesus into your heart." Sadly for these new "converts," Christ tells us that there are two problems with this idea. First, just saying that you believe in God doesn't make you a Christian (Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."). Second, there are four types of responses to the preaching of the Gospel. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), Christ explains seed (the Word of God) being sown (preached) and what happens to that seed. First, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it (the response of those not understanding the Word of the Kingdom of God and the devil coming to snatch away what has been sown into the heart). Second, some seed fell among the rocky places where it immediately sprang up due to lack of depth of soil and when the sun came out scorched the plant causing it to wither away (the response of those who hear the Word and respond with joy, but upon persecution or affliction for the Word's sake they immediately fall away from the faith). Third, some seed fell among thorns and the thorns came up and choked them out (the response of those who hear the Word, but the concerns of the world choke it away to unfruitfulness). Finally, some seed fell on good soil that yielded varying multitudes of crops (the response of those who hear the Word, understand it, and bear fruit in response). All but this final response are inauthentic and do not produce true conversion to Christianity. So, if there are different responses to the preaching of the Gospel, how can we know if we are effectively producing true converts? This issue raises an argument between human responsibility (free will) and the sovereignty of God (divine election). If we can influence people to just say the Sinner's Prayer, they will be saved, right? Romans 8:29-30 tells us, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." So if God's part of the deal is to choose who to save (predestine/elect), justify those whom He saves, and ultimately glorify those whom He saves, what is our job? Matthew 28:18-20 tells us, "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Our job is to preach the Word of God in order to make new disciples, baptize those new disciples in obedience to Christ, and teach them His commands. So if our responsibility is to preach and teach the Gospel, and God's responsibility is in effecting salvation, where does free will come into play? Romans 3:10-12 gives us some insight: "as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." Here we see that our free will is to never follow God, but rather our own sinful desires. While the human capacity is freedom of choice, human depravity never chooses God. Because of this, God in His sovereignty chooses some for Himself, adding desire to their hearts that they may follow Him. We freely choose the God who has sovereignly elected us. Although the limits of the human mind find this as well as other Scriptural doctrines (e.g. the Trinity) hard to comprehend, human responsibility and God's sovereignty are both fully true and fully inseparable. So, if we know that we are individually responsible to God for not following Him, yet He has elected unto Himself some for salvation, is it truly necessary to get a person to repeat after you in order for them to be saved? Lastly, is there any Scriptural example where Christ, the Apostles, or other disciples ever instructed the necessity of praying a prayer to be saved? Granted, prayer is our means of communion with God, however, perhaps achieving another completion of the Sinner's Prayer by one to whom we are witnessing is for our comfort in winning a numbers game rather than in their best interest as to not provide a false sense of security to those who have not been converted, thus hardening their hearts against further evangelism? Just some food for thought…is God sovereign or isn't He? Has Christ lost any whom God has appointed unto Him for salvation (see John 6:37-39)? Is the Sinner’s Prayer a Biblical mandate or a mere evangelistic tradition? As an afterthought, the Biblical emphasis upon baptism confuses some into believing that it is a necessary element of salvation. Dismissing this myth, perhaps this emphasis, rather, is related to a public display of faith which has been replaced in purpose and popularity by the Sinner’s Prayer in 21st Century modern evangelism. After all, baptism is Biblically an act of obedience used by the new believer to identify with Christ.

Is Hell Reasonable?

People seem to have a big problem with Hell. The question usually goes like this, "How can a loving God send people to Hell?" There are a few points one must understand in order to tackle this question. First, Hell was not created for man, but for Satan and the demons (Matthew 25:41, "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;). Secondly, God does not actively "send" anyone to Hell (Romans 9:22, "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?"). The Greek word for "prepared" in this verse, katartizo, is used in a passive word voice. This means that the vessel is being acted upon. For example, passive word voice in a sentence would be used as, "The boy was hit by the ball." We would not blame the ball, but rather understand that the boy is just the receiver of the action. The same is true of those who are destined for Hell. God does not choose them for Hell (2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."), but rather they go willingly as God allows them their own choice in rejecting Him (Romans 1:28, "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper"). Lastly, Heaven is not somewhere that those destined for Hell would want to be anyway. What I mean here is that Heaven will be a place of continual worship of the Lord (Revelation 4:8-11, Revelation 5:11-14, and Revelation 7:9-12 are just some of the examples of angels, elders, beasts, creatures, and multitudes [essentially everything and everyone] continually worshipping God). It's not hard to make sense of the fact that if a man is not willing to worship God for his few years here on earth, there's no way he would ever be willing to worship Him forevermore. Considering these three points: Hell was created for Satan and the demons, God does not actively send people to Hell, and Heaven being an eternal place of worshipping God (a hell to those who are unwilling to even do that here on earth), it is a fair response to assess that Hell is reasonable as it relates to a loving God.