Wednesday, September 23, 2015

No, It Really Isn't That Hard

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Wendy Davis, a Democratic politician from Texas who tried to become governor said this:

She is angry about the threat of Planned Parenthood being defunded. She thinks abortion is great. She thinks it is unfair for women to have carry children to term. 

Several thoughts went through my mind as I read this. First, the use of "literally" is like, totally, lame. 

Second, no one is forcing women into being child bearing vessels. They are born that way.  God made women to bear children. They do not enter this world with no reproductive organs and then some scientist inserts a womb. They enter this world with wombs and breasts, which are for carrying, giving birth to, and feeding children. 

Third, very few women are forced to bear children. The only exception would be a pregnant rape victim. All other women know that having sex can lead to children and they chose to do it anyway. If they don't want children then they shouldn't have sex. Typically we see in this statement by Ms. Davis the divorcing of sex from procreation. She wants to chant, "Make love, not children." The world doesn't work that way. 

Finally, is it really that hard to feed and educate a bunch of children? Raising children is hard work. But feeding them and educating them is not the most difficult part. In fact, I have never had a problem feeding or educating my children. One year I made less than thirteen thousand dollars and my children (at that time I had four) were still fed, clothed, and educated. Currently, I have nine children. My wife has not worked for money in many years. I am a pastor. In other words, I am not rich, have a lot of children, and my wife does not work. You might think I would struggle to make ends meet. But that is not the case. We feed our children just fine without using government money.  We home school our children and they regularly score above the national average on tests. In other words, I pay for my kids school and I pay for someone else's kids school. My church is kind to me, but I know that even with nine children I could feed and educate them on a lot less than what I currently make. 

Everyone does not have to do it my way, though I think you should avoid the schools of Molech. And I know there are hard cases where it is difficult to pay the bills. But most people by hard work, careful use of resources, sacrifice, and a refusal to buy everything being sold by the advertisers can feed and educate their children, even when they have a lot of them. It is getting harder to make ends meet. But that is because of all the taxes being taken from the people to fund overseas wars, public school, welfare, and Planned Parenthood. We can feed and educate our children as long the Republicans and Democrats will let us keep our money.  So the answer is not more government programs or abortion. The answer is lower taxes, hard work, and lots of little feet. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Hard Working, Theologically Sound Church That Must Repent

Ephesus was one of the more important cities in the New Testament. At various times it is associated with Paul, the apostle John, Apollos, Timothy, and Priscilla and Aquila. Paul preached there for 3 years (Acts 20:31). At least four New Testament letters are addressed to this church, Ephesians, I and II Timothy, and Revelation 2:1-7. Many commentators also believe that John's three epistles were written to the church in that area as well. Outside of these letters, Paul also wrote several letters from Ephesus(I Cor. 16:8-9). All of this paints an impressive picture of Ephesus' importance in the New Testament age.

Ephesus contained the Temple of  Diana, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple was 425 feet long and 260 feet wide. It was also a safe haven for criminals. If you committed a crime you could go there and be safe from prison. Immorality was rampant in the temple. Orgies were common place along with men who had been castrated so they could serve Diana. Ephesus also had a coliseum that rivaled the one in Rome, one of the biggest harbors in Asia Minor, and she was a major postal route where you could easily get to other cities. A large, important, sexually immoral, idolatrous city, right along a major road, with a huge harbor, and many people. It  made Paul drool with excitement (I Cor. 16:9).

Ephesus is in modern day Turkey
When we meet the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7 she is working hard for the name of Christ. The word translated "labor" in Revelation 2:2 and 2:3 means to work until one is sweating. It is used by Paul in II Timothy 2:6 to describe the "hard-working" farmer. This church is not a lazy 25 year old living in his mother's basement. She is diligent, hard working, preaching the gospel, making disciples, worshiping God, and evangelizing her neighbors. Most importantly, they do not do this for self glory, but they do it for the name of Jesus (Rev. 2:3). Their motivation was correct.

But the church at Ephesus was not just fighting the good fight. They were persevering. Lots of churches fight the good fight for a few years or maybe a couple of decades. But Ephesus had not become weary. She was pressing forward, showing patience in her labors. She did not become discouraged and give up. She did not get tired of pushing away false teachers. She did not become tired of working for the Kingdom. She was still in the fight.

The church at Ephesus had been warned by Paul that savage wolves would come in and try to destroy the flock (Acts 20:30). Therefore when we read about her in Revelation she is carefully guarding her doctrine. She "cannot bear evil men." She tests men who claim to be apostles (Rev. 2:2). She hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, a group that probably promoted idol worship and sexual immorality within the church (Rev. 2:6). Notice here that she does not just reject sin. She rejects the men who bring that sin into the body. Evil men, men living wicked lives, are cast out. False teachers, no matter how many degrees they have and what their reputation, are tested. If their doctrine is false and they are found to be liars they are rejected. (See also  II John 1:10, III John 1:9-10).

Ephesus is a hard working, theologically sound, persevering church, that is working for the name of Jesus. What could possible be wrong?

You know that feeling when Mom says, "Son you did really good on that test, but..." Or when a parishioner says, "Great sermon, but..." Well that is what Jesus does. He knows their works (Rev. 2:2) both good and bad.  Revelation 2:4 is one of the  most famous verses from Revelation. Despite all the good there is one bad thing. And it is really bad. They have left their first love.

There is some debate about what this means, but I think it refers to that affection and love the church had for Jesus and His people when they were first founded. For John love of Jesus and love the church cannot be separated (I John 3:15). I believe this church had lost her love for Jesus, that inward passion and fervor for Him that naturally leads to sacrifice for Jesus and His people. In the beginning it was not this way. Paul stayed there 3 years. They wanted to learn and grow. They hungered for the Word. They burned their pagan books in the streets no matter how much they were worth (Acts 19:19-20). They loved Paul (Acts 20:37-38). The book of Ephesians is one of the few New Testament books with no clear indication of major problems. Jesus is telling them to remember what it was like. Jesus tells them to do those works they did at the beginning (Rev. 2:5).

How did they get this way? Revelation does not tell us. But I think they were fighting many, many battles. They were trying to keep false teachers and false theology out. They had been doing this for some time and have not grown weary. They were in a horribly wicked city. They were just trying to survive. In the middle of all this, it was hard to keep one's love burning hot. Yes, they protected the members of the church at Ephesus. Yes, they were still fighting. But were they loving one another? Was their passion for Jesus clear and evident?

We might think that verses 2-3 got Ephesus out of the woods. But Jesus is clear. They must repent. This word is used 8 times in the seven letters to the seven churches. Repent or perish is one of the key messages given to these churches. If that love does not return He will come soon and take away their lampstand (Rev. 2:5). The lampstand means their standing as a church will be lost (Rev. 1:20). Jesus will take his Spirit away from them. They will stop being a city on a hill and a light to world. They will become the darkness they are trying to fight.

So What?
Churches need to test teachers, no matter what their pedigree. Just because a man claims to be an apostle or pastor or good teacher does not make him right. Members need to know God's Word and the theology taught in it so they can spot false teachers.

False teachers and wicked men should be rejected, not just their teaching. There is some truth in the phrase hate the sin love the sinner. But when it come to false teachers, liars, and men who reject apostolic doctrine they are to be shown the exit door. The only way to get rid of the sin is to get rid of the sinner.

Churches must learn to endure.  My generation is frankly awful at this. We have a hard time sticking with one wife, much less being faithful to Christ our whole lives. This carries over to churches who are faithful for a few years, but then falter. Often this comes down to a failure to pass on apostolic doctrine (II Timothy 2:2). Persevere may be the single most important message that can be given to young Christians and young churches.

Lack of love is not made up for by having solid theology. Christ our Lord perfectly modeled love and fidelity to truth. He expects his churches to do the same. A true church will not pit doctrine and love against one another. She will guard her orthodoxy. But she will also guard her heart making sure that in the midst of battle it does become hard and cold.

When we are rebuked through the Word the only option is to repent. Jesus expects his people to hear his voice and obey him. Failure to do so will end in a church being stripped of her title and left bereft of the Spirit. This is especially important for leaders in the church. We must model repentance when the Word dictates such a change.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the GardenThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A unique book for introducing children to the big picture of Scripture. I have not read any book like it. DeYoung moves from the garden to the major events in the history of Israel to Jesus to Heaven. He does all this in a book that can be read in one sitting and is packed with wonderful illustrations.

Some of my friends have disagreed with parts of it. But I am not sure I agree with any book in its entirety, especially one interpreting Scripture. DeYoung emphasizes Israel's failings. I wish he had put more time into those who were faithful in Israel. He mentions them, but then reminds us that they were sinners too. He emphasis on God's faithfulness is excellent. But at times this comes at the expense of faithful men and women throughout the history of God's people. To prove God is faithful one does not have to minimize the faithfulness of his people. DeYoung also leaves out creation, which is odd.

Still it is a great read because of its length, illustrations, the emphasis on God keeping his promises, and the way it gives kids the big picture of the Bible.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Calvin Preaches About the Sabbath

Calvin's rejection of the Sabbath as a new covenant ordinance is used by many contemporary Christians to alleviate their obligations on the Lord's Day.  The thought goes something like this: "The Sabbath ordinance from the OT has been done away with. Therefore no day is to be elevated above another. We can work and carry on commerce on any day we wish, as long as we attend a worship service at some point. And Calvin the great reformer agrees with us." Calvin's position has been the subject of much debate. Richard Gaffin thinks Calvin's position is different from that expressed in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Even if that is the case, and not all agree it is, in practice there was little difference between Calvin's position and that of the Puritans even though the theology behind the practices was not the same. This is an important point because many Christians today are not as concerned with Calvin's theology of the Sabbath as they are with finding a way to justify their own loose 21st century Sunday practices. Over at TCI, they explain why  the underlying theology is different and yet it worked out the same by looking at Calvin's view of the two kingdoms. My goal in this post is to show one example of Calvin preaching about the Sabbath and the expectations he gave to his people as he did so. Here are several paragraphs from Calvin's sermon on Deuteronomy 5:12-14 preached in 1555. He has just finished giving a long explanation of how the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and calls upon his congregation to trust in God and kill the sins in our lives. He is preaching justification by faith and sanctification in the first part of the sermon.  Then he follows with these long paragraphs that I have broken up for easier reading.
Now we must come to the second point which emphasizes that the Sabbath day was a type of civil order for the training of the faithful in the service of God. For that day was ordained in order that people must assemble themselves to hear doctrine of the law preached, to participate in the sacrifices, and to invoke the name of God. With respect to that, it applies to us as much as to the ancient people. For although the figurative aspect has been surpassed, I affirm what Paul says in the Letter to the Colossians: that nevertheless what is said of this order still applies and has it usage.
And what is this order? It is to assemble ourselves in the name of God. Indeed it is true that that must always be done, but because of our weakness, even because of our laziness, it is necessary for one day to be chosen. It we were as ardent in the service of God as we should be, it would not have been necessary to ordain one day of the week, for without a written law each would have assembled himself morning and evening in order that we might have become increasingly edified in the Word of God. And whereas we are so inclined toward evil that nothing is required to debauch us, that practice would still be necessary for us; thus we have need of assembling ourselves every day in the name of God. But what is the actual case? We see with what great pain people assemble themselves on Sunday and how necessary it is to use force to retain a large part of the world. Thus seeing such a weakness in ourselves, let us acknowledge that this order was not given solely to the Jews in order for them to have a certain day on which they might assemble themselves, but at the same time it applies to us. 
Nevertheless, we have to note that there is more and that indeed it would be a meagre thing to have a rest regarding physical activity, but not involving anything else. What is necessary then? That we should strive toward a higher end than this rest here; that we should desist from our works which are able to impede us from meditating on the works of God, from calling upon his name, and from exercising his Word. If we turn Sunday into a day for living it up, for our sport and pleasure, indeed how will God be honored in that? Is it not a mockery and even a profanation of his name? But when shops are closed on Sunday, when people do not travel in the usual way, its purpose is to provide more leisure and liberty for attending to what God commands us, that we might be taught by his Word, that we might convene together in order to confess our faith, to invoke his name, and to participate in the use of the sacraments. That is the end for which this order must serve us. 
Now let us consider whether those who call themselves Christians require of themselves what they should. There is a large group which thinks that Sunday exists for the purpose of enabling them to attend to their own affairs and for one thing and another. The rest glut themselves and are shut up in their houses because they do not dare display manifest scorn on the streets; in any case, Sunday is nothing more than a retreat for them in which they stand aloof from the church of God
Now from the foregoing we see in that attitude we hold all Christianity and the service of God. For what was given to us in order to help us approach God, we use as an occasion for alienating ourselves from him even more. And as a result we are led astray. We must recover it all. Is not such a diabolical malice in men? Would to God that we had to look hard for examples and that they were more rare. But as everything is profaned, we see that the majority hardly care about the usage of this day which has been instituted in order that we might withdraw from all earthly anxieties, from all business affairs, to the end that we might surrender everything to God. 
Here are a few other quotes from the sermon.
We no longer have this figure and shadow for the purpose of keeping a ceremony as rigid as it was under the bondage of the law. Rather its purpose is to gather us in order that according to our weakness we might be trained to devote ourselves better to the service of God, that we might have this day fully dedicated to him to the end that we might be withdrawn from the world, as we have said, that is serve us for the rest of our life. 
In order to demonstrate the liberty of Christians, the day has been changed, seeing that Jesus Christ in his resurrection has delivered us from all bondage of the law and has severed that obligation.
Here is the final section of the sermon.
It [the Sabbath] was a day of the week in which they [the Jews] were to rest, today, having understood that it was abolished with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the spiritual rest that we might dedicate ourselves fully to God, renouncing all our senses and all our affections. In addition, we have the external order-insofar as it applies to us- which exists for the purpose of enabling us to set aside our affairs and earthly business in order that, abstaining from everything else, we might meditate on the works of God and be trained to recognize the favors which God bestows on us. Furthermore, it inspires us to recognize the grace which he daily offers us in his Gospel that we might be conformed to it more and more. And when we have spent Sunday in praising and glorifying  the name of God and meditating on his works, then throughout the rest of the week, we should show that we have benefited from it.
The entire sermon is worth reading. Here is what Calvin preached to his congregation about their obligations on Sunday. Calvin expected commerce and business to cease. He expected Sunday to be entirely set aside for the worship and praise of God. He chastised those who chose to disregard the day and spend it wrapped up in earthly affairs. The lack of bondage to the Old Testament Sabbath laws did not alleviate the obligation to have one day entirely devoted to the Lord. Calvin does not have a problem with saying the Old Testament Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ and yet the New Testament saints still must gather weekly for an entire day of worship, rest, and fellowship. In practice, Geneva would reprimand and at times discipline those who violated the Lord's Day.

Sunday in Geneva did not look like the practice of contemporary Christians who spend the Lord's Day in regular business and commerce or who spend Saturday doing as they please and then show up for a 6 pm worship service so they can spend Sunday doing as they please. At times, I agree with those who think the Sunday restrictions of our fathers in the faith were too tight. However, we cannot read back into Calvin what we wished he would have said and done. Calvin did not support the Sabbath as a continuing ordinance. But one can also see, especially in his sermons, that Calvin would have considered current Sunday practices by Christians as loose and making a mockery of God and His Word.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to DieFifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking for a short book about the atonement to put on a book rack. Piper's book will fit that need. However, it is not perfect. As one reviewer said, there is a lot of overlap between the chapters. He is repetitive. Second and more glaring, though typical for Piper, he does not really bring the Old Testament into it. There is no big picture of Jesus as fulfilling the covenant or Jesus as Israel. This might be because he was trying to get at what the atonement achieved instead of what caused it. But at the least one of the reasons Christ came to die was to fulfill Scripture. This is not mentioned explicitly. His failure to incorporate OT themes and the covenant makes this book weaker. He could have taken ten of his reasons out added more OT themes and made the book a lot more robust. Still as a basic lay introduction to Christ's work it is good.

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Book Review: What is Baptism

What Is Baptism? (Crucial Questions, #11)What Is Baptism? by R.C. Sproul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid, but brief introduction to baptism with short sections on the covenant, the meaning of baptism, the mode, and infant baptism. Typical Sproul, clear without being too specific, gets his point across without being mean to those who disagree. A good little booklet to hand out to new believers.

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Book Review: 50 Crucial Questions about Manhood and Womanhood

50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great introduction to most of the main issues surrounding feminism and the church's capitulation to it. The answers are not comprehensive, but they are good and will point the reader in the right direction. The great benefit of this short book is the amount of ground the authors cover. I am not sure any reader will agree with everything. But most readers will learn something and even where they disagree will find their views challenged. It would be a good book to put on a book table or to hand to someone who is curious about the key teachings in Scripture on male female roles in the church and in the home.

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Book Review: Why Do We Baptize Infants?

Why Do We Baptize Infants? (Basics of the Reformed Faith)Why Do We Baptize Infants? by Bryan Chapell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A short, but clear introduction to infant baptism that shows the covenant background to the sacrament and why the New Testament does not deviate from that the Old Testament as regards children and their status. A good little pamphlet to hand out to new Christians or to those new to Reformed theology.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Images & the 2nd Commandment: Heidelberg Catechism~ Lord's Day 35

Our church started reciting the Heidelberg Catechism in worship this year. It has been a great way to introduce reformed theology to our congregation. Doing this year after year will give our folks good foundation of basic Biblical teaching. This Sunday in our worship we will recite Lord's Day 35 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which addresses the 2nd Commandment. Here is the 2nd Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
Here are the three questions from the Heidelberg Catechism on the 2nd Commandment:
Q 96. What is God's will for us in the second commandment.
A. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God's Word.
Q 97. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one's intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.
Q 98. But may not images be permitted in churches in place of books for the unlearned?
A. No, we should not try to be wiser than God. God wants the Christian community instructed by the living preaching of his Word—not by idols that cannot even talk. 
There several things to note from these questions and answers.

First, this is not just about images though images of God are forbidden. It is also about worshiping according to God's Word. There is a lot of debate about what the Word teaches concerning the particulars of worship especially how to apply the Regulative Principle of Worship. However, at the very least, Question 96 says our worship practices must be rooted in Scripture and not the tradition or imaginations of men.

Second, images of creatures are not forbidden. Some extreme Christian traditions have rejected all art. The Heidelberg Catechism leaves room for art of all kinds, as long as it does not become worship of any kind.

Third, the Heidelberg Catechism rightly says that images set up to worship are dumb idols. God's people cannot be taught by dead images. They are to be taught by the lively preaching of the word. One of the  key recoveries of the Reformation was the priority of the preached word in worship.

Are pictures of Jesus forbidden? This is often debated. G.I. Williamson says that pictures of Christ are forbidden because Jesus is God. I believe this was the majority report in the Reformed tradition, but is currently in the minority. Kevin DeYoung says pictures of Jesus are fine, but he urges caution, which would probably be my stance. I did not watch The Passion of the Christ because I did not want the movie running through my mind when I read the crucifixion accounts. Also there are so many bad pictures of Jesus it might be worthwhile to ban them just so Christians will stop embarrassing themselves. Pictures like the one below do not help our cause.

What specifically is forbidden by this commandment? Artwork of any kind that depicts the invisible God and yes that means the Sistine Chapel is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. Any images, statues, paintings, pictures, carvings and/or stained glass of any creatures, but especially Jesus, Bible scenes, Mary, the saints, and the cross, that are kissed, prayed to, bowed down to, meditated on, venerated, considered a pathway to God, considered sacred, or thought of as something that brings us into communion with God are forbidden.  This does not mean there can be no statues of Mary. But it does mean when people bow before it, kiss its feet, pray to it, expect to get closer to God because it is there, or surround the statue like a shrine it has become an idol. Also any other practices that are contrary to the Bible's teaching on how to worship God are forbidden.

Roman Catholic Teaching on the 2nd Commandment
Compare the Heidelberg with the statements made in the Roman Catholic Catechism sections 2129-2132. (By the way the Roman Catholics consider this part of the 1st Commandment.)
The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure...."It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. "He is the all," but at the same time "he is greater than all his works." He is "the author of beauty."
So far so good.
Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.
Ah, but then comes that pesky "nevertheless."  Three points why this does not prove that we can make images in the New Covenant. First, God commanded these Old Testament images to be made. Where in the NT are we commanded to make images of any kind? If there is no command from God to make images of Mary, Jesus, or the cross as part of our worship then we should refrain. Second, the bronze serpent shows the danger of even God ordained images. It became an idol that was worshiped (II Kings 18:4) and had to be destroyed. If an image commanded by God can become an idol how much more is that the case with images that are not commanded by Him. Third, there is no indication that any of these images were objects of worship, veneration, prayer, etc. They were symbols of God's activity and presence. But even the ark of the covenant where God actually dwelt is not the object of worship. Were the cherubim woven into the Tabernacle curtains ever prayed to? Did they bow before the lamp stand?  Did God command them to kiss the show bread? Again if images and types commanded by God were not worshiped how much more should we avoid doing so with images that are not ordained by God.
Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images.
Not sure what a "new 'economy' of images is? Here is the text from the 2nd Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be nice to see a NT text that proves this idea is Biblical. But hey, when you have tradition, who needs the Bible. Obviously the invisible God became visible through Jesus Christ. I am not sure how that gives us the freedom to make images of angels, Mary, saints, or even Jesus and use them in our worship or to try to get to God through them.  
The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. the movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.
Here is where the Reformers understood the human heart better than Roman Catholics. Is there really that much difference between adoration, worship, veneration, etc.? But even if you try to create different levels of worship in print, in real life men like to worship things even God ordained things like the bronze serpent. They want to walk by sight not by faith. Therefore this attempt is doomed from the start. People pray to/through these images, meditate on these images, find a spiritual connection in these images, kiss these images, ascend to heaven through these images, get to "God incarnate" through these images, and yet somehow they do not worship them? Somehow this looks like idol worship in every way and yet isn't? This distinction between the image and the thing the image represents and the various types of worship is splitting hairs and pastorally dangerous.

Images of God are forbidden. Images of other creatures can be made,  perhaps even Christ, but they must not be worshiped in any way. Human hearts are prone to idol worship therefore worship should be carefully guarded to prevent even the appearance of worshiping an image. There are no Biblical commands or inferences that allow us to set up images in worship or to use them to aid our worship. The key way we get to know God and His Son Christ is when the Spirit works through the preached Word while in fellowship with other living saints.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interacting with Professing Christians on Homosexuality

With all the focus on abortion, it is easy to forget that just a few weeks ago the highest court in the land ruled that every state must approve of same sex marriage. This issue may prove to more divisive in churches over the next few years than abortion. How do we approach professing Christians who disagree with us on sodomy/same sex marriage? I want to give some guidelines for how to navigate these disagreements.

Shepherd or Sheep? 
The Bible teaches that those in authority will be held to a higher standard than those who are being taught by them. James 3:1 is the classic statement on this point.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
In the Bible shepherds are rebuked for their failures to care for the sheep by teaching them truth. Israel was in danger because her shepherds were hirelings (John 10:13). The New Testament writers warned their readers over and over again about false teachers. The first question to ask when a person is soft on sodomy or is gently gliding towards "God approves of same sex marriage" is are they shepherd or sheep? We should treat shepherds and sheep differently. A false teacher must be rebuked and often with strong admonitions.  These rebukes should involve solid arguments and proof from Scripture of their errors. But eventually a true shepherd will warn the sheep to avoid these men and women (I Timothy 1:20, II Timothy 2:17-18, Titus 3:10, II John 1:10-11).

In our culture, it is not easy to separate shepherd from sheep. In the old days, it was difficult to get any traction if you did not have some type of official authority. You had to be ordained or work at a seminary or something like that. But now all you need is a keyboard and wi-fi and you too can become a teacher. It is possible for a lay person through the power of the internet to actually have more power over people than a pastor. Some examples of teachers in our culture are: pastors, elders, professors at colleges and seminaries, bloggers, writers of books, magazine articles, etc. 

Many times these people will claim to not be teachers. "I am just a blogger thinking out loud." Or "I am just a professor doing some research. I am not making any dogmatic claims." Or "I am not ordained. I am just a Christian trying to help other Christians." That is a smokescreen, a ruse to avoid real accountability. You can't write or speak exerting influence over people and trying to persuade them and then claim not to be a teacher.

Teachers who are soft on sodomy, talk in "nuance," refuse to take a stand on the issue, refuse to call those involved to repentance, or actively promote homosexuality need to be called out publicly. And no, you don't have to send them a private email first. They are teachers. They are destroying souls. They are wolves who need a true shepherd to drive them out. Shepherds, such as pastors, elders, and seminary professors are the primary ones responsible for rebuking these false teachers (Acts 20:29-30). 

Four Groups
Shepherds need to be called out and rebuked. But what about the sheep, the professing Christian sitting in the pew? Here are four different groups of professing Christians you might meet, their views/relationship to sodomy and how we should interact with them. 

First, is the apologist for sodomy. This is a professing Christian who thinks sodomy is a legitimate expression of the Christian faith and they promote this idea. This person does not have to be a homosexual nor do they have to be mean.  They are often gentle and kind. They are not always militant. But they are trying to persuade people that Jesus approves of same sex relationships. This person is a predator and should be dealt with quickly and decisively. You should not associate with this person, except to evangelize and/or rebuke them. In many ways this person is like the shepherd above. They are promoting a practice that sends people to Hell. They obviously should not be a part of your church. Bad company corrupts good morals (I Cor. 15:33). People who are proselytizing for sodomy are dangerous. 

Second, is a professing Christian who approves of sodomy but does not push the idea.  The difference between this person and the first one is the second does not promote homosexuality even though they think it is fine and may practice it. They will usually have a live and let live mentality. This person is probably not a threat to you or your family, but you still should be wary of the influence their lifestyle might have.  Many well meaning Christians have flipped on sodomy because they became friends with a homosexual and found out they were nice. You wouldn't want this second person to be a close friend. This person should not be a member of your church either. A person who approves of sodomy, even if they do not practice it, is in danger of Hell. But as long they are not ramming things down your throat you can maintain a relationship and look for opportunities to encourage them to repent of their sodomy (if they are practicing homosexuals) or to correct their thinking.

These first two groups are not Christians in any meaningful sense of the word. Paul is clear that sodomites will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9). 

Third, is the Christian who is genuinely confused by the issue. They have some sympathy for homosexuals. They do not want to be thought of as mean or unloving. But they also have reservations. They are not sure what the Scriptures teach. They know that sodomy was considered a great sin throughout most of church history. This person needs careful, patient, and clear teaching on what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. The difference between this person and the second is the firmness of their convictions. The first and second person are convinced that sodomy is fine for Christians. This third person is wavering. 

Finally, you have Christians who are refugees from the homosexual world. These might be actual homosexuals/lesbians who have left the lifestyle or folks who had bought into the lie and now are trying to get back to what the Scriptures teach. This group will swell over the next couple of decades. Churches should be prepared for a steady influx of those who are disillusioned with or broken by sodomy and the lies surrounding it. Depending upon the situation these people will need a heavy dose of Jesus, particularly the forgiveness of sins, help in overcoming bad habits, otherwise known as sanctification, lots of love, and good solid teaching over a long period of time.

A person who belongs to any of these four groups should not be a teacher or leader in the church or the church community, including the online community. Obviously, the first and second person are disqualified from teaching God's people because they believe something contrary to the Scriptures. They are false teachers. The third person is confused. There are some issues it is okay for a shepherd to say, "I am not sure about that." This is not one of them. A person who is confused about sodomy should not be teaching God's people. The fourth person could eventually become a teacher of God's people, but they would need to grow in sanctification and their understanding of God's Word before they would be qualified. It is possible they will never be qualified depending upon the circumstances.

The church needs protection from the first group.

The first and second group both need to be evangelized.

The third group needs patient teaching.

The final group need a loving church that preaches Jesus, models Jesus, and will help the person grow into Christ's likeness.

Being able to distinguish between shepherd and sheep and between these four groups will help us to effectively minister to people involved in, approving of, practicing, or coming out of homosexuality. 
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8