Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Biblical emphasis does not seem to be on more or fewer rules, but on the right rules (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18,19; Proverbs 30:5,6). While we are warned against thinking it is all right simply to ignore God's standards (Galatians 5:13; Romans 6:15-23; Matthew 5:17-20), we are also warned against inventing new rules to try to show we are more holy than others who do not have such rules (Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 14:1-6). Underlying this is an attitude of trying to please God by doing what He actually wants us to do. Not trying to cut corners and see what we can get away with or showing that we are better than others by having more rules then they do.
Also, the emphasis in Scripture is not on a checklist of external rules, but on principles and the attitude of the heart (Matthew 15:10-20; 5:21-48; John 4:20-24), the ultimate principle being that of love (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). Now there are commands that are cut-and-dried: this is precisely what God wants, and if you do not do it you are wrong. But there are other cases where we need to apply the broad principles of Scripture to the specific situation. Far from releasing us to do whatever we want, we need to deal with the complicated issues of considering our weaknesses (1 Corinthians 10:12,13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Timothy 6:11) and the effects our behavior might have on others (Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). This can lead to someone avoiding things that they consider acceptable for others. However, we should not use these principles to produce categorical rules to be imposed on others. Part of the problem is we are much more comfortable with black-and-white rules. They make it easier to judge ourselves and others. But we need to be black-and-white where God is black-and-white and to allow room for judgment where this is required. We need people who can think things through for themselves, rather then just blindly follow a rulebook.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
But what about the world of morality? If one man kills another, are we more likely to excuse him if he sincerely wanted to kill that man? Are we not more likely to see it as a mitigating circumstance if it was unintentional or done on the spur of the moment while he did not intend to do it beforehand? If a driver hits a pedestrian, are we mollified if we learn he sincerely meant to hit that pedestrian? Adolf Hitler seems to have been a very sincere individual; does that justify his actions?
Why, then, are we willing to take this idea, which makes no sense in any other situation and apply it to the worship of God? It is possible to imagine a God who does not care it you worship Him through chastity and respect for life or cult prostitution and the sacrifice of infants, but this does not seem obvious. It is conceivable to picture a God who does not care if you regard Him as perfectly holy and all powerful or as a hen-pecked husband who goes around seducing young women, but it does not appear inevitable this should be true. Certainly, this is not the God of the Bible (Isaiah 43:10,11; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Also, such a God would be impossible to obey because anything you did could be construed as obedience to Him. How would you decide what to choose? And how would you sincerely believe this was the right thing if it could just as well be something else? This, when followed consistently, must lead to insincerity, because how can you be sincere about being and doing something if you think another position, sincerely held, would be just as good. For what do we mean by sincerity if it does not mean believing that this particular view is true as opposed to some other view? The whole thing becomes a mind game that ends up justifying everyone except the person who holds it. Therefore, this viewpoint refutes itself.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
There are passages that state love is the sum of all the commandments of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). The question then comes: What is love? Now to love is to sacrifice oneself for the good of another (1 John 4:8-10; John 15:13; Romans 5:6-8). With this Dr. Fletcher, the founder of situation ethics, agrees, as would others who hold his opinions. But the question that then must be asked is: What is good? In many cases I suspect his answer is the same as that of utilitarianism, which is that good is what gives the largest amount of pleasure. It is here Scripture and this viewpoint part company. In Scripture there is an absolute standard of good that supersedes our personal desires (Titus 3:3; James 1:14,15; 1 Peter 1:14). (This does not mean that all human desires are wrong, merely that they are not to be made the standard.) This disagreement arises from conflicting ideas about human nature. The Scriptures say that we, as human beings, are in rebellion against God, and our desires in many cases are the result of that rebellion (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). While the modern idea is that people are basically good and therefore their desires are good unless they conflict with someone else's desires (or at least, who am I to question them). These lead to fundamentally different concepts of love.
The Biblical concept of love leads to a concept of commitment and responsibility and living according to principle. The modern cultural idea of love is a vague sentimental feeling that would not dream of questioning anyone or anything, except in the most extreme cases. A good illustration of this contrast is in the area of sexual morality. The Biblical standard in this area is one of lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, with responsibility being taken for the children produced by the union. The modern idea in this area is of following your impulses wherever they lead you, and that as long as what happens is between consenting adults it is okay, and that the children, if any, just have to learn to live with this. These are two totally different concepts of love, and if one is legitimate, the other is not. So when someone says the ultimate moral principle is love, you need to ask what they mean by love.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Be careful of looking for hidden meanings in Scripture and basing things on complicated calculations as opposed to the clear meaning of Scripture. Especially if the clear teachings of Scripture say otherwise (Matthew 24:36-51; Acts 1:6,7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). (See my previous post on the subject.)
Be careful of exclusively following one person, especially if they are teaching that they are the sole possessor of God's truth and everyone else is wrong. There have been cases in church history when some individual had a clearer insight into God's truth than the Christian church at large (Martin Luther comes to mind), but they were not isolated cases, but were building on and followed by others. If someone says they alone have truth, as opposed to the entire rest of the Christian church, look at them very carefully indeed before following them. It is better to be informed by a variety of teachers rather than rely wholly on one man.
Be careful who you follow.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
1. The first question we need to ask before we can evaluate this is whether there is such a thing as truth. If there is not, then nothing makes any sense. (see), (see), and (see).
2. We also need to ask if science somehow precludes the idea of supernatural intervention. But this is simply an assumption without foundation. (see), (see), and (see).
3. Then we need to ask whether the records upon which the Christian faith is based are reliable or whether they have been corrupted over time. The actual evidence, apart from speculation, is in their favor. (see), (see), and (see).
4. Also, we have to deal with the idea that someone deliberately altered what Christianity is. And this does not stand up to examination. (see), (see), and (see).
5. Further, the idea that Christianity grew up slowly over time or changed from its original set of beliefs does not fit the facts or the context it appeared in. (see), (see), and (see).
6. We are then faced with dealing with the reliability of the accounts and what they maintain. (see), (see), and (see). While those who refuse to even consider such possibilities will not be convinced, I conclude there is a real basis for the Christian faith.
Ultimately, we are left face to face with the person of Christ and must ask who we believe He is (Matthew 16:15). How we answer that is the basis for deciding the truth of Christianity. How do you answer this question?
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Now one argument against the gospel accounts is the similarity of those accounts. But in the ancient world it was considered proper to repeat a story as it was generally told. We see this in the similarities of Samuel and Kings with Chronicles in the Old Testament. The Roman historians followed the same sort of pattern. But the gospels were not simply copied, but show many differences in details. This argues that they had a definite degree of independence. There is also archeological and historical evidence from the time confirming the accounts. Further, the accounts frequently portray the later "heroes" of the church in an uncomplimentary light.
According to the New Testament and tradition, the original founders of Christianity suffered severely, to the point of being put to death. Even if you discount these, within about thirty years of the founding of the Christianity people were being put to death by Nero for being Christians. Now this does not prove that Christianity is true, but it does show that the people involved believed what they were saying. It tells against any kind of conspiracy theory. Particularly since it is unclear what the conspirators thought they would get out of it. Even if the apostles somehow escaped, how did they manage to convince other people in such a short period of time to die for this belief? Also relevant here is Chuck Colson's objection. He was involved in the Watergate scandal, and he asked the question: If a small group of people with all the power of the presidency, in no danger of their lives, could not keep the Watergate break-in secret, how could these powerless people, in constant danger of death, manage it?
Some have claimed the gospels were originally novels. But would anyone get so confused as to die for a novel? Or if written after the persecution started, would anyone write a novel, knowing it could get them and anyone who read it killed? It could be claimed that the whole thing was based on the wishful thinking of the immediate followers of Jesus, similar to appearances of Elvis. This might work for the disciples, but how would they convince others? Can you imagine belief in Elvis becoming a major faith and ultimately taking over our society? We are then left with the conclusion that the writers of the New Testament were honest men, reporting what they saw or what they heard from others who saw. And we need to decide how we will respond to this.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
A teacher is required to communicate all of God's truth to his hearers (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Matthew 28:18-20). But there is a tendency to limit ourselves to what is regarded as practical. This ends up emphasizing our works rather than God's grace. Now these may be rigid, legalistic works or kind, loving works but they are still works. Works have a place in the Christian life (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; John 14:21). But they need to be seen within the context of God's grace and love for us (Romans 5:1,2; 8:15; 1 John 4:9,10). Who God is and what He has done fall into the area normally classified as doctrine. But this is important in order that Christianity may maintain its real identity and not degenerate into simplistic moralism. Christianity is not about a bigger, better Law, but the fact that God intervened in history to destroy sin and death (Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13-15; Ephesians 2:8,9). Now when we deal with doctrine, there are a number of disputes that have arisen over more minor issues. In my opinion, many of these have been blown out of proportion and need to be put in perspective. But whatever their importance, they should be taught clearly. They should not be made the province of scholars, but taught to all believers. I do not in any way want to minimize the contribution of the great teachers and scholars of God's Word, whether past or present. But the calling of a teacher is to pass on what he knows, not to hoard it. There is not one truth for the layman and another for the scholar. The total truth of God should be taught to all.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
The reason we cannot embrace it wholeheartedly is that if we do, sooner or later we get to the question of the authority of Scripture (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Psalms 12:6,7). Further, if we throw out the authority of Scripture we are left with a vague, watered-down Christianity which is practically meaningless. But if we go to Scripture, we find it advocates other authorities (Hebrews 13:17; Romans 13:1-7; Ephesians 5:22-24; 6:1-3). However, it also puts limitations and restrictions on these authorities (1 Peter 5:1-4; Proverbs 14:34; Ephesians 5:25-31; 6:4). More importantly, Scripture states that there is a point where we must serve God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29; Daniel 3:17,18) and that we must test all things by Scripture (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20). Further, Scripture provides a basis for correcting those in authority if they are out of line (2 Samuel 12:1-14; 1 Kings 21:17-26; Galatians 2:11-16).
Now to reject all authority leads to anarchy, which the most superficial observation of history shows is always destructive. It also leads to tyranny, because when you are living in anarchy you are willing to accept any dictator who will restore order. Nor does this work out much better in our personal lives. You see, it really is not possible for every person to be totally original. In fact, I suspect there are only a small number of basic approaches to life that are endlessly recycled. Therefore, if people throw out all reasonable authorities they are left to follow trendsetters (celebrities, entertainers, merchandisers, and the like) whose distinctions tend to be superficial at best. But behind these, there is normally some philosophical or scientific theory which, to be consistent, should also be questioned. The irony is that to really rebel against an authority you need another authority to base it on. Therefore, you are merely trading one authority for another. In the 1960s, that new authority was most often Marxism, one of the most authoritarian forms of government on the planet.
The question then is not whether we will have an authority (we will), but what authority. In this I would advocate Christianity as a concept that provides authority, but also provides a basis by which the particular authorities can be questioned if they are out of line. There are other possible authorities that would also make such claims, and they need to be evaluated as to whether they are true. But the most dangerous authority is one that works behind the scenes and does not show its true colors and so cannot be questioned. Therefore, we need to question authority, not to throw out every form but to decide which is best. Otherwise we could be saddled with whatever sneaks in the back door.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Another similar trick is to change the meanings of words from their ordinary meaning to a specialized one. Now again, there can be an appropriate place for this. There can be contexts in which giving a word a specialized meaning to serve a special purpose can clarify things. (For instance, the word "saved" has a specialized meaning in a Christian context, but it is useful if understood.) But this procedure can also be used to confuse the issue. Take the current use of the word "tolerant" in a way different from, and even in conflict with, its tradition meaning. "Toleration" has traditionally meant trying to get along with people you disagree with. Today it has become a basis for suppressing those who have differing opinions.
Even better as a veil is the use of words, often even simple words, in a vague mystical fashion that avoids any precise meaning. Broad words such as "life," "love," and "freedom" can often be used in this way. When a word eludes all attempts to pin it down, it often fits in this category. Sometimes these vague ideas can be personified to almost imply a real purpose involved (such as life fighting its way up from amoeba to man) when there is none.
The conclusion here is: Be careful of being impressed or swayed by complicated words and fancy rhetoric. A good question to ask is, "What does that mean in plain English?" If it cannot be put into simple language, it could be it is because it has no real meaning. If it sounds like it makes no sense, it could be because it does not. One thing I have always found helpful here is teaching children. If you cannot explain your theology to a 3rd or 4th grader, you do not really understand your theology. Or perhaps it does not make that much sense in the first place. Also, as Christians we are commanded to observe straightforward honesty (1 Thessalonians 2:4,5; Ephesians 4:14,15; Matthew 5:33-37), so we should speak the truth of God in its simplicity (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). And we should use care not to be taken in by the outward appearances of words.