Every spirit is winged; so it is with angels, so it is with demons. Thus in a moment they are everywhere; all the world is to them one spot; what is being done, and where, it is easy for them to know as to tell. Their swiftness passes for divinity, because their real nature is unknown. So they sometimes wish to appear as doing what they merely report; and they obviously are at times the authors of mischief but never of good.
Tertullian, Apology, 160-220 AD, XXII, 8 (Loeb Classical Library, Tertullian and Minucius Felix, G. P. Goold, translated T. R. Glover, Harvard University Press, 1931, p. 121)
Is this true? What perspective does it give us on demons? Are there real events it helps to explain?
Scripture pictures growth in Christ as a process that covers all of life (Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Ephesians 2:10). This is a result of God working in the life of every believer (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But it is easy to want some kind of shortcut to produce instant spirituality. And many of the divisions between Christians, either formal or informal, result from these shortcuts. Frequently there is the idea that someone cannot really live for God or serve Him if they do not adopt our shortcut. There may even arise the idea they are not really saved if they do not adopt it. Now we are saved by faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), who died to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Now the Bible makes it clear that not everyone who professes to be a Christian, and certainly not everyone who calls themselves a Christian in some broad sense, is necessarily saved (Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 2:19; 2 Corinthians 13:5). But it is dubious to use this truth just to promote our favorite shortcut.
There are two problems with shortcuts. They can produce pride in those who believe they have successfully used the shortcut. It also encourages them to look down on others who do not accept their shortcut. This results in the tendency to division and trust in our own wisdom found in the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). There will always be disagreements among Christians as to what the Bible teaches. But making those opinions the basis for God's working in the life of the individual makes reconciliation and working together more difficult. This attitude also encourages complacency. If my shortcut means I have arrived spiritually, I have less motivation to press on to grow in Christ.
Or these shortcuts can produce discouragement for those who have tried them and found them not to work as advertised. This can result in guilt and nagging questions. We can ask things like, Did I do it right? Am I really a Christian if it does not work for me? Do I not have enough faith? and similar things. If this shortcut is made a matter of prescribed teaching in the church we are in, it means we have to leave that church if we reject it. This can result in significant inner turmoil and may result in desperate action of some sort. All the while we have had something foisted on us that will not work. We need to stick to the straight way and avoid the shortcuts.
Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"
Satan is the
father of lies (John 8:44). Nowhere does this show up more than in how
he pictures himself and his minions. Much of what people think they know
about Satan and his demons comes not from Scripture but from sources
like Hollywood and Medieval tradition. One of Satan's chief ploys is,
of course, to convince us he does not exist. But the other false
pictures can contribute to this by saying if we cannot believe in them,
we cannot believe in him.
of Satan's other strategies is to portray himself as more powerful than
he actually is. This worked very effectively in the Middle Ages,
producing great fear and ultimately encouraging people to lash out at
those who were in some way painted as Satan's agents. Today in many
forms of media we have the demonic shown as powerful, and good as
marginal and barely competent. This need not involve direct reference
to demons but to other powerful supernatural beings. It can end up
making evil look empowering and liberating and good as hopeless. If
Satan can even get well-intentioned people to feel overwhelmed and
helpless, he has won a victory. But Scripture teaches he is a defeated
foe (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4), who should treated with caution but
not cowered before (1 Peter 5:8,9; Ephesians 6:10-13).
opposite move, though, is to picture himself in a crude, simplistic
way--even a silly way. He becomes the guy in red tights with horns and a
tail or the blatant huckster who forthrightly asks, "Want to sell your
soul?" If this does not get people to dismiss the whole thing as silly,
it presents evil as obvious and easily avoided. It also can cause
people to see demonic forces as easily dealt with and their plans as
easily foiled. Even the common idea (which has no basis in Scripture)
that Satan and his minions are currently torturing the lost in hell can
make it seem he is off the scene on earth. But Scripture pictures him
as a clever schemer who can disguise himself and his followers as
promoters of good (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2:11) and who is in control
of this present world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15). We need to
be careful of underestimating Satan, but should trust in God's power to
deal with him (James 4:7). But we also need to avoid taking Satan's
pictures of himself as the truth.
What does it mean to love one's country? Is a Christian obligated to do this? How should we go about it? Now it is clear we are to be subject to the governing authorities, to obey the law and pay taxes (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Matthew 22:15-22). We are also told there is a place where we must serve God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29; Daniel 3:16-18). There is also a Biblical precedent for rebuking those in authority (2 Samuel 12:1-14; 1 Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 14:1-12). But steering a course between these duties is more complicated.
The Scriptural concept of love is a love that loves, not based on what someone does for us, but even in spite of it (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:9-21; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). This is the kind of love God has for us (1 John 4:7-11; Romans 5:6-8; Philippians 2:5-11). Now while Scripture commands us to love all people (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8), it also leaves room for special relationships (1 John 4:20,21; Ephesians 5:22-6:9; 1 Peter 3:1-7). The love here is a love based on the relationship, not the person meriting it. While it is not specifically mentioned, patriotism would seem to fall into this category. It is a love of your home because it is your home, not necessarily because it merits it.
This is important. If you love your country because it is your country, you can still see its faults. You can also work to change those faults and do it with love and respect. As G. K. Chesterton points out, the only way to really change something is to love it for itself and not its merit. If you take the attitude that my country can do no wrong, you cannot see the faults in order to change them. But if you jump to the opposite view of only seeing the faults, you can end up wholly hostile and unable to care enough to make positive change. We see both these attitudes reflected today in the United States, and they frequently end up at loggerheads. But if you love your country because it is your country, you can avoid the extremes and appreciate the good aspects of it without ignoring the faults. Also, you can understand and respect the fact that other people love their countries also. There may be some countries that are so oppressive the only loving thing to do is to try to change them. But if you love your country because it is your country, you will be less likely to jump to the conclusion things need to be changed when they do not. It is only the person who loves their country who can see clearly enough to correct its faults with respect.
Prayer is that postern gate which is left open even when the city is straitly beseiged by the enemy; it is that way upward from the pit of despair to which the spiritual miner flies at once when the floods from beneath break forth upon him.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, The Treasury of David, Psalm 18:6 (Hendricksen Publishers, Volume 1, Part 1, p. 239)
What things could help us put a higher value on prayer? How can we grow stronger in our prayer life?
It is common for those who oppose Christianity to bring up the Inquisition and other questionable things done in the name of Christ. Now I do not want to excuse this type of behavior, but we need to ask what it proves about the truth of Christianity. Christians believe all human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Further, not everyone who professes Christianity is a genuine Christian (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 3:17-19), and those who are are still imperfect in this life (Philippians 2:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17). But we need to look more closely at the issue.
There is a natural tendency for human beings to impose their viewpoints on others by force. This is not limited to Christians or religious people. The Communists did it with atheism and made the Inquisition look like pikers by comparison. Nor is it limited to to narrow-minded people. The Roman Empire was extremely broadminded regarding belief in whatever god you chose, and it is questionable that many among them took their gods very seriously. But they persecuted Christians for being narrow-minded and not going along with the accepted religious practices. Now every system of belief holds that following its dictates is the best thing for the individual and society. However, when a system comes into political power it will inevitably face opposition from those of differing viewpoints. What is worse, it will face defections from those who claim the same viewpoint but differ in some substantial way. There is then a strong temptation for people with generally good intentions to use political force to forward their agenda. Even those systems starting out with convictions in favor of toleration can be sucked into this type of action in order to prevent what they have worked for from being overturned. I grew up in the 1960s, when there existed a counter-cultural movement that took its stand on freedom and characterized those who opposed it as fascists. Now the adherents of this philosophy are advocating imposing political correctness and punishing hate crimes.
Also, once a viewpoint has been in power for a time it becomes a vested interest and people support it, not because they necessarily care about the viewpoint itself, but because their power and position depend on it. Also, anything of value in a society can become a excuse for those who want to do something shady. If you want to enslave people and steal their gold, you do it in the name of whatever your society values. How does Christianity stack up on this? We started with the idea of toleration and held onto it even after we came into power. But slowly over time we were drawn into the idea of using political power to further our beliefs. But there were those among us, even before the advent of modern secular society, who opposed the idea. We certainly cannot claim innocence in this regard, but we also are not the worst offender.
What then do we do about this? What we need to do is each look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, do I believe in using force to impose my beliefs? If you say yes, your only problem with the Inquisition is the question of what beliefs should be imposed. If you, as I hope, say no, then you need to oppose this approach for all beliefs, starting with your own. But using this as a basis to throw rocks at other people's beliefs just muddies the issue.
Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"
Where do we get the power to do God's work in the world? An
interesting example was the story of King Saul. Saul needed God's
empowerment for his new role as king. Samuel the prophet told him what
he needed to do. He was to go to the oak of Tabor and meet three men,
one with three kids, one with three loaves, and one with a jug of wine,
and they would give him two loaves of bread. Then he was to go the hill
of God, where the Philistine garrison was, and meet a group of prophets
playing musical instruments. Saul did so, and the Spirit came upon him
mightily (see 1 Samuel 10:1-13). Now no one today, or even in the past,
has held that this is the standard way to obtain God's empowerment to
serve Him. But the point is that Saul did what God had told him to do,
and God gave him the needed power through the Spirit. The way to have
God's power is to do what He has you in particular to do; there is no
Also, God gives a new empowerment
to face new situations. Peter and John were faced with the need to
confess their faith to the very men who had put Jesus to death, and
Peter was filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8). Now Peter had been among
those who had been filled at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). I see no reason to
believe he had lapsed into some form of carnality since then. But God
gave Him a new filling to meet the new situation, and then also gave
later a new empowerment for the body as a whole (Acts 4:31). Also Saul,
who was to become the Apostle Paul, was filled with the Spirit at
conversion (Acts 9:17), but was later filled again to deal with the
challenge of an evil magician (Acts 13:9). Therefore, I would conclude
that as we obey God, He will give us the empowering to meet the
situation we are in.
Now I do believe that the Holy
Spirit is at work within all genuine believers (2 Corinthians 3:18;
Philippians 2:13) and He will empower them to minister as He wills (2
Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10). So as we obey Him (Galatians 5:16;
Colossians 2:6,7) and trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2), He
will provide us with the power we need when we need it. But He will do
it according to His plan, not ours.
In the journeys of Odysseus in Greek myth, he is required to travel between Scylla and Charybdis without getting too close to either. The one is a monster that snatches men from his boat, the other is a monster that creates a whirlpool. In the Christian life I am convinced there are two dangers that act the same way. They are legalism and mysticism.
Legalism says that the chief way we commend ourselves to God is by keeping the rules. The assumption is we are fully capable of doing this .Those who follow this frequently end up making more rules than God really commands. In fact, they often end up emphasizing these new commands over God's. This results in building up an outward appearance of righteousness and ignoring what is in the heart. This perspective can add Biblical teaching as one more commandment we are required to keep. This can result in the situation where we are required to believe the following list of things, but never really understand them. This can become the enemy of understanding, for we dare not examine these truths too carefully or we might end up questioning them.
The mystic, however, focuses on experience. The concept is that the way to know God is to have an experience of Him. This can often lead to more and more complicated methods designed to produce or sustain experience. It can also lead to a treadmill of diminishing returns, which requires some new and better experience to produce the same response in us. Also, it is possible in pursuit of experience to put aside God's teachings and God's commands, perceiving them as of little importance as long as we can maintain the experience. But experience is frequently fleeting and not a solid foundation to build your life on.
The Scripture starts from a different position. The issue is not what we do or what we feel, but what God has done. God has invaded history (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21) in order to offer salvation to those who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Galatians 3:6-9). This results in God working in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29), producing a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:12-14). It also results in our knowing God (Philippians 3:8-11; John 17:3; Hebrews 8:10-12), which produces a new experience of life (1 Peter 1:8; Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22,23). But these are grounded in the historical fact of God invading history. And it is only on the basis of this that we can navigate by the fixed star of God's truth and pass between the extremes of legalism and mysticism. But it is easy to forget what our faith is based on and get off track. Therefore, we need to constantly remind ourselves of what God has done (2 Peter 1:9; Colossians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Differently to be admonished are the forward and the faint-hearted, For the former, presuming on themselves too much, disdain all others when reproved by them; but the latter, while too conscious of their own infirmity, for the most part fall into despondency. Those count all they do to be singularly eminent; these think what they do to be exceedingly despised, and so are broken down to despondency.
Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Pastoral Rule, Part III, Chapter VIII (The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume XII (Part 2), Second Series, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by James Barmby, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997, p. 29)
How can we avoid being these types of people? How do we deal with them?
We live in a supernatural world, one where God can intervene. It goes beyond particular questions, such as the continuation of spiritual gifts, to affect our general approach to life. It is easy to see the supernatural as something that happened a long time ago but has no effect on us now. To live our lives based on our own natural understanding and abilities. To see God as saving us and then leaving us on our own to cope with life until He comes back. While those who take the Bible seriously will not openly espouse such ideas, it is easy for them to find a lodging in the back of our minds and hearts. We look to our own resources to live for God. We look to our organizational abilities to accomplish God's work. We see everything as depending on us, which leads to pride or discouragement. Now I am not suggesting that we shouldn't work or that we should work with sloppiness and inattention. But I am suggesting that if we take the burden of living for God or doing God's work on our own shoulders, we will be crushed under the load.
In contrast, we can see the supernatural as something we tap into and control. We can see it as a place for the favored few who manage by the right formula to attain it. This can make God's power a kind of magic that we control. We will believe we can expect supernatural intervention on a regular basis in the way we want it to happen. This too can lead to pride or discouragement, depending on whether we conclude that we have reached that realm or fall short. And living in light of the supernatural is something that is reserved for those who manage to attain it.
But the Bible says God is at work in all His people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). It also says that God is at work in all His church, accomplishing His purposes in the world (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7). Also, He has given gifts to all His people (1 Corinthians 12:4-27; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10,11). We Christians all live in the light of the supernatural. But we do not control it. It is God who controls us, working in our lives to accomplish His purposes (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). We need not not fear this, for He is a God who loves us and takes care of us (Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 6:25-34). We need to live in the expectation of God working in us, leading us and intervening on our behalf. But we also need to live with the recognition that God will often lead us through difficult times and in complicated ways (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:18). And we need to trust Him to accomplish what He wants in His own way (Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:6; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"
What is God trying to do in our lives? And why does He bring trials into
our lives to accomplish it? Part of our problem is we see God as trying
to make us nice moral people. And we tend to see ourselves as perhaps
not quite there, but close. Therefore, we can start to wonder why we
face real difficulties in our lives. We can ask if this is really
necessary. Why use the chisel when a little sandpaper will do? But God's
goal is to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30; 2
Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). Given this, we still have a long way
to go (see Matthew 5-7). Now God does work in us through His power to
produce this change (Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3). But
He also uses external circumstances to bring this about (James 1:2-4; 2
Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:6,7). Considering how far we have to go,
is it surprising He sometimes uses the chisel?
Should we be progressive or conservative? A progressive is one who thinks the latest thing or idea is the best. The conservative is for holding on to the old things that need to be preserved. But what does this really mean?
Progress seems grounded in the idea that things naturally get better over time. But what we we see is things all around us falling apart and decaying over time. Or else we see things involved in a series of cycles. An acorn becomes a tree which produces a new acorn. The only thing that fits this idea is scientific and technological progress. But progress in this area is the result of conscious and concerted effort. I see no evidence that progress in any area is accomplished without work. I also see no reason to assume that scientific and technological progress proves we are making progress in any other area. We have, after all, in the modern age seen this type of progress as the panacea for all of our problems. It seems at least possible that our concentration on progress in this area has caused us to neglect others. There is no basis for the idea that progress is natural and inevitable. Nor can we conclude that whatever is new is necessarily best.
However, just because the new is not necessarily good does not mean the old is necessarily good either. Now the old does have one advantage over the new in that it is tested over time. There are always a number of new ideas which begin to show holes or fall apart after they have been put into practice. Some may be around for a while before they begin to show cracks. But while the fact that ideas have been around for a long time may prove they are workable, that does not mean they are good. War, murder, thievery, prostitution, and tyranny have all been around for a very long time. Also, the human race shows a tendency toward inertia. We tend to follow well established customs until some disaster forces us to reconsider. Now as a Christian I am convinced that God has been dealing with humans from the beginning, and some of what has come down through the centuries reflects His principles. But I also believe we have a constant tendency to drift away from God's truth. And where we have drifted to can become the new tradition.
What then is the solution? We must weigh any idea, not based on whether it is old or is new, but whether it is true and good. We must recognize that the age of origination of an idea is no more relevant to its value than the color of a car is relevant to its mechanical condition. And it is then, as G. K. Chesterton points out, that real progress is possible. Because if you do not know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?
"God cannot be seen - he is too bright for sight; nor grasped - he is too pure for touch; nor measured - for he is beyond all sense, infinite, measureless, his dimensions known to himself alone. Too narrow is our breast to take him in, therefore we can only measure him aright in calling him immeasurable. As I feel, so will I speak; he who thinks he knows the greatness of God, makes it less; he who would not lessen it, knows it not.
Minucius Felix, ?-270 AD, Octavius, XVIII:8,9 (Loeb Classical Library, edited G. P. Goold, Tertullian and Minucius Felix, translated by Gerald H. Rendall, Harvard University Press, 1931, pp. 361,363)
Is this the proper way to view God? How would it affect our approach to Him?
Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"
We often want God to show us what His will for our lives is in detail
ahead of time. But I have found that God leads us one step at a time.
Philip was involved in a great revival in Samaria when God sent him out
into the desert to meet one man, the Ethiopian eunuch who God had
prepared to hear the gospel (Acts 8:26-40). God led Paul through
various places and forbade him to preach there until He finally told him
he was to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). But later God led Paul back
to one of the places He had originally forbidden him to go, and he
stayed there two years (Acts 19:8-10). God often leads us in ways we do
not expect, and sometimes it is not clear what He wants us to do. I know
in my own life, while there have been times when I have experienced
definite leading from the Lord, there have been many other times I was
not sure what He wanted me to do next. Many times we need to simply
trust God and wait on Him until He shows us where He wants us to go next
(Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 25:5).
Sometimes it seems that those who support traditional Christianity have been backed into a corner. People claim that, given a little while, our faith will totally pass away. Now the Bible claims that God is in control of the world (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 43:13) and those who trust in Him will be ultimately be victorious (2 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37; 1 John 5:4,5). But does that really fit with what we see in the world?
When the Roman Empire fell it was overrun by peoples who were pagans or whose beliefs did not fit in with orthodox Christianity (they believed that Jesus was not God, but just the highest created being). Also, much of the Christianity of the Empire was more of a cultural Christianity, with no deep convictions. Then a man named Patrick went back to the Irish, who had enslaved him, to tell them the truth of God. Later a man named Gregory sent an expedition to preach God's Word to the Anglo-Saxons.These people were converted and send missionaries to others and stirred up the lackadaisical Christianity back on the continent. And the situation turned around.
In the middle of the Middle Ages the Christian church was in a sorry state. It had been politicized, and the rulers put their relatives and supporters in positions of leadership in the church organization. These were often uneducated and immoral and farmed out their duties to equally unqualified minions. Further, there was an influx of Greek philosophy that threatened Christian beliefs. But individuals such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Aquinas rose to advocate a return to serious, orthodox Christianity. (I cannot endorse all the theology of these men, but they stood against greater error.) At the time of the Renaissance the leaders of the church organization had become totally corrupt, being greedy for money and embracing an immoral lifestyle. Also, once again Greek philosophy was coming back as a competitor to Christianity. Then the Protestant Reformation was started by Martin Luther to restore Christian truth and curb abuses. In the Enlightenment it looked like secularism and watered-down Christianity were going to triumph. But men like John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield started the revival movement to counteract it. (None of these movements was perfect, and each brought their own new problems, but the pattern of God's deliverance continues.)
Since then we have had various movements and controversies, but while it sometimes has been on the ropes, historic Christianity always bounces back. I grew up in the sixties, when we were worried about Communism taking over the world, with worldwide persecution of the Faith. But while it is still around, Communism is not doing so well since 1989. Now I do not want to promise anything specific, as I do not claim to understand God's plan and He often does things differently than we might expect. But we should not despair, but continue working for God's truth, knowing He is still in control.
It is evident, then, that the oldness of the letter, in the absence of the newness of the spirit, instead of freeing us from sin, rather makes us guilty by the knowledge of sin. Whence it is written in another part of Scripture, "He that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow," -- not that the law is itself evil, but because the commandment has its good in the demonstration of the letter, not in the assistance of the spirit; and if this commandment is kept from the fear of punishment and not from the love of righteousness, it is servilely kept, not freely, and therefore it is not kept at all. For no fruit is good which does not grow from the root of love.
Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 26 (The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 1st Series, Volume V, Philip Schaff, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p. 94)
Is this a legitimate distinction? If so, how does it apply in our lives?