Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who Is in Charge?

Who is in charge in the Christian church? The obvious answer is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Timothy 2:5). Also, the standard on which we are to base what we do is the Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9; Acts 17:11). But that still leaves the question of what is the place for human leadership. There are those who exalt human leadership to the point that it conflicts with the authority of Christ and of the Scripture. There are others, in response to this, who leave little or no place for human leadership in the church. How are we to approach this issue?

Scripture does call for and command subjection to human leadership (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17). Now this leadership is to be servant leadership (Luke 22:25-27; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 13:1-20), and there comes a time when we must obey God rather then men (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Galatians 2:11-16). But while the leaders of the church are to meet certain qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), what determines who may possess this role?

One way to approach it is to see a special authority passed down by organizational continuity. The idea is that an unbroken chain of ordination guarantees the validity of the position being held. But this is not taught anywhere in Scripture. In fact, the disciples are rebuked for criticizing a man who is doing good in the name of  Christ but not following them (Mark 9:38-41). The one passage most commonly used to support this view proves the opposite (Matthew 16:13-20). This statement is not made of Peter based on who ordained him, but based on his confession of faith. Therefore, those who have the faith of Peter have the authority of Peter. This same statement is later made to all the disciples (Matthew 18:18-20). (Note that it is those who have faith who have literally the "authority" to become children of God in John 1:12.) It should be noticed that while this passage is frequently applied to prayer, its most direct application is to church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17), doing the work of the church. But this authority is not an arbitrary authority, but is based on the recognition of Christ in our midst. In the same way Jesus, centering the authority in Himself, commands the eleven disciples (note it mentions their place as His students, not their office) to make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, while we should be subject to leaders, we should beware of those who claim some special authority based on something other then the agreement of the people of God. (I do not know that this necessarily requires voting, but it is at least a tacit agreement.) But we also should not ignore the requirement to be subject to leaders, rebelling against everything we do not like. And both leaders and congregation should not emphasize what they want, but should look to Christ, who is the real authority.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Call

How do we tell if something is really God's calling? Is there a way to avoid making a mistake one way or the other?

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Justin Martyr

And to any thoughtful person would anything appear more incredible, than, if we were not in the body, and some were to say that it was possible that from a small drop of human seed bones and sinews and flesh be formed into a shape such as we see? For let this now be said hypothetically: if you yourselves were not such as you now are, and born of such parents and causes, and one were to show you human seed and a picture of a man, and were to say with confidence that from such a substance such a being could be produced, would you believe before you saw the actual production? No one will dare to deny that such a statement would surpass belief. In the same way, then, you are now incredulous because you have never seen a dead man rise again.

Justin Martyr, 100-165 AD, First Apology, Chapter XIX (The Apostolic Fathers  with Justin and Irenaeus, translated by Philip Schaff, Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 223)

While Justin's science was a little off, does his argument basically make sense? Is it helpful?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Secrets of the Knights Templar

There are many who claim to have found some mysterious secret about God or ultimate truth. Some lost to the ages and now perhaps only recently found by them or the group they represent. This is not a new idea, but part of a pattern that goes back to ancient times. But it is hard to fit this approach in with Biblical Christianity and the One who said He did nothing in secret (John 18:20,21). Yet there are continuously those who try to fit the two together. One example of this is the attempt to read things into the story of the Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar were a special fighting monastic order created to defend Palestine at the time of the Crusades. When Palestine was lost, they continued as an order in hopes of one day regaining it. But they were abolished based on charges brought by Philip the Fourth, King of France. This event has led some to claim there was a mysterious secret belonging to the Templars that King Philip abolished the order to destroy. But is there evidence for this? The Knights Templar were accused of worshiping an idol called Baphomet, cursing the cross, homosexual activity, and sexual activity with demons. None or this seems to reflect any kind of coherent philosophy or alternate form of Christianity. It also is not believable (even leaving aside the sexual relations with demons). These things were claimed to be in the initiation rites into the Templars. We are to assume young men wanting to enlist in the Crusades would all easily agree to such things and no one would blab. Also, Baphomet was a European distortion for Mohammed, who, it was claimed, the Muslims worshiped. Given it was a slander that Muslims worshiped Mohammed, it is not possible that the Templars picked it up from them. The only evidence for this was confessions elicited by torture, many of which were later retracted. All this ends up looking like an attempt by King Philip to confiscate the Templar's holdings (rumored to be very considerable). King Philip took a similar approach toward Pope Boniface VIII, who had opposed him, by claiming the pope had been involved in magic and summoning demons. These accusations helped lay the foundation for the later witch hunts. There was no real basis for the charges against the Templars, let alone a dangerous secret they held.

This is an example of the kind of approach that looks for mysterious secrets where there are none. It is better to stick with the clear, open form of Christianity, rather than looking for such mysteries. Is it really possible that the true meaning of Christianity had somehow been passed down secretly only to emerge without solid evidence at a later date? And is it not better to look to the open testimony of history to decide  what Christianity is?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do You Have to Be Crazy to Be a Charismatic?

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Do you have to be crazy to be a charismatic? Or does it just help?  Let's look at the issues involved.

The idea that certain spiritual gifts have passed away has no solid basis in Scripture, and we are told not to forbid people to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). (I know it is claimed that modern tongues are not real tongues,  but would God command not to forbid something that is about to pass away?)  Now there are rules laid down for the use of the gifts (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).  However, the description given is fairly informal. We are instructed not to all talk at once and not to do things, such as speaking in tongues without an interpreter, which are not understandable.  But we need to be careful of  looking down on something because it is not dignified enough (2 Samuel 6:20-23).  Also, the fact a gift is misused does not mean it is not legitimate. 1 Corinthians 12-14 was written to check the misuse of spiritual gifts. (Note that Paul was not shy, and if the gifts being used were largely counterfeit, we would expect him to say so.)

There is an emotional aspect to our response to God's truth.  We are to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), we are to have peace (John 14:27); even faith, hope, and love have emotional components (1 Corinthians 13:13).  But what is appropriate and what is overboard?  Now I am hesitant to criticize other people's spiritual experiences, if they do not result in false teaching or disobedience to God's commands.  But it is when people pursue experience rather then pursuing God and hold up their experience as necessary for everyone that it creates problems.

Scripture speaks of people being overwhelmed by the greatness of God (Daniel 10:8-12; Acts 9:3-9; Isaiah 6:1-5).  I myself have felt the Spirit fall so powerfully I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  But I have never fallen over backwards nor felt that God wanted me to.  I do not feel I can discount this in all cases as a genuine spiritual experience, but I see no Scriptural basis for requiring it.  I have known cases where God's truth has come home to me in such a powerful way I ended up crying or laughing .  I am not at all sure this is the same as "holy laughter".  As for "holy drunkenness," I do not think this is what Acts 2:13 means.  Further, regarding rolling in the aisles, barking like a dog, or roaring like a lion, I do not see a Scriptural or rational basis for these.

But the basic problem is that certain spiritual gifts and emotional experiences are seen as showing a higher level of spiritual life in those who have them.  This is contrary to Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 12:28-30; Romans 12:3), which says God is at work in all His people to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Will Build My Church

Christ has said He will build His church (Matthew 16:18). But what does that mean? It means that Christ is at work in the lives of each of His people to accomplish His purposes (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29). It means that God has put His people together, giving each one a place and function to work together to build up the whole (1 Corinthians 12:11-27; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-5). Further, it is God's work to bring people to see their need of Christ and become part of His church (1 Corinthians  3:6,7; Acts 2:47; 13:48).

Now I do not in any way want to deny the obligation for us to be involved in building one another up (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Hebrews 10:24,25) or to proclaim God's truth to those who need to hear it (Romans 10:14,15; 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:18-20). But the question I have to ask is, what are we trusting in to accomplish this? Are we trusting in God and His power (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:27)? Or are we trusting in our planning and our programs and our abilities and our organization (Zechariah 4:6; Isaiah 31:1; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5)? There is a thin line here. I do not in any way want to discourage  industry or creativity or imagination in doing the work of God. But when we start relying on these to do God's work, it can produce a kind of desperation, where we see God's work as falling on our shoulders and the continuance of Christ's church as dependent on our efforts. This can cause people to go to greater and greater extremes, hoping to find the one right way to make God's work prosper. Also, when someone feels they have found the right way to make things work, it can produce pride (Proverbs 16:18) and promote division from those who advocate another solution (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).

One thing that makes this worse is the fact that western civilization in general seems to be turning away from Biblical truth. I am not sure this is entirely a bad thing, as I expect that much nominal Christianity of the past has been a superficial faith that results from simply conforming to the culture and has had little reality to it. But it is true that to maintain a Christian faith today requires a deeper commitment to go against the cultural flow. This also does not seem to me necessarily a bad thing. But good or bad, I do not see any quick fix to bring us back to where we used to be. Now I do not in any way want to oppose solid, responsible efforts to reach people for Christ and impact our culture with His truth. But we do need to trust that God is in control of our lives and the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). And we need to put aside the panaceas that so often backfire and do not accomplish their purpose.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Sound of Worship

How important is it to orchestrate every aspect of the worship service? When does this become manipulation? Where is the right balance?

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Weight of Glory, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Harper Collins Publishers, 2001, p. 26)

Is this a true description of us? How can we change?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Great Divide

What is the problem we as Christians have in reaching unbelievers? Is the problem that we are not relevant and are not meeting people where they are? Now Scripture does talk about meeting people where they are, and I am convinced there is a place for that (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). But there is a danger here of going too far and becoming conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2). Also, the Gospel is a stumbling block, and we cannot expect people necessarily to accept it just because we present it in a way they understand (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). But I am convinced the more basic issue is the issue of self-righteousness. We forget that we are sinners saved by grace and see ourselves as upright, respectable people, who have it all together.

Scripture makes it clear that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) who are saved by God's grace apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6). This salvation should result in a change in behavior (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). But this change is imperfect in this life (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:25), and we need to continually return to the grace of God (Romans 8:33,34; 2 Peter 1:9; 1 John 1:9). We need to remember this so that we do not fall into the Pharisees' attitude of feeling we are superior to others (Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10).

Now there is a very careful balance here; we do not want to condone evil (Ephesians 5:11; Jude 22,23; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Also, if we simply conform to the world, we have nothing to offer anyone. But we need to avoid the pride which makes us refuse to reach out to people. This is often made more difficult by our current cultural stance of advocating and approving sin. (This can be particularly difficult for older people or those brought up in Christian homes who were raised with a deep aversion to behaviors now considered acceptable.) But we need to remember that we are sinners saved by God's grace and that Christ came to seek and save the lost. It can be a difficult course to navigate, with dangers on every side. But the most dangerous condition is when we feel no struggle. This means that we have totally compromised with the world or have become totally indifferent to those who need God's salvation. Rather, we must take the hard course in between. Also, while there is a danger in reaching out to people in their sin, it is clear disobedience not to try. But to try to be relevant and conform to people's wishes is even more dangerous, because it is even easier to cross the line without knowing it. But it is not Scriptural to hide out in a safe Christian environment and refuse to extend a hand to those who need a Savior.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Defense of Ritual

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Are rituals in the church a good or a bad thing?  The Old Testament is full of rituals, but the New Testament puts the emphasis on worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  But this shift to heart attitude rather than rigidly prescribed ceremonies does not mean no ceremonies are appropriate (note baptism and the Lord's Supper).  Rather, even beyond the sacraments we see a number of symbolic actions, such as laying on of hands (Acts 13:3; 28:8), anointing with oil (Mark 6:13; James 5:14), and bowing (Ephesians 3:14; Matthew 28:17). Also, the simple fact is we always have some kind of ritual involved in corporate worship. The question may be how well it is thought out, as well as what particular elements you are willing to allow, but not whether there is some fixed procedure involved.

There are reasons why we shy away from any kind of ritual.  There are those who those who, contrary to Scripture (Colossians 2:16,17; Galatians 4:9,10), have tried to impose their precise rituals on others, even to the point of arguing over the date of Easter and over how many fingers one should cross oneself with.  But isn't forbidding various rituals the same thing (Romans 14:1-12; Colossians 2:20-23)? Also, we are not simply to go through the motions of worship (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10). But I have found one can go through the motions no matter what type of worship one engages in. The issue is one's attitude, not the form.

Is there, then, any point in ritual? I am convinced there is. It engages the worshipers on a number of levels and encourages them to be involved in the worship and not just to be spectators. Therefore, if it is not rigidly prescribed and not done in a mindless manner, it has its place in legitimate worship.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Standard of Selfishness

One of the common assumptions of modern society is that if we just act in our own self-interest, it will all come out right in the end. This is most clearly advocated in capitalism, which claims that if we just follow our greed, everything will work out for the best. (This should not be read as an endorsement of socialism, which has its own problems.) But this is often found in other areas. It often comes out in practice to doing whatever we want as long as it does not hurt the other person. What this amounts to is being selfish as long as it does not clearly conflict with someone else's selfish desires. This runs totally counter to the Christian idea that we should put the real welfare of the other person before our own (Luke 10:25-37; Philippians 2:3-11; Matthew 7:12). (It is important to understand that this measures the other's welfare by the fixed standard of what God commands and not what they happen to want.) Can this approach based on selfishness be sustained in practice?

The idea is that if we all just follow our own interests, it will all magically work in the end. This does not seem to me plausible.  There will always be a few people who are smarter or more fortunate or more capable or just more conscienceless, who will end up getting their way and tramping on others in the process. There will always be someone who finds a way to cheat. The idea that the bad intentions will all even out in the end seems questionable in the extreme. And do we really want to live in a society where everyone is out to get everyone else but is prevented from doing so by the others' diligence? As for avoiding hurting someone, what do we mean by "hurt." If we limit it to physical pain, we leave open many nasty things that can done to people that do not involve physical pain. But if we measure "hurt" by what people regard as harm to them, we are faced with the impossible situation of trying to cater to everyone who can convince themselves that they are "hurt" if we do not grant them their every whim. The result is not to give full scope to our selfishness, but to enslave everyone to the desires of the most sensitive and easily hurt among us. And since what they want will undoubtedly be inconsistent, we would never be able to fulfill it. May I suggest that the reason this even seems viable is that we still possess some remnants of conventional (generally Judeo-Christian) morality. We still hold that certain things are right and wrong in themselves, no matter what the individual thinks of them. But we use this concept of mutual selfishness to justify the particular cases where we want to able to cut corners and ignore this standard. But we need to realize the anarchy to which this kind of logic leads.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Their Evangelists

What should we do when those of another faith come knocking on our door? Should we slam the door in their faces? How should we respond?

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Hilary of Poitiers

But the novel sound of these words disturbed the Apostle Philip. A Man is before their eyes; this Man avows Himself the Son of God, and declares that when they have known Him they will know the Father. He tells them that they have seen the Father, and that, because they have seen Him, they shall know Him hereafter. This truth is too broad for the grasp of weak humanity; their faith fails in the presence of these paradoxes.

Hilary of Poitiers, 300-368 AD, De Trinitate (On the Trinity), Book 7, 35 (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Hilary of Poitiers: Select Works, translated by E, W. Watson, L. Pullan, and others, T&T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997, p. 133; Quote is in reference to John 14:8,9)

Why is it important for a Christian to be amazed by Christ and who He is? What are the implications of this?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Victory Parade

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Scripture speaks of our being always led in the triumph in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 2:14). There is an aspect of this that it is easy to miss, given just the English translation. The word "triumph" is a reference to a specific Roman custom. When a Roman general won a great victory he was awarded a triumph. This was a procession through Rome followed by his soldiers. With him would be the best of the spoil and the most illustrious of his prisoners. He and his soldiers, who would be amply rewarded from the spoil, would be admired and cheered by the crowd as they marched through the city. In the same way, Christ has already conquered sin and death (John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57), and we who have faith in Christ are victorious with Him (1 John 5:4). He has overcome and disarmed His enemies, leading them in the triumph (Colossians 2:15), and provides gifts to His followers (Ephesians 4:7,8). Therefore, we are already in the victory parade.

Why, then, does it sometimes not feel and look like this to us? I would submit that while we are overwhelming conquerors (Romans 8:35-37), this is from God's perspective and is in spite of the various trials mentioned in the passage. God causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28), but we often do not see them doing so at the present time. Nonetheless, we can trust God that, though we may not see it, we are victorious. And we should live our lives in view of the fact we have already won and are in the victory parade.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Standing in Judgment

It is common for Christian leaders to view the modern church and modern Christians with contempt, particularly in the United States. Now it is not my purpose to deal with all the specifics involved here, but there is an underlying attitude  that needs to be addressed. Scripture makes it clear that we are to correct those involved in specific sins and doctrinal errors (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Matthew 18:15-17). (There is also an attitude of gentleness required in those who correct, but that is another subject.) It also clearly calls us to preach against falsehood (2 Timothy 4:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 20:27). But Scripture condemns a certain type of judgment (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). We are to correct identifiable sins, but we are to avoid making an over-all judgment of the person. Paul says he does not even judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:3,4). This does not mean he does not examine himself for particular problems to correct (1 Corinthians 11:31,32; Psalms 139:23,24; 2 Corinthians 13:5,6). But he does not try to determine his place before God. Only God, who knows the heart, can give a correct final judgment (1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). Also, we are told we will be judged based on the standard we use to evaluate others (Romans 2:1; Luke 6:37,38; James 2:12).

Now I do not want to discourage the correcting of specific errors or the call for specific improvements in the present Christian church. But much of the generalized criticism would seem to fall under what is forbidden by Scripture. That does not mean I want to deny that the current church has its failings. All ages of the church have had problems. (If we examine the New Testament epistles, we see this was true from the very beginning.) But is it really my place to decide how our age rates? Is it not more important to address the specific problems we see and let God make out the final scorecard? And could it be that part of the problem is unrealistic expectations? We look for the kind of perfect church that will not exist until Christ returns (Ephesians 5:26,27; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Revelation 19:7-10). Yet we are all still sinners and have not arrived at perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:25). Now I do not want to justify sin or discourage realistic work for the improvement of the present state of the Christian church. But I think that a generally cynical attitude is not helpful for this but actually makes it harder. When people perceive you are looking down on them, they find it hard to hear what you are saying. And it is easy to build up an attitude of superiority that prevents us from reaching people (John 7:49; Luke 15:27-32; Matthew 9:11-13). Then we become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Delegation

Should we keep doing thing just because we have always done them? How should we decide what to keep?

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Ignatius of Antioch

There is only one Physician -
Very Flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed,
Very-Life-in-Death indeed,
Fruit of God and Mary's seed;
At once impassable and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.

Ignatius of Antioch, 35-98 AD, Epistle to the Ephesians, 7 (Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 77,78)

What does this tell us about how our Lord Jesus Christ was understood from earliest times? How is that relevant to us today?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Should We Try to Christianize the World

Should we try to Christianize the world or at least our nation? At first glance, the Scripture does not give us much encouragement that the world will come over to our side. In fact, we are told that to love this present world is to make ourselves enemies of God (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; Romans 12:1,2). We are also told not to be surprised if the world is hostile to us and opposes us (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:17-25). Nor are we encouraged to expect that a positive situation will be found when the Lord comes the second time (Matthew 24:21,22; Luke 18:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-7).

But we, as Christians, are called to promote that which is good and just (Galatians 6:9,10; Micah 6:8; Matthew 5:13-15). We are called to help the poor and the oppressed (Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 58:6,7; Luke 10:25-37). And we are told God has empowered us to accomplish His work in the world (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6 ; Psalms 127:1,2). If we are to be advocates for what is right and merciful, we cannot sit idly  by and allow injustice without trying to change it.

Now I am convinced that the acceptance of nominal Christianity by western civilization was a foxhole conversion. The Roman Empire was falling apart, and they were looking for something to hold things together and turned to God. There were good things and bad things that came out of this situation. But once things got better, we began the process of slowly deserting Him. There have been a number of movements to turn our culture back to God, but though they slowed the decline, it continued. It is certainly possible that we may once more turn back to God as a society. But I see no assurance that we will. But we need to trust God to bring us through whatever happens (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 46:10; Romans 4:17-22). And we need to ask if one of the reason we want to Christianize our culture is so we can be comfortable and not have our faith challenged. Determined working for good in an imperfect world is to be encouraged. But the idea that taking a few steps or passing a few laws will produce a truly Christian society should be avoided. Further, we need to recognize that we are back in the place of the early church, as Christians in a pagan society. We need to let go of the past and rebuild again from where we are. For only the return of the One who will rule as King will transform us or this world into what they should be (Romans 8:19-25; Philippians 3:20-21; Revelation 21:4).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

God's Leading

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

 Does God guide us, or are we left to our own wisdom? And how do we recognize God's leading? Now God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1:11) and causes all things to work together for good to those who are called by Him (Romans 8:28). He has prepared certain good works beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10), and the Spirit's leading is based on our being sons of God (Romans 8:14). I would therefore conclude that God guides every genuine child of God. This is a fact and is not dependent on my feelings or on my figuring it out. Nor does the fact God leads us mean it will always be easy, but it does mean He will go through troubles with us (John 16:33)

Now sometimes God allows us to feel that He is leading us, but knowing His leading is not just based on our feelings. On the contrary, while I believe God can use our careful weighing of the facts or circumstances or feelings to lead us where He wants us to go, I do not believe we should trust in any of these. Nor do I believe we should direct our lives based purely on what makes sense to us from a human point of view. Rather, we should trust in God that He will direct us to where we should be. And in any situation we must prayerfully ask whether something is indeed God guiding us or our imagination. But we need to do so with the confidence that God is in control of our life and will direct us where we need to be. I remember walking into a church for the first Sunday and hearing the pastor say that he was not going to be in charge of the Sunday School and maybe someone who just walked in the door was the person for the job. I felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was the one. As it turned out, I was. But I still approached the situation with caution and let God bring everything together, rather than jumping in too quickly based on my feeling. But it did direct me.

Now I want to make it clear that the main thing is obedience to God's revealed will (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Though even when we do disobey He can arrange things, like He did for Jonah, to bring us back to the right path (see the book of Jonah). But my concern is for those who honestly want to obey God but are afraid if they do not have the right feeling or use the right method they will miss God's direction in their lives. Or they may come to trust in their feelings or the method rather than God. For I am convinced the reason God does not give us a formula to determine His leading is we must not come to trust the formula rather than Him.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Following Biblical Examples

There is a common tendency to take Biblical examples as commandments. In fact, there are many teachings and practices that have been derived this way. But is this legitimate? The Scripture says that God commands what He intends to command and it is wrong to add to it (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Matthew 15:8,9). Nor is there any basis in Scripture for seeing an example, even a repeated example, as a commandment. There are four cases in Scripture where God split bodies of water (Exodus 14:13-31; Joshua 3:14-17; 2 Kings 2:7-14). Does this mean that if we truly follow God, He will split a body of water for us? I would therefore conclude that, while an example can illustrate a clearly taught Biblical principle, it does not constitute a commandment. The exception to this is that examples can show us what is allowed, but even there we must be careful, so as not misconstrue something that is simply mentioned to have occurred or is a special case as being universally allowed. I am convinced that God is not shy: the things He intended to command, He commanded, at least in principle. I do not see evidence that He left us obscure commandments to be strained from Scripture based on our human intellect.

I am convinced that much of what is taught today in terms of church government and ministry procedures is based on examples rather than the clear teaching of Scripture. Such examples may be useful in illustrating principles, but what God does not command, He leaves free. In connection with this, there is a danger of putting the early church on a pedestal and regarding them as a perfect church. If you read the New Testament epistles, you will see the early church struggled with the same kinds of problems we have today: false doctrine, carnal behavior, and a tendency toward various extremes. We are faced with the Corinthian's carnality. The departure of the Galatians from the gospel. The Thessalonians quitting their jobs and living in idleness in view of Christ's immediate coming. The Colossians entertaining false doctrine. And many more problems. Looking at the early church may be useful, as they may not have had as much time to depart from the apostles' teaching as we have. But they are not the standard for perfection. This does not mean we are necessarily required to change our current organization or procedures, but we should recognize they may not be the only right way to do things. Now this does leave us a greater ability to adapt to current circumstances, but we should beware of the idea that it will make a major difference. If this were an important issue, God would have commanded it. Rather, we should shift our emphasis away from these things and focus on the things God really does teach and command. I would therefore encourage basing our behavior on the clear commandments and principles of Scripture, rather than trying to draw precepts out of examples.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Optimist

How can we avoid having a cynical attitude about what goes wrong in this world? How can we avoid falling into the same errors over and over again?