Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Miracles

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

One argument that has been used against the continuing of the miraculous spiritual gifts is whether the gifts exhibited at the present time stack up to the miracles at the time of the apostles. It is claimed that we do not see the same degree of blatant miracles that were seen in New Testament times. All spiritual gifts are given according to the will of God (1 Corinthians 12:11) and are used within the will of God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Now there do seem to times that God is particularly blatant in His outpouring of miracles.  The times of the Exodus, of Elijah and Elisha, and of the New Testament are examples of these. These seem to happen at times God is instituting some new thing. But this does not mean that all miracles or miraculous gifts vanish in the times in between. There are miracles seen in those periods (Judges 15:14-19; 2 Kings 19:35; 1 Kings 13:3-5). Therefore, just because God is not working in as blatant a way does not mean He has stopped working miracles or giving miraculous gifts in the times in between. Now we do need to test a particular miracle, whether it is from God or is a coincidence or is some kind of placebo effect (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22). But we cannot say because we do not see the dead raised or the Red Sea parted that no miraculous gifts exist at this time.     

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is There a Moral Majority?

Is there a moral majority? And was there ever one? The idea is that the United States, as a nation, largely embraces Christian morality, but there are a few opinion leaders who are steering us away. If we could just replace those leaders, pass a few right laws, and use our political clout, we could change the nation back to where it used to be. I am convinced this is based on a false understanding. Western Civilization embraced Christianity in a kind of foxhole conversion. The Roman Empire was falling apart, and they needed something to hold society together. This need continued through at least the early part of the Middle Ages, after the Roman Empire fell and Europe was plunged into political chaos. In this period the Christian church was the one of the chief glues preserving civilization through the upheavals. But when the crisis was over, there began a struggle between those who wanted to preserve Christianity and those who wanted to throw off the yoke. It did not help that the Christian church had been corrupted through compromise with the culture it had helped to preserve. The history between then and now reflects a process of deterioration of the Christian dominance in our society impeded by those who have tried to restore and purify our Christian commitment. In this, there has been a slow eating away of historic Christian commitments, first in the area of beliefs, then in morals, and finally in outward profession.  This decline was not inevitable, but it is not surprising. We are told that the world is hostile to genuine Christian teaching (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17).

The problem is, the United State's departure from the Christian viewpoint is the end of a long process. It is for this reason I am convinced that we as Christians need to let go of the past and start to rebuild from the ground up. We need to see ourselves as being in a non-Christian society and need to work to convince people one step at a time of Christian truth. In this, I do believe it is our duty to work for justice in society. But we need to see this as working for the long haul, requiring more than getting the right person elected or a few laws passed. Failure to do this sets us up for frustration when we do not get what we want or else we do and it does not solve the problem. Also, realizing we are Christians in a no longer Christian society helps us to reach out to people in love rather than being angered that they do not meet our standards (2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:6). In many ways our situation is a good thing. There is nothing like a superficial dose of Christianity to protect you from the real thing. But to take advantage of that, we need to see the situation as it is and be willing to deal with people where they are really at.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Schedule

How important is it to be at every church meeting? How full should a church's schedule be?

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Basil the Great

But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken; everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another.

Basil the Great, 330-379 AD, On the Spirit, Chapter XXX, 77 (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by Blomfield Jackson, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, p. 48, 49)

How does this compare with the state of the Christian church at the present day? How can we avoid such a situation?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standing Room Only

We live in an apocalyptic age, which sees the end of the world as just around the corner. This not only affects the Christian church but the world at large. I have considered having a T-shirt made saying that I have survived the end of the world so many times. But I have lost count. One obvious source for this is the atomic bomb. But there is a deeper issue. Two World Wars and the Cold War have destroyed the naive opinion that saw the future as unbroken progress. From the Christian perspective this is a good thing. But the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. We have gone from unbridled optimism to the assumption of immanent total disaster. And environmental disaster has come to accompany the bomb as one of the great bugbears.

I do not want to oppose all environmental concerns; we do have an obligation to be good stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:6-8). Also, the command to love our neighbor (Romans 13:8-10; Luke 10:25-37; Galatians 5:14) forbids us from using the earth's resources with no consideration for the consequences. Nor should we be ruled by our desires for immediate gratification or the amassing of wealth (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:9,10; Matthew 6:19-24). But environmentalism shows the same trail of exploded predictions of disaster as predictions of Christ's Second Coming. From my youth I remember repeated predictions of looming catastrophes that never occurred. One of the most blatant of these issues is overpopulation. This concept seems to have been originated by Thomas Mathus (1766-1834) as a justification for oppressing the poor. It has since been used to advocate killing the unborn, the aged, and the infirm. The whole result of this idea is to see human life as insignificant because there are too many of us. This is in direct opposition to the value Scripture puts on human life (Genesis 9:5-7; Exodus 20:13; Psalms 139:13-16). Now earth may have some sort of carrying capacity, but technological advance keeps increasing it and we are not there yet. But we must not allow this hypothetical limit to encourage us to commit atrocities against those currently in existence. Now there are people starving in the world. But this is due to poverty, oppressive governments, and lack of access to modern agricultural methods (poverty again). After all, we pay farmers in the United States not to grow food.

Now we need to evaluate these issues carefully. The problem with ignoring the boy who cried wolf is that this time there might be a wolf. But we also need to consider the past track record and not be panicked by the latest cry of disaster. The end of the world will come when God decrees it (Matthew 24:36-51; Acts 1:6,7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). But this is no excuse not to manage the planet properly until that time.  However, neither should we be stampeded into carrying out extreme measures that are not necessary. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Following Our Impulses

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

 There is a danger in seeing all our impulses as the leading of God. We are sinners (Romans 3:23); our heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9). Also, we are called to trust in God, not our understanding, (Proverbs 3:5,6) and to test whether something is from God (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22). Now the temptation here is to totally reject any impressions as being from God. But then we are left to rely totally on our human wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18). The problem with this is we can end doing things based on what makes sense to us rather than acting in faith (Hebrews 11:13-16). Sometimes God called people to do things that did not obviously make sense from the human perspective (Joshua 6:1-5; Acts 8:26-40; 16:6-10). But there is a danger here. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that some impulse is God speaking, when it is really only us. This is not always easy to figure out. We must, of course, reject anything that is contrary to Scripture (Isaiah 8:20). The problem comes when we meet something of a serious nature where there is no clear-cut   Scriptural command. This takes careful consideration, prayer, and, ideally, seasoned experience. But we need to remember that God is in control of our lives to accomplish His purposes in  them (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; 2:10). And we need to live our lives with our trust in Him, not our impulses (Psalms 127:1,2).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Being the Body

The Bible says that God is at work in the life of all genuine believers in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). But it also says that God is at work in us as part of a larger body which works together to accomplish God's purpose (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-8). But there is a danger of seeing myself or my group as the only people who Christ works through. I can see myself (or me and a few others) as completely independent from the rest of Christ's church, I can follow my own path, with no respect for the beliefs and understandings of Christian leaders or Christian groups of  the past or present. I can become confident of my own knowledge and wisdom, not recognizing its imperfections (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Proverbs 26:12). Or we can require rigid adherence to a particular group, as if that group had a monopoly on all of truth, even though what it requires is far more than the real basics of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9; Philippians 2:1-4). Rather, we need to see ourselves as being part of the larger body of Christ and not confine ourselves to our little corner. Now I am not saying there are not boundaries, places we must draw the line if we are to follow God (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-6; Romans 16:17). But we should not be too quick to condemn others over every detail.

Now the Word of God is the final authority (2 Timothy 3:16,17; Acts 17:11; John 17:17). But if we approach life on a totally individualistic basis, we risk confusing what makes sense to us and what we want with what Scripture says. Nor should we see ourselves as carrying out the work of God alone, but we should work as part of the greater body of Christ wherever possible. The idea of seeing my ministry as a totally independent thing does not fit with Scripture. There is a danger in seeing ourselves as solitary workers totally unconnected to others.  But we should also avoid making the standards of our group the final authority and dismissing everyone outside it. We can see ourselves as the only ones carrying out God's work and reject those who disagree with us even on minor issues. And we can see everyone who does not fit into our program as opposing God. Fundamentally, what I am calling for is an attitude. One that sees ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves and bigger than our group. To see ourselves as part of the body of Christ that transcends history and geography and our petty divisions. For it is this body that we are ultimately part of if we trust Jesus Christ for salvation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Promises, Promises

Do we favor politicians who promise us what we want to hear and avoid saying anything negative? What could be the results of this?

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Gregory of Nazianzen

For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law? But it is in order that He may carry His display of humility even to this extent, and form us to that humility which is the producer of exaltation. As I said then, He is made a Fisherman; He condescended to all; He casteth the net; He endureth all things, that He may draw up the fish from the depths, that is, Man who is swimming in the unsettled and bitter waves of life.

Gregory of Nazianzen, 330-390 AD, Select Orations, Oration 37, 1 (The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996, p. 338)

How important is this kind of humility? How can we obtain it?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Flag We Wave

I am strongly in favor of understanding God's truth and applying it to life. Fundamental to this is understanding doctrinal truth, what God tells us about who He is and what He has done and is doing in the world. But there is a tendency to change these truths into flags we wave to distinguish ourselves from those we disagree with. Far from promoting a deeper understanding of these truths, it can prevent us from really considering them. After all, if I am a part of a group that holds a certain view, if I look too closely at that view and what it means, I might be forced to reconsider it and be forced to leave that organization. This is no idle threat. There was a time I was worried that I might end up holding a position where no denomination would have me. Now it is important to have boundaries. Christianity must mean something if it is to have any relevance at all. If a person no longer believes in anything distinctively Christian, they should be honest and call themselves something else. There are many conflicting ideas about what Christianity is, and it is meaningful for those who have fundamentally different understandings of it to distinguish themselves. But this should be based on a clear understanding of the issues involved and why they are important. But often we can divide over more superficial issues, and these are far more likely to become merely banners and not something we have thought out. Now I seriously question whether many of these secondary things are things we should be dividing over (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:1-11). But if we do divide over them, they need to be something we understand, not just a banner we wave.

One reaction to this is to throw out or minimize doctrine. But I am convinced this is not the solution. Doctrine tells the truth of God invading history to save His people from their sins. Without doctrine, all we have is a generalized morality. I also believe that even the secondary doctrines can make a difference in our life if they are genuine Biblical truth (2 Timothy 3:16,17; Acts 20:27; Matthew 28:18-20). What I would call for is not less doctrinal understanding but more. I believe we need to have beliefs that we understand and apply, not flags we wave. To do this, we must not throw out doctrine, but seek to really understand it and see how it applies to life. In this, while it is important to stand for basic truth (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3; Romans 16:17), it would be helpful to allow more freedom on secondary issues. It is hard to really examine and think through truth when you are afraid that if you deviate from the accepted view in the least detail, you must leave the fellowship you are a part of. For none of us know all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 13:9-12; 8:1-3).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

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

Scripture calls Christians to live in unity (Philippians 2:1,2) and to love one another (John 13:34,35). Yet it is not uncommon to have disagreements within congregations that lead to splits or individuals leaving or just constant struggles. Now there are cases where the issues involved are real issues of doctrinal teaching or of violations of Christian moral standards. We need to deal with these. But the majority of the time we are not faced with such a clear-cut issues.

Based on my experience I would like to make a few observations about these types of situations. There is a method that Satan and his minions use which I will call "smoke and mirrors." While I have seen this at work a number of times, I need to limit my examples to protect privacy. When I was going to seminary, my wife and I had a series of problems. As we worked it through, we found that while we did have some disagreements of substance, much of the problem was really over the meaning of words. For example, I would say something and she would take it in a different way and we would end up disagreeing over it. Also, I once had to resign from the worship team over being "too charismatic." There may have been some real issues involved, but I suspect that much of the issue was over the connotations of the phrase "too charismatic." And the ironic thing is I doubt if anyone involved could have given a clear definition of what that meant.

How then do we avoid this type of thing? It helps to realize that such problems exist, that we are sinful people (1 John 1:8-10) in an imperfect world and it effects our judgment. It also helps to remember that other Christians are imperfect and won't always meet our expectations. And ultimately, we must not be concerned just with our own interests but consider the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-11). This is complicated by the fact we can sometimes confuse our interests with something that looks noble (my ministry, the fate of my church) and act on them under this disguise. Now I am not here trying to excuse clear-cut doctrinal or moral error. But I am suggesting that on the margins there is considerable room for misunderstanding.

It does not help that the present divided state of the church aids this. I can say, "If this church does not do what I want, I will look for another one." And churches can take the attitude, "If someone does not like it here, they can go somewhere else." Now sometimes there are difficult choices that have to be made. But I cannot help thinking things would be better if people had the commitment to at least try to work things out. And they would be less likely to be taken in by smoke and mirrors.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saving the Institutional Church

The Christian church is the assembly of all true believers in Christ and is Christ's body, through which He works to accomplish His purposes in the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-8). To accomplish these purposes, Christ commands His church to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 13:17; 10:24,25). This makes sense, as it is hard to accomplish anything in the world without being organized. But the organization is, not the church, but the expression of the church. It is like clothes to the body; clothes serve important functions with respect to the body. But it is the clothes that serve the body, not the body the clothes. Now one problem with organizations is that they can lose track of their original purpose and become focused on perpetuating the organization, or even on furthering the personal interests of its leaders and members. (It is difficult to distinguish between an organization and an institution. An institution is more of a fixed, basic component of society, and an organization becomes an institution when it reaches that status.)   Take government. It is supposed to exist to promote justice and the good of the people who are governed (Romans 13:1-7). But it can very easily be turned to support the perpetuation of its own power and structures. It can then come to serve the personal ambitions of the people in positions of power, even if they are against the interests of the nation as a whole. All organizations and institutions have this potential.

Now the purpose of the church organization is to accomplish God's purposes in the world, but it can too easily be sidetracked into perpetuating itself. Our goal should not be to try to figure out how to rescue or preserve the institutional church in a hostile environment. Rather, the body of Christ should consider how to how to carry out God's purpose in the world and how to organize to express that. This involves proclaiming God's message (Romans 10:14,15; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:23,24) and helping those who accept the message to live in light of it (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:28,29; Titus 2:11-14). Involved in this is receiving the seals that openly set us apart as members of God's people (Acts 10:42-48; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Romans 4:11). Ultimately, this should lead to new believers taking their place as part of God's body to themselves be involved in carrying out God's purpose in the world (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:19; 1 Peter 4:9-11). Then as we do what God would have us do, the organization will reflect the organism and the institution will reflect the organization. I am far from advocating nudism when it comes to the body of Christ, but the clothes should serve the purposes of the body and not the other way around.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Intruder

How should we respond to people who are outside our comfort zone? What can help us do this?

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Dionysius of Alexandria

How shall we bear with these men who assert that all those wise, and consequently also noble, constructions (in the universe) are only the works of common chance? those objects, I mean, of which each taken by itself as it is made, and the whole system collectively, were seen to be good by Him by whose command they came into existence. For, as it is said, "God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good." But truly these men do not reflect on the analogies even of small familiar things which might come under their observation at any time, and from which they might learn that no object of any utility, and fitted to be serviceable, is made without design or by mere chance, but is wrought by skill of hand, and is contrived so as to meet its proper use.

Dionysius of Alexandria, 200-265 AD, Extant Fragments II: From the Books on Nature, II: A Refutation of This Dogma on the Ground of Familiar Human Analogies. (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 6, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, translated by S. D. F. Salmond, Hendricksen Publishers Inc., 2004, p. 85)

Does this still make sense today? What are its implications?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


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

There was a man who was on a journey from the land of Aion to New Jerusalem that he might live with the King.  As he was going on his trek he found his way to the town of Hype.  Now the town of Hype was run to assist pilgrims on their journey.  He therefore decided to stop and see if he could obtain anything helpful. As he passed through the town he saw hawkers everywhere loudly advertising their products.  Traffic was so thick he only made it down the main street of town by slowly weaving through vendors.

The first shop he stopped at was called Charisma.  It claimed to provide useful tools for the journey.  But as he entered there was a protest going on.  Some carried signs saying no one could be successful on their journey without certain tools.  Others were saying those same tools were fraudulent and should not be sought after.  But curiously enough, the traveler found a package of tools with his name on it selected by the King for him.  He picked up this package and went on.

Next he came to the shop of Proskunema which offered merchandise meant to honor the King.  But as he looked around he saw this was not one shop but many, all offering different types of wares, though there were a few basic types.  Some offered venerable and ornate items with deep historical significance. Others were boisterous and frenetic and favored loud celebration. And some were austere and restrained, avoiding any ostentation or excesses.  Also, while some items honored the King, many exalted the sellers or their experiences or the groups they belonged to.  Even the items the King mandated, the sign of water and the sign of bread and wine, came in a perplexing variety of forms.  The traveler took a simple form of the required signs and such other things as he felt honored the King and moved on.

The next shop, Logos, offered maps for the journey.  There were maps in older or more modern language, many with interpretative helps. There was also a variety of other aids to interpretation, ranging from brief condensations stating people's position on the contents of the map to detailed scholarly treatises to simplified popular books. There were also here many protesters arguing for their version of the map or their compilation of its contents.  The traveler picked up a version of the map and, not being so conceited as to despise wise counsel, chose carefully some aids to interpretation.

With persistence he made it to the other end of town, avoiding the multitude offering him quack remedies or quick fixes to help him on his journey.  As he left Hype behind he noticed the number of pilgrims on the road had thinned out, as many had stayed behind to sell their wares or to protest.  But the traveler let out a sigh of relief as he saw Hype vanish behind a hill.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Christianity Is Not

What is Christianity? It is understood differently by different people. I would like to look at some of the misconceptions. First, Christianity is not primarily a moral system. There were a number of moral systems before Christianity came along, and while there were conflicts, they were based on the same fundamental principles. Now I do believe that the Scriptural teaching on morals is the absolutely correct one, as it comes from God. But while it is helpful to have some of the conflicts resolved, that is not really our problem. Our problem is not that we need more accurate ethics, but that we do not live up to the ethics we have. Even given that the Biblical system is the most perfect ethical system, as C. S. Lewis points out, what good does it do to be instructed in calculus when we cannot do arithmetic?

Christianity also is not primarily a philosophy. A philosophy is the attempt to figure the universe out from simple basic premises. The problem is the universe is more complicated than that. Even in the realm of science, the universe is a complicated place. A place where light can be both particles and waves, where objects grow shorter and heavier the faster they go, and where slight differences in initial conditions can produce drastically different results. While there may be some value in trying to figure things out, as an ultimate answer it is too simplistic. And while Christianity may speak to some of the questions philosophy raises, that is not really what it is.

Christianity is not primarily a mystical experience. Now I am far from being against experiences. I have had too many to simply discount them. But there are many faiths which claim some kind of experience. How do you decide which of these to follow? Also, experience tends to ebb and flow; sometimes it is strong and sometimes it is weak. It is the commitment that we have to what we believe that takes us through the times of difficulty and doubt. It is like marriage. That strong feeling of being in love ebbs and flows. But it is the commitment that keeps things together through the rocky places.

What Christianity is, is the message that God Himself has invaded human history (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18), not only to tell us about Himself, but to pay the price we should have paid for failing to live up to correct ethical standards (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Also, for those who accept His forgiveness as a gift through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), He comes to dwell in our lives to transform us over time into who we should be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 2:10). This is Christianity, and this is what I contend we really need. Not just a new ethical, philosophical, or mystical system, but God invading our lives to forgive and change us.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Building Program

Can the external aspects of the service of God get blown out of proportion? How can we put them back in proportion?

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Charles Hodge

It is no less unscientific for the theologian to assume a theory as to the nature of virtue, of sin, of liberty, of moral obligation, and then explain the facts of Scripture in accordance with his theories. His only proper course is to to derive his theory of virtue, of sin, of liberty, of obligation, from the facts of the Bible, He should remember that his business is not to set forth his system of truth (that is of no account), but to ascertain and exhibit what is God's system, which is a matter of the greatest moment.

Charles Hodge, 1797-1878, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Chapter 1: On Method, Section 5: The Inductive Method, Principles to be Deduced from Facts (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982, p. 13)

Does this make sense? How do we avoid reading our preconceived notions back into Scripture?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Are We Committed To?

Evangelical Christians put a strong stress on commitment. But the question arises: committed to what? We can say, committed to God, to our church, to our families. But what does this involve? In looking at this, there are two dangers.

We can define commitment too broadly, as a vague feeling without much substance. This can often stem from a particular experience or event, like walking down to pray at an altar. Now I am far from despising such experiences; many can be key events in our path to growth with God. The Bible mentions monuments built in remembrance of certain significant deeds God had done (Joshua 4:19-24; 1 Samuel 7:12-14; Numbers 17:8-11). But it is possible to rest on the events of the past and feel that this makes us committed. This may be accompanied by a few obvious specifics, such as, go to church, put money in the offering plate, do not commit any blatant sin, and similar basic rules. But it mainly consists in a fairly generalized feeling of loyalty. Is this all commitment is?

But we can also define commitment as holding to and successfully accomplishing certain well-defined practices. While these practices are generally based on Biblical principles, they involve strict adherence to the methodology of a particular program or organization. This leads to a one-size-fits-all approach, which often requires things not specifically commanded by Scripture. It defines commitment as successfully following the leader's program and dismisses all those who do not live up to its standards. Now it is hard to accomplish anything without making choices on methods and procedures. The danger comes when we start raising our approach to the level of a commandment of God and condemning everyone who does not follow it. Once we get beyond the clear commandments of Scripture, we need to realize that not every method works well for every individual. Now there is a place for supporting the programs of the leaders God has put over us to the extent we can. But we should not confuse them with commitment to God.

Scripture speaks of growing in Christ as a process (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; Ephesians 4:15,16), which involves deliberate practice (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:13,14; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This process is based on the Holy Spirit working in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). Now our goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ, and we should not settle for something less, though we will not attain that in this life (Romans 8:29,30; 1 John 3:2; Matthew 5:48).  Therefore, commitment is commitment to be involved in this process (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Titus 2:11-14). This may require other commitments along the way. These will be similar, because the commandments of God are the same for everyone, but they will be different, as everyone has different gifts and is at a different point in the process. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking we have arrived.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Diagnosing Demonic Involvement

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

How can we decide if there is demonic involvement in a particular situation? Some would attribute every illness and sin to demonic influence. But Scripture lists demonic involvement as only one of the things Jesus dealt with (Matthew 4:24) and gives the primary source of sin as our own desires (James 1:14,15) Others would minimize or deny it, particularly in the life of a believer. (This largely comes from the King James use of the word "possession," which has no basis in the Greek.) There is also the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, which I believe still exists today and I claim to possess. But the problem with this gift is you need to start by deciding if the gift involved is real. I know of an individual who once thought they had the gift and later decided it was spurious. What is the correct approach?

There are lists of signs of demonic involvement. But while some items come from Scripture, most come from experience, tradition, or even Hollywood. While Scripture mentions blatantly supernatural cases (Mark 5:2-20) (and these may sometimes be faked), often the symptoms are those of normal illness (Matthew 12:22). The fact that Scripture does not give a list suggests that knowing the source of the problem may not always be necessary. We need to pray for our and other's problems no matter what source they come from (Ephesians 6:18). It is also important to have other people pray for you (James 5:14-18). If there is something that suggests there might be demonic activity, it is worthwhile to direct your prayers against such activity.

I remember a sin in my life that I could not get the victory over. I asked someone to pray for me specifically against demonic involvement. I really was not expecting much, but I thought I would try one more approach. He had trouble praying and could not get his thoughts together. I had a huge feeling of weakness come over me and could not stay standing and fell down to my knees. It did not immediately solve all my sin problem. But it was the first step to turning the situation around. I remember another case where I was driving to help out in a particular situation and I could not find the house. I stopped driving to look at the map and could not read the map; it was blurred (this was totally abnormal for the state of my vision at the time). I immediately became suspicious and prayed God would lead me to the house. My vision cleared, I read the map and drove directly there. Every case needs to be dealt with based on the factors involved. Nor should we neglect to make use of appropriate medical assistance if the problem persists. But since Scripture does not give a formula for dealing with these situations, they should be approached carefully, with prayer and trust in God.