Friday, October 31, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

(speaking in the person of His Abysmal Majesty Screwtape, who is instructing a younger tempter in Satan's employ.)

I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to the belief in the Enemy. The 'Life Force', the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work - the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls 'Forces' while denying the existence of 'spirits' - then the end of the war will be in sight.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Screwtape Letters, 7 (Harper-Collins, 1996, pp. 31-32)

Is such a materialist magician possible? How close are we to seeing one? What would the results look like?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paranoid of Satan

There is a danger of Christians becoming paranoid of things demonic. This happened in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, resulting in the witch hunts. It seems to be happening again today. The problem is making Satan and his followers too strong and God too weak.

There are three views on the power of demons. One is that they have no power or do not exist. This is the traditional view of modern society, but we are drifting away from it. Many Christians buy into this view in some form. But this leads to complacency and ignores the Biblical warnings to be alert (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 11:2,3).

Or one can hold the Late Medieval view that sees demons as having great power to influence the world. They can change one thing into another and work serious harm, while God seems to be far off. This is contrary to the fact that Christ is victorious over evil (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Luke 10:19). This leads to being afraid of demons and building conspiracy theories based on what they are doing. We see that same attitude at work today. If you want stir up a furor, suggest that something is connected to witchcraft or Satan worship. Now I do not want endorse these beliefs, but there are a large number of beliefs that are just as contrary to Christianity. And inventing vast conspiracies does not seem to be the right way to approach the issue. Nor is it helpful to become irate over things like Harry Potter or the Wizard of Oz. The truth is that the majority of books out there do not fit in with a Christian worldview. We need to learn to read all of them with our guard up. But to single out the ones that seem (often very questionably) to have some connection to witchcraft or Satanism is simplistic. Satan does not care who or what you worship as long as it is not God.

While Scripture does not teach the particulars, the view that makes the most sense to me is that of the early church fathers and the Early Middle Ages. This view is that demons have power, but it is limited. They do not really turn people into wolves or make them fly around on broomsticks, but put them into a trance where they think they have done such things. They do not really know the future, but there are a lot of them and they move about and communicate at high speeds, so they can make good guesses about what will happen. They cannot really make living things, but they can do some good sleight of hand that enables them to switch rods with snakes. But most of all, God is greater than they are and is in ultimate control of the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). It is only as we have God in perspective that we can avoid blowing demons out of proportion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dealing with Demonic Influcence

What do we do if we have encountered what we believe is demonic influence in our lives or the lives of others? How do we deal with it? We should use prayer (Mark 9:28,29; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7). (The presence of fasting is a textual issue, but this does seem to be a proper approach to serious prayer.) We can use the Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:17; Psalms 119:11). There also seems to some value in the act of worship (1 Samuel 16:23) (I would suspect that it is this, rather than just music, that is in view here). And if you feel certain there is something demonic involved, there is a place for the direct rebuke (Mark 1:25-27; Acts 16:18; Luke 4:41).

But none of these should be seen as magic talismans, like waving a cross in front of a vampire. They must be used with faith (Ephesians 6:16; Mark 9:23,24; Proverbs 3:5,6) and humility (1 Peter 5:6-9; James 4:6-10; Luke 10:17-20). And this must be rooted in our knowledge of Christ, that He is victorious (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Romans 16:20). There is an example in Scripture of what happens to those who try using these things merely as a form (Acts 19:11-16). It should also be noted that, except for the direct rebuke, these are the same remedies that should be applied to the problem even if there is no demonic influence involved. Which is why I think that, unless it is really clear, we should start by dealing with the problem and confront the demonic aspect only as it becomes evident.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God Is Love

"God is love" is clearly found in Scripture (1 John 4:7,8). But what does it mean? Love is something highly valued but variously defined. As C. S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, often what we want in the love of God is a vague benevolence. A love that will simply let us do what we want and never call us to account for it. But as Lewis explains, this is actually a fairly weak form of love. The love of God is pictured as that of a father to a child (John 1:12,13; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1) or of a groom for his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Revelation 19:7,8).

Now the love of God is unconditional; He loved us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10). He loves us though we are sinners whose righteousnesses are as filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9). And He offers salvation as a free gift in Jesus Christ, if we are willing to put our faith in His promises (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5, Philippians 3:9), not based on anything we do to earn it (Titus 3:5,6; Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10-14). But in that love is the desire to change us into what we should be (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28-30; 1 John 3:2,3). Now this change is a response to God's love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). Nonetheless, it is the response God is working to produce in the lives of those who put their faith in Christ.

The father may love and even sacrifice for the child, even though that child is misbehaving. So may the husband, the wife. But love cannot simply be satisfied with this situation. It is a very nominal love that says, "Fine, live that way" and means it. Now there can be someone who, in the name of love, is so overzealous they drive people away. But I do not see indifference as being the result of a deep love. Serious love must care. That is why I do not have a great problem reconciling God's love and God's justice. I do not believe God can love people and simply stand by and allow them to be mistreated without judging. Or even allow them to go down paths that will ultimately be damaging to them. However, that same love also holds back judgment to allow space for repentance  (2 Peter 3:9; Romans 2:4; Proverbs 28:13). But God loves us too much to simply leave us alone to follow our own desires. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Mistaken Identity

Who are we really? How do we find our real identity?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Spooks

Jesus has defeated the powers of darkness, that Christians need not fear any spooks, real or imagined.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

And on the other hand it was not his own death but that of men the Saviour came to fulfill. Therefore he did not lay aside the body by his own death - for he had none since he was life - but he accepted the death imposed by men in order to destroy it completely when it came to his own body.

Athanasius, 293-373 AD, De Incarnatione, 22 (translated by Robert W. Thomson, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, Oxford on the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 189)

Does it matter how Christ died? Why?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Athanasius - The Man Who Stood Against the World

Athanasius was a man who, at a crucial time, stood up for his principles against those around him. Alexander, archbishop of Alexandria, had gotten into a dispute with one of his subordinates, Arius, over the deity of Christ. Arius claimed Christ was just the first and greatest of all created beings. The Emperor Constantine wanted them to ignore their differences and get along. When this failed, Constantine called the leaders of the church together for the Council of  Nicaea. At the council Alexander and his supporter Athanasius carried the day. The deity of Christ was affirmed in the Nicene creed, and Arius and his followers were sent into exile. But Constantine, wanting to promote peace, allowed the exiles back. They continued to spread their ideas underground.

Alexander and Arius died soon afterwards, leaving Athanasius as archbishop of Alexandria. Those who opposed him or desired a middle ground held a council and, with the concurrence of Constantine, sent Athanasius into exile on technical and trumped-up charges. Constantine died soon after and was succeeded by his sons. As a result of which one was in power, Athanasius was recalled and banished numerous times. Finally, Constantius gained sole power and tried to impose Arianism by force. Many went along to be safe, and others followed Athanasius into exile. Then Constantius died and Julian attempted to revive paganism. He brought Athanasius back from exile to get the Christians fighting one another. But Athanasius immediately preached a sermon against paganism and was sent back into exile. Athanasius died as archbishop of Alexandria, but it was not until after his death that the Nicene creed was reaffirmed at the council of Constantinople. Athanasius's epitaph was "Athanasius against the world"; and by the power of God, Athanasius, against the world, had won.

It is claimed that Athanasius got into an argument over a single letter. But a single letter can make a big difference in meaning. Whether Jesus was God come in the flesh to save His people from their sin or just one more messenger, with only limited ability beyond delivering the message, makes a huge difference in theology. It is claimed he used force to impose his viewpoint on others. Rather, he stood firmly against those using force to impose their views on him. Even the pagan historians note it was the Arians who used force and the orthodox, at least initially, who practiced toleration. Athanasius did encourage the idea of monasticism by writing a bibliography of Anthony (more on that in a later post). Athanasius was a man who stood firmly for his principles. Like all such men, he was perhaps too firm at times, though he seems to have maintained his composure and sense of humor under stress. Some of the technicalities he was accused of may have been the result of cutting a few technical corners to defend his principles. But it requires a man of strong convictions to stand against such opposition, and in this situation Athanasius proved to be that man.   

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Leadership Divide

A great division found in the Christian church is between clergy and laity. To understand it, we need to look at the history. It comes from the idea of apostolic succession. This was an error made by good men trying to help ordinary Christians avoid doctrinal error. They noted that the apostles passed their message on to those who followed. Should people turn away from that to some new guy just coming on the scene? As one argument, this is something to consider. But it became a conviction that the church historically descended from the apostles could not be wrong. There is no basis for that anywhere in Scripture (Mark 9:38-41; Galatians 1:8,9; 2:11-16).

This succession is seen as passed down through an unbroken series of ordinations. The word ordination in this sense does not appear in the Greek text of the New Testament. It is translated from various words meaning to place in office. There is a specific ceremony for commissioning the priests in the Old Testament, but it does not apply to any other office (Exodus 29:1-28). There is also the practice of laying on of hands, which is used for many different purposes and is connected with prayer (Acts 8:14-17; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 6:5). Now this is often used for commissioning people to various positions, prayer being appropriate for such occasions (Acts 13:3; 6:6; Numbers 27:23). But it is not reserved for any particular office; I can see using this on Sunday school teachers or nursery workers. But Scripture puts no importance on who performs the ceremony. (The Old Testament priesthood was hereditary, not based on who ordained them.) It is reasonable to seek a Christian of good reputation for this purpose.  But I see no basis for a mechanically passed down authority.

Coming from this is the idea that only those with authority can administer the sacraments. Which also has no basis in Scripture. The result is a group seen as having authority based purely on an outward ritual. Protestants have rejected this in its full form. But we can still hold that ordination bestows some special authority and gives the authority to perform the ordinances. Along with this we require other things such as learning or dynamic leadership. But this means these people need to have these things on a level sufficient to justify putting them in a separate class. It also encourages the congregation to believe that just by being part of a group that has such authority, they are pleasing God.  

Now the church is to have leaders (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Peter 5:1-4), and we are called to be subject to them (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17 ). Their job is to shepherd, to instruct, to be an example, not to claim a fictitious authority. For to do so is to put them as a mediator between the people and God. A position only one Person qualifies for (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12; John 14:6). 

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Extortion

Is trick or treating just good clean fun? How should we approach it?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Climb

Life can be a tough climb up a difficult slope, but we should stop to admire the vistas God shows us on the way.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Luther

What Paul means is that whatever good we do in preaching is done by God; when we preach it is God's work if it has power and accomplishes something among men.Therefore if I am a good preacher who does some good, it isn't necessary for me to boast, It's not my mind, my wisdom, my ability.

Martin Luther, 1483-1545, Sermons, The Twelfth Sunday After Trinity, 1531 (Luther's Works, edited and translated by John W. Doberstein, Muhlenberg Press, 1959, Vol. 51, p.224)

How do we base what we do on God's power rather than on own? How do we remember that this is so?  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It Is Okay to Not Be Okay

One idea that has become prevalent is that if we can just convince ourselves that we are okay and everyone else is okay, all the pieces of our life will just fit into place. But there are problems with this. If whatever I am is okay, then okay becomes meaningless. But the alternative seems to be to go back into the hamster wheel of performance. However, there is a better answer. God loves us, even though we are sinners and not okay (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), and sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10). Therefore, if we put our faith, not in what we can do, but in what He has done (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), we can stand before Him based on grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:31-34; 5:1,2). And while God is at work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14), we are still far from what God would have us to be (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-25), and we need to trust in His grace. Therefore, it is okay for us not to be okay.

Also, if we look at other Christians, we realize they are in the same situation. And while we may encourage them or even correct them (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Galatians 6:1), we must recognize it is also okay for them not to be okay. And as for unbelievers, they can be right in God's sight if they will simply trust Christ, and it is our job to gently persuade them to do so (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:5,6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Therefore, it is okay for others to be not okay. But I think the biggest problem with the present day church is that we have tried to convince ourselves we are okay based on our performance. If we are good, moral people and good churchgoers, God will be pleased with us. But what we mean by that falls short of what God really requires (Matthew 22:36-40; 5:43-48; 1 Peter 1:14-17). What we need is God's grace and forgiveness.

Now our attitude here greatly affects how we approach the spiritual helps. If I want to know more about this God who saved me and want to get to know Him. If I want to praise Him because of what He has done for me and call upon Him for help to face the challenges of life, as one inadequate to face them alone. If I realize I need the help and encouragement of other believers to be built up to stand firm in the Lord. Then I will not approach spiritual exercises as simply one more duty to be checked off my list. But if I see myself as basically having it all together, that is how I will tend to approach it. It all starts with how I see myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Fear of Apocalypse

We live in an apocalyptic age. We live in fear of the end of the world. Whether it's nuclear holocaust or environmental catastrophe. Not to mention the year 2000 bug and the end of the Mayan calendar. Christians, in disobedience to the clear teaching of Scripture (Matthew 24:36-51; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3), have often jumped on this same bandwagon, to the discredit of Christian faith. Now Christianity does have the ultimate answer to this fear, that Christ will one day come and remake us and the world we are in (Romans 8:19-23; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). But we are clearly told we do not know the time. And false predictions undermine rather than help our position. We should have hope, based on what Christ has promised us (Romans 8:24,25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14). But we must avoid letting ourselves so fall into the modern apocalyptic thought pattern that we see this only as an escape from the present crisis, rather than a confidence that can, if necessary, lead us through life even if Christ tarries.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to Offend Your Neighbor

One of the best ways to offend your neighbor and accomplish nothing is to be picky about everything. I am not saying we should go along with everything, but our attitude, whether we are calm and reasonable or belligerent and condescending, makes a difference. The holiday season tends to bring this out, but it is found all year round. We need to recognize that we live in a non-Christian culture and cannot expect the people around us to go along with or even sympathize with our scruples. That does not mean we should not stand up for our principles. But we need to pick our fights carefully and thoughtfully, Fights over issues of Christmas creches and whether Harry Potter should be in the school library only make us look prickly.

Now it does not help that many of our opponents are petty. We cannot have a moment of silence at the beginning of class for fear someone might use it for prayer. But wrestling with a pig on his own turf only ends in you getting drug into the mud with him. Now I am not saying we should make our ultimate standard what the world thinks is silly or petty. But we do need to ask if something really is silly or petty. And if the world thinks something is petty and we disagree, we must explain to them why they are wrong. In this we need to ask, will this genuinely encourage people to know and follow Christ? Or will it genuinely make this a more just and upright society? If it will not, then I think we need to seriously hesitate before jumping into the fight. Many of these issues are meaningless and accomplish nothing. Having "In God We Trust" on the coins is only meaningful if we do trust God. Working to encourage people to trust God so the motto is meaningful may be a good thing. Working simply to maintain the motto when the substance is gone is futile.

Part of the problem is that we want to live in a nice safe world, where our beliefs are respected and never challenged. Such a situation tends to lead to a nominal  and anemic faith. Therefore, I am convinced that the death of purely cultural Christianity is in certain respects a good thing. But it is clear we will not bring it back by posting the Ten Commandments on civic property. I am convinced that Christians in the United States need to let go of the past and press on toward the future, and nowhere is it so evident as here. And if we are to have an impact on our culture, we need to save our time and effort for the things that really count. There is a point where we need to stand up for the freedom to express our faith. But we need to ask clearly in any particular case if that is really what is at stake.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Touch of Humor - The Pagan Question

Are the various holidays celebrated by Christians pagan? Is this a problem?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Remake

God did not make, nor will He remake, the world to suit our fancies.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Gregory

But since often, when preaching is abundantly poured forth in fitting ways, the mind of the speaker is elevated in itself by a hidden delight in self-display, great care is needed that he may gnaw himself with the laceration of fear, lest he who recalls the diseases of others to health by remedies should should himself swell through neglect of his own health; lest in helping others he desert himself, lest in lifting up others he fall.

Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Pastoral Rule, Part IV, (translated by Rev. James Barmby, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p.71)

Is there a danger that in doing what is good we may fall through pride in our own accomplishments? How can we avoid this? 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Where Does Religion Come From

What is the origin of religion? And where do particular religions come from? Do they evolve, and if so how? Now one of the problems at the outset is that "religion" is a vague, ambiguous word that lacks clear definition. But it is hard to come up with a good substitute. So I am going to look at religion in terms of what is usually called religion, without trying to be too precise.

Now the origin of religion is totally lost in antiquity. It not only goes back as far as recorded history, but there are many artifacts from before then that suggest a religious purpose. The Neanderthals put flowers on the graves of their dead. It is impossible to be absolutely certain that this was religion. But it sure looks like it. Now can primitive people show us what the earliest religions were like? But primitive people have lived as many generations as the rest of us. If they have advanced little technologically,  that does not suggest they have remained unchanged in other respects. Further, I question if most of these peoples even date from primitive times. The mountain men, cowboys, and pioneers of the American west all came from the civilized east. They adopted a more primitive lifestyle to live in a less civilized country. I suspect many of the modern primitive people left a more civilized area in search of new land, to escape overcrowding or enemies, to follow an occupation that fit the wandering life, or just out of desire to see new things. It is difficult to prove any group is truly primitive in its beliefs.

Christianity claims that God communicated to human beings from the very beginning. The other theological systems then developed from this by adding other gods and spirits. This fits with the idea found in many cultures of a primitive Father God that they had lost communication with. It also explains why many of the same ideas, such as a dying and resurrected god, are common in many cultures. But this is based on the acceptance of the truth of Christian beliefs. However, it is simply not possible to know what the origin of religion is if all the claims made by the religions themselves are rejected. We do not know if it evolved or appeared suddenly. Therefore, any argument based on the origin of religion will not stand up to examination.

As for particular religions, the key distinctions are the result of one or a small group of founders, who determine their basic beliefs. After they exist, they may develop over time. The different branches may even drift apart over minor issues. But the major new beliefs are the result of the actions of a certain individual or individuals. These have appeared very clearly in known and documented history. Any argument based on a distinct belief system growing up slowly in the community is indefensible.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Finding  God's will is often presented as a nice, simple straight shot. You find the right calling or career, marry the right person, and everything will just fall into place and follow in logical order. I have known people for whom it seemed to work that way. But often God leads us in complicated and convoluted ways for reasons we do not always understand. Elijah witnessed great miracles, but ended up depressed and discouraged because the people's response to them did not measure up to his expectations. Joseph had to go through many trials and setbacks before God made him vizier over all Egypt. David spent many years running from King Saul before he received the promised kingdom. Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but spent years waiting for it to come about. He was told at one point not to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6), but later spent two years preaching there (Acts 19:10). God is in control of our lives (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; 1:11), but He does not always lead us in simple ways we can understand. We can only trust Him (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; Isaiah 40:31). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Tale of Four Cities

Once in a faraway kingdom there was a couple who sought to immigrate, fleeing the country of Secularia. To seek a home in their new country they went to a real estate agent.

" The first thing you must decide is which of the four cities you wish to live in," stated the real estate agent.

"What is the difference?" they asked.

"Let me show you," he replied.

The first city was a city of skyscrapers. But instead of going straight up they formed complex geometric patterns. In fact, everything in the city seemed to reflect a complicated and abnormal geometry. But the streets were deserted and no one came out to meet them.

"Why is this place so deserted?" asked the husband.

"This is Scholastica," replied the agent. "It was once a fine flourishing community filled with learned professionals who knew how to dissect a hair six different ways and could explain the distinction between difficult words, like essence, existence, and substance. But most of the inhabitants left long ago for the land of Modernia. There are only a few left, mostly in the quarter of Seminaria. But there is plenty of room for new inhabitants if you are not superstitious."

They looked at each other and firmly shook their heads no.

The next consisted of conventional-looking white houses with white picket fences. Workmen moved about briskly, putting up even more nearly identical houses. Not only the workers but everyone in the city seemed in perpetual motion, in a hurry to get somewhere. All of them looked like they were late for some important appointment.

The mayor and his wife came out to meet them, seeming to stay still only with great effort. "Welcome to Activia," they said. "We took in 500 new people last year, but there are always room and jobs for all. We never run out of things to do."

"This does look like where the action is," remarked the husband.

"But it all seems so uniform," returned the wife. "Let's look at the other options."

The third city was anything but monotonous. It was full of lights and colors and music. But these seemed to follow no clear pattern. Also, the city itself followed no clear pattern; the streets seemed to be plopped down in every direction.

The mayor and his wife were pictures of enthusiasm. They did not so much talk as bubble. "We are pleased to meet you," they said, "we are sure you will love it here in Experiencia. There is always something exciting going on. Come catch the feeling."

"Well it does look interesting," remarked the wife.

"But I would prefer something a little more orderly," returned the husband. "Let's check out something else."

The fourth city was less of an assault to the senses than the other three. There was order here but also variation. There were interesting mixtures of color and architectural styles, working together.  The people seemed confident and unrushed, efficiently going about their way. There seemed a feel of underlying calm.

"What do you base this city on?" the husband asked the mayor and his wife.

"We in Scripturia base our city on the King's manual and on the work of the King in dying and rising again. We trust in that rather than in our own strengths and abilities."

The couple looked at each other. They had found their home.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Through the Cracks

Can we make Satan too powerful? What should the right perspective on his activities be? 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Mask

If you cannot learn to lay aside your mask at the church door when you come to worship God, where will you lay aside your mask?

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Dionysius of Alexandria

But truly these men do not reflect on the analogies even of small familiar things which might come under 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. And when the object falls out of service and becomes useless, then it also begins to break up indeterminately, and to decompose and dissipate its materials in every casual and unregulated way, just as the wisdom by which it was skillfully constructed at first no longer controls and sustains it.

Dionysius of Alexandria, 190-264 AD, II--From the Books on Nature, II (translated by Rev. S. D. F. Salmond, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers, 2004, Vol. 6, p. 85)

Is this a reasonable analogy? How should it affect our thinking?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Not to Wash Our Hands

Washing your hands is a simple thing. But Jesus refused to do it when it became a legalistic requirement (Matthew 15:1-20). We are not obligated to simply go along with others' extra-biblical  rules (Colossians 2:16-23; Matthew 12:1-14; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). But we are also told to avoid judging or looking down on others who have different rules from us (Romans 14:1-12; 1 Corinthians 8:1-6; James 4:11,12). We are even told to go along with people's scruples to win them to Christ or keep them from stumbling (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 8:7-13; Romans 14:13-23). Bringing these together can be difficult. It can be particularly difficult in the corporate life of the church. There you have the additional problem that you are doing things together and what you do directly impacts others. How do we resolve this?

We need to start by asking if there is a clear command of God involved. It must be understood that God commanded what He intended to command, and we should not add to this ( Deuteronomy 4:5; Proverbs 30:6; Isaiah 8:20). Nor do historical examples in Scripture constitute commands. The Apostle Paul regularly preached at the synagogue first when entering a town (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1,2). Does that mean today that when we plant a church in a town, we must first preach at a Jewish synagogue? Now if someone is clearly in disobedience to Scripture we must correct them with gentleness in accordance with Scripture (1 Peter 4:8; Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). But if it is not clear, we need to consider that we may not have all the answers and need to be careful of passing judgment on another (1 Corinthians 3:18-23; 4:3-5; Romans 2:1). Now I am convinced there are things we need to be willing to stand up for (Jude 3; Romans 16:17,18; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). But this should be reserved for the clear-cut issues (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:1-4), not unnecessary details.

However, it is possible to take matters to the opposite extreme and refuse to wash your hands for any reason. In defense of their legitimate freedom in Christ, some ignore all concern for others and for the weaker brother and insist that no one question anything they want to do. But Scripture says we should put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11; Romans 12:9-21; Galatians 6:9,10) and should seek to preserve the order and unity of the church organization (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 13:17). I am convinced that there is a point where we have to not wash our hands. But we need to carefully consider what the issues involved are and when principle requires us to do this. So that we may not let someone run roughshod over our conscience, but may also try to be peacemakers who avoid blowing things completely out of proportion. It is frequently an act of love to lay aside our personal preferences for the benefit of others and not be continually refusing to wash our hands over minor issues.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Ivory Tower God

One of the wrong ideas about suffering is that God is sitting in heaven somewhere, looking down on us in our suffering, smiling benignly at us, but really having no idea what we are going through. This is not the Biblical idea of God. The Bible says that He has come down and has become a Man and has suffered with us (Hebrews 2:9-18; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18). Further, He did this for our sakes, to save us from our sin (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Further, the Father also loves us, being willing to send His Son to save us (John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10). This does not provide an intellectual answer for the problem of evil. We might even ask why it was necessary for God to do this. Why was there not an easier way? But it does show that God is not someone who stands at the sidelines, shaking His head over what He sees happening in the world. And this can change our attitude toward God and suffering. For if God calls us to suffer, at least He is willing to lead the charge.