Suicide

I want the truth where do we go if we commit suicide? PLEASE I WANT THE TRUTH?  

Great question Joann. Most people know someone who has either attempted or committed suicide. My brother committed suicide 22 years ago and I still experience deep pain in my soul over his loss. Let me share two important Scriptures that can help us with the answer to your question. 1 John 3:15 states: “Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” Revelation 21:8 says something similar, even including liars as sharing in the second death of the lake of fire. These are very sobering Scriptures. Suicide is murder of oneself, so it falls into this category. The Roman Catholic Church believes that all suicide victims immediately go to hell because it is a mortal sin that was not repented of before death (they believe that only venial sins can be forgiven in purgatory). I do not believe in purgatory or second chances (Lk 13:25; 16:19-31; Heb 9:27; 2 Cor 6:2; Mt 25:1-13; Job 16:22; Mt 12:32; Lk 12:10; Mk 3:29; Mt 26:24), so what we decide in this life determines our eternal future.

The second passage is Romans 8:38: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is a promise to all believers similar to John 10:27-30 and Hebrews 13:5. The true believer already has eternal life (1 John 5:13) and therefore is guaranteed heaven. In Romans 8:38 he says that nothing and no one, not even oneself (nor any other created thing) can separate the true believer from God’s love.

So how do we put these two Scriptures together that seem to be in tension? If one is in Christ, he or she has eternal life (Ephesians 1:3-14). If one is not in Christ, he or she will be held accountable for all his or her sins committed in this life. We don’t go to heaven based on our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we do go to hell based on our works (Revelation 20:13). Suicide is a grievous sin against God, oneself and one’s family. Suicide, which is murder, can only be forgiven by the blood of Jesus. The real question is, “Can a true believer commit suicide?” Many people call themselves Christians when they are not. The Bible is clear: to become a Christian we must repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus, outwardly expressing that faith in baptism (Acts 2:37-38). There must be a time when we cross from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14). We must be born again (John 3:3). True faith includes surrender to Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Real faith will inevitably produce the fruit of a changed life (James 2:26; Matthew 7:15-20). But how much fruit is necessary? Fruit doesn’t save us; it is only an indicator that we are saved. Jesus gave a parable about the four soils of the heart, teaching that the true believer will produce “some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). We bear fruit to various degrees depending on the power of God and our willingness to follow His leading. Free will can get in the way!

So how does all this pertain to suicide? People commit suicide for various reasons. Most of the time the person is suffering with severe depression. Depression is the kind of thing that can completely debilitate a person and cloud their reasoning. We want to pray for, show kindness to and help in whatever capacity we can all who suffer depression. Blame is not helpful. I believe it is possible for even a believer to commit suicide when suffering deep bouts of depression. If the person was a true believer he or she will go to heaven even if he or she committed suicide. The most important thing is to make sure we are a true believer (2 Peter 1:10). My brother was a true believer. He loved Jesus. I led him to Christ myself and saw the fruit of salvation in his life. He also suffered from depression. He was scarred at an early age and never got over it. He didn’t get help. I recommend all people who suffer from depression to consider three things: 1) Get involved in a good, Bible teaching church and a small group where fellowship and prayer is prevalent. 2) Get help professionally if they are even considering suicide. 3) Be open to medicine that can help with depression. Just like a diabetic needs insulin, many people are considerably helped by antidepressants. I wish my brother would have taken antidepressants. I hope this helps.

 

God bless,

 

Pastor Larry

Transgenderism

Concerned Christian: My profession is promoting transgenderism and I don't know how to respond as a Christian. What should I think about this issue? Great question. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

The LGBTQ community believes that “sex and gender exist on a spectrum.”[1] They believe that “different gender identities and differences of gender expression are not pathologies.”[2] They believe that they are being discriminated against and deserve equal rights. The transgender issue is also known as gender dysphoria. “Transgender refers to people who believe their gender identity does not correspond to their biological sex.”[3] How should Christians understand this issue? Does the Bible have anything to say about gender dysphoria? How should Christians respond to those who identify as transgender? What are we to think about the Caitlyn Jenner’s of the world?

First, it must be said that Christians should always respond to all human beings with compassion. It is easy to vilify someone who is not like us. The Bible helps us see that our real enemy is Satan and his demonic minions (Eph 6:10-12; 2 Cor 10:3-4). 1 John 5:19 makes it clear that all non-Christians are under the control of the evil one; they are not the enemy. This does not mean that we should be silent concerning sin, but it does mean we should care about all human beings, no matter what they are struggling with. Before we do anything, we must check our attitude and make sure it reflects Christ’s love.

But what is the loving thing to do concerning the transgender issue? If gender exists on a spectrum, then we should accept transgender individuals without attempting to change them. But if it is a psychological disorder, a pathology, then we don’t help them by ignoring the problem. All people are broken in different ways; we all inherit a sinful nature from Adam (Rom 5:12-21). Galatians 6:1 makes it clear that we should seek to restore gently a person who is trapped in sin. The real question is “What does the Bible say about the transgender issue?” If it is sin or an abnormality due to the Fall, then we should seek healing/forgiveness for the person trapped in this way of life. If there is something seriously wrong with a person who suffers from gender dysphoria then silence and pretending like there is nothing wrong is not the loving thing to do. If someone is hurting themselves, then ignoring their actions is hateful not loving. If you knew someone was cutting themselves, you would not be loving them by pretending that they don’t have a problem. It would also be unloving to beat them up. Compassionately offering help and prayer is the right thing to do.

Second, it must be said that the Bible does speak on this issue. Genesis chapters 1-2 give us God’s ideal plan before the Fall. Genesis 1:27 states: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Here we see that gender, male and female, was God’s idea in the beginning. Albert Mohler explains:

 

This means that an evangelical theology of the body begins with the normative understanding that every human being is born biologically assigned as male or female. That biological assignment is not a naturalistic accident, but a sign of God’s purpose for that individual human being to display his glory and aim for flourishing and obedience to that creative purpose.[4]

 

Any departure or digression from the simple plan of God in making humans male and female should be considered an aberration. All deviations from God’s original plan are harmful not helpful to human beings and society. Gender is not a socially constructed concept like the new sexual theorists argue; it is a trait we are born with by God’s design. Genesis 3 introduces the Fall; we are all broken because of this event and need help. It appears that transgenderism is a product of the Fall, an aberration from God’s original intention.

Transvestitism is also prohibited in the Bible in Deuteronomy 22:5. Some might say that this is a law under the Mosaic covenant and no longer applicable, but what was the principle behind the law? The principle seems to be that God wants us to identify with the gender we are assigned at birth.

The overarching principle of the Bible that we are to be good stewards of all that God puts us in charge of also pertains to taking care of our body (e.g. Luke 19:11-27; 1 Tim 4:8). John Hopkins University was the first American medical center to perform sex reassignment surgery in the 1960’s. They stopped performing the procedures in the 1970’s because they found that the surgeries had no psycho-social benefit. Amputating normal organs without any positive affect was deemed as unnecessary. People with sex-change operations were almost 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the overall population.[5] 70-80 percent of children who declare transgender feelings spontaneously lose those feelings later according to studies done at Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic.[6] By advocating transgenderism we are encouraging a life of needless pain. Transgenderism is bad for people.

We have seen what the Bible says, but natural law tells us the same thing. First, if the body and mind disagree and the body including the Y chromosome is functioning properly, then more than likely the mind is at fault, not the body. A young person’s identity—swarmed by hormones—is fragile and needs guidance, not more options. Transgender people “have the highest rates of suicide, substance abuse, and homelessness.”[7] Is this because of their treatment by society or because gender dysphoria is a pathology? Is the person fine but persecuted, or are they broken? Since there is a disconnect between mind and body and there is nothing wrong with the body, it would appear that the mind is broken and needs help.

Transgender seems to be anti-feminist. Can a man really know what it is like to be a woman? Is he simply confusing effeminate feelings with gender? For a man to say he knows what a woman feels like or for a woman to say she knows what a man feels like is patronizing nonsense. We should try to empathize with each other and care for each other, but a man will never know what it is like to be a woman, so he cannot possibly even know if he is female inside. When a person is so confused that he thinks he is a woman even though he has male parts, he needs serious psychological help; he doesn’t need to be told that he is right. If we really care for these people we will seek to help them, not encourage their deception. Transgenderism opens up Pandora’s box. Rachel Dolezal, former president of NAACP, claimed to be black even though she was white; was she being dishonest, or do my personal feelings make things true?

The transgender issue has taken the front page of our society. People who are sincere are upset with those who they feel are robbing the transgender community of its right to exist without being harassed by bigots and racists. Some people out of zeal for truth have spewed hatred on those they don’t understand; this is tragic. As Christians we are to love everyone, especially those who are hurting because of this broken world. The best help for the transgender community is to love them, befriend them, and share the truth in love with them. We do not help them by ignoring their brokenness and pretending there is nothing wrong. We also don’t help them by emitting anger and hatred on them. The real enemy is Satan; let’s attempt a rescue mission even if we get hurt and misunderstood in the process. Check your heart and reach out to those who will listen with the love and truth of the gospel.

God bless,

Pastor Larry

[1] “No Labels on the Table” Massage and Body Work, March/April 2017, 68.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gospel Coalition.

[4] R. Albert Mohler Jr., We Cannot Be Silent (Nashville, Nelson Books: 2015), 107-108.

[5] “9 Things You Should Know About Transgenderism.” Current Events June 17, 2014. Based on a 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “No Labels” 68.

Is Purgatory True?

Is Purgatory True?  

A tradition pronounced dogma in 1438 A.D. by the Roman Catholic Church is the belief in Purgatory.[1] The General Council of Florence pronounced: “And, if they are truly penitent and die in God’s love before having satisfied by worthy fruits of penance for their sins of commission and omission, their souls are cleansed after death by purgatorial penalties.”[2] The Council of Trent called Purgatory “a debt of temporal punishment”[3] and the Catechism of the Catholic Church called it “a purifying fire” for “final purification.”[4] The problem with this doctrine is threefold: First, it is not found anywhere in Scripture. The Bible teaches that there are no second chances once you die; you either go to heaven or hell.[5] Second, it detracts from the finished work of Christ on the cross. Just prior to dying on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”[6] Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.” Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus.” When we place our faith in Christ we are “perfected forever” and have no need to pay further penalties for our sin because Christ’s death was sufficient to cover all of our sin. 1 John 1:7 says the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, not our own punishment. In the doctrine of Purgatory once again we see semi-Pelagianism where Jesus does some of the work and we do the rest for our purification. If the doctrine of Purgatory was not bad enough, the Catholic Church also sanctions indulgences where it is possible to give money to the Church to relieve the suffering of those in Purgatory; what this amounts to is that it is possible to buy salvation from God’s punishment of sin – a far cry from simply trusting in Jesus who paid the penalty for us with His blood. Luther questioned the practice of indulgences asking why the Pope doesn’t let everyone out of Purgatory if he has the power to.[7] Third the doctrine of Purgatory has been sadly abused by Popes and clergy throughout its history. Jacques Le Goff describes this abuse:

 

What an enhancement of the power of the living there was in this hold over the dead! Meanwhile, here below, the extension of communal ties into the other world enhanced the solidarity of families, religious organizations, and confraternities. And for the Church, what a marvelous instrument of power! The souls in Purgatory were considered to be members of the Church militant. Hence, the Church argued, it ought to have (partial) jurisdiction over them, even though God was nominally the sovereign judge in the other world. Purgatory brought to the Church not only new spiritual power but also, to put it bluntly, considerable profit, as we shall see. Much of this profit went to the mendicant orders, ardent propagandists of the new doctrine. And finally, the “infernal” system of indulgences found powerful support in the idea of Purgatory.[8]

 

This false doctrine robs people of assurance and sours the good news. According to the doctrine of Purgatory and Indulgences the good news is that if you place your faith in Jesus you will still have to suffer countless days in torment, unless you have a rich uncle that is kind enough to pay your way out of God’s punishment; this does not sound like good news to me.

So why does Roman Catholicism teach the doctrine of purgatory? The Catechism of the Catholic Church sites three verses that supposedly teach the doctrine of purgatory, but it leans heavily on late church councils to back up its belief. Let’s look at the three passages. First, 1 Corinthians 3:15 is mentioned: “If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.” In the context, this passage is referring to the works of a believer being tested for rewards (11-15). If the works end up being good, the person will receive a reward, but if they don’t pass the test he or she will not get a reward (14-15). The work is what is being tested by fire, not the person. If the person is what is referred to as going through the fire, then this means everyone, including supposed saints, go through the fire, because verse 13 says, “each one’s work…will be revealed by fire.” Catholicism rejects the idea that saints will go to purgatory, so they have a serious problem in using this verse. The solution is simple when we look at the context. The passage doesn’t say the person goes through fire. It says the work is tested by fire. Fire is obviously being used as an analogy. We don’t have to think that our works will literally be put in fire, because works don’t literally “burn up” (15). In view of the context, this verse says nothing about purgatory and only refers to rewards – notice punishment is never mentioned.

The second verse referred to in the Catechism is 1 Peter 1:7: “So that the genuineness of your faith – more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Once again the context makes all the difference in the world. Cults are notorious for taking verses out of context to make them say something they don’t actually say. The Roman Catholic Church should know better. The verse just before this passage tells when the trial comes: “Though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials.” The trials take place in this life, not some imaginary purgatorial afterlife. Also in verse 7 the refined by fire only refers to gold that perishes, not us personally after we die. One must seriously read a lot into this verse to make it say something about purgatory. Unfortunately, this is what the Catholic Church must resort to, because the Bible doesn’t teach the doctrine of purgatory. If this doctrine is true, then it would make sense that God would be much clearer by actually teaching it in His word.

The last verse isn’t actually a verse in the Bible. 2 Maccabees 12:46 is in an apocryphal book that only the Catholics hold to as Scripture. The Roman Catholic position concerning the Apocrypha was not officially sanctioned until the Council of Trent in 1545-1563. The Roman Catholic Church simply does not have a case for adding books to the already closed canon of the Old Testament. The books in question can be helpful, but also have serious deficiencies which rule out any possibility of their being considered Scripture. 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit and Judith all have serious historical mistakes recorded as truth; if they are Scripture then we would have to surmise that God made a mistake. In 1 Maccabees 8:1-16 it records that Antiochus the Great gave up Media and India to the Romans, when in fact he kept Media and never even controlled India.[9] 1 Maccabees 9:27 states that the time of the prophets had ceased and never claims to be prophetic. In 2 Maccabees 2:23 and 15:37-38 the writer admits he is not writing Scripture stating, “all this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book…. This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor, and from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I will here end my story. If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.”[10] When all of the facts are considered it becomes obvious that the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the late 16th century endorsed the Apocrypha as a reaction to the Protestant Reformation because they needed the Apocrypha to back up their belief in Purgatory, among other doctrines not taught in the Old or New Testament. Adding books to the Bible in the 1560’s, arguably as a reaction to the Protestants, when Jews, Jesus, early Christianity and Protestants would disagree, must be rejected by followers of Christ.

But what does 2 Maccabees 12:46 say? Actually the Catechism made a mistake and probably is referring to verse 45 since there is no verse 46; it says, “But since he was looking to the reward of splendor laid up for those who repose in godliness it was a holy and godly purpose. Thus he made atonement for the fallen, so as to set them free from their transgression.” In the context the passage is referring to the living making atonement for the dead. In verses 42-43 Judas prays for the dead to be forgiven and takes up an offering of 2000 silver drachmas to present as a sin offering for their forgiveness. This passage is an example of the living paying money to pay for the sins of the dead. But the passage goes beyond what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. In verse 40 we see what sin the dead soldiers committed that Judas is seeking to atone for. They wore “sacred tokens of the Jamnian idols…. So the reason these men died in battle became clear to everyone.” The sin of the soldiers being atoned for was idolatry, which the Roman Catholic Church considers a mortal sin. According to the Catholic Church purgatory is only for baptized believers who have committed venial sins; mortal sins send people to hell not purgatory. So we see that even this passage doesn’t teach the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

One last verse some use to prove purgatory, though the official Roman Catholic Catechism doesn’t refer to it, is Matthew 5:25: “Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.” There is a good reason that even the Catechism doesn’t use this verse to prove purgatory. It clearly is referring to this life, not after we have died. The context is if you remember someone has something against you, you are supposed to go and deal with it right away; otherwise, you could end up in jail. Notice it is “your adversary” that throws you into jail, not God.

Purgatory is a false doctrine that has been used to rob millions of people from the assurance they can have in Jesus. It is a dangerous doctrine, and therefore warrants a believer to leave any church that teaches it. We can agree to disagree agreeably on many doctrinal issues, but when the gospel is being tampered with, we must take a stand. Many understand purgatory as a place where you are punished for your sins, which indicates that the death of Jesus Christ was not enough. The truth is, if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ, surrendering to Him as Lord, we are saved from all of our sin. His death is sufficient. To take away from the glory of the cross by claiming our own works partially pay for our salvation is blasphemy. Jesus deserves all the glory!

 

[1] During the early Middle Ages the idea of purgatorial punishment developed for “slight sins;” with this a separation of venial and mortal sins was embraced. By the twelfth century the place called Purgatory was introduced and then systematized by the scholastic theologians. Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), passim.

[2] Ibid., 1020.

[3] Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:117.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 269.

[5] Luke 13:22-30 (note in v.25 that even when they wanted to come in they were not allowed); 16:19-31 (note v.26 no one can cross the chasm and there are only two places, not three); 23:39-43 (note the thief on the cross immediately entered paradise even after a lifetime of wickedness and without baptism); Hebrews 9:27. Also the early church fathers denied any second chance, e.g. Second Clement 8:3.

[6] John 19:30.

[7] 95 Theses.

[8] Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, 12.

[9] Robert Reymond, The Reformation conflict with Rome, 26-27. Reymond also records, “Tobit 1:4-5 teaches that the division of the kingdom (under Jeroboam I in 931 B.C.) occurred when Tobit was a ‘young man.’ But Tobit is also said to be a young Israelite captive living in Nineveh under Shalmaneser in the late eighth century B.C. This would make him as a ‘young man’ almost two hundred years old at the time of the Assyrian Captivity and he lived into the reign of Esarhaddon (680-668 B.C.). But according to Tobit 14:11 he died when he was one hundred and fifty-eight years old (according to the Latin text, he died at one hundred and two).” Ibid.

[10] New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Can Mormons Be Christians?

Charles asks,  

“Given the fact that what makes one a Christian is earnestly trying to follow Christ as our lord…all of us are on a lifelong journey to understand truth…and we are all likely wrong about things as we progress…how can we say that a Mormon, though mistaken, yet earnest is lost?”

 

This is a great question that needs to be understood. First, I would say you are incorrect in the “fact” you start out with. Earnestly trying to follow Christ does not make one a Christian. Repenting of our sin and placing our faith in Christ and in Him alone is what makes us a Christian. “Earnestly trying” sounds a lot like works and Ephesians 2:8-9 is very clear that salvation is not by works. Real faith includes a decision to follow Jesus, surrendering to Him as Lord, but that is not the same as “earnestly trying.” A true believer earnestly tries to follow Jesus, but it is God’s grace through our faith in Christ that saves us.

Second, your question makes it sound like we gradually become more and more Christian; this is one of the serious mistakes of the Emergent Church. The Bible is very clear that there is a point in time in which we are saved. John 3:3 says we are born again. In verse 18 John says, “Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” We are either born again or we are not. We are either under condemnation or we are not. I love Romans 8:1 for the believer, “Therefore no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus.” Throughout the book of Acts we see people getting saved and being added to the church. 2:41 says 3000 were added that day. 4:4 says another 2000 were added. 5:14 it says “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers.” I could go on and on. When we are born again and adopted into the family of God through faith we are Christians. Before that moment we are not. We are either “in” or “out.” There is no gradually becoming more and more Christian any more than a woman becomes more and more pregnant (she either is or she isn’t). Once we are saved, we do grow in our relationship, but there is a decisive moment for everyone who becomes a believer, even if they cannot pin point the exact time that did take place (e.g. kids growing up in a Christian home). The New Testament normal time was at baptism (Acts 2:37-38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).

Third, we need to understand that certain doctrines are more important as far as their impact on our life than other doctrines. John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 make it clear that people are only saved through Jesus. 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:4, 14-15 lets us know that we have to have the right Jesus. Just because someone uses the name of Jesus, that doesn’t mean they have the right Jesus. You could call your dog “Jesus,” but he can’t save you. Specifically, we need to believe that Jesus is God. It is one thing if someone doesn’t fully understand all the doctrinal implications of the person of Jesus at salvation, and quite another for someone to actually reject a cardinal truth about Jesus and still think he or she is saved. The Mormons do not believe Jesus is God. They believe He is a god, but not the one true God. Mormons believe in polytheism, the belief that there are many gods. Polytheism is categorically rejected throughout the Bible including the First Commandment (see also Deuteronomy 6:4). A perusal of Isaiah makes it very clear that there is only one God (see 43:10-11; 44:6; 45:5, 14, 18, 21; 46:9). Salvation is also a critical doctrine according to the Bible. Galatians 1:8-9 state that if anyone teaches or holds to any other gospel than the one Paul preached he or she is accursed, damned to hell. This is a very serious indictment. Verse 8 specifically says, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!” Mormons believe the angel Moroni told Joseph “another gospel.” This is the same problem with Islam that claims the angel Gabriel told Muhammad another gospel. Any gospel other than salvation by grace alone through faith alone is a false gospel that won’t save a person. I know this sounds harsh, but God has given us His plan and told us that all other plans won’t work. Notice there are passages of Scripture that specifically state you must believe this or else you are not a Christian. Bottom line is that we have to have the right Jesus and the right gospel. We can agree to disagree agreeably on a lot of doctrines, but not these doctrines. Mormons believe we are saved by Jesus “after we do all we can do.” I just quoted Joseph Smith. “After we do all we can do” is a salvation by works. Nobody actually fulfills this phrase either. No one does “all they can do.” All of us could have done more. This is a hopeless gospel.

Those who want to embrace the Mormons or at least the sincere ones into the fold of the family of God have a good heart. They want them to be saved, which is exactly what God wants (2 Peter 3:9). I wished all Christians had that kind of heart. But wanting to see the Mormons saved by bypassing God’s clear instructions actually thwarts their chance of salvation. If we think they are already good to go, we will not make every attempt to share the gospel with them. Liberal Christianity has made this mistake by embracing universalism. I had the privilege of seeing a good friend of mine named Jeff come out of Mormonism and embrace the true Jesus, rather than the Mormon Jesus who is simply one of many gods and is the brother of Satan (that is what they actually believe). He asked me to come and help him when the bishops of the Mormon Church were going to try to convert him back into the fold. We talked with the bishops for a couple hours and it became very clear to both Jeff and me that they didn’t have a clue to the real gospel. Jeff told me afterwards that he was afraid at first, but his confidence in the true gospel skyrocketed after the confrontation. We dare not water down the gospel to make it more palatable to modern society. The gospel itself is powerful enough to break through all barriers (Romans 1:16).

 

I hope this helps,

 

Larry

Our Constitution and the Indiana Law

Where is our country heading? The First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our country was founded on Biblical principles, including the principle that forcing one’s religion on someone else is wrong (John 18:36). But it was also founded on the principle that Christians should be able to live out their beliefs that are specifically revealed in Scripture. Today this second half of the first part of the First Amendment is deteriorating. First, as Christians we are already forced to pay for other people to be able to murder their babies. When taxes are used for abortions, the taxpayer is playing a part in the murder of innocent children. The Bible describes the murder of children as one of the most, if not the most, heinous of sins (Matthew 2:16-18; Exodus 1:15-22). It doesn’t matter if our courts don’t see abortion as a crime. Many Christians correctly see abortion as the crime of murder. Tax funded abortions go against the rights of those who still hold to the moral laws found in the Bible. Abortions should be illegal because they go against a clear moral law that everyone should be aware of in their conscience – it’s wrong to kill innocent babies. At the very least, those who believe abortion is immoral should not be forced to participate in them by paying for them with their tax dollars. Second, it now looks like Christians will be forced to sanction same sex marriage. Indiana is trying to ensure that Christians will not have to go against their conscience and be forced to participate in same sex marriages. Most people believe it is not right to go against your conscience (Romans 14:22-23). But if a pastor or photographer feels that being involved in a same sex marriage condones what he or she believes is a sin, they might be forced to go against their conscience if they are not allowed to refuse to participate in the wedding by officiating or taking the pictures. For the last two centuries our society has seen homosexuality as a sin because the Bible is very clear in both the Old Testament and New Testament concerning this issue (Genesis 19; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The Bible is very clear that we are to treat everyone with respect and kindness because they are created in the image of God, but this does not mean that we have to participate in their chosen lifestyles. Some have suggested that the Indiana law is no different than the laws that made black people sit at the back of the bus or stay out of certain restaurants. The Indiana law is not like that at all. The difference is that the Bible does condemn homosexuality; it does not promote prejudice concerning skin color. Christians should never look down on LGBT people or deny them services unless the Christian is required to participate in their activities that go against his or her conscience (e.g. participate in a gay wedding). We all need to respect each other. I believe the law in Indiana is only seeking to preserve the right of the Christian who simply asks for all parties to respect each other, including areas concerning the conscience. A rejection of this kind of law would be another step away from the true meaning of our constitution and the First Amendment. All people should both respect and love each other, accepting the fact that they might disagree on moral issues. We can coexist and live with each other, while not forcing each other to believe like the other believes. Some believe that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle; some of those believe that they should be able to force their belief on those who disagree. Because historically homosexuality has been considered a sin in this country, and historically this country was founded on preserving Christian principles, it seems to me that it would be wrong to allow the LGBT agenda to force its beliefs on those who still believe in the conservative interpretation of the Bible concerning the moral issues surrounding the LGBT agenda. Finally, I would ask all parties to dialogue with each other concerning these issues in a way that shows respect for each other. Emotional hate language does not promote respect or understanding. We can agree to disagree agreeably, being led by sound reasoning rather than emotional vitriol.

Can an Unbeliever Take Part in the Lord's Supper?

Can Unbelievers take part in the Lord’s Supper? How can an unbeliever discern the body of the Lord Jesus in order to do the Lord's Supper in a worthy manner? 1 Cor. 11:29. Our Life Group struggled to understand this based on the idea that unbelievers would be welcome to participate in the Lord's Supper.

This is a good question because the church throughout history has predominately sided with the idea that unbelievers shouldn’t take part in the Lord’s Supper. In church history the Lord’s Supper began to be viewed as almost magical; because of this, a person who was not a believer was considered to be using the “magic” illegitimately. Most Protestant churches today do not see any magic in the Lord’s Supper, but the idea of unbelievers taking part in a meal designed for the believer still seemed to be wrong. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 at first seems to bolster this position. I believe the context of the passage reveals otherwise. 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 speaks of four things the Corinthians were doing wrong – they were divided at the Lord’s Supper (17-22); they were partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way (27); they were not examining themselves (28); and they were not recognizing the body (29). The context of the entire passage reveals that all four of these things are speaking of the same offense. Verses 27-22 speaks of how the rich were not being considerate of the poor in such an unworthy manner during the Lord’s Supper that Paul says they weren’t really partaking in the Lord’s Supper (20). Paul concludes this entire section by exhorting the Corinthians to be considerate of each other “so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” All four offenses above refer to this one offense; this is what it means “to discern the body.” Paul is clearly referring to the body of Christ when he speaks of discerning the body, as he just stated previously in 10:17 where he spoke of how the Lord’s Supper was supposed to bring unity to the body: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The actual offense being addressed by Paul in chapter 11 is the division the Christians were instigating because of their selfishness.

So how does this answer your question? The offenders were clearly Christians as verses 30-32 states. The sickness and even death is called discipline from the Lord “so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” This passage has nothing to do with unbelievers and whether they should partake in the Lord’s Supper or not. Since the Bible never addresses whether unbelievers should take part in the Lord’s Supper or not, I am not willing to add a command telling them they can’t. I do think that it can be beneficial to allow them to partake in the Supper for two reasons. First, because it is simply a memorial. There is no magic in the elements. The sin of partaking in an unworthy manner refers to believers causing disunity, not unbelievers sinning. We should tell people to examine themselves and see if there is any unrepentant sin in their life. By reminding the people to examine themselves, the unbeliever may examine his or her heart and realize his or her need for a savior. This brings me to my second reason; the Supper is meant to be evangelistic. Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The Supper is the Gospel in pictorial form. It should be normal to have unbelievers in the service, just as the Corinthians had (1 Corinthians 14:24-25), who might be open to the gospel. As they take part in the Supper, they may realize what Jesus did for them. To tell unbelievers not to take part in the Supper would unnecessarily offend them; I say unnecessarily because the Bible never says they can’t take part. The only people judged for improperly taking the Supper are believers causing division. Don’t get me wrong; the Supper is primarily for believers, but it is not so rigid that unbelievers and children can’t take part in it.

I do understand the position of those who say unbelievers can’t recognize the body and therefore partake in an unworthy manner, but I don’t believe they are interpreting the Scripture correctly. I could be wrong, and I don’t believe this is a fundamental doctrine of the faith, so we can agree to disagree agreeably as brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t tell unbelievers they can partake in the Supper. If they asked, I would tell them to go by their conscience (no unbeliever has ever asked me though). I don’t want to hinder unbelievers from coming to Christ, so I am not willing to make it a rule that they can’t participate.

God bless, Larry

Lawlessness

Lawlessness Lately I have been hearing of a movement within Christianity that says churches shouldn’t talk about sin because we are saved by grace. They seem very judgmental about their condemnation of being judgmental. They usually attack a stereotype of a church in the 1950’s as if it represents most evangelical churches today. They say churches speak too much on sin...I doubt it. I think there are very few churches like this “straw man,” and I think they use this technique to draw young people who like to look down on established religion and want to hold onto sin while maintaining a form of religion. Here are the reasons why I think this is a big deal: First, any cursory reading of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, reveals that God hates sin – all sin in any form. Usually these churches teach that there is really only one sin Jesus condemned – legalism. It is true that he condemned legalism, but he also spoke out against murder, hatred, adultery, lust, divorce, lying, pride, greed and worry – all in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul, the apostle of grace, has lists of sins that we are to avoid at all cost and goes so far as to say that anyone practicing as a lifestyle these sins will not inherit God’s kingdom (Colossians 3:5-10; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Second, those who only speak of grace to the neglect of speaking out against sin don’t really understand what salvation is. In his excellent book R.C. Sproul asks the question in the title, Saved From What? According to Matthew 1:21 we are saved from our sins. Sin is so bad it took the death of Jesus on a cross to bring about our forgiveness. Sin is bad for us and it is an affront to God’s glory. To avoid talking about sin preachers would have to avoid half of the New Testament, which is why all of these new preachers are topical preachers – they avoid the passages that contradict what they like to emphasize. Healthy, balanced churches preach expositionally through books of the Bible verse by verse. Sin is bad for us, which is why Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.” How can we restore a person if we don’t bring up their sin to them? Jesus said in Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Should we ignore these passages? No, because sin hurts our brothers and sisters. We should be gentle and not judgmental, but we need to talk about sin. Third, these new preachers don’t understand the work of the Holy Spirit. John 16:8-11 reveals that the Spirit convicts the world about sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts us. I heard someone once say that this is only until they get saved; now there is no condemnation according to Romans 8:1. What that person doesn’t realize is that there is a difference between conviction and condemnation. Of course the Spirit still convicts us of sin. He loves us too much not to. Finally, we were actually warned about these preachers a long time ago in Jude 1:4: “For some men, who were designated for this judgment long ago have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.” Lawlessness is just as evil as legalism. James clearly stated, “Faith without works is dead.” James isn’t contradicting Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10; he is actually in agreement with him. James is simply saying that real faith will produce good works. People who get saved get a heart transplant where they actually want to follow God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34). Good works don’t save us at all, but they are evidence of true faith that saves us. Good works are the fruit of salvation, not the root. Jesus said we will know them by their fruit, warning us of these preachers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:20).

Does God Have a Plan for Ethnic Israel as a Nation Still?

Does God have a plan for ethnic Israel as a nation still? Recently the pastor of the church where we attend said that we don't have to a pay attention to Israel nor should we support them. He said in an email to me that he is 100% correct about that. He believes that Israel was rejected by God when the New Church age happened, following Jesus dying on the cross so that we can be forgiven if we believe John 3:16. He called his believe something, but I don't recall the exact title. I am wondering what you think about this. The Bible says that God "will bless those who bless Israel and that He will curse those that curse Israel". I personally think God's promises to Israel are "forever" when the Bible says "forever." What do you think?

Hi Marie,

I would have to disagree with your pastor on this question. Your pastor believes in replacement theology also called supersessionism. It’s interesting you bring this up. I just preached on Ephesians 2:11-18 last week. The sermon can be heard if you go to our website at: www.harvestmn.com. This passage can be used by supersessionists if they ignore other passages. God is creating one people of God, but He is definitely not finished with Israel yet. Romans 11 teaches us that Israel for the most part rejected Jesus as Messiah and so are in some sense cut off (Acts 3:17-26), but are still “beloved” in some sense. Romans 11:28-29 states: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This passage has to be referring to unbelieving Israel because it says they are enemies right now, but they are “beloved” because of God’s election of them as an ethnic people and as a nation. Some people misinterpret the last verse as referring to spiritual gifts, but the context reveals God is talking about His calling of Israel. A study of the Old Testament reveals that God always has a remnant of faithful believers, but it also discloses that He has an end times plan for His people, Israel. Zechariah 12:10 and Psalm 118:22-23 uncovers that God predicted that His people would reject their Messiah but would realize their sin at the end of time. See my book The Uniqueness of the Bible pages 116-122 for a detailed analysis of these passages. Zechariah 12:10 specifically says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” This is a promise to ethnic Israel as a nation, which is why it says God will pour out a spirit of grace “on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem;” this phrase refers to ethnic Israel as a nation. It says when God pours out a spirit of grace, they will “look on me,” clearly referring to God, but then says “on him whom they have pierced,” clearly referring to Jesus and His crucifixion. The New Testament teaches us that Jesus is God and so the sentence makes sense. Ethnic Israel as a nation will recognize that Jesus is God and is their Messiah. They will mourn over the fact that they rejected their Messiah just as the prophecies predicted. Zechariah 13:1 divulges that this repentance will result in forgiveness, so they actually become Christians. It uses the same phrase, “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” to show who is forgiven. The context of chapters 12-14 reveal that it is referring to the end of time as the phrase “on that day,” referring to the Day of the Lord, discloses. 12:9 tells us why your question is so important. It says, “And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” When we reject the truth that God still has a plan for ethnic Israel we set ourselves up for harm, at least as a nation. In my quiet time this morning I read Jeremiah 30:9-11:

But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

This passage is speaking about the exile of Israel in 586 BC and their return from exile in 539 BC, but it refers to David their king, which is a reference to Messiah and so must also be speaking of the future of Israel even after the time of Christ. What we see is a pattern found throughout the Old Testament. Israel is rebellious (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) and God disciplines them, but He will never ultimately reject them. I don’t take this “ask the pastor” request as a coincidence. I just preached on this subject last Sunday and I just read the passage in Jeremiah this morning. I preach expositionally, which means verse by verse through books of the Bible, so I couldn’t have just picked a topic I like to preach on. I also read through the Bible verse by verse for my quiet time and just happened to land on Jeremiah 30 this morning. God is saying something, and I believe it is the fact that He cares for ethic Israel as a nation. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! God bless, Larry

What should we do about Isis?

Isis I was recently asked what I thought the solution to Isis was. My first response was the gospel. The ultimate problem with this world is that people’s hearts are corrupt. Jesus is the only one who can change people from the inside out. The New Covenant promises a new heart that will follow after God. My friend responded that our country would not be able to respond in the way I am suggesting. I said, “Oh, you are asking how our country as a nation should respond.” I then suggested that there are three major problems that must be understood and faced before making a decision. First, we need to understand that if we stop Isis, other radical Islamic groups will sprout up like Hydra’s head being chopped off sprouted several more heads. The reason radical Islamic groups will continue to manifest themselves is because radical Islam is true Islam. The extremists as we call them are the faithful followers of the Qur’an and Muhammad. Explicit statements in the Qur’an such as Surah 9:5 command them to do what they are doing:

So when the forbidden months are passed, so kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and take them [as captives], and besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush, so if they repent [convert to Islam] and perform the prayer and give the legal alms, so leave their way free. Surely Allah is forgiving, merciful.

Moderate Muslims suggest that there are also peaceful surahs and that the Jihad surahs are only advocating self-defense. I wish this were true. Surah 2:256 does state, “No compulsion in religion.” But what does this mean? What the radical Muslims know is that this was an early surah given when Muhammad hoped the Qurash people would accept his religion. Once he was forced out of Mecca and fled to Medina, he received new revelations that rescinded this one. The Qur’an teaches the doctrine of abrogation (Surah 2:106). Earlier surahs are abrogated by later ones. Surah 2:256 cannot be speaking of defensive war only because surah 2:216-218 teaches that in defense, war is permissible even during the forbidden months. The Qur’an clearly teaches that Muslims are to fight the infidels until Islam rules over the entire world. Even moderate Muslims want Shariah law enforced when possible. What Westerners do not understand is that Islam is not just a religion. It is a religious ideology that encompasses their entire worldview. It is true that most Muslims are relatively peaceful, but this does not mean that they are the ones who correctly interpret the Qur’an. The fact is that there is a large minority of Muslims who are not peaceful (perhaps 30-40% in the world) because the Qur’an is not that difficult to interpret. It is not like the Bible, in that it was written by only one person and in only one genre. It is mostly made up of direct commands from Allah; it is fairly straightforward in what it says. Because of these facts, we will always have radical Islamic extremists in large numbers threatening the U.S. Second, if we decide to fight Isis we need to decide who we will arm to help us in this battle. At first this might seem to be an easy answer – arm the enemies of Isis. But this is not as easy as it seems. Most of the Muslim world hates the U.S. Even after Isis burned alive a Jordanian soldier they captured and put the execution on YouTube, a large percent of Jordanians still support Isis. Isis’s cause is obviously being funded heavily by those throughout the Arab world that embrace their ideology. We can see this by how many other radical Muslim groups exist with large amounts of weapons such as Al Qaida, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban, etc. How can all of these groups be thriving without massive support? How can there be substantial support unless a large percent of Muslims embrace their cause? Who can we really trust? There is another doctrine taught in the Qur’an and the Hadith called Taqiyya. Surah 3:54 states, “They deceived, and Allah deceived. And Allah is the best deceiver (makara).” The Hadith in Bukhari 49:857 and 84:65 teach that it is acceptable and good to lie to your enemy. If it is okay to deceive infidels (non-Muslims), then how do we know the Muslims are being honest with us? Our dealings with Karzai the former president of Afghanistan is a case in point. He took a lot of money from us and our allies, but in the end deceived us and was caught making deals with the Taliban. The greatest danger of our troops while we were in Afghanistan came from Afghani soldiers who turned and killed our soldiers. Who to support is not an easy decision to make. Third, any help against one group of Muslims disrupts the balance of power in the region. Until we realize the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, we will not be able to properly determine how to fight our enemy. There are radical Islamic extremists in both factions of Islam. Iran is predominately Shia and is currently attempting to build atomic weaponry. Israel correctly recognizes that Iran is the greatest threat to the region. Iran is working with Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Syria (Bashar al-Assad) because they are all Shia Muslim. Yemen just fell to insurgents who are allies with Iran and are Shia Muslim. Iraq is predominantly Shia, but was controlled by the Sunni until Saddam Hussein was taken out under the Bush administration. We should expect Iraq to form a coalition with Iran. If Shia Muslims gain too much power, things could go very bad for Israel. But Isis, Boko Haram, Al Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban are all Sunni Muslim. When we fight Isis we help Syria, where Assad has slaughtered thousands of his own people, even using chemical warfare. In this war we may end up trying to fight just enough to hurt one enemy but not enough to help the other enemy; the question is, “Is this a good strategy for war?” In reviewing these problems I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t try to stop Isis. Isis is evil and has declared war on us. Our government is responsible for protecting our citizens and helping our allies, especially Israel, which is our greatest ally in the region. But how do we stop Isis? The answer has to take into consideration all three of the factors above, lest we fight ignorantly and thus ineffectively. I still think the greatest weapon is the gospel. As Christians our primary loyalty is to our Lord, not our country. We must pray and send missionaries to other countries and share the gospel to Muslims in our own country. Evil hearts cannot be changed by politics. At the same time, I believe we should be involved in politics. Our nation should be involved in world affairs. But we must be careful not to confuse the two. We fight, even go to war, to defend ourselves from those who have declared themselves as our enemy. As Christians we seek to convert Muslims by sharing the gospel, the truth in love. We love our enemy in hopes that they will become our friend, but we also protect our families from those who would seek to harm them.

Larry Siekawitch

Test for Adultery

Numbers 5:11-31: How is this didactic and how could it work? Great question. First of all, didactic simply means to instruct, but it is sometimes used in the sense of teaching or moralizing excessively. In the passage on the test for adultery some would use “didactic” in the second sense and criticize the test. At first, the passage does seem to be a little bizarre. There is no scientific explanation for how dust can make some sick and others not sick depending on whether the person committed adultery or not. But if God ordained the test, He could bypass any scientific difficulties. The passage is to be understood in the context of a theocracy (Israel was a nation under the direct control of God as King), and is a trial by ordeal. God gave the test to Israel and made sure the results registered properly in each case. We cannot use this same test today, because we are not under a theocracy and God has not ordained it as a proper test for this time. It is not a general moral principle, but rather a specific test for a specific time – Israel under the old covenant. God had a specific plan for Israel and the Old Testament reports that plan. He also has a general moral plan for all of humanity, which He relates throughout the Bible. The specific plan that entailed judicial, ceremonial and sacrificial laws only pertained to the Israelites in the theocracy of God's covenant with them. Now He has a New Covenant as related in the New Testament offered to everyone; God's people are now transnational. God's moral laws do not change, because His moral character never changes (James 1:17), but the specifics of His plan have changed from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant as the book of Hebrews brings out (see Hebrews 7:12).

Hope this helps,

Pastor Larry

Are all premillennialists Calvinists?

Curt asks,John MacArthur once preached a sermon titled “All pre-mills are Calvinist”, in which he talked about Romans 11, how a study of God’s restoration of Israel to salvation before the millennium makes all men Calvinist.

As I read a few of your papers online, I see that you believe in the free will of man that chooses God before he is saved, rather than God choosing man (Calvinism).

And at the same time, you seem to believe in a pre-millennium in which Israel will be restored as detailed in Ezekiel 36-38, without choosing the put their faith in Christ.

The salvation of Israel to return to Christ, as in Romans 11, is not by their own will, but so the world will know that the Lord keeps his promises. How do you reconcile these differences?

Hi Curt, First I would say that I do not believe we choose God before He chooses us (Eph 1:4). I do believe people have a genuine free will, but unless God first draws us we cannot and will not come to Him (John 6:44). I am a premillennialist, and I do look forward to the salvation of Israel because I believe God still has a plan for them, which has begun to unfold since 1948. I do not believe the salvation of the Jews is apart from their free will. When the Bible says "all Israel will be saved" this does not mean all Israel without exception, but rather refers to a large number of the Jews who will freely choose Christ once they realize He is the Messiah (Zech 12:10). Romans 11 is in the context of Romans 9:6b which states, "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." Literally it says "not all those from Israel are Israel." In saying all this, I do not pretend to know how to reconcile all the differences. As I state in my paper on Election found in our website under "resources" there is great mystery involved in the question of election. God is wonderful in the old sense of the word, full of wonder; He is beyond us and incomprehensible. Back to MacArthur: MacArthur also is not a typical Calvinist. He is a four point Calvinist like Calvin was, denying limited atonement. He also believes God loves everyone, even the non-elect. He wrote an excellent book called The Love of God that relates this view. I disagree with his premise that all premillennialists are Calvinists. Is MacArthur a Calvinist? How many points do you have to hold to in order to be a Calvinist? I see myself as a 3 point Calvinist (I also reject irresistible grace). Am I a Calvinist? Many Puritans held to similar views as mine. Once we agree that there is mystery in the idea of election, I think we can say any believer can be a premillennialist irrespective of his or her view on election. Hope this helps, Larry

What About Pentecost?

What About Pentecost? Pastor Larry, with Pentecost upon us I've been considering the Holy Spirit Baptism and its relation to "power gifts" in modern times. Most Charismatic Christians only ever pray in indiscernible tongues. Scripture shows that everyone the apostles prayed for were healed totally and instantly. If Christians still have access to these gifts, why doesn't the church see the miraculous like the 1st century Church did? Are we doing something wrong or is it something that God has taken away as cessationists believe?

Great question Michael,

When we look at the Bible, especially the book of Acts, we find some continuity and some discontinuity concerning the more supernatural gifts of the Spirit. It does appear that we have two discernable groups today concerning this question. The Pentecostal/Charismatics tend to see complete continuity between the church today and that of the Apostles, and Evangelical/cessationist churches see complete discontinuity. I think the Bible describes a balance between these two positions. Concerning continuity I would say there is no Bible verse that speaks of a cessation of the gifts taking place before Jesus comes back. Some appeal to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, which does talk about a cessation of the gifts, but the scholarly consensus today is that the time of cessation referred to in 1 Corinthians 13 is clearly the return of Christ. “When the perfect comes” and seeing “face to face” refers to Jesus second coming. This would actually argue for the opposite of what cessationists claim. The passage actually says the supernatural gifts referred to won’t cease until Jesus comes back, because they will no longer be necessary when Jesus is with us face to face. This non-cessationist view is also backed up by Acts 2:16-21. Peter is explaining the event of Pentecost to the observers and quotes Joel chapter 2. In verse 16 he says this (the day of Pentecost with tongues, etc.) is that (the prophecy made by Joel). In verse 17 he says it will be in the last days, actually describing the very end of the last days in verses 19-20. According to this passage the last days began at Pentecost and will be finished when the Day of the Lord comes. One simply has to ask, “Have we passed the last days yet?” Dreams, visions and prophecy, along with tongues since it was included in the “this is that” by Peter, will all take place in the church during the entirety of the last days. Notice Peter is in complete agreement with Paul. Continuity is established by these two passages. But there is also some discontinuity discernable in the New Testament. Acts elevates the Apostles as a unique group who had complete authority over the entire church and were able to perform miracles like Jesus did, instantaneous and complete. See Acts 1:2; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12-16; 9:27 and 19:11-12. The Apostles did pass on the ministry, including miraculous gifts, but they were also seen as unique. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul argues for a unique ministry in the miraculous for the Apostles. The Apostles had seen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:7-9; Acts 1:21-22; 22:14), which was a requirement for joining this unique club. This is because the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles were considered the foundation of God’s people with Christ as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 John 4:6). Wayne Grudem makes an excellent case for the idea that the New Testament Apostles are the counterpart to the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament gift of prophecy is not like the Old Testament prophecy of the Prophets; it is not The Very Words of God but rather impressions from God put in our own words that need to be tested(see Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today). God can speak to His kids today, but He doesn’t speak in such a way that it is equal to the Bible. God can heal today, but no one can heal instantaneously everyone he or she meets, like Jesus and the Apostles could. Tongues are for today, but they need to be regulated in accordance to 1 Corinthians 14. So the Bible seems to indicate that there is some discontinuity between the original Apostles and the church today. I think the Bible presents a balance between the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals. We can learn from both groups. The gifts are for today, but we need to be cautious and abide by Paul’s warnings and parameters in 1 Corinthians 14. We should have an expectancy and excitement about what God can do like the Charismatics tend to have, alongside recognition that God does not always heal or give everyone the same Spiritual gift. We should have both a theology of glory and a theology of suffering in the Now/Not yet of the Kingdom of God. Balance is the best.

Question on Prayer

Question on Prayer: I want to insure that I am praying the way God wants me to. My question is, should we pray directly to the Holy Spirit? I have heard/read conflicting opinions regarding prayer. One said we must pray directly to God in all things. Another said we should pray to Jesus, and pray to the Holy Spirit for specific things, such as to be filled with the Spirits wisdom, power, etc. Could you expound on the above things as well as any pertinent information concerning prayer. I know this is rather elementary, but I am a bit confused due to the conflicting opinions. Thanks!

Great question Ken. The New Testament reveals that God is Triune, in part so that we can have a dynamic relationship with all three persons of the Trinity. God wants us to know that though He is one God, He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons of the Godhead who interact with each other and desire to interact with us. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father because one foundational aspect of our relationship with God is that we are His adopted sons and daughters (Romans 8:14-17). As a good Father He protects us, guides us and loves us. The Scriptures also describe the centrality of Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9). Jesus is our Lord and Master. He is our King (Revelation 19:16) and our friend (John 15:13-15). We relate to Him as Lord by surrendering to Him our very lives. We relate to Him as King, by serving Him as loyal subjects. We relate to Him as friend and brother by drawing near to Him. Finally the Scriptures describe the Holy Spirit as our comforter (John 14:15-18) and empowerer (Acts 1:8). He lifts us up when we are down. He bonds us together in true fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:13). He gifts us and empowers us to live holy lives and to minister effectively as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God. Having said all this, I would ask a question: “Should we talk to these persons who have such a significant impact on our lives?” Of course! Remember, prayer is simply talking to God, having a conversation with the Almighty. We can talk to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit individually, because each one is a person. We can also talk to God in general because He is only One Being. Some people say “God” or “Lord” referring to God in general. At times we pray directly to the Father or the Son or the Spirit. All of this is perfectly acceptable when you understand the doctrine of the Trinity. The New Testament gives us examples of prayer to the Father and the Son, but there are no examples of prayer to the Spirit; this doesn’t mean we cannot pray to the Spirit, because it never says that we shouldn’t pray to the Spirit. Our relationship with God should be dynamic, including prayer to each person of the Trinity as we seek to relate to our wonderful, Triune God.

What is truth?

Ask the pastor: Today I had a conversation with a relativist. Her view was that all religions have an element of truth. She made the following claims:

1) God is good, but set up evil events for the greater good. (IE: James town, Holocaust, etc) - NOTE: She was explicit that James Town was orchestrated by God for the greater good. 2) Each person is responsible for that which brings them the greatest good. 2a)Each person determines their own good. 3) Truth is a matter of perception for the individual.

So, when someone makes the above claims? How do you reason with them?

First of all I would say that most religions do have some elements of truth in them. Satan knows that mixing truth into the lies he spreads helps people more readily accept them. This does not mean that every religion is good or the same. Only Christianity tells us without error who God is and what His plan is for us. Second, God is good, but He doesn’t cause evil. We need to understand the difference between God’s permissive and active will. He never actively causes evil, because that would make Him the author of evil. No evil can come unless He allows it though (Job 1-2). He orchestrates in the sense of allowing all that happens for the greater good. He is the grand chess master who uses our evil for His good purposes without being the cause of that evil. Third, the next two points seem very self focused, which the Bible is not. We are responsible for what we do, but our focus should be on how we can bring God the greatest glory, not on how we can bring our own greater good. We definitely don’t determine our own good if this person means by that, that we determine what is good. Only God determines what is good – He is God and we are not. If this person means we determine bringing about our own good, then the answer is yes and no. Our greatest good comes from not seeking our own good, but rather God’s glory. Jesus said if we seek to save our life we will lose it, but if we lose our life for His sake we will gain it. Last, truth is not a matter of perception, it is a matter of what is real. There are two major philosophies concerning what is true: 1) The pragmatic theory which states something is true if holding the belief is useful. There are four problems with this theory: a. Though many truths are helpful some are not. b. Pragmatist understanding can result in contradictory statements both being true. If something is useful for Dave but not useful for Susan then it is true and not true. c. Things are not true because they are useful; they are useful because they are true (i.e. Antibiotics). d. How do we determine what is useful? Short term or long term? If short term then lying could be seen as true. If long term then how can we ever know until years later? 2) The correspondence theory of truth is the only rational view. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. If truth were a matter of perception then the belief that the earth is flat would be true and all believed lies would be true. We are much better off getting our focus off of ourselves and trust in God’s word which is ultimate truth and our final authority in deciding what is true or false and what is right or wrong. See my book, The Uniqueness of the Bible for an extended case for the supremacy of the Bible as our final authority.

God bless, Larry

What are the four words for hell in the Bible?

Ken asked,

I recently saw a program that discussed the different names for hell and what they meant. The 1st one mentioned is the Hebrew "Sheol" which the program claimed meant "pit or grave". Next came "Hades" which in Greek also meant pit or grave. Followed by "Gehenna" meaning "fire that destroys the soul" also from Greek. Lastly-also from Greek- came "Tartarus" which applied only to fallen angels or confinement of fallen angels. Do you consider this to be accurate all or in part? Thanks

Hi Ken,

The statement is fairly close. Here is what the four words refer to in the Bible:

  • Sheol: Grave, death, realm of the dead, place of punishment. It depends on the context. The Old Testament did not give a lot of detail concerning the afterlife.
  • Hades: Temporary place of punishment for the wicked (definitely more than pit or grave). Greek word used in the Roman world with all kinds of elaborate thoughts concerning the afterlife. In the Bible it refers to a temporary place of punishment until the inhabitants are cast into the lake of fire.
  • Gehenna: Lake of fire, eternal place of punishment for the wicked. Originally this referred to a local garbage dump outside Jerusalem that continuously burned, but it became a symbol of the place where unrepentant sinners will go to experience eternal, conscious torment as punishment for their sins.
  • Tartarus: Temporary place of punishment for wicked angels. It is only used once in the Bible and is fairly vague, but those angels put here will eventually end up in Gehenna. 

The program was close, but you never know the nuances of TV programs concerning religion. They usually try to downplay the seriousness of God’s holiness and judgment. Liberal Christianity emphasizes God’s love to the neglect of His holiness and legalistic Christianity emphasizes God’s holiness to the neglect of His love. Either of these caricatures lead us to a half god rather than the true God. God is both holy and loving, which is especially seen in the cross where both God’s wrath and love meet.

Sex

Sex Recently I received a question about sex before marriage. The person related that several Christian men have told her that the Bible does not condemn premarital sex. They claim that some of the verses used to show that premarital sex is a sin are under the old covenant and therefore no longer applicable or they only referred to certain instances of culture that no longer exist today. They also said that Greek words like porneia do not actually refer to premarital sex. Does the Bible say premarital sex is a sin? First, it must be stated that porneia refers to more than fornication (premarital sex), but it does clearly refer to premarital sex. A search in all Greek Lexicons as well as the ancient first century writers’ use of the word reveals that it includes premarital sex as a sin. The only reason these guys want it to mean something else is because they don’t like the requirements. It is important that when we come to ethical questions we come from a neutral perspective simply seeking what God wants. If we are bias we will twist the Bible to fit what we want it to say in accordance with our own sinful nature rather than in accordance with God’s sinless nature. I will attach at the bottom of this essay several thoughts from some expert scholars that reveal what the Bible teaches concerning this issue. Second, I want to discuss God’s original intention for sex. In Genesis 2:18 it mentions the first time in God’s creation when God said “it is not good.” He said it was not good that man should be alone, so He decided to “make a helper as his complement.” The word for complement is neged which literally means opposite of and means corresponding to, or complementing or completing. This is a major reason why homosexuality is prohibited because there is no true completion from opposites, opposites in gender. Biology 101 reveals that two men or two women cannot fulfill the sexual experience because they are not opposites in gender. Women are different from men and that is by God’s design and it is a good design. 1:24 goes on to reveal God’s plan for marriage. The man is to leave his father and mother and bond to or cleave to his wife. The Hebrew word is davaq which means to cleave or cling to in a covenant relationship that no one should separate. The reason why it must be in a covenant relationship of marriage is because the two “become one flesh.” In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul refers to this when speaking against sexual sin, saying that even sex with a prostitute is a joining with her where “the two become one flesh.” In the sexual union there is a deep physical, psychological and spiritual union that takes place; this is why in the Old Testament if someone had premarital sex with a woman he had to marry her unless her dad prohibited it. In our day of casual sex people’s souls are being ripped apart on a regular basis, causing undue harm to everyone involved – even if they think they are just having fun. Romans 1:27 and Psalm 31:10; 38:3 reveals the natural and spiritual consequences of going against God’s plan. Sex is so wonderful and so powerful that it is absolutely fantastic and wonderful in the context God designed for it, but absolutely devastating outside of that context. Paul states that sexual sin is the only sin against the body (1 Cor 6:18), putting it in a category of its own. As believers we are not to succumb to the worldview of the cultures that surround us. We are to be a countercultural people who fully engage the cultures of our world in order to bring them to Christ. If we look just like the world, they won’t see the need for change. Below is the answers of three scholars to this question:

Dr. Jerry Walls: Recently, one of my students raised some fascinating questions that more and more people today seem to be asking, namely, “Is premarital sex a sin, and whether the Bible is really clear on the matter. Here is how he posed the question: Student: “I will qualify this to say that my girlfriend and I aren’t doing anything; however, we were both fairly surprised to discover that the “sex in marriage only” thing is not really there. Everyone talks about it, but I have as of yet been unable to find it. It’s a particular area of interest for me, because if the popular Christian notion of abstinence is wrong, we have been mentally and emotionally abusing quite literally millions of people. In the Old Testament, sex before marriage leads to marriage (Exodus 22:16). In the New Testament, we mistranslate the word porneos as “fornication,” which we take to mean sex before marriage, whereas this is clearly not the case. The Bible uses the same word talking about reasons for leaving a marriage, which sex with a woman besides your wife is clearly not premarital sex. Most sites and sources I have found say that verses prohibiting “sexual immorality” are talking about sex before marriage, but the argument here is circular. What is sexual immorality? Sex before marriage. Why is sex before marriage immoral? Because the Bible prohibits sexual immorality. My aim is not to say that we should all just go off and have sex with whomever we please, but the supposed Biblical prescription simply isn’t there, and I’ve done a good deal of research and asked some very knowledgeable people.” Dr. Ben Witherington III responds: As ought to be clear from 1 Cor. 7, virginity in a woman was highly valued before marriage. In that text she is called both the betrothed and a virgin. In early Jewish law if you had sex with a woman you were considered married to her or you had shamed her. See the story of Mary and Joseph. Porneia can refer to all sorts of sexual sin including deflowering a virgin. What that whole discussion by your student ignores is: firstly, there was no dating or physical intimacy prior to an arranged marriage in the vast majority of cases. The notion of dating doesn’t exist in Jesus and Paul’s world. Second, honor and shame cultures placed a high value on sexual purity. Notice how prostitutes were stigmatized. Women were mainly blamed for sexual immorality. Finally Jesus gave his disciples two choices in Mt. 19—fidelity in heterosexual marriage or being a eunuch! This means no sex outside marriage. Dr. Bill Arnold responds: For the Old Testament side of things, it’s interesting that the only text your student interlocutor mentions is the Book of the Covenant stipulation that a man who seduces a virgin should pay her bride-price and make her his wife (Exod 22:16). What the student fails to observe is that the premise of this legal stipulation is that the man has, in fact, gotten the process reversed. He should have negotiated the bride-price, then married her, then had intercourse. The point of the law, as with many other laws in the Book of the Covenant, is that he has willfully done something wrong and must now make amends. The text the student is citing in your discussion actually supports your position, and not his. Also, although perhaps not directly related to the question of premarital sex, the single most neglected datum from the OT related to marriage is Gen. 2:24-25. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this text would become controversial in our day, but it elevates the idea of heterogeneous marriage between one male and one female, regardless of how we conceptualize a state-defined and sanctioned certificate of marriage. The biblical concept is clear enough. Dr. Lawson Stone responds: The student’s claim that in the Old Testament it appears that, rather than sex being confined to marriage, it “leads to” marriage involves a number of errors, misinterpretations, and blind spots resulting from not hearing the OT in its own setting and voice.

 The fact in the OT is that a marriage was seen as naturally being “real” when sexual intercourse took place because sexual intercourse is the actual physical and emotional uniting of the man and woman. This is the origin of the tradition in the Roman Catholic church that a wedding not followed by sexual intercourse, i.e. not “consummated,” is incomplete and may be annulled. But this proposition is not reversible, that one can have sex and consider oneself married! The union created by sexual intercourse is real, and happens regardless of one’s legal state or even feelings of intimacy. This is why St. Paul warns that sex even with a prostitute still fuses the “john” to the prostitute as one flesh, and for a believer, implicates the Holy Spirit in an unholy union. The Bible sees sexual union as the vital core of marriage, but this in no way implies that no concern existed for making sure such a union was lawful, sanctioned and blessed by God. The importance of marriage as a social, spiritual and public covenant or contract is pervasive in the Bible, especially the OT. The world of the OT was a patriarchal society based on land and agricultural production. In such societies, and definitely in the world of the OT, the title to the land follows the male line of descent. In such cultures it is unthinkable that they would be indifferent to being as certain as possible who the father of a child was. This is the economic basis (there are other bases, of course) for demanding a woman be a virgin when she marries, since her children have the legal right to inherit the family property only if they are of her husband’s descent, or are adopted or otherwise claimed by the husband. Likewise, a man who sired children outside of marriage created a confusing legal situation regarding land title and inheritance. In the OT, the land as the promised gift of Yahweh is the concrete center, the focus of God’s revelation and Israel’s faith. Given that in the OT the land was promised to Israel by Yahweh in perpetuity, and that this promise would be negated if through improper marriage or begetting, the land ended up in the wrong hands, the OT writers clearly would not sanction sexual activity except in the confines of a public, exclusive, permanent covenant between the man and woman: marriage. This reality does not allow us to say that, since we are not a patriarchal and agricultural society, that we may dispense with the importance of a public covenant of marriage. Rather, it rebuts the claim that the OT does not insist on marriage before sex, and it provides the human context out of which the OT demand for faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside it emerged.

 The key point, here, is not just the agricultural or economic one, but the fact that sexual activity exists in a total weave of life, relationships, economics and community. Marriage recognizes this. Moderns, however, only think of sex individualistically as an act of pleasurable intimacy between the man and woman. They have no notion of sex as an act embedded in the social matrix, economic life, and trans-generational history of their community, to which they are accountable for all their actions. The idea that extramarital sex is fine is only imaginable in the post-sexual revolution world of not just easy contraception and abortion, but a world in which no particular significance for society as a whole attaches to sex. In modern life, we don’t really have “intercourse” in the full sense of that word–we just copulate. Thus despite being a sexually saturated society, modern or post-modern life remains starkly devoid of sexual satisfaction. The nature of marriage as a covenant in the OT uniting a man and woman, in the context of family, community and God, calls for public recognition. Unlike the privatistic piety of contemporary life, biblical faith was communal and public. A covenant in the Bible whether with God or between human parties, always assumes a prior history among the parties, a clear set of expectations in the relationship to be consecrated, and always culminates in a vow which is witnessed by the community. Given that the NT sees marriage between a man and woman as exactly analogous to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, and then, Christ and the Church, abruptly withdrawing marriage from the realm of public covenant making rips up the fabric of the biblical revelation. Exegetically, the appeal to Exodus 22:16, suggesting that sex “leads to marriage” rather than coming after, and thus not posing a barrier to a man and woman committed to each other exclusively, but not united by a marriage covenant, to have a sexual relationship is a strained and perverse reading of that passage. Exodus 22:16 can’t be interpreted as friendly to premarital sex merely because it only demands marriage or, alternatively, levies a fine on a man who has sex with a virgin before marriage. The Hebrew term translated “seduce” (NASB) is crucial. The Hebrew פתה patah means “entice, seduce, persuade with hypocritical appeal, take (someone) for a fool, persuade by flattery, etc.” and the related noun is the word often used for the (morally censured) fool in Proverbs. If sex prior to marriage was legitimate, the law certainly would not describe it with a Hebrew term uniformly used for illicit persuasion. So this was not just a guy and girl or an engaged couple who naturally consummated their relationship on the way to getting married. The text notes that the man “made a fool” of the girl. Nothing good there. This is why the law also provides for the possibility that her father will not allow the man to marry her, since he evidently does not constitute a suitable mate.

 A second point on Exodus 22:16 is the penalty. Penalties mark violated realms. The man of Exodus 22:16 has in fact seized a privilege to which he was not legally entitled, took what was not legally his. He must therefore either marry the woman or, if the (wise!) father doesn’t want to marry his daughter off to a man who “made a fool” of his daughter, a monetary penalty is levied. Clearly this text has no idea of justifying or legitimizing any kind of sexual intercourse prior to marriage, but is a sanction enforcing marriage as the only setting for sexual union.

 For what it is worth, I have for 35+ years informally looked for solid evidence of any culture that does not regulate sexual behavior in terms of marriage, and so far have not found one unless you count late 20th century USA. If one exists I would like to know about it. Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa famously tried to claim this in one culture, but her research was subsequently overturned. 

It is true, and important, to recognize, that fornication is not punished as severely as adultery in the OT. However, we cannot conclude from this that fornication is somehow “okay” but adultery is wrong. Even though a less heinous offense, it clearly remains a serious sin. Christians today, as heirs of a shallow, “cheap-grace” piety, have trouble with the idea of a scale of moral offense. We often hear the claim that some sin, usually not sexual, is “just as bad” as some sexual sin, and conversely, that sexual sin must be no worse than, say, breaking the speed limit. They tend to think all “sins” are the same, and assert a false moral equivalence among things thought to be sin. Thus, the church’s emphasis on sexual sin appears selective, harsh and hypocritical. This view, however, is based on a skewed reading of some of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount in which he probes the motives of various acts, showing how one might avoid a technical infraction but still possess the unclean motivation that drives the act. This is not to assert moral equivalence between “thinking it” and “doing it.” This false equation of sins actually mirrors and distorts another truth. Theologically, there are no degrees of “lostness.” Scripture clearly divides between life and death, following Christ and not following Christ, a narrow way and a broad way. We also rightly assert the futility of works to attain justification, thus all deeds are equally ineffective in securing our salvation. That fact, however, does not in any way imply that there are therefore no degrees of moral offensiveness or harm in different sins. Scripture and plain reason show that different sinful actions cause differing levels of harm. The fact that adultery draws the death penalty and fornication does not still doesn’t change the fact that it’s seen as a very serious sin. The very existence of the Ten Commandments, separating out a set of offenses from the other hundreds of laws and prohibitions we find in the Bible, implies gradations of harm and offense. But why would sexual sin occupy such a central place in biblical ethics? This point is most fundamental: in scripture, sexual identity and conduct is wired directly into the central reality of human existence in the image of God. The text of Genesis 1 gives us no explicit explanation of what the “image of God” actually means, beyond the definitions of the terms employed and the fact that in one verse, the author uses the Hebrew device of parallelism to elaborate on the statement, “in the image of God created he him (Adam)” with the statement, “male and female created he them.” By paralleling “image of God” with “male and female” and by using the word “create” twice (which is not used often in Genesis 1, by the way) the writer exalts human sexuality to a central place in human nature and links it to humanity being in God’s image. Thus sexuality unites humans both to the animal world in its reproductive function, but it also points to the uniqueness of humans, since for us, sexuality is tied to our being in God’s image (unlike the animals). This declares human sexuality to be sacred territory. Likewise, in Genesis 2, while the animals presumably were made with sexual natures for reproduction, the whole story stresses the peculiarity of human sexual differentiation, involving a kind of dialectic of sameness and difference, a “helping/saving” relationship. Tellingly, Genesis 2 makes no mention of reproduction in connection with human sexuality. The stress falls entirely on partnership and intimacy. Most important for the discussion of premarital sex, Genesis 2 serves in the Bible as the foundation text for marriage, what we call an “etiology.” The woman is “presented” to the man, who declares her unique fitness for him, (“bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh”). The inspired author then declares the sequence of a man leaving father and mother, clinging to his wife, and the two becoming one flesh. Vital to this verse is realizing that “cleaving” or “clinging” does not refer to sexual intercourse. A survey of the occurrences of this word reveals that, when used of personal relationships, refers to a commitment that forges a relationship that is virtually one of kinship. It can refer to any such committed personal relationship, whether with other humans or even with Go., So the sequence is one of a man separating from his family, forging a “virtual kinship” bond with the woman, and then they two become one flesh in sexual union. The most natural implication of this text is that sexual union follows a clear act of dedication that involves families (“father and mother”) and which forges a new kinship-like bond. To assert that sexual union apart from a public demonstration and pledge of unbreakable loyalty is to make a hash of this central passage in the biblical presentation of marriage. This is why the Bible treats sexual sin as qualitatively different from other sins. Sexual sin alone is used as a metaphor for idolatry/apostasy. No other sin is regularly used in that way. Just as apostasy/idolatry tear at the core fabric of humans in relationship with God, so sexual sin tears at the very fabric of human intra-/inter-personal relating. Not even oppression of the poor, horrible sin that it is, is used as a metaphor for apostasy, but sexual sin is.

One powerful illustration of this centrality of sexuality is in the “holiness code” of Leviticus. Most people find Leviticus 19:1-20:9 to be a very lofty moral statement. It contains some of the most elevated ethical teaching in the entire OT, including the “second” commandment. But it is bracketed both fore and aft with a series of forbidden sexual relations. Lev. 18:1-30 speaks of prohibited sexual relations as the cause of the land “vomiting them out.” Then at the other end of the holiness code is Leviticus 20:10-21 we find yet another such series. The point there is that the social and personal integrity called for in Lev 19:1-20:9 is not possible if sexual integrity does not exist. Sexuality as the strategic entry into the most intimate center of human truthfulness and fidelity. Somewhere in a discussion about these matters, someone protested that this was “the ‘least sexy’ conversation” about sex that they had ever participated in. This remark seemed to me emblematic of the whole problem. Sexuality divorced from every other reality than the most obvious ones of attraction and pleasure. After much thought, I replied: Sex is about SO much more than “sexy.” Sex is about helping your wife recover for months from a very difficult delivery of a baby you sort of had something to do with; sex is about loving the wrinkles and grey hair or thinning hair. Sex is about sitting by the bed wishing you could be the one suffering instead of them. Sex is about still feeling off balance when you have to go without your wedding band for some reason. It’s about staying together through times when you don’t feel in love, don’t feel dedicated, don’t feel “committed” but remember that before God and his church you made a promise, a covenant, and you’ll honor it–and discovering that those who keep faith with that formal, so-called legalistic boundary enter a garden of joy known only to those who surrender. “Sexy” in our culture is a sad, pale cartoon made up of too much cleavage, too little self-respect, too much butt-crack and too many tramp-stamps, and over-tight clothes. “Sexy” testifies to our emptiness, a hunger, but not real desire. Lots of energy, but is it really passion? Lots of smoke, but not a fire to light your life, warm your soul and nourish your heart. The eyes of the goddess are painted, but the eye-holes are empty. The courtesan looks alluring, but the heart is stone-cold. As long as we keep chasing “sexy” we’ll never find the real thing. Instead, we get Madonna and Lady Gaga. And we deserve them. Used by permission. Dr. Jerry Walls, Ph.D., Notre Dame. Author, speaker, and professor of Philosophy. Dr. Ben Witherington III, Ph.D., University of Durham in England. Author, speaker, and professor of New Testament and Biblical Studies. Dr. Bill Arnold, Ph.D., Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Author, speaker, and professor of Old testament and Biblical Studies. Dr. Lawson Stone, Ph.D., Yale University. Author, speaker, and professor of Old testament and Biblical Studies.

Is Tithing for today?

Tithing

Charles asked a question about whether tithing was still applicable under the New Covenant, especially if it was just for the maintenance of the temple cult. Here is my response: 

Hi Charles, 

Tithing is not specifically addressed in the New Testament and so there are various beliefs concerning whether the law of the tithe is still applicable. I will share with you my thoughts. In your question you state: "neither Jesus nor the apostles ever so much as suggested this duty [tithing] to the disciples." Technically this is not true. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus says to the Pharisees (with the disciples there listening) that they tithed but neglected justice, mercy and faith. He then states, "These things should have been done [tithing] without neglecting the others [justice, mercy and faith]." One could argue that he only meant under the Old Covenant but that is not specifically stated; so you see, the New Testament does advocate tithing, at least as a principle. Now saying that, I would agree that looking at the New Testament as a whole and the statements of Paul and Hebrews that we are no longer under the law of Moses (Romans 9:20-21; Hebrews 7:12) and therefore no longer under a law of the tithe. The New Testament also says very little about the Sabbath and seems to indicate that we are no longer under the law of the Sabbath either (one of the Ten Commandments). We may not be under the law of Moses that deals with the tithe or the Sabbath, but that doesn't mean we are not obligated to set aside a day for worship and rest (Hebrews 10:25) as well as to regularly give. The church did take up an offering, seemingly on a regular basis on Sunday, to help the ministry of the church. These gifts were given to the leaders of the church who were responsible to decide how those gifts should be used in ministry (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7; 4:34-37; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8). So first we see that Jesus did address tithing and did not abrogate it like he did with the kosher food laws (Mark 7:19). Second we see that regular giving is still required, though not in a legalistic sense, but rather a principle of regular giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). And third we should notice that whenever Jesus talked of the law, he did not soften the requirements, but rather went to the heart of the matter, making it more stringent if anything; we see this in his Sermon on the Mount. When he discusses adultery he says don't even lust; when he mentions murder, he says don't even hate. I can't imagine asking Jesus, "Now that we are under the New Covenant, even though we are supposed to regularly give, can I give 5% instead of 10%?" If anything 10% is a good measure to start with, but we should be willing to go further as God leads us. My recommendation is that a person should start at 10% and give this to the local church's general fund. Anything beyond 10% the believer can give to whatever ministry he or she feels led to give to. For new believers, it is sometimes wise to start giving less than 10% (maybe 5 or even 2 or 3), because of the shock to the budget; but he or she should gradually seek to work up to 10%. God is not going to zap you if you don't immediately start giving 10%. But to those who don't give or use the New Covenant idea as an excuse to give less, I would say that you can't out give God and you shouldn't tempt God. He owns everything and so all we have is His. He calls us to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to us. The principle found in Malachi 3:8-11 still applies to the Christian: 

8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions.

9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.

(Mal 3:8-11 ESV)

 

Hope this helps,

 

Larry Siekawitch, Ph.D.

Cessationism

Carlos asked, “I heard James White reference 1 Corinthians 13:8 in reference to his belief in Cessation. After reading and rereading the text, I do not understand how he came to this conclusion.”

 

Great question Carlos. Those who embrace cessationism (the belief that the miraculous or more supernatural gifts have ceased) appear to fall into the theological trap called eisegesis. Eisegesis is when you already have your mind made up so you read into the text what you want it to say, backing up your preconceived beliefs. Exegesis is the better way to study the Bible, where you let the text form your beliefs, rather than vice versa. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 actually teaches the exact opposite of what the cessationists claim it teaches. Verse 8 does say that prophecies, tongues and knowledge will cease or come to an end (this is an example of the first century literary device called parallelism; cease and come to an end are meant to be taken as referring to the same thing). The question is, “When will these spiritual gifts stop?” Our text tells us. Verse 10 says, “When the perfect comes.” All we have to figure out is what does Paul mean by “the perfect”? Verse 12 makes it clear; the perfect is when we see face to face. There is no doubt at all that Paul is referring to the second coming of Jesus. When we see Him face to face, we will no longer need the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge. If this is the proper interpretation then this passage actually teaches that these gifts won’t cease until the second coming of Christ, thus disproving cessationism. Most scholars today agree that Paul was referring to the second coming. Cessationists usually say it refers to the completion of the canon of the Bible. Once the Bible was written we didn’t need these supernatural gifts. They make three errors here: 1) They find themselves in the conundrum of saying they actually know more than Paul who admitted he only knew in part (v.12). 2) They fail to recognize that these gifts were not used to write the Bible. None of the Corinthians wrote Scripture. Wayne Grudem makes an excellent case for the idea that the gift of prophecy was not the same as the OT Prophets and NT Apostles who spoke and wrote “the very words of God.” The NT gift was rather receiving impressions from God and sharing them in the man or woman’s own words. These prophecies were to be tested (14:29; 1 Thess 5:19-22). 3) The NT indicates that we do still need these gifts. They seem to be normal gifts in a local church to help encourage and edify the believers (1 Cor 14). Why would God give this elaborate teaching on these supernatural gifts only to rescind them a short while later?

            The Scriptures are clearly against the idea of cessationism. Acts 2:17-21 states that in the last days the gifts of prophecy, dreams and visions will be prevalent among God’s people, even on the servants and “nobody’s” of the world. It specifically says “in the last days” describing the very end of time when “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes.” Are we past the last days? Obviously not. This passage clearly teaches these supernatural gifts will continue until the Day of the Lord, His second coming.

            The cessationists don’t have a Biblical case, but they should be commended for wanting to elevate the Scriptures as our final authority. Way to many people take these gifts and abuse them, seeking a “fresh word” from God as if the Bible is stale. Prophecy is easily elevated to equal or superior status with the Scriptures if we are not careful. Ephesians 2:20 clearly states that our foundation is the Biblical prophets and apostles. Our supreme authority is the Bible, which is alive and fresh, reviving the soul that digs in to find out what God says. But God still speaks to His people. He still whispers in our ear, telling us He loves us. He still guides us, even directing us in miraculous ways at times. We need to gently share with the cessationists that they should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We also need to warn our Pentecostal friends of the danger of elevating human words to the status of divine. Biblical balance is the best advice. 

The Uniqueness of the Bible

My new book, The Uniqueness of the Bible, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.http://www.amazon.com/The-Uniqueness-Bible-Catholics-Discover/dp/146273264X 

How do we know what is true about God and religion? Ultimately this question boils down to whether we consider our supreme authority to be tradition or revelation. In The Uniqueness of the Bible, author Dr. Larry Siekawitch explains that self and tradition fail as final arbiters of truth because humans are both finite and sinful-incapable of supplying truth without error. But if God has revealed His truth by revelation in such a way that is completely trustworthy and without error, then that revelation is the obvious candidate for supreme authority because it is God Himself speaking.

God has revealed Himself and His ways in the Bible, but how can we convince Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and Mormons of this wonderful fact? We do so by simply showing them the uniqueness of the Bible and convincing them of God's ultimate authority. This study deals with the Hebrew Scriptures and demonstrates how reliable and miraculous they are. It then compares the Bible to the Koran, particularly focusing on the New Testament and its amazing supernatural nature. Finally, The Uniqueness of the Bible examines Roman Catholicism's exaltation of tradition to equality with Scripture and the Mormon addition of the Book of Mormon.

 This study seeks to present convincing evidence in order to help people see the superiority of the Bible to all other means of discovering spiritual truth.

I hope you will consider buying this book and discussing its contents on the blog. Please share this with others, FaceBook, etc. 

Thank you,

Larry Siekawitch

Great question. What is God's future dealings with Israel? There are three major views concerning this question. 1) Replacement theory: This view believes that all the promises to Israel in the OT refer to the church under the New Covenant, and God does not have a plan for Israel beyond that. This view is typically held by the old school Reformed believers. 2) Dispensational theory: This view embraces a complete separation of the old covenant people of God called Israel, and the new covenant people called the Church. God has two separate peoples and will always have two sets of peoples that He calls His own (contra Eph 2). They suggest that Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, and when they rejected it He offered it the the Gentiles. The church was called the parenthesis. Once God is finished with the church, He raptures them and then begins to work with Israel again. This view is typically held by old school dispensationalists. 3) Intermediate theory: This view recognizes that many OT passages that speak of Israel do refer to the Church in the NT (Acts 2:16-21; Heb 8:1-13; 1 Pe 2:9-10; Gal 3:27-29; Php 3:3), but God is not finished with Israel yet (Rom 11; Zech 12:10). I believe the third view is the Biblical view. God still has a plan for Israel, and He did promise the land to them forever. Israel being in the land now is fulfilled prophecy, but they are not saved (they have been cut off Acts 3:22-23). God's ultimate plan will be to call Israel to Himself in the end of time (Zech 12:10). We are already beginning to see these prophecies take place with Israel back in their homeland since 1948 and the percentage of Jews becoming Christians increasing exponentially. Check out the video series on The Last Days According to Jesus on our website at www.harvestmn.com under the tab Sunday Services, Audio. http://harvestmn.com/sunday-services/multi-media/