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Attitude Doctrine Evangelism Ministry Textual Studies

We Would See Jesus

Over the last three years, Jesus had developed a reputation throughout Israel as a miracle worker and a prophet of God. It seems that his disciples had also come to be identified with the Master.

In John 12:20-22, as the Jews are gathering for the Passover, a group of worshippers find Philip, recognize him as Jesus; disciple, and ask to see Jesus. They weren’t there to see Philip, but they knew that Philip was connected to the Lord, so they sought him out.

In the same way, when we identify ourselves as Christians, those around us expect to see Jesus. They expect to see Him in our attitudes, our actions, our worship, and our teaching.

Ultimately, it is not about us. Our goal should be to help others to see the Savior. If they see things in our lives that are not consistent with followers of Christ it won’t go unnoticed.

At the same time, by living as Christians, we will find opportunities, like Philip, to bring others to Jesus. It all begins with a life that is lived by following the Master.

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What Shall We Do?

After Jesus healed Lazarus the Pharisees and chief priests could not deny that Jesus was working miracles. They came together to decide what to do about Jesus.

Their concern waS not with whether they should place their faith in Him, but rather with what He would cost them. They were afraid that Rome would “take away both our place and nation” (John 11:48).

Jesus never promised that accepting His truth would come without cost or sacrifice. Sometimes it requires us to give up our place. That place may be decades or even generations of religious tradition. It might be income. It might be relationships. Whatever the sacrifice, nobody is going to reach Heaven and think the cost was too high.

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I don’t remember my high-school math and I’m okay

Between you and me, I have a confession to make: I hardly remember anything I learned in my high school trigonometry class. I also can’t write in cursive very well anymore. I have no idea how to calculate girth (or what girth even is). I still get “affect” and “effect” confused.

I took several Advanced Placement courses: American history, European history, chemistry, physics, etc. I made good grades. I graduated with honors. But I can’t name all the countries in Africa. I don’t remember all of the state capitals. I can’t name all of the kings of France or Britain, much less put them in order. The only chemical formula I understand is “H2O.” I don’t remember most of the state birds I had to memorize for a school competition (except Oklahoma’s, which is the Scissor-tailed flycatcher). I took three years of Spanish, but I only remember a handful of words.

And guess what: I’m not living on the street.

In fact, I’ve got a pretty good job. Sometimes my family splurges and buys the occasional brand-name item from the grocery store. We are living large.

Dear parent, I know you are under immense pressure to make sure your kids are learning a second language, involved in the local play, participating in after-school athletics, enrolled in the honors program, eating nutritious organic meals – all while maintaining a Southern Living-like Facebook profile and Pinterest board. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not minimizing these things. For all you struggling parents like me and my wife who are killing themselves to make sure your kids are prepared for college, keep it up.

But don’t forget to be realistic. Ask yourself, how much are your kids going to remember from school? How much do you remember from school?

In the hustle and bustle of being a responsible parent, don’t forget to teach your kids the things they won’t forget.

Let me tell you what I do happen to remember from my early years. I remember…

…Coming down the stairs after waking up in the morning and seeing my mom reading her Bible.

…My parents picking up people for church who no one else wanted to pick up.

…My mom apologizing to me when she made a mistake.

…My parents having Bible studies (some going late into the night) with Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses/Baptists/Catholics (or whoever else happened to knock on our door the day before).

…My dad telling me that I would always be welcome in their house after I moved away, unless I was ever unfaithful to my wife or unfaithful to Christ and had not repented.

…My parents not letting me take a part-time job if my employer wouldn’t give me time-off to go to every church service.

…My dad making dinner sometimes so my mom wouldn’t have to.

…My parents sometimes telling me “no” when I saw something I really wanted.

…My parents showing me tenderness and affection (not “effection,” right?)

…Going on walks with my mom.

…My parents taking me to visit elderly church members.

…My dad making me mow our lawn. With a push mower.

…My mom making me set the table for dinner, followed by washing the dishes. By hand.

…My dad reading to me.

…My dad learning about my unpaid debt to a church member, and forcing me to sell something I really liked in order to pay back the debt.

…My parents having “Bible time” with me, making me recite the books of the Bible, countless verses, the twelve sons of Jacob, the apostles, the judges, the plan of salvation, etc. I couldn’t forget those things today, even if I tried.

You want to give your children the best education money can buy. But while honor rolls, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities are well and good, they aren’t the most important thing you can give your children. If your children learn to speak French, but don’t leave your house loving Jesus and His Kingdom above everything else, what have they really gained?

There are only a few things in life that actually matter. Prioritize the stuff that will get them to heaven. The rest will fall into place.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Going to Church as an Act of High Treason

Getting my family to church on Sunday morning sometimes feels like we are recreating the first 10 minutes of “Home Alone.”

There is nothing glamorous about it, even for a preacher’s family. After a sleepless night of babies crying, half-consciously fumbling for the coffee maker, showering, waking the kids up (who are finally deep asleep, conveniently), bathing the kids, getting dressed, getting the kids dressed, settling property disputes between the children, scouring the kitchen for something edible, reviewing Bible class and sermon notes, we’re just lucky to be alive at the end of the day. (My wife is an incredible woman for doing most of this so I can focus on the preacher stuff.)

I know it sounds crazy, but we do this every week. Willingly.

And, while it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of going to church, we need not forget the gravity of our mission. Going to church is a bold act of defiance toward the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).

You see, each time your tired legs stand for another stanza of praise toward the King of kings and Lord of lords, you are declaring that the ruler of this world is not the prince he claims to be (John 12:31). You are part of a new Kingdom, have a new King, and are anxiously awaiting His imminent return.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, going to church is nothing short of treason against the state of this world (John 15:18-20).

We know there are consequences to this. The commands of God now take precedence over the will of man (Acts 5:29). While we know the governing authorities of this world still have some limited power (Rom. 13:1-7), we are now citizens of a new Kingdom (Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 2:9). And it isn’t always easy being an expatriate (Matt. 10:34-39).

Thus, when you bow your head in congregational prayer – when you underline a passage in your Bible during the lesson – when you drink the juice of the Lord’s Supper – when you drop your well-earned money in the collection plate – you are wholeheartedly declaring your allegiance to the Almighty God and your noncompliance to the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).

I know there are other reasons we assemble with the saints throughout the week:

  • We go to encourage and be encouraged (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; Jas. 5:16).
  • We go because that’s what the early church did (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
  • We go for accountability (1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17).
  • We go to learn (Rom. 15:14).
  • We go to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).
  • We go to contribute money to the Kingdom (1 Cor. 16:2).
  • We go because the local assembly of Christians is representative of the “living stones” of God’s temple, with God dwelling among Christians in a different way when they are assembled than when they are isolated (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5a).
  • And we go to every regular assembly because that’s what we are commanded to do (Heb. 10:24-25).

But also go to church so you can tell the world – by your utter exhaustion (I’m talking to parents) – by your not being anywhere else (I’m talking to athletes) – by your dedication (I’m talking to those who must commute long distances) – by your courage (I’m talking to those who are mocked by their own family members) – that there is another King. And you love worshipping Him alongside the other citizens of His kingdom.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Why I’m Not Ashamed of Different Gender Roles in the Church

God doesn’t make mistakes.

When He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), He was not saying “Whoopsie daisy!” Instead, He was teaching that a genderless world is not good. To highlight this, God commanded Adam to name every creature in an effort to teach Adam that no animal had the capacity to worship God with him, serve God with him, or bring him the companionship that only an equal could.

Then God gave Adam a helper perfectly suited for Him. The King James Version calls her a “help meet.” She was equal to Adam, but different in role and function. She perfectly complemented him in a way that mirrored both the equality and functional diversity of the three-in-oneness of God.

They were given a mission bigger than themselves: to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Adam named his wife “Eve,” which means giver of life (Gen. 4:20). The act of naming someone is a demonstration of headship. Even after they both believed Satan’s lies and sinned, thus losing rights to the Garden of Eden, Adam’s headship over her remained (Gen. 3:16). Together they continued to model the equality and submission of the members of the Trinity.

Just as aloneness wasn’t good in the garden, it isn’t good in the church. A church without gender is just as incomplete as the Garden of Eden without gender. The church today is part of something bigger than itself; it is commanded to multiply and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The fact that women, in particular, are commanded to teach the younger women how to be givers of life in both the home and the church (Titus 2:4-5) makes this, in a way, woman-specific. Women can do things that no man can.

Jesus Gave Legitimacy to Women During His Ministry

Jesus teaches us something in how He recognized the inherent equality of women and men, in how He ministered to women, and in the dignity with which He treated them in His ministry. He impartially addressed women directly when in public (John 4:7-26; Luke 7:12-13; 8:48; 11:27-28; 13:12; 23:27-31), which was culturally unusual for a man to do (John 4:27).

As Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom, the disciples were with Him, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities […] who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). Women served alongside Jesus, even at the cross, for “there were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Matt. 27:55).

God chose to give women crucial roles in the resurrection accounts, despite the fact that in Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses. Josephus warned, for example, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”[1] Yet, it was the women who loved Jesus who came to the tomb to anoint and pay respects to His body, only to discover He was missing. They were the first to hear the good news, “He is risen!” (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:1-2). Jesus then appeared to these women before anyone else, saying “Greetings!” and “Go and tell” (Matt. 28:9-10). They faithfully reported what they saw to the disciples, and no doubt continued to tell others for years to follow.

Jesus Recognized Gender Role Distinctions

We should point out that Jesus was not afraid of breaking social customs when He felt it necessary. Against custom (to put it mildly), He publicly condemned many of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 23:13-36), healed on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 13:14; John 5:8-10), and cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:14-17). Against custom, He spoke with women (John 4:7-9), ate with dishonorable people (Matt. 9:11), and even ate with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-23). Notice when moral issues were at stake, Jesus did not bend to societal pressure.

But Jesus did not appoint any women to be apostles, nor did He choose any women to pen the New Testament Scriptures. Many of the apostles had wives (1 Cor. 9:5) – could not Jesus just have easily appointed them to the position alongside their husbands? It wouldn’t have necessarily been culturally taboo to do so, as both Jewish and Gentile societies occasionally allowed for women leadership (Judges 4-5; 2 Kings 11:3; Acts 17:4, 12). Yet Jesus still had role distinctions in mind when selecting His apostles, and the same is true today when selecting elders in His church.

Not long after His church was established, a problem arose regarding the neglect of a select group of women (Acts 6:1). Plenty of women were numbered among the Christians in that day (Acts 1:14; 5:1, 14). Yet the church was told to select seven qualified men (andras, Acts 6:3), which meant this choice of men to serve in this capacity (presumably deacons) was deliberate.

Regardless of gender, Jesus recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women. He valued their fellowship, prayers, worship, testimony, and financial support. There are no gender barriers between a believer and Jesus Christ. Yet we can also see in Christ’s choice of apostles, writers of the New Testament, and other leadership roles a pattern of male leadership.

The Church Needs Men & Women Who Treasure Their God-Given Gender Roles

Women play such an important function within the body of Christ. There are hundreds and thousands of ways the strength of the church depends on the work and devotion of women. But the devil’s strategy remains the same: “Did God really say you cannot hold a leadership office in the church?” The enemy always downplays the bountiful forest of trees in the Garden to focus on just one. Eating what God has forbidden will never make us like God; it can only separate us from Him.

The leadership of the church is to reflect the created order. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Walking with God by faith means submitting to the fact that the Bible only allows for men to hold authoritative leadership offices – preachers, elders, deacons – in the church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-36; 11:2-16). In our day, this is culturally preposterous. But by the grace of God, we will trust God’s commands and celebrate the God-given treasure of complementary gender roles.

It is tempting to give in to the world’s pressure and wave a rebellious, “women can do anything men can do” fist at God. This attitude can only lead to spiritual death. However, the attitude of humble submission to God’s plan of gender roles will lead to salvation (1 Tim. 2:15).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1] Josephus, Antiquities iv. 8. 15.

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What Must I Do to be Lost?

Sometimes people get caught up in discussions about what sins will send a man to hell. Usually, the “really bad” sins, like adultery or murder, top the list with little question. Then there are the “little sins” – sins society tolerates more-or-less – like cursing, coveting possessions, recreational drug and alcohol use, or lust.

Perhaps we could talk about how even Christians often turn a blind eye to some sins. To our shame, it is not hard to find Christians full of pride, selfishness, ungratefulness, anxiety, and worldliness. The truth is any sin, no matter how small, can damn Christians. As Isaiah told God’s people:

Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isa. 59:1-2)

“Is it a Sin to…”

Yet many Christians still ask the question, “What must I do to be lost?” Not with those words, of course, but with other questions. “Do I have to go to every church service?” “Is _____ a salvation issue?” “How far can I go with _____?” “How many drinks is too much?”

These can be legitimate questions. And if we are willing to listen, the Bible answers all of these questions with great clarity. But the problem is usually not the question itself; it’s the attitude behind the question.

What I mean is this: Many Christians are no better than the servant who was given one talent and went and buried it. When the master returned, the servant handed over the one talent. To which the master responded:

Cast this worthless servant into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30)

The attitude behind, “What must I do to be lost?” is akin to, “What is the least I can do/get right/believe/commit and still be saved?” When we start drawing lines in the sand, we start forgetting that what belongs to our Master is our complete devotion.

All or Nothing

Of course, the Lord is patient and wishes for all to come to repentance. Yet that does not negate the fact that He is still coming, and will do so without warning. As a result, we are commanded to “be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish” (2 Pet. 3:8-17).

Peter did not command us to learn the art of distinguishing between so-called “essentials” and “non-essentials.” He did not tell us to “know how much we can handle” when it comes to alcohol, drugs, crude jokes, unbecoming language, lust, tempers, gambling, and “things like these” (per Gal. 5:21).

Instead, we are commanded to love God with every ounce of our being (Mark 12:30). We are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Pet. 3:18). We are to fleenot draw lines in the sandevery flavor of sin (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22).

Jesus told the Laodicea church of Christ that they were lukewarm. He told them He’d rather them be hot or cold – anything but lukewarm. God doesn’t want our partial, hairsplitting, apathetic, unbalanced, hypocritical devotion. He demands we sacrifice it all (Luke 14:33) and count everything as loss (Phil. 3:8).

What must you do to be lost?

Be indifferent. Get as close as you can to sin without sinning. Take a chill pill. Only worry about the “salvation issues.” Presume on God’s grace. Do nothing.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Protecting the Lord’s Supper: Why I Like that Little Cup & Wafer

If a Christian from the 1st century could travel forward in time to the 21st century and visit a typical worship service among churches of Christ, I doubt he would find any radical departures from the simple 1st century Christian worship to which he is accustomed.

Of course, he would quickly notice we typically meet in a church-owned building instead of a member’s house, he would hear new melodies and lyrics during our songs, and he would notice a different language, obviously. Perhaps the biggest difference would be the absence of spiritual gifts – such as the gifts of prophecy or tongues or the utterances of knowledge and wisdom – which were so necessary in the 1st century before Christians had the completed revelation of Christ’s New Testament.

But I do not think he would see anything wrong with how we worship, including how we do the Lord’s Supper.

What We Know

Just as was true in the 1st century, Christians today are not free to take the Lord’s Supper willy nilly. Scripture regulates how we take communion:

1. We are to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. The frequency and day we are to observe the Lord’s Supper are not directly stated in preserved Scripture in the form of a command. However, it is clear from the practice of the apostle Paul that God approves of eating the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. Acts 20:7 speaks of Christians in Troas assembling on Sunday for the purpose of breaking bread, and 1 Corinthians 11:20 shows that the Lord’s Supper is one of the primary reasons for assembling on Sunday. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 shows us they assembled every Sunday.

2. Unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine are to be eaten during the Lord’s Supper. We partake of the same elements that the Lord instituted: “bread” and “fruit of the vine.” We know this from the accounts of Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. All other additions, substitutions, or innovations are corruptions of his memorial supper.

3. Only citizens of the kingdom (Luke 22:30) can legitimately take the Lord’s Supper. While it is virtually unheard of for churches of Christ to practice “closed communion” (no one is going to walk up and slap the grape juice out of the hand of an unwitting visitor), we recognize that the Lord’s Supper is intended only for those who have come into communion with His body and blood by being baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3-7; 1 Cor. 10:16). Thus, children are ineligible to share in the memorial.

4. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to memorialize Christ. We should remember the suffering and anguish that our Lord went through in dying on the cross (1 Cor. 11:24-25). If we engage in the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent manner, or if we do not separate in our minds the significance of this memorial, it will be damnation to us (1 Cor. 11:27, 29).

Critical of the Way We do it?

I occasionally hear Christians (who should know better) criticizing the way churches of Christ (and, incidentally, much of evangelical Christendom) take the Lord’s Supper. “It should be a robust family-type supper. Everyone – including children – should take part.” “It should be an actual meal, with whole loafs of bread and other food.” “Tiny cups and wafers are recent inventions and are unlike what Christians used in the 1st century.”

This kind of reasoning demonstrates a dangerous misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. No human alive today knows the exact quantity of bread or juice that was typical in the 1st century observance of this memorial. Additionally, no human today has the authority to regulate the portions of the food for the universal church. To teach we must “super-size” the portions on the Lord’s Table is divisiveness.

The timing during worship and the portion of food during the Lord’s Supper is a matter of judgment and it seems to me that churches that rush through it are making a mistake. But I argue that it there is a benefit to keeping the portions relatively small in light of the fact that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not to satisfy hunger, but to memorialize the Lord.

The Lord’s Supper is not Intended to Satisfy Hunger

The Lord’s Supper was never a common meal. Both Luke and Paul confirm this by recording the Lord’s Supper “after they had eaten” (Luke 22:20) and “after supper” (1 Cor. 11:25).

The only time the Bible talks about a meal in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper, it gives the command to separate the two (1 Cor. 11:21). The fact that some early Christians in Corinth had profaned the Lord’s Supper with a meal doesn’t authorize us to do so. Only bread and fruit of the vine are used to describe the memorial; where does God authorize us to incorporate other elements from a common meal?

I like the fact that it is our tradition to use a small cup and tiny wafer during the Lord’s Supper because it helps clear any confusion that this might be a literal “meal” in the common sense of the word.

The Lord’s Supper did not Provide Much Food for the Disciples

Furthermore, a large serving of bread and drink is not necessary in order to remember the Lord. Bear in mind that Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, broke twelve pieces from the small Jewish loaf, today called matzo, and gave them to the apostles, after which He told them to divide the cup among themselves (Matt. 26:26-27). The same word for “bread” is used to describe the young boy’s lunch consisting of five loaves (John 6:9). Each of the twelve apostles would not have had very much to eat and drink.

The spiritual blessings from the Lord’s Supper are derived from the focus of the Christian who is spiritually sharing the body and blood of Jesus, not on the physical quantity or quality of the elements. If it was about quantity, then fill my plate up! But the remembrance of Jesus is more important than the amount of the substance.

Let’s Make the Lord’s Supper Better

It is misdirected zeal to suggest we need to bring the entire church around a literal table and incorporate the Lord’s memorial meal into a common meal. If your elders have elected to use a small cup and wafer, they are justified in doing so.

I would argue, however, there is room for many churches to improve how they do the Lord’s Supper. May I suggest:

  • Don’t rush through it. I can’t help but feel a “let’s get this over with” attitude among some when visiting different congregation. Give people time to read one of the crucifixion accounts. Give people time to pray another private prayer. Give people time to meditate on the meaning of the bread and the fruit of the vine.
  • Separate it from the offering. As a matter of expediency, since the men leading the Lord’s Supper are already in front of the audience, it is typical for churches to move on to passing the collection plate immediately after the Lord’s Supper. I feel this is in poor judgment. Sing a song in between. Give people time to transition from memorializing the Lord to preparing their offering to Him.
  • Find a dedicated speaker for the table. Don’t just grab the first unsuspecting guy in the lobby 5 minutes before worship and ask him to direct the Lord’s Supper. Ask a Christian several weeks in advance to prepare a 5-10 minute talk. That is what he focuses on. Don’t ask him to pass the plates; let the other men do that.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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The Real Meaning of Matthew 18:20

When two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in their midst.

To be sure, these are words of reassurance. But don’t misapply Matthew 18:20. It isn’t a therapeutic passage for Christians who are depressed over a shrinking membership roster. Jesus isn’t talking about low attendance numbers or being forced to worship in a hotel room with your family when there isn’t a local church with which to worship.

In fact, these two or three were not gathered to worship. They were gathered to verify the repentance or impenitence of a Christian guilty of sin.

The context of Matthew 18:15-20 is church discipline. Jesus says, “If you choose to preserve the holiness of My church, I will be with you the whole time – no matter the pushback you receive.”

The real meaning is this: During the incredibly difficult time when Christians must deliver an impenitent member of the church to Satan, the church needs to find great comfort knowing that Jesus is there with them.

Look at what is going on in Matthew 18. A sin has been committed in the church (verse 15). The Christian who is guilty of that sin refuses to repent (verse 16). The whole church knows about this sin (verse 17). When the church agrees to sever its social relationship with the erring Christian, it does so with the authority of heaven (verse 18).

Then Jesus puts His own authority behind this decision in two (2) ways:

  1. Jesus invokes a Jewish courtroom principle from Deuteronomy 19:15-19 that says “two or three witnesses” must agree in order to bring a legally binding charge against someone. Jesus is putting this part of the Old Law back to work under the New Law. These “two or three” (probably the leaders – usually the elders – who actually make the decision for the whole church to remove someone from their fellowship) are now legally bound – or covenanted – to one another in the law of the Kingdom. Jesus is binding His church together with glue.
  2. Jesus guarantees that agreement with His own presence. “When you do this for My church, I’m there. You have My seal of approval. You represent Me, just as the temple once represented God’s authority and blessing.”

Make no mistake; it’s nice to know that when even just a handful of two or three Christians gather together to worship, Jesus is with them. Yet bear in mind, however, that Jesus is with two or three Christians in that sense just as much as He is with one Christian who may be forced to worship alone.

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus is giving courage to Christians who are terrified about formally recognizing the lost condition of a Christian who has chosen sin over Jesus. He is with you when you choose to protect the purity of the church. He is validating the leaders of the church as they protect the flock in much the same way that Paul said he would be with the Corinthians “in spirit” as they disciplined the man who was sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:3-5).

By implication, when we refuse to protect the purity of the Lord’s bride, we are refusing the very presence of Jesus in our midst.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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A Tale of Two Gods: How Calvinism’s God & the Bible’s God are Two Very Different Gods

One very popular denominational preacher and writer, John Piper, is famous for saying that “all things” – even down to the subatomic level – “are ordained, guided, and governed” by God.[1] The idea that God determines everything can be traced back to Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century and is particularly popular among a branch of Protestantism known as Reformed theology.

Reformed theology, more commonly known as Calvinism[2] (we will use these words interchangeably), is a religious philosophy that follows the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant theologians from the Reformation era. It is should be noted that Reformed theology, or Calvinism, is experiencing a resurgence in America today. So popular is Reformed theology that any Christian who reads relatively conservative denominational literature is well acquainted famous Calvinistic authors. Understandably, younger preachers thirsty for truth tend to be particularly fond of their writings because of their often passionate, yet conservative, approach to many Biblical issues. (And as a result, their Calvinistic influences sometimes unknowingly creep into the young preacher’s respective pulpit.)

The reason it is important to examine Calvinism as it relates to this study is because Reformed theology has traditionally emphasized God’s sovereignty and predestination over everything else. In fact, the idea of the sovereignty of God is the basis of Calvinism itself. Reformed theologians take great pride in the lofty ways in which they talk about God. Ben Warburton writes, “The one rock upon which Calvinism builds is that of the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of the eternal and self-existent Jehovah.”[3]

But herein lies the problem: The sovereign God of the Bible and the sovereign God of Calvinism are two very different Gods. Calvinists have redefined the meaning of the word sovereignty. To the Bible-believing Christian, sovereignty simply means God’s ability and right to rule the world (chapter 5 of You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God). However, to the devoted Calvinist, sovereignty means “divine determinism.” Divine determinism is the belief that God determines, causes, and orchestrates everything in history according to His preconceived plan, including sin and evil.

Calvinists erroneously believe that God is the reason for sin, since – according to Calvinism – “sovereignty” is somehow synonymous with “total control.” Thus, they create a false dichotomy,[4] claiming that if God is sovereign, He must orchestrate and control everything that ever happens – and if He does not control everything, He supposedly cannot be sovereign. Arthur Pink, a famous Calvinist, writes, “Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own Will, or be thwarted by His creatures.”[5] In the words of Jack Cottrell, Calvinists “equate sovereignty with causation, and say that the only way for God to be sovereign is if He is the sole, ultimate cause or originator of everything that takes place, including events in the natural world as well as human decisions.” Consequently, Cottrell continues, “there is no truly free will”[6] for mankind in the Calvinist worldview.

As a result, according to Calvinism, if someone commits a horrible atrocity, it is ultimately because God must have willed it to happen in the first place. Edwin Palmer, a well-known Calvinist, said it bluntly: God “has foreordained everything […] – even sin.”[7] How horrifying a thought. R.C. Sproul Jr., another leading Calvinist today, terrifyingly said, “God in some sense desired that man would fall into sin […] He created sin.”[8] Chilling, right?

Just as egregious is the Calvinistic idea that God subjectively causes individuals to have faith. To the Calvinist, the words “I have personal faith in Christ Jesus” have no real meaning because God is supposedly the cause of all things. To the Calvinist, you cannot choose to have faith; God must put it in you. According to the Synod of Dort,[9] God chooses who will believe in Him and who will not.[10] This, of course, makes the words of Jesus powerless: “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Why? Because you can’t “believe in Him” without God causing you to believe in Him! To call this cruel would be an understatement. It is like dangling crutches at the top of the stairs, saying to a paraplegic below, “Come and get them!”

Historically, Christians have distinguished between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto. De jure is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s right to rule; De facto is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s meticulous control over all events. Ardent Calvinists see this distinction as a mere formality; they believe God is both sovereign de jure and de facto all the time. Yet, New Testament Christians have always acknowledged that God is always sovereign de jure and chooses to limit His sovereignty de facto. In other words, God has the ability to meticulously control everything, but in His wisdom and love for mankind, He has chosen not to determine everything yet.

We find the distinction between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto when Christ taught His disciples to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). If God is already micro-managing every detail of history, why would anyone need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth? If God is sovereign de facto, it would already be done.

Any honest observer must acknowledge that the Bible is permeated with the implication that God has given men the choice to serve Him. We could fill this book with examples of God giving mankind the freedom of choice. How otherwise could God extend His kindness if people are unable to choose repentance (Rom. 2:4)? How otherwise can we be commanded to “grow in the grace” of the Lord Jesus Christ if are unable to choose to do so (2 Pet. 3:18)? Why would Joshua tell the Israelites to choose whom they would serve if they could not actually choose (Josh. 24:15)? How could God not “show partiality” if He individually chooses on whom to force faith (Acts 10:34)? How calloused is God if He “commands all men everywhere to repent” if they are unable to repent (Acts 17:30)?

The Bible does, in fact, teach that God is sovereign, but it certainly does not teach that God determines mankind’s decisions and preordains mankind’s actions. Let’s be very clear: You can be entirely dedicated to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty while simultaneously being absolutely sure of mankind’s free choice.

An excerpt from my upcoming book, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God.

This is another volume in the You Are A Theologian book series. Thinking Right About God challenges readers to think more Biblically about God’s attributes, His triune nature, and His sovereignty. Like the first book in this series, it is ideal for a broad range of applications: personal study, small group discussions, and college/young adult/adult Bible class curriculum.

Coming August 2017

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1] John Piper, “Confronting The Problem Of Evil,” DesiringGod.org

[2] Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is basically the body of religious teachings and traditions started by John Calvin (1509 – 1564 A.D.) and other Reformation-era theologians such as Ulrich Zwingli and Jonathan Edwards. Calvinism can be summarized in five false religious ideas: (1) Total Depravity (babies are born guilty of the sin of their parents), Unconditional Election (God arbitrarily chooses – independent of any known standard – who will be eternally saved and who will be eternally damned), Limited Atonement (Christ did not die for everyone), Irresistible Grace (you do not have a choice as to whether or not you will obey the gospel), Perseverance of the Saints (it is impossible for a Christian to rebel against God).
[3] Ben A. Warburton, Calvinism, p. 63
[4] A dichotomy (pronounced “die-kot-uh-mee”) is the division of two mutually exclusive things or ideas. Thus, a false dichotomy is the division of two things or ideas that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, it is a false dichotomy to say, “You either like bacon or sausage.” Why? Because real men like both bacon and sausage.
[5] Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty Of God, p. 14
[6] Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, p. 81
[7] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points Of Calvinism, p. 25, emp. added.
[8] R.C. Sproul Jr., Almighty Over All, p. 53
[9] The Synod of Dort was a very important meeting in denominational history ultimately deciding the future of Calvinism. It was held between the years 1618-1619 in the town of Dordrecht (“Dort”) in the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort was held to silence honest, Scriptural challenges to Calvinism, and at its conclusion, the traditional five points of Calvinism were formalized, namely: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.
[10] See Article XIV of The Articles Of The Canons of Dort (1619). “Faith is the gift of God; not in that it is offered to the will of man by God, but that the thing itself is conferred on him, inspired, infused into him. Not even that God only confers the power of believing, but from thence expects the consent, or the act of believing: but that He, who worketh both to will and to do, worketh in man both to will to believe, and to believe itself, […] and thus He worketh all things in all.” (Translated By Thomas Scott, p. 301).

 

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Jesus Died to End Abortion & Racism

My heart is heavy this week. I can’t rid my mind of the news of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this week, with more rumored to come in other places of the country, nor can I get over a recent report that Iceland is aborting virtually 100% of babies with Down syndrome.

I don’t always understand why God has not yet ended this cruel world. I suppose there is still at least one more soul He knows will obey the gospel before He closes the door to eternity (2 Pet. 3:9).

But be sure of this: the racism in Charlottesville and murder in Iceland are not separate unrelated stories. Both of them are blood matters – and in several ways.

Jesus gave His blood to fix and forgive the wickedness that is behind both baby murder and racism. He sacrificed Himself to save all human beings – all fellow image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-27) – all descendants of Adam (Acts 17:26) – so God & humanity, black & white, mother & fetus could be reconciled.

We cannot overstate the seriousness of hatred that so often manifests itself behind racism and abortion. To declare that one human being (perhaps due to his or her skin color, health, age, intelligence, or wallet) is somehow of more value than another human being is a cosmic sin against the God of the universe.

Rid your soul of this hate. Racism and abortion will damn your soul for eternity and make you personally responsible for the blood of Jesus.

Practices that Rob Humanity of Value

Hate, by definition, is hostility toward a fellow human being. Thus, several common practices today demonstrate hatred to our fellow man.

Abortion

Abortion suggests that the value of human life is determined by convenience or quality of life. Our culture actually tells women who unintentionally become pregnant that abortion is actually a “loving” thing to do. How sick. They say that it spares a child of the misery of being born into a home where he/she is not wanted or into a life that might be difficult. Abortion causes us to believe that human beings are disposable like trash and can be destroyed without remorse, consequence, or punishment.

Euthanasia

This fancy word literally means “good death.” The Bible only speaks of those who “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13) as having a “good death.” The term euthanasia, however, describes ending someone’s life in order to prevent pain and/or difficult circumstances. Each year, we hear another heartbreaking story of someone assisting another human commit suicide due to some impending illness or decreased quality of life. While these circumstances are difficult to bear, our efforts must be on easing the pain and suffering, not hastening death.

From the beginning, there have only been very limited circumstances under which man can end another person’s life. Genesis 9:6 declares, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Whether it be suicide or assisted suicide, man has no right to play God and decide for themselves when death should come simply on the basis of the quality of life.

Racism

Racism, fundamentally, is the disregard of human life. It leads us to believe that there are some people (conveniently those who happen to be like us) who are of greater value than others. With great shame, I regret the fact that many generations ago in my family there were slave-owners. To classify some human beings as creatures made in the image of God and others as nothing more than animals is a great, great sin.

Pornography

Abortion and euthanasia always follow in the wake of a culture that accepts pornography as a part of life. Pornography not only facilitates violating Jesus’ condemnation of lust (Matt. 5:27-30) and immodesty (1 Tim. 2:9), but it leads its viewers to see other human beings as nothing more than flesh and bones. When people begin looking at others as mere images for self-gratification, it is not a large leap to begin believing that life is of so little value that it can be abused and taken at will.

Conclusion

You cannot be a Christian while also diminishing the value of human life – in any way. Let us be convicted by the fact that God wants to save all men. Let us always have a clear, unanimous voice in declaring that all lives have value.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.