Monday, October 19, 2009

The Religion of Peace

Awww.... that's so cute!

The 17-year-old winner of a Qur'an recital and general knowledge competition organised by al Shabaab rebels in Southern Somalia got an AK-47 gun, two hand grenades, a computer and an anti-tank mine as prizes.

The runner-up in the month-long competition aimed at 10-25 year olds, a 22-year-old, received an AK-47 and ammunition at the ceremony, where the rebels urged parents to allow children to learn how to handle weapons and fight against the enemy.


You just can't make this stuff up!

Bottom line - compare this with the words of Jesus Christ:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

Therefore, as the Apostle Paul put it:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

Our weapon is the "Sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Our weapon saves people.

(Cross-posted from Cutting It Straight)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Insufficient Salvation of Catholicism, Part II

I return to the quote from John O’Brien on the Catholic priesthood that James White posted some time ago:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ.
(John O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

Today I would like to highlight the following phrases:

…. he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar… The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.

We already saw that this notion of a “re-presentation” of Christ’s sacrifice is a denial of the sufficiency and power of Christ’s atonement, and goes against biblical teaching. Now let’s focus on the notion that the glorified Christ would bow “in humble obedience” to any man’s command.

The Bible says this about what has happened to Christ since his resurrection and glorification, by contrast:

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11)

Don’t miss what Paul is saying:

1) Christ bows to no man; every knee bows to him. No exceptions, Catholic priests included – every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth; saved and lost, living and dead. Our Lord is LORD: He bows to no man.

2) And every tongue will confess He is Lord! a far cry from the confession given above, that places the priest as not just “another Christ” – as if this were not blasphemous enough – but actually as one to whose tongue Christ allegedly submits.

As Nebuchadnezzar, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, confessed:

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
(Daniel 4:34-37)

I cannot state this strongly enough: what O’Brien says above, what Catholic theology truly teaches about the Mass and the priest’s role, is the worst kind of blasphemous and damning heresy there is. This teaching is anathema.

(Jeff Jones; cross-posted from my own blog, originally dated 24 September)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Insufficient Salvation of Catholicism, Part I

This was originally posted last week on my new blog, Cutting It Straight.
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There is a trend nowadays, an ecumenical trend, among evangelical Protestants to look at the Roman Catholic Church as “just another denomination” – one with a pope and a bunch of funny rituals and odd outfits, but another Christian body nonetheless.

This attitude arises from a lack of familiarity either with the true Gospel, or with the real nature of Catholic teaching. I came across a quote on James White’s blog recently and thought it worth reproducing in its entirety for everyone’s benefit:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest's command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ.
(John O'Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

I will be dealing with this text over the next several days in a series of posts. Let’s compare this with Scripture, issue by issue:

1) he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man.

The Bible, on the other hand, says:

1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
(Hebrews 10:1-13)

Hebrews speaks for itself. The essential difference between the sacrifices of the Old Covenant and the sacrifice of Christ is that Christ’s was once for all. It is precisely because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin that those sacrifices had to be offered again and again. Because Christ’s sacrifice can take away sins, it need only be offered once.

Catholic theology holds that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient in and of itself; rather, like the Old Covenant sacrifices, it needs to be offered repeatedly.

So no Catholic can say, with Paul:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


Paul speaks of this justification and this reconciliation as being complete. Only if Christ’s sacrifice is complete and once for all is this even possible.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Purpose of Prayer

This post dates back to August 10, 2005, and continued my series (reproduced previously here) attacking the Word of Faith movement. Five years and a graduate degree in theology later, I've even less respect and time for the "Faith" movement now than I did back then, and that wasn't much. As John said of another group of outright heretics, such are deceivers and antichrists, and as they do not abide in the teaching of Christ, show that they do not have God. I hope this is beneficial still today.

What is prayer for?

Many Christians seem to regard prayer as a religious formula for getting what they want. The Word-Faith movement, in particular, views prayer as a formula to "make real" personal desires for health, wealth, and happiness. To a Word-Faith believer, prayer is essentially a spiritual "order form" where you "speak into existence" those things you want or need - provided, of course, that you have strong enough faith and that you don't "cancel" the process by making a "negative confession."

This is a very self-centred way to look at prayer. Assuredly, that is not how God looks at prayer.

Even many orthodox Christians don't have a disciplined prayer life. I have to confess that I personally have a lot to work on in this area, as well. Many of us find ourselves swept away by the cares and concerns of worldly life, and remember to pray only when things go wrong or we begin to worry. Consequently, we often treat prayer as a "Batphone" to call for help. Sadly, I've noticed that in my own prayer life, I often fall into this trap.

So what is a Biblical view of prayer and its purpose?

Consider the Lord’s prayer. How does it start? "Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'" (Matthew 6:9-10)

Look also how Christ starts His great prayer in John 17:1-5: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."

The first thing Jesus does in these prayers is to praise and glorify God: "hallowed be your name," "that the Son may glorify you." Now, consider the words of Paul: "To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

The first purpose of prayer is the same as our first purpose in life: to glorify God! Any request in prayer that does not have God and His glory as its object cannot be described as a prayer of faith. Look at Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19 – in verse 19, he prays: "So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone." God answered Hezekiah’s prayer, and the result – the destruction of the Assyrian forces – glorified God, not Hezekiah.

There are other purposes for prayer: to grow closer with God, to express our feelings to Him, to intercede for others, etc. Ultimately, all these things, properly done, glorify God. And so, if we are to ask God to listen favourably to our prayers, we must first ensure that they have God’s glorification as their object. Ask yourself: "Will what I’m asking God for glorify and increase God and His Kingdom, or is it primarily for my own benefit?"

I don't mean "ask for things that glorify God - because it'll make Him more inclined to say yes." Trying to "glorify" God as a means to our own ends is still selfishness - and that doesn't glorify God in anyway. No, God's glory is an end in itself. God doesn't have to give to be glorified - our honour for Him is NEVER bought, it is demanded by His holiness. We should humbly pray, asking that God be glorified, and know that even if He doesn't give what we request, He is still glorified in our humility before and dependence upon Him.

So what about God’s reasons for rejecting our requests? Is it only because of our own failings that He says no?

Previously, we looked at lack of faith and sin in people's lives in relation to prayer. We saw that even prayers of people of great faith are sometimes turned down, and calamities befall people who didn't do anything to directly deserve it.

So, what of God’s sovereignty?

God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Romans 9:15 - see Exodus 33:19) Paul also notes that "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills." (Romans 9:18) In his rebuke of Job (Job 38-41) God speaks of His sovereign power, proclaiming that He alone rules the earth and that Job, a mere man, has no place to question Him. Job’s response is very instructive: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." (Job 42:2-3)

The overwhelming testimony of Scripture speaks of a Sovereign, Almighty God who answers to no one, who rules the earth, heavens and everything within them unquestionably and absolutely, who causes to happen whatever He wills, who cannot be thwarted, and to whom we owe everything. Our prayers to Him are worship.

And if prayer is worship, as indeed our whole lives are called to be worship, then there can be no entitlement - save only God's entitlement to our prayers and worship. Prayer is never, ever a demand or claim. Demands and claims assume that the one who demands or claims somehow has a "right" to what he seeks. A demand presumes one's entitlement to what is demanded. And what are we entitled to? What do we have, that God did not give us? What could we possibly deserve from God? In what way is He indebted to us?

Again, God owes us one thing, and one thing only: judgment and eternal punishment for our sinfulness. The only reason he spares some from their deserved fate is because of His love and mercy, through Christ's sacrifice at the Cross.

God owns us, and is entitled to do what he wills with us (Romans 9:19-21), and we have no place to question God’s purposes.

Therefore, God reserves the right to say "no" without explaining why. We may never know why He does not answer prayers that seem perfectly reasonable and God-honouring to us. But that is His sovereign prerogative. To deny that – to state that God must give us what we ask for, as long as we ask it properly – is to deny His Lordship over us. That is rebellion, and that is blasphemous.

Our hope and assurance is rooted in God’s perfection, and in the perfection of His will. God’s plan is perfect, and so we can trust Him that no matter what, God "works all things according to the counsel of his will." (Ephesians 1:11)

(Jeff Jones)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pool of Siloam Found in Jerusalem

We continue our series of criticism of the heretical Word-Faith movement with this post, originally written Tuesday, August 9, 2005. I've done some light editing since then for format.

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Again, archaeologists have confirmed details of the Biblical record! A sewer line repair team in Jerusalem found the Pool of Siloam last fall and called in archaeologists to take a look. You can read more here.

The Gospel of John records an incident that took place here:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)

In typical fashion, secular scholarship had belittled John's story as merely a moral lesson with no basis in fact, saying there was no proof that the place even existed.

I'll also take the chance to tie this story into my running assault on the Word-Faith movement. Their doctrine of "positive confession" holds that if one says or believes negative things about one's own circumstances, this gives Satan the opportunity to move into one's life and cause evil (disease, financial difficulty, etc.) to happen. In short, the Word-Faith movement believes that Christians have a "right" to physical health, and that therefore no one should be sick. Illness is evidence of a lack of faith. Some even deny sickness exists, dismissing illness as merely a "spiritual symptom" sent by Satan to trick the believer into making a negative confession and thus open the door to a spiritual attack.

It's easy to see where this doctrine leads. Real, physical ailments are dismissed as a lack of faith, and often a trip to the doctor is seen by members of this movement as a "negative confession." The consequences of the Word-Faith movement's heretical theology has been deadly at times, as several people have died in the last twenty years by refusing treatment for sickness. If you doubt me, find and read the heartbreaking book "We Let Our Son Die," by Larry Parker (Harvest House, 1980, ISBN 0890812195). It's out of print, unfortunately, but it's a chilling account by a father who withheld insulin from his diabetic son thinking that such an act would be a lack of faith and prevent true healing.

See, the story at the Pool of Siloam utterly refutes the Word-Faith notion that human sickness and suffering is a direct result of one's own lack of faith. Jesus answers his disciples' questions by declaring that the blind man could not see because it was the Father's will that he be blind. God used the blind man as a means of demonstrating His glory and ownership over all creation, as well as Jesus' authority over even injury and disease. Now, we must recognize, of course, that all sickness and pain in the world is ultimately the result of the curse of the Fall, and thus of human sinfulness, but the Bible is abundantly clear that individual calamities are not always punishment. (Needless to say, Word-Faith teachers have a lot of trouble with the book of Job, and not many positive things to say about him).

John, in His Gospel, paints a clear and unavoidable picture of God's absolute sovereignty over all things. The Pool of Siloam was one of the stages for this glorious story. Praise be to God that this stage has been uncovered once more, and that those who oppose His Word have been humbled yet again.

(by Jeff Jones)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Prayer and the State of One's Heart

This is the third in a series of posts brought here from my old blog, addressing the false teaching of the Word-Faith movement. This was originally posted August 9, 2005.
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How does the state of our hearts affect prayer? What factors in our lives are spoken of in the Bible as having an effect on prayer, besides faith? Though not exhaustive, here are a few thoughts to ponder.

One thing to consider when approaching Almighty God in prayer is our motive:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)

If there is one way to waste our time in prayer, it is by asking for things we have no need for. God did not create us for our own pleasure, or to glorify ourselves; He created us to glorify Him, in fellowship with and service to Him. No matter what the Word-Faith teachers claim, God is not glorified when we ask for Rolls-Royces for ourselves when a Chevy will do; He is not glorified when we build expansive houses for ourselves when others shiver in the streets. As James said, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27)

The Word-Faith idea that God will give us anything we want, because He is glorified in our earthly prosperity, is one that has become far more popular in the evangelical church over the past couple of decades. According to this view, God wants us to be materially successful, because we are the "King's Kids," and we are entitled to such benefits by virtue of our faith. As such, earthly blessings beyond measure are available to us - if we only claim what is rightfully ours! And so Word-Faith teachers and churches focus overwhelmingly on "positive confession" - that is, declaring with confidence that one will receive what he wants, and avoiding any negative thoughts or words about the matter. And many of the leading lights of this movement are incredibly wealthy (due primarily to the so-called "seed" offerings of their followers) and flaunt their wealth in their lifestyles and sermons.

But this greedy and materialistic worldview reduces God to the level of a cosmic vending machine, spitting out the tokens we want if we put in the appropriate number of "faith-filled words." In this view, God serves us, not the other way around. Many Christians do seek material wealth out of an honest desire to do good with it, but in far too many cases it turns out to be a subtle trap of the devil. Because of our sinful nature, it is far too easy to make that pursuit of success our god, instead of focusing on glorifying God Himself.

Another motive that offends God in prayer is pride:

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
(Matthew 6:5-6)

and:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

In these two examples, Jesus heavily criticized those who pray for appearances. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious leaders of His day made a habit of flaunting their piety. Jesus challenged His followers to be different. Praying in public can be edifying to others (1 Corinthians 14:13-17) but if done as a "show" to others, then our focus is no longer on God but on ourselves. And that is idolatry.

The second example also points to a self-righteousness in prayer. None of us deserves to call himself righteous before God; we are all sinners. God seeks humility in His children (Luke 7:7-10). Righteousness is our duty - that is, something expected of us; we deserve no special recognition or reward for doing what is simply our duty. And because, as sinners, we cannot even be righteous of our own ability, we should be all the more humble before Him who credits His own righteousness to us!

Besides our attitudes towards God, material things, and ourselves, our relationships with others have an impact on the state of our hearts – and thus on our prayer lives. Jesus told His disciples: "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25) We are to forgive others their sins – as the passage in the Lord’s Prayer affirms: "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) Our relationship with God centres around his forgiveness of our sins, and God expects us to forgive others in the same way. If we do not, on what basis can we expect God to listen to our requests favourably?

One other thought relating to prayer may be found in 1 Peter 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." Paul alludes to two important concepts here. Sober-mindedness has to do with the fact that we are called to edify our mind as well as our spirit through prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15). Our mind is a gift from God; our capacity to reason and think is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals, and is part of the "image of God" that we reflect. Our spirits and minds are to be of one accord in worshiping God.

The other concept Paul speaks of in 1 Peter 4:7 is that of self-control, an idea that he, again, spoke of elsewhere in his writings. Paul speaks of self-control being a "fruit of the Spirit":

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

Here Paul speaks of "walking by the Spirit," an idea that closely parallels the concept of "praying in the Spirit" spoken of in Ephesians 6:18: "...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." Praying in the Spirit is also spoken of in Romans 8:26, 1 Corinthians 14:15, and Jude 20, and essentially means that a Christian who is right with God will be filled with the Holy Spirit, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life. That Christian will naturally seek, in prayer, those things God the Holy Spirit wishes him or her to ask of God the Father.

All of these factors and considerations may be summed up by one short verse, Psalm 34:15: "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry." This verse is quoted in 1 Peter 3:12. We are called to righteousness in every aspect of our lives, including in prayer. God listens to the righteous.

And this is why prayer calls for humility: our righteousness, the very reason God listens to us and is inclined toward us, is not our own.

It is His.

(by Jeff Jones)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Meaning of Christ’s Sufferings for Your Daily Life

In light of Jeff’s previous posts on health and wealth teaching, I thought that I would share this short excerpt from the rough draft of the Bible Study notes. The study was delivered this evening (on John 19:1-22; and the Pilate’s trial of Jesus), June 18/2009.

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John 19:1-2
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands.

“The soldiers”; clearly having some license from Pilate to abuse Jesus, rough Him up. They put a ‘crown of thorns’ on Him and mock robe on Him. This crown of thorns probably served two purposes.[1] First, depending on where they got them, the thorns could be 12 inches long, and would be very painful.[2] Second, and this isn’t certain, the spikes are a mock imitation of the ‘radiant corona’, a crown portrayed on ruler’s heads at the time. The spikes represent rays of light (picture the Statue of Liberty). Either way, the point of the crown is to mock Jesus.

See, the soldiers are playing their twisted, vulgar games. They would play a game of “mock king,” scratchings of which are preserved on the stone pavement of the fortress of Antonia. Philo and other literature attest this game.[3] Mark describes it this way (Mark 15:18-19): “18 And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.” See, whenever they would go to bow down before the prisoner they would substitute a gift or kiss with a punch to the face.[4] Even the way they say, “Hail, king of the Jews” is formed in such a way that would only be used to address inferiors.[5] That is, it’s even phrased to deny that he’s a king.

Isaiah 50:6-7
I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

There is one particular application that I want to make from this [the mockery and abuse of Jesus Christ] . It is very important for our time.

1 Peter 2:20-21
… if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Christ left you an example. For what? So that believers might follow in His steps; Steps of suffering, a road of sorrows, of mockery, pain, suffering, reviling, and hatred from the world.

1 Peter 4:1
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…

In context, Peter refers back to 1 Peter 3:14-18. The “way of thinking” is to be ready and willing to suffer for good and for righteousness’ sake, and so imitate Christ’s own way when He was reviled and when He suffered. Arm yourself with this way of thinking. Why? Because suffering for the sake of Christ cuts off the ‘nerve centre of sin’. This is why it is necessary. It isn’t optional. And in our day, when preachers will proclaim that material comfort and prosperity is your calling, this is an especially important message. If you are a child of God, you will suffer. If everything is comfortable for you, biblically speaking, it means that you are an illegitimate son.

1 Peter 4:13; 5:10
4:13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. …
5:10 … after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Please take this to heart. It is for the good of your soul:

2 Timothy 2:3
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

So set your face as flint, and endure suffering, as Jesus Himself did.


[1] Carson (The Gospel According to John), page 598. The NET notes say, “The crown of thorns was a crown plaited of some thorny material, intended as a mockery of Jesus' "kingship." Traditionally it has been regarded as an additional instrument of torture, but it seems more probable the purpose of the thorns was not necessarily to inflict more physical suffering but to imitate the spikes of the "radiant corona," a type of crown portrayed on ruler's heads on many coins of the period; the spikes on this type of crown represented rays of light pointing outward (the best contemporary illustration is the crown on the head of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor).” Morris writes that this idea of the crown of thorns is widely accepted, but not proven, and it well could be an instrument of torture (page 700, fn. 5).

[2] Kostenberger (John), page 532.

[3] Kostenberger, page 532.

[4] Morris (The Gospel According to John), page 701. The soldiers probably thought themselves witty, going up and paying homage, and substituting blows for gifts and dutiful presents.

[5] Citing Wallace; Kostenberger, page 532, note 56.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Relationship of Prayer and Faith

Last time, I posted an old post from my own blog (which has gone sadly dormant due to my neglect). That post recorded my disgust at a Word-Faith church service. The next day, it was still bothering me, and so I started a running series aiming to take apart the foundational assumptions of the Faith teachers. So here it is, for your edification.

_________________________________

I'm still grumpy about what I witnessed last night, and so I intend to devote a couple of posts to the subject of prayer, and why we don't always receive what we ask for. My aim here is to debunk the Word-Faith movement's doctrine of faith and prayer, in favour of the Biblical model.

In the world we live in, we are often faced with daunting circumstances. Our friends and family get sick. Problems arise at home and at work. Stress, injury, and fatigue take their toll on us. And in the face of these problems, the Bible calls us to prayer:

...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

So why do so many prayers seemingly go unanswered? We pray for sick people, and they still die – many good Christians among them. We pray for success in our endeavours, and they fail miserably. We pray for the salvation of our friends and family, and yet they continue in sin. Doesn’t God hear?

Many say that the reason prayers "fail" is because of a lack of faith on the part of either the person praying, or the person prayed for. Proponents of this view call on Biblical teachings about prayer for support:

"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:23-24)

And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." ()
Matthew 21:21-22

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)

So, the first question we must ask is: Do prayers fail for lack of faith?

Yes – they can, and they do. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, James and others talked of the importance of faith in prayer. James had this to say:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

Jesus did not perform many miracles in his hometown because of a lack of faith:

...and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?... And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54, 57-58)

Mark 6:5, in fact, says Jesus could not do miracles there because of the lack of faith.

(Now, it’s important to point out here that Jesus was not unable to perform miracles, as if the faith of others somehow grants Him power. That is a blasphemous notion - one of the many reasons why the Word-Faith philosophy is heretical. God is NOT dependent on us in any way, unlike what the Word-Faith preachers claim - look at Acts 17:25 for proof. No, Jesus could not reward a lack of faith with a miracle in this case, because it did not suit His purpose.)

The Old Testament also speaks of the importance of faith and trust in God to answer prayer. In 1 Chronicles 5:20, God answers the prayers of the Israelites because of their trust in him.

So does this mean that, like the Word-Faith teachers believe, we can have anything we want, if we have enough faith? Is it true that faith is all that’s required?

Word of Faith adherents, as well as metaphysical cults such as Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Mind Sciences would all say yes. But is this a biblical view?

What about Paul? He grappled with a "thorn in the side" for years, begging God in prayer no less than three times to take this affliction away (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God refused to heal him – because His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. That is to say, not only did it force Paul to rely more heavily on God, but it glorified God by showing His strength in supporting Paul through his trials.

Paul’s companions were by no means exempt from sickness. Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment that, presumably, had been prayed for but not yet healed; Paul prescribed wine for this condition! (1 Timothy 5:23) If faith were all that is required for healing (or any other answer of prayer) then why had the prayers of Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist of the early church, or Timothy, clearly a man of great faith, been denied? Paul also mentions that he left Trophimus behind sick (2 Timothy 4:20) and mentions the sickness of Epaphroditus, who almost died! (Philippians 2:25-30) Surely a prayer with sufficient faith would have prevented the disease from reaching that point, would it not?

Or consider the following examples from Matthew 26:

And going a little farther [Jesus] fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will..." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done..." So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (39, 42, 44)

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:35-36)

Here our Lord is praying to the Father to spare Him the suffering He was to undergo, if it were possible. Of all examples, our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God and God incarnate, Jesus Christ, surely would have been granted His wish – IF faith was all that was required. Who could have perfect faith, if not God Himself? Jesus could have had no less than complete faith in His Father. But God clearly said "no"; Jesus went to the Cross in accordance with His Father’s will.

So, it has been clearly demonstrated that Biblically speaking, "having enough faith" is by no means a guarantee for receiving what we ask for in prayer. God can and will say "no." He is sovereign - meaning, He owns all of Creation and may do what He pleases with it. And this is the very heart of the matter.

The Word-Faith movement would deny God His sovereign right to say no. Just read some of their literature - it's full of "claims" and "demands," declarations that they are entitled to things. But the only thing God owes to any human being, save His own Incarnated Son, is wrath and punishment.

Remember that. When you pray, ask God for things in all humility and thankfulness for the blessings you have already received. NEVER claim or demand, in the blasphemous manner of the Word-Faith movement. Yes, we can approach His throne with confidence - but that is no warrant for such impertinence. Biblical faith, in prayer, is a trust in God to answer according to His will, belief that Jesus' sacrifice has entitled us believers to approach God directly in prayer, and confidence in His power to grant our request - should He so choose.

(by Jeff Jones)

Monday, June 15, 2009

What A Disgusting Message: My First Exposure to the "Faith" Movement

On August 7, 2005, I had just arrived home from an event hosted by a local church (not my own), and I was "grouchy." I was, in fact, so angry that I wrote an entire post on my blog to vent about the experience. What follows is what I wrote that night.

The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Turns out this event was hosted by one of the two "Word-Faith" churches in the Fredericton area. I didn't know that when I came, but found out upon arrival. As it was free, I decided to stick it out and see how things went.

First, during the worship music time, one of the musicians made a statement to the effect that the "old hymns" aren't great for today's worship. Now, that's intelligent - a hundred years from now, someone might disparage the music you're playing as passe.

I have no objection to writing and singing comtemporary worship music. Even Isaac Watts' great hymns were contemporary in his time, right? But this woman's comments betrayed a lamentable lack of historical awareness. The old hymns and anthems of the church represent a priceless trove of Biblical teaching and commentary. They are a treasure! We don't sing them enough these days - and the results are sad, as much of the music we play in church today is more shallow and simplistic than the Sunday School songs I grew up with. We could use more of the old hymns, I think - maybe the distressing lack of basic Christian theology evident in the church today might be alleviated somewhat.

That was just the beginning, though. The attendees were handed some papers when they came in - a flyer describing the sponsoring church, which included a "Prayer for Salvation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit," another flyer advertising an upcoming event, an offering envelope, and some other documents.

The period of singing ended, and the period of offering began. I say "period," because it took at least half an hour. The male head pastor of the church got up and held up one of the offering envelopes, asking us to turn to the packages we had been given. He declared firmly that the envelope was the most important thing in that package!

Now, anyone familiar with the Word-Faith movement knows its unhealthy obsession with money and "seed" offerings. It isn't called the "Prosperity Gospel" for nothing. But this is the most blatant and sickening statement of the like I have seen or heard. In that same package was a flyer with a "prayer for salvation" (I don't think it was a good prayer, but I'll get to that in a minute, and it's beside the point here) - a prayer that is designed to introduce an unbeliever to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and yet that pastor dared state that the offering envelope was the most important document?

Absolutely shameful. If you're reading this, and you're not familiar with Word-Faith teachings, this is a great example. This "church" exists to spread the "gospel" of positive confession and worldly wealth, not the Gospel of salvation from sins. At least that's the message I get when the pastor places an offering envelope higher in importance than a salvation message.

The male pastor then handed over to his wife, his "co-pastor," who spoke at length about God's desire to bless us financially and materially, as well as spiritually and physically, and who promised that God WILL return our "seed" offering in blessings to us. Again, a patently unbiblical message. We give not in hopes of being rewarded - this would reduce God to a metaphysical investment package, or worse, a cosmic vending machine! - but in gratitude and humble recognition that everything we have is from Him. We give as a sacrifice - not to earn favour or buy God's affection, or to "plant seed," but as a lesson to ourselves that God deserves the firstfruits of EVERYTHING we do. We give as a regular reminder that God is the source of all blessing.

The last thing that really irked me was reading through the "salvation prayer," and hearing the pastor's call at the end for unbelievers present to be saved. The written prayer simply noted Acts 2:21 and asked Jesus to come into the heart of the one praying and be Lord of their life, followed by the reading of Romans 10:9 and a confession for the reader to state that Jesus was raised from the dead and that He is Lord. It then transitioned into a declaration for the reader that they are now Christians!

What's wrong with this? It misses the entire point of salvation - that is, being saved. What is the reader being saved from? The prayer doesn't say. There is not one mention of sin, or of iniquity, or wickedness, or wrongdoing - certainly no mention of hell and judgment! Not even a mention that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin! The prayer is simply a declaration that Jesus is Lord and then assures its reader that he is "born again."

One cannot put true faith in Christ unless he realizes that he is helpless and lost in sin; that he cannot save himself (again, this helplessness isn't mentioned at all); that Christ died in the place of sinners; and that His righteousness is reckoned to us by way of our faith. The prayer mentions that the reader is now "righteous," but it doesn't say how or why, much less why this is somehow a change from the reader's initial condition!!

You cannot, CANNOT, EVER preach the Gospel without stressing sin and the need for repentance. This "salvation prayer" falls far short of the mark. And sadly, this is not a problem confined to Word-Faith circles - it is endemic to the evangelical church today.

I'm tempted to take back what I wrote above - that offering envelope was probably far more useful than this prayer. Such a "prayer of salvation" runs a serious risk of giving assurance of salvation to a person who never has geniune faith or understanding of Christ.

I left shaking my head and lamenting the condition of the modern church. If this focus on the physical earth and its material blessings and prosperity is to become the norm in the church, and especially if the lack of a coherent Gospel message that induces awareness of personal sinfulness remains our evangelical focus, then we are to be ashamed. No doubt our Lord will hold us to account.

Kyrie eleison...

(by Jeff Jones)

Monday, June 8, 2009

“Human rights”

Paul Grimmond writes:

There has been a concerted push in recent times for Australia to adopt a human rights charter. It's supposedly designed to ensure that “Australia joins the rest of the enlightened world by enacting comprehensive human rights legislation.” (see: humanrightsact.com.au). It is, of course, anything but a way of ensuring that human rights are preserved in Australia.

The reasons that it would fail are manifold, but the most significant one is raised by Carr in the end of his article. A human rights charter ends up legislating liberalism and allowing no room for conscience. Or in other words, it forces everyone to adopt exactly the same moral position as the authors of the charter.

Carr points out that under current laws, a nurse or doctor with a conscientious objection to performing an abortion is currently allowed not to perform the procedure. However, under the proposed charter, that freedom would be removed. The reason for this is that much of what passes for liberalism is in fact a front for dictatorial autocracy. The move is always from “let's allow these two opinions to co-exist” to “you are no longer welcome in our society if you believe that”.

If you've followed any of the shenanigans with the legal action being pursued by the Anglican Church of Canada against Bible believing pastors and their congregations in New Westminster, you'll know that it works exactly the same way in the church as it does outside. No one's allowing any room for conscientious objection to the Anglican Church of Canada's same sex marriage proposals.

Agreeing with the opposition

Friday, May 15, 2009

Keep reading if you want the Answer to the Problem of Evil

In light of the last post regarding an inadequate answer to the problem of evil, I thought I would share the answer to the problem of evil.

When someone confronts you with the problem of evil, answer them with the Cross!
  • Tell them that the same God who permitted the fall is the God who died on the cross to do something about it (Acts 20:28).
  • Tell them that the same God who allowed all this evil, is the God who will wipe away every tear and make His creation new again (Rev 21:4-5)
  • Tell them that our God, somehow, will use all this evil for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

As my professor Michael Horton counsels: the problem of evil cannot be answered philosophically or ontologically, only historically!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some initial thoughts on Nightline’s ‘Does Satan Exist?’ Face-Off

I’ve watched part of the Nightline Face-Off Does Satan Exist? For those who don’t know, Mark Driscoll was on the program.

1) The great: Driscoll is repeatedly proclaiming the Gospel. That’s great. He’s arguing that the work of Christ is God’s solution and the victory over evil.

2) The not-so-great: But Driscoll also invoked the free will defence in explaining the origination of evil.

He said that there isn’t virtue without the possibility of vice.

The fundamental problem, if one were to give this some thought, is that God is not capable of vice. He cannot sin (James 1:13; cf. Hebrews 6:18). So, is God virtuous, or not? I take it that all Christians accept (rightly) that God is righteous, good, holy, upright, which is to say, He’s the definition of virtue. (I would also argue that the definition of divine righteousness precludes the possibility of God sinning). So if God is virtuous and yet cannot sin, this immediately undercuts the claim that God gave free will in man because free will is necessary for virtue (here free will is understood as that which includes the genuine actionable possibility of choosing evil, or the ability to choose otherwise), since it is evident that such a notion of free will is not necessary for virtue.

This is an inadequate answer for the problem of evil. Hence, don’t invoke it.

3) The humourous: On another note (and I mention it because I found it funny), Bishop Pearson, in railing against fundamentalism, just enumerated a list of rules that Christians add, in response to Driscoll and Lobert – as if that has any bearing whatsoever on Mark Driscoll! Clearly Pearson had no idea who he is debating. And that doesn’t make for a helpful interaction.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Story of Jesse's Party

A: Hey, how is it going?
B: Pretty good! What are you up to?
A: Oh, I’ve just been busy organizing a welcome home party for Jesse.
B: Really? That’s awesome! What do you have planned?
A: Well, everyone in town will be there, we’ll have a massive chocolate cake, get a couple bands to play, and have a dance in the evening. It will be so much fun!
B: Oh... wait a second. I think I am confused. Which Jesse is this for?
A: Jesse, the guy how had lived here years and years ago but then left to devote his life to humanitarian causes. Who were you thinking of?
B: Well, it sounds like the same Jesse– the guy who built the shelter and orphanage in town, did the humanitarian thing and is supposed to be coming back soon.
A: Yeah, we are thinking of the same guy. Why?
B: He would hate that party.
A: What are you talking about?
B: Err... let me take a step back. Did you know him before he left?
A: No, I learned about him afterwards from some people and I’ve looked at a few of the letters he has written and I am a huge fan of his.
B: So he hasn’t directly called you or anything else, right?
A: No... why?
B: Well, I am like you. I haven’t met him or directly talked to him but I’ve read all his letters and some of the stuff his original friends wrote and, quite honestly, he would hate everything about that party.
A: How can you say that? He would love it.
B: First of all, he is deathly allergic to chocolate!
A: Oh, come on, everyone loves chocolate cake and I know he would love it too! It wouldn’t be a party without it.
B: His friends, who wrote a biography about him, talked how he almost died as a kid from a chocolate chip!
A: Oh those are just rumours. That is not for sure.
B: Umm... His friends said he was allergic... why would they lie about it? And anyways, how can you know that he isn’t?
A: They probably just misunderstood what happened or you just heard it wrong. Everyone loves chocolate.
B: I’m not saying that he wouldn’t love chocolate, just that it wouldn’t want his birthday cake made out of it because he couldn’t eat any of it without dying a pretty horrid death!
A: Are you trying to ruin my party?
B: No, no, no, you are taking this the wrong way. It just isn’t what Jesse would like. I don’t want him to be upset with you. And even the fact that you are inviting everyone. Didn’t you hear about why he left town in the first place?
A: Yeah, it was because he wanted to help poor people elsewhere.
B: But there was more to it. He built the homeless shelter and the orphanage and some of the other buildings in this town but even with his work, most of the town drove him off.
A: Okay, now that is not true. Everyone loves him!
B: Look it up yourself! While he was helping out, people got really upset with him because all his volunteer work made them look bad. Then, when he used to hold the outdoor lectures, he almost had a mob go after him after he pointed out how selfish and arrogant they were. They drove him off!
A: I don’t believe you. If that was the case, why do so many people talk about him? Hmm? The town loves him!
B: They obviously haven’t read any of his letters! After he left, he wrote to some of his friends about how superficial and selfish most of the town is. He outright said that he hated how they acted. The whole town is still filled with the same types of people and it is pretty clear that he wouldn’t want to spend his welcome-home evening with them.
A: I’ve read some of his letters and he said nothing like that!
B: ... Okay, give me a second. Here, I have one of his letters in my bag to his friend Jeff, let me just take a look. Errr... yeah, right here: “... glad to see that they haven’t kicked you out yet. That entire town (you and our other friends excluded) is completely messed up. How they act is downright evil.”
A: Jesse would NEVER say that about anyone! How dare you say that!
B: Whoa! I’m just reading what he wrote to his friends. Look for yourself.
A: That is a lie! He would never say that. That letter must be wrong.
B: No, it isn’t. After Jeff got the letter, he copied it a few times and sent it to the rest of his friends. They then made their own copies and passed them around. I wanted to make sure myself, so a year or two ago, I checked my copy against a whole bunch of different ones and they all said the same thing.
A: Maybe Jeff changed it then, because I know Jesse and that is not something he would ever say.
B: Okay, wait a second. Jeff knew him; they were childhood friends. Even the friends Jeff sent the letter to first knew Jesse personally. If Jeff changed it, they would have said something.
A: Well, it got messed up one way or another. I know Jesse.
B: But how?
A: I know him. My friends all talk about him and that is not something that Jesse would say.
B: But your friends didn’t know Jesse personally, right? It is pretty obvious that your friends haven’t read his letters either...
A: Listen, if you can’t be nice about things then just leave. I didn’t ask for your advice anyways. And what does this all matter anyways? You know Jesse one way, I know him another. I just want to focus on how loving he is and celebrate that with the whole town. Can’t we just accept that we are both friends of his and leave this?
B: But you are friends with a person who doesn’t exist and from what you say, you definitely don’t like who he really is. If you read his letters, he talks about how he does love people but he also talks about how he hates those who do wrong and how they deserve to be punished.
A: That is just your interpretation of it. I don’t interpret what he wrote like that.
B: What? How can you interpret him saying those exact words as something else?
A: Like I said, that is just your interpretation. Anyways, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I have a lot of work left to do to organize the party.
B: But the party is a party you would like, not what he would like. Do you even realize how absurd and asinine that is?

[posted by Warren Rempel]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Eternal life is knowing Jesus

Apparently Meera felt that this comment was 'disrespectful', so I'm reproducing it here:

Hey Jacinda,

Just a heads up that Warren is very much aware of the idea of faith as knowing God. I'm sure he would agree with every word that I wrote here:

http://alwaysonenote.blogspot.com/2008/10/jesus-is-life.html

"From my study on John 13:33-14:6, delivered October 9, 2008:
Have you ever thought of the absolute and complete ignorance and foolishness of suggesting that someone can have eternal life apart from Christ? To make a statement like this, and I do not think that I am putting it too strongly, is damning. To say, “there is eternal life in Jesus Christ, and there is also eternal life apart from Him” is to completely and profoundly misunderstand the nature of eternal life. Eternal life is to know God, and to know Jesus. Jesus is the life. The quality of this life is whatever it means to know Jesus Christ. The definition of eternal life is to exist in intimate relation and communion with the Truine God. If this is not your idea of eternal life – if your idea of eternal life consists merely in a lack of pain and a lack of suffering and all of your comforts being met, but, like Don Piper in 90 Minutes in Heaven, your idea of heaven is devoid of the intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain - if your heaven does not have this as its chief all-in-all joy, then whatever you are imagining and whatever you are looking forward to is not eternal life. Joy consists in looking upon God for eternity. I cannot overstate how serious this really is. Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, and it could be no other way, for He is the Way precisely because He is the truth and the life, and if it were not so, we would have no hope of eternal life – only misery and loneliness and suffering and vanity. "

So I would point out that our 'religion' is communion with Jesus.

By the way, as a really quick side note - the Bible does say that God hates people. It also never says that God loves every single human being in the same way. To illustrate this point from marriage, Christ doesn't love the rest of the world the same way He loves His bride. Just like a husband shouldn't love other women the same way he loves his wife.

The key idea for reconciling this is federal headship.

Thanks for your clarifying thoughts, though, they were helpful.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The exclusivity of Christ

"From this point on there will be no turning back. Jesus is not giving his followers the option of simply adding his teaching to their already established religious beliefs. He is not inviting us to use his spiritual insights as a kind of seasoning to perk up our current bland religious diets. There is no room for syncretism, for blending a bit of Jesus with a bit of religious tradition as our path to God. Jesus invites the disciples to unplug from their religious identity so they can be fully engaged in their commitment to his new way.

This call to exclusivity is not unlike a marriage commitment. A single person cannot simply 'add' marriage to their already established life. Marriage, if it is to be properly understood and embraced, changes our lives in profound ways. Jesus does not function like a kind of spiritual consultant that we can hire to help us do a slightly better job in our current religious practices. He is a lover calling us to embrace him in an exclusive, committed, passionate relationship - a relationship with God himself that will make all other affiliations infinitely secondary. (pages 147-148)

...

Jesus intentionally puts all of us in a  position of decision. Will we reject all systems of salvation in favor of trusting his irreligious way?" (page 149)

...

"The Bible labels our problem sin, and this is good news, because sin can be straightforwardly dealt with through something called forgiveness." (page 237)

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21)"

"This message is called "the gospel," which means "good news." It is exactly that - good news. God has done the work of saving us from our own sin [egocentricity: self-centred rather than God-centred living (page 238)] and selfishness. He simply asks that we trust him on this - that we have faith in him (John 3:16-17)." (page 240)

Excerpts from The End of Religion, by Bruxy Cavey.

[side note: I do have significant issues with various parts of the book, so this isn't a blanket endorsement.]

...

John 7:7 
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me [Jesus] because I testify about it that its works are evil.

1 Corinthians 15:1-5
1  Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Timothy 1:15 
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Matthew 1:18-21
18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Matthew 5:10-12
10  "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11  "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

John 15:18-23
18 "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20  Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23  Whoever hates me hates my Father also.

James 4:4-5
4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

John 7:7 
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me [Jesus] because I testify about it that its works are evil.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Should we respect God-hating idolatry?

I think Warren has covered some ground on this already. Here's some additional thoughts that I had.

Meera said:

I had the amazing blessing today of being part of a multi-faith workshop held on campus for grad students. It was a panel discussion by 4 of the chaplains (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian), on their views of the link between academia and faith.
Much of what I know about God, I learned by working at the Multi-faith Chaplains' Centre on campus. One of my closest mentors, Kelly Johnson, was the head chaplain there for the Pentecostal tradition, and another friend/mentor named Paul Verhoef is the Christian Reform chaplain. Both of them are shockingly open-minded (for their respective traditions), and many would consider them liberal thinkers although they would describe themselves as conservative in practice. Paul happened to be the one representing the Christian faith in this panel today.

Just a side note: Speaking generally in theological/religious/spiritual terms, why is 'open-mindedness' a virtue? What if, say, 'open-minded' is really just synonymous with 'undiscerning'?

Something that many people ask is how on earth can so many people who are passionate about their faith's tenets work together when they have different (often exclusive) faith backgrounds?

Why would we want to work together, for one thing? Other religions fundamentally reject the Christ. And they have entirely different goals.

Animism, for example, couldn't care less about researching scientific cures for HIV.

Islam requires the submission of everyone on earth to its teachings. That's not an objective I share. Nor one that I intend to contribute to in any manner.

I certainly won't assent to the Christless presuppositions underneath the idolatrous religions of the world. I love Jesus. He's my King. My God. And He is the only way, demanding complete allegiance, and repentance from all idolatry. (Thankfully, He bestows salvation freely, even giving faith itself).

Not only do the chaplains work together, they have fun together. I could happily sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with Tim Sampson (Buddhist chaplain), and we could chat away. It's based on a mutual respect. Khadijah Chmilovska (Muslim chaplain) said that she believes in order to work together, one must be willing to be broad-minded and recognize that although there may be ways in which your faith differs from someone else's, the other person has every right to believe what they do and to express that belief.

No, people do not have an objective moral right to believe whatever they want. The Christ commands them to believe in Him and to worship the true God, Yahweh, distinct from Allah, etc. alone. That our government may afford a legal right to believe whatever you want (well, as long as you don't really believe it) doesn't at all mean that people have a transcendent moral right to believe what they want. And we know what John (Jesus, if you take this as a continuation of the quote in verse 12) said:

John 3:18
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Moreover, voluntarism is a farce. People don't believe what they choose. They choose according to their beliefs. Belief is involuntary.

And we're culpable for what we believe.

Oren Steinitz(Jewish chaplain) reminded us that not everyone from even his own faith would be able to sit and discuss religion together, and that an orthodox priest may not even be willing to hear what he had to say. This of course exists in all of the faiths. Intolerance is not only present between religions but also within religions. I think one of the things that turns people off of religion is not exclusivity but the disrespect shown between religions so often. How many times has war occurred along religious lines? War on a grand scale as well as on a small scale, between friends. Bruxy Cavey writes:

One could argue that factors like economics, resources, liberty, and land are much greater causes of war. Moreover, why should the truth respect a lie? That's absurd.

"When a Samaritan shows up in the role of hero, all bets are off and all expectations are shattered. The Samaritans were not only considered to be outside of God's covenant people (and therefore no "neighbor" to a Jew), they were ancient enemies." (The End of Religion, p.114)

I want to review Cavey's book at some point now, but let's go over this right now.

Some background: There were two ways to travel to Galilee from Judea; one way was through Samaria. Some people have posed that Jews avoided the region, and while that may be true for the strict Jews, this appears to be speculation. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records that the route through Samaria was faster (a person would not need to cross the Jordan river twice). It may be just as likely that ordinary Jews could not be bothered to make the longer trip. In fact, Josephus records that “it was the custom of the Jews to pass through Samaria when they went up to Jerusalem for the feasts.” (Morris, the Gospel According to John, 225) Moreover, Josephus uses the same expression for “had to” [that is, in John 4] when he says, that “for rapid travel, it was essential to take that route.” (ibid., page 226). But we can see that Jesus traveled through here with purpose, given the events that follow: He doesn’t seem at all to be in a hurry, but rather compelled by divine design to minister beyond Jewish circles. This passage communicates that the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ is for the world, not just the Jews. And it was necessary that this be demonstrated.

A brief history of the Samaritans is helpful. Samaria can refer to a city or the region. In 722-721 B.C., the Assyrians captured the area, and they deported many Jews (2 Kg. 17-18). Those who remained in the area intermarried with the foreigners. Indeed, this is the group who appealed to the Jews in the time of Ezra, when they were rebuilding the temple, saying, “for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here." But the reply is telling, You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Ezra 4:1-4). Around 400 B.C., the people of Samaria built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. See, the Samaritans rejected the Old Testament, except for the Pentateuch, and there is some evidence that they may have had it in a somewhat modified form. From the Pentateuch, and given that they lacked any further revelation, they concluded that the place of true worship was Mount Gerizim, for reasons that we will not go into now. Now, if you read Deuteronomy you will notice a constant reference to the “the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.” (e.g. Deut. 26:2) The Samaritans thought this was Gerizim. So there was a rival idea of where true worship was to take place between the Jews and Samaritans, since the Jews believed (correctly) that worship was in Jerusalem. In the 2nd century B.C., this temple was destroyed. But the Samaritans still worshiped there.

Jesus is breaking custom in a large way by asking a Samaritan woman for a drink. It is recorded in the Mishnah, which is effectively a rather questionable Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, that “the daughters of the Samaritans are (deemed unclean as) menstruants from their cradle” (Morris, pg. 229) This is a rather pointed way of expressing their ceremonial uncleanliness. Not only so, but some Rabbis even held that to teach a woman the Torah was equivalent to teaching them prostitution, which is a striking concept given that they considered this to be the “greatest good in life.” (Morris, pg 242-243, note 67) Indeed, an ancient prayer that survives today is, “Blessed art thou , O Lord… who hast not made me a woman.” And, they considered speaking with women, even one’s own wife, to be an unhealthy diversion from studying the Torah, which in turn could lead a man to hell (Carson, pg. 227, Pirke Abothe 1:5). Women were considered inferior in every way. So, we can see that Jesus utterly disregards these unscriptural concepts and proceeds into conversation with this person, who is in herself the embodiment of all that should be avoided, especially for a Jewish Rabbi!

Hopefully the context of the time then shows some of the surprise in the woman’s expression, “How is it that you, a JEW, ask for a drink from me, a WOMAN of SAMARIA?” She captures the situation quite well. Samaritans were unclean half-breeds. He was a Jewish man. She was a woman. Hence, the expression, which the ESV opts to render, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” While this is a fair translation, it is not the only possibility. After all, there is evidence that Samaritans and Jews associated, and even ate together (although on Jewish property). Jesus’ disciples were off buying food in a Samaritan town at the very moment! Solid foods did not necessarily transfer uncleanliness, so this is quite understandable (Carson, John, page 217; Morris, page 229, note 13). The issue had to do with the request for a drink. See, Jesus doesn’t have anything to draw water (verse 11), and the well is quite deep. He has to use her utensils, and Jews did not use Samaritan utensils, since this was unclean. Jesus isn’t like other men – where a normal man is made unclean by touching a leper, in so doing Jesus heals him! She has no idea who He is at this point. He seems to her to be only a thirsty Jewish man.

Jesus converses with her gently and firmly: The address, “Woman,” is a polite and affectionate one (perhaps “Madame” is better). So don’t think that He is speaking harshly. But He is holding nothing back. Remember that the Jews and Samaritans were engaged in a rivalry over the place of true worship. The Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans on Gerizim. Morris points out that this is exemplified in a dialog: “[A man] was going up to Jerusalem to pray. He was walking past a plane tree (by Gerizim) where a Samaritan found him. He said to him, “Where are you going?” He answered, “I am going up to Jerusalem to pray.” The former said, “Would it not be better for you to pray in this blessed mountain rather than in that dunghill?” So this is the theological point of discussion that this woman brings up. Why bring it up? She wants to deflect to a sure theological debate so as to avoid talking about her uncomfortable love-life. It is easier to do that, isn’t it? “While we are on the topic my adultery, what about the true place of worship? Abraham et. al. worshipped here!” It isn’t much fun to have light shining on your sin!

But Jesus does two things here. First, He adamantly sides with the Jews. He tells her that ‘You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know.’ Notice that this says, “what,” it is not just that they do not know who they worship, but that they do not even know what they are doing in terms of their system of worship. The Psalmist says, “In Judah God is known, His name is great in Israel.” (Psalm 76:1). But they do not have the rest of God’s revelation. The Jews do, they were given it (Romans 9:1-5), entrusted with the oracles of God. They know the true Object of worship. The Jews are the vehicle of salvation for the world. Salvation is FROM the Jews. Notice that it is not only FOR the Jews, but comes FROM them. There is no other source of salvation. If one is to be saved, it will be through the salvation that is brought about through the vehicle of the Jewish people, which, as we know, is Jesus of Nazareth. And here He is teaching this salvation to a non-Jew!

Second, Jesus transcends the whole debate. Worship is not a matter of a physical place -- anymore. It is a matter of spirit and truth. Because the nature of God is spirit (this is not saying that God is a spirit), and His essential being is spirit, and not corporeal or physical, and not created, worship must be a matter of spirit, from the inward heart of man, from the spiritual faculty of man. In Christ, who is the true temple or dwelling place of God, there are no physical restrictions on worship, as there were in the old covenant. True children of God may worship God anywhere because the Son of God is their true place of worship, and He dwells with them through the Holy Spirit (John 14:23).

Look very carefully: Jesus says that worship must be in truth. These are not disconnected ideas: The ESV renders this properly by translating it “in spirit and truth.” The word ‘in’ governs both terms, joining them together. Ignorant worship will not do. The Samaritans are the embodiment of ignorance, they worship the One they do not know in the way they do not know, and Jesus is telling this woman that she needs to worship God in spirit, not on Mount Gerizim, and in truth, and not in the pretense of their system of worship. This is the most immediate backdrop of what NOT worshipping in truth looks like. God requires worshipers who worship in spirit and truth; that is, God is concerned with the whom and the how of worship. This is contrasted to both the Jews and the Gentiles. This worship transcends race and geography. And more than that, God is actively seeking these worshipers. His love does not idly sit by, hoping for worshipers. His goodness and mercy pursue true worshipers. Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow [pursue?] me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Jesus has used the woman’s evasion to preach the Gospel. She attempts to avoid the topic at hand, but Jesus uses this attempt to reinforce her desperate need – she must worship in spirit and truth, because God is spirit and must be worshiped as He has said. Remember that Jesus taught that one must be born of water and spirit to see and enter the kingdom of heaven. It is necessary that man’s worship comes from a heart indwelled with the Holy Spirit, the living water, and in that way it is done in spirit and truth.

Now, as for us, we do not get to invent our own idea of worship! God must be worshiped for who He truly is and what He has truly done in the manner He has truly specified! So, you should be thinking, I should probably find out what this means. Indeed, seek after God according to His Scriptures. Test yourself, test your presuppositions, test your traditions, and test your actions and your worship and your conceptions by the Scriptures. Discard what is unbiblical. Embrace what is true.

False religions are quite unbiblical.

What are the stereotypes that the story of the Good Samaritan shatters? This story is often quoted as being a reason for getting up off our backsides and helping the poor. But it also directly targets inter-faith dialogue and religious intolerance. Christians are notorious for religious intolerance.

Given the commentary above, this is a bad application of the parable of the good Samaritan, because Jesus Himself confronted the Samaritans about their ignorance of the truth in John 4. He flat out tells this woman:

John 4:21-22
21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Now, would you say to these other religious leaders in the interfaith movement that they have do not know what they are doing, and tell them that salvation comes from the Jews in Christ alone? Would you then point out that the direct contrast to this lack of knowledge is worshiping in "spirit and truth" (one governing pronoun, not in spirit and in truth)?

It might also be noted that people were trying to get out of helping their neighbour by asking what a neighbour is in this parable. That seems more analogous to the deconstructionist tendencies of certain postmodern thinking. For example, if you say, "Stop sinning," one might reply, "What is sin?" Indeed, Jesus is teaching something very concrete here, that you have to know to be in the right.

Continuing...

And it's sad, because we know about this crazy truth, but we're often so rude to other people that they can't hear it. There is a significant difference between friendships that develop an open-minded curiosity about each other's faiths leading to a mutual questioning and potentially a mutual understanding about God, and a friendship where one person knows they're right and the other person is wrong, leading to a power struggle and arrogance in discourse.

This is a tacit denial that true Christians are the light of the world, and unbelievers are walking in darkness. Don't you see that this insults and demeans the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of Christ?

Jesus was advocating for us to realize that we are not always right, and it's not only people from our religion that please God. Rather, there are things we can learn from people in other religions. Does this make Christianity any less true, or Jesus any less of the unique way to forgiveness? No, it means that we must recognize that our understanding of God is meager at best, and although we are privileged to know some things about Him, we cannot assume we know all things.

i. We're definitely not always right theologically, but how is that in any way the subject of discussion in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

ii. No one de facto pleases God. The only ones who are pleasing to God are pleasing to Him in Christ, having been counted righteous through faith in Him with the very righteousness of God.

iii. How do you square learning truth from unbelievers (we're speaking in a spirituo-religious context here) with, say, this?

Ephesians 5:6-10
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not associate with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

Notice the contrast - darkness, light. Or how do you reckon with this?

Ephesians 4:15-18
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

There is nothing humble about Christians pretending that they do not have the light of the world, and trying to learn truth from those "darkened in their understanding" who are "alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance in them." To suggest otherwise is to call the work of the Spirit in believers an abject failure. True believers have everything to tell the world, which is stuck in darkness and ignorance.

Moreover, that we don't know God exhaustively doesn't mean we don't know Him sufficiently. Besides, it is God who teaches the believer to come to Christ, who gives the believer his faith in the first place, who causes him to obey. This is a major part of the definition of the new covenant promise.

Moving along:

One of the old ideas made new that Paul [V] brought up again is the concept that all truth is God's truth. So when you learn something about science that contradicts your understanding about God, one of those understandings is flawed. You have to be humble enough to accept that it may be your understanding about God, and faithful enough to question that understanding, knowing that God is the one who created the earth and isn't about to lie to you either through science or through the Bible.

I've been discussing this elsewhere. It seriously begs the question to say that God wouldn't lie through science or Scripture: After all, one is theopneustos, God-breathed, wherein every word proves true, and the other is in a regular state of flux. This notion that modern science is inspired is absurd.

Moreover, if you have to reject the actual meaning of the biblical text because of science, there is a much more serious problem here. And those Christians who try to anachrostically adapt the text to fit their 21st century conceptions are committing a gross abuse of God's word.

This idea was echoed by Oren. Khadijah pointed out that for the most part Islamic teachings stick to morality and don't have a lot of common ground with science so there aren't a lot of areas where science contradicts religion. And Tim talked about how Zen Buddhism often embraces contradictions and doesn't see a need to resolve them.

Is this an endorsement of either of these two ideas?

For example, non-contradiction is an element of the character of God. To bring it to a real practical level, we depend on this for our very lives and salvation. If God has no problem with contradiction, He cannot be trusted.

Anyways, it was great to be back there today, I've missed the chaplaincy since I stopped working there and I am always so encouraged by the staff. I definitely believe there was value in hearing from all of the religious teachers today, and I learned something from each of them that instead of breaking down my faith, helped build it up. I believe that if the Church wants to be taken seriously, it has to embrace people not only by gender and race but also by religion, and learn to respect other traditions as having value to contribute also.

What does 'taken seriously' mean? We don't expect to be loved and received by the world. We expect to be hated, to be beaten, to be imprisoned, to be killed, to be rejected, to be scorned and mocked and insulted and considered fools.

So to which one will this happen? Will it happen to the one who embraces different faiths dynamically as he encounters them, looking for common ground and praising the good in them, and respecting them? Or will it happen to the one who proclaims the exclusivity of Christ and the world's desperate need for Him alone, and the damnation of those who follow other false religions?

Please try this: Go to the other faith-leaders in the office. Plea with them to turn from their false gods and believe in Christ Jesus for salvation from their sins; tell them that they do not know what they are doing, and that God has fixed a day when He will judge the world by Jesus Christ, and that if they do not believe in Him, the Son of God, the Christ, who died for sinners and was raised from the dead, and if they do not love Him and call upon Him to be saved, they will receive the fire of judgment and horrid eternal punishment. If they turn to Him, they shall find rest for their souls, eternal satisfaction and joy in Him, and an eternity gazing on the beauty and glory of God.

***

Jacinda said:

Wow, what a great discussion. To all interested I encourage you to listen to The Meeting House podcast on these topics of judgement, Heaven on Earth, Hell, and In the meantime. The series is called Beyond the Grave.
I think that a great point in this series is that we cannot judge others of their salvation. We can assure that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, but we cannot assure specific people of how they will be judged. That is not for us to do or even know. Only God has the infinite knowledge needed to judge. Only He can see our hearts AND our actions as well as our motives, minds, etc.

Jacinda, this isn't so much a great point as perhaps a distortion of truth.

First, what do you mean by 'saved?' Salvation entails a lengthy process with several key events, namely, regeneration, justification, which is followed by the process of sanctification.

Second, we certainly can assure people regarding how they will be judged, speaking generally. We can tell people that if they believe in Jesus Christ, believing that He is the Son of God who came in the flesh, who died for the sins of everyone who believes and rose again in victory, and is now judge and lord over all things, then they shall be saved - if they hold fast to the end to Christ. If they love the Lord Jesus Christ, as He is biblically revealed, they will be saved. If they do not, or if they turn from this, they are not, and they will stand condemned.

Third, in terms of specific professing believers: We know a tree by its fruit, as Jesus taught. Consider also John's teaching, wherein he told us how we might recognize false teachers, and false spirits: Notice that he's telling non-apostles to practice this. We are told the condition for salvation - persevering belief, which is abiding in Christ. True belief and a vital (living, nourishing) connection with Christ therein produces fruit as defined by the Scriptures.

The idea that we cannot judge someone's salvation doesn't follow from the fact that we do not know everything - or even if we know very little - if it is true that God has revealed clear conditions for salvation. And He has. If a person fails the condition - for example, belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that He died and rose from the dead, which manifests in fruit-bearing and belongs to a heart with a supreme affection for Christ and the truth - then we know that this person is not saved. There are times when a believer is backsliding when they may not have cause for assurance. But this isn't to be the normative experience.

Even Paul spoke this way:

Philippians 1:3-7
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Notice that Paul isn't appealing to some specific divine revelation in verse 5-7. He's looking at the conduct of the Philippians: Their continual 'partnership in the gospel', their partaking in grace, etc.

This is the same as with the Colossians. Yet, Paul hadn't been to Colossae when he wrote this:

Colossians 1:3
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing--as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Paul is writing this based on a report from Epaphras regarding the church. He made known to them their love in the Spirit. Paul heard of their faith in Christ and their love for the saints. Paul heard a report of a living faith, and concluded that they do indeed have a "hope laid up" in heaven.

He judged them by their fruit. We can too. If we see a professing believer who lacks fruit, who persists in unrepentant sin, we can tell him that he has no basis for assurance. He must turn to Christ.

Fourth, from a positive perspective, you may be implicitly denying the certainty and perspicuity of God's promises. God expected His people to understand promises that He gave to Jews thousands of years ago. The sword cuts both ways. If we have no way of knowing if a person is not saved, then we have no way of knowing that a person is saved. If the promises are not clear enough to cling to, and the fruit isn't clear enough to identify, how can we know how to be saved, and how can we test ourselves? How can we know when to admonish one another? How can we know to avoid false teachers?

How can we mere humans claim to know everything about the Creator? We should be thankful for the glimpses he gives us of our future in the New heaven and Earth.
His ways are not our ways. His ways are mysterious.

No one claims to know everything about God. That's a straw man. I've never met anyone that claimed that.

But this gets to the issue - sometimes it seems that those who erect this straw man seem to use the transcendence of God to deny His immanence. They use what we do not know of God to trump what God has clearly revealed of Himself.

That things are secret, and others given to us, is clear, and should be enough for Christians.

Deuteronomy 29:29
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Paul picks up this principle by proclaiming the sufficiency (not exhaustiveness) of Scripture for our lives in 2 Timothy 3:12-17.

God's ways are mysterious in many ways, but they are also clear in others. He has, for example, revealed to us His purposes in the Son of God. Indeed, we trust His purposes when the particulars of a tough situation are unknown to us. We don't know exactly what He is doing everywhere at every time, but we know that He is, as one promise says, working all things for His purpose, i.e. the good of those who love Him, to the glory of God.

But God is also wonderfully predictable. He is a covenant God, a God who keeps His promises. A God who doesn't lie. Who cannot lie. A God who is wonderfully and predictably faithful to every word that He has spoken.

Later, you'll talk about relationship quite a bit, in fairly sentimental terms. But if you're going to relate, you have to know the other party in some degree. Do we know God sufficiently?

(I should note that, up to about the halfway mark in his book, I'm getting the impression that Cavey seems to think that we can know Christ sufficiently and clearly. It's his constant presupposition, in trying to undo religion. He's basing his whole argument on knowing who Jesus is in a very unmysterious manner. Indeed, in very propositional terms. e.g. Jesus is God. And he's said already that God is revealed in the Son. Ergo, you know the Son, you know God. Sufficiently. But maybe he'll change my understanding of his view in the last half of his book... that would, though, undercut his whole thesis.)

So can we trust God's promises or not? Is God so mysterious that He isn't predictably faithful to what He has said? What about the fact that the NT depicts the mystery of God as being revealed, namely, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? You may well be diminishing this revelation. What if God is really a cosmic fiend, playing games with us? Is He such a mystery that we can't know? If we can't sufficiently know His character, then how can we have any hope? We'd be reduced to the caprice of Allah.

Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament we are told how things look from God's perspective, by the formula, "in the sight of the Lord" and the like.

So I think this 'mystery' is really a cop-out when it is used like this. Ask yourself - do you call things mystery when you do not understand them, assuming that there is no answer, and anyone who might say he has an answer is arrogant? Or,do you go so far as to call things mystery when you do not like then, things that, say, wouldn't gel with North American sensibilities - even when it is quite understandable?

This is a serious question for everyone. Mystery can become a license for godless unholiness in a big hurry.

There is a big difference between confidence in what is sufficiently revealed and speculations about what is not revealed. Determining the difference takes serious biblical study, and whether something has biblical and a reasonable basis determines what form our thinking will take.

I do not think everyone is EVIL. We are God's creation, and His favorite of all His creations. We bear both God's image (not evil) and sinful nature.

i. The Gospel is a command to all men everywhere.

Act 17:30
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

The command is to repent. Notice the result of failing to repent. Judgment in righteousness.

This presupposes the wickedness of every single person.

ii. Paul points out that all sinned in Adam's sin.

Romans 5:12-18
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. ...
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

That "so death spread to all men because all sinned" means "in this way." In what way? In Adam's one sin. That's how death spread. Why? Because all sinned. How is that? Because they all sinned in Adam's sin. I can go into this in further depth if needed.

But the imputation of righteousness depends on this same federal headship, which is why Christ is called the second Adam. We are all damned sinners in Adam because He is our head, our representative. And he rebelled.

iii. Jesus called even His own disciples evil. And He said "no one is good but God."

Matthew 7:11
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

iv. How sinful are we as individuals? The Bible speaks much on this.

Jeremiah 13:23
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

We have seen already that we are all evil by imputation. We are all accustomed to doing evil, since our every intention is evil all the time. Our hearts produce evil, and our desires lure and entice us to wickedness, and we willingly commit wanton evil. We are all accustomed to doing evil. We cannot change our skin color at will, nor can the leopard move or remove his spots. They are part of his being, he was formed that way. We cannot do good. It is impossible for us because evil is our nature. What a horrible plight! And this is not all!

After contrasting a wicked man against a man who trusts in the Lord, Jeremiah makes an assertion about the human heart.

Jeremiah 17:9
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Do not read this and think that this is a sickness that can recover. The term ‘desperately sick’ means ‘incurable.’ That is the sense to perceive here, as the NASB captures, and the word ‘desperately’ is meant to in the ESV. Our hearts are deceitful, wicked, depraved, and know nothing but evil all the time apart from the work of God to give us a new heart. We are wicked from birth and incurable. We need a transplant.

The Teacher instructed us, in the midst of lamenting over the pointlessness of man, and the evil in the reality that both the righteous and evil meet the same earthly fate, regarding this topic.

Ecclesiastes 9:3
Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

The Old Testament is not the only place that has teaching on evil.

Ephesians 2:1-3
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

I have read statements of faith at many churches that say mankind is ‘marred’ by sin. Such a term may be partially responsible (or representative, at least) for the underestimation of the human condition in most evangelical teaching that I have encountered. Most of it serves to elevate man, and in so doing diminishes God, by explicitly or implicitly reducing the impact of the Biblical teaching on the sinfulness of man, and for the sake of pragmatism and supposed ‘seekers!’

Paul did not say we are ‘marred.’ He summed up our unsaved condition in a single word: Dead. We are not spiritually marred, or hurt, as if we just need “healing.” We need a new heart, we need new life. To be dead in sin is to be unable to respond in any way to good. We cannot produce it – people who are dead in body produce no movement, no breath, nothing. So too is the condition of man apart from Jesus Christ. We are (were) all completely incapable of anything except that which is sin. We are as capable of goodness as a corpse is of life. We are as capable of being wicked as a corpse is of being dead. To be ‘dead’ in sin is, ironically, to ‘live’ in the passions of our flesh, and to follow continually, with our whole faculty of being, the desires that James spoke of. Living in those desires is the mark of spiritual deadness. Everyone who has not received mercy through Jesus Christ is dead together. We have seen that man’s intentions and thoughts are evil all the time. We have seen that we cannot do good any more than the leopard can change his spots. We have seen that we are totally dead in sin - and this is far from an extensive survey of the extent of the wickedness of man as taught by the Bible.

Our whole being has been touched by sin. However, we are not as evil as we could be, for God restrains our sin (cf. Genesis 20:6). We are not nearly as evil as we could be should our natures be left unrestrained: Every good and perfect gift comes from God, including the grace of what lateral (human to human) goodness we express (cf. James 1:16-18). In a sinful state, our problem is vertical evil – that is, our rebellion to God even in the externally morally upright things we do for one another. Serving the creature, but not doing so for the sake of the Creator, who is infinitely more valuable, is worthless and sinful before God. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

When it is said that our whole being is touched by sin, it is meant that our mind, spirit, soul, and body are all perverted by sin. There is ample Scripture to demonstrate that all our faculties are affected, such that we are sinful to the core of our being.

The Universality of Sin: To tie things together, we can look to the apostle Paul’s teaching on man’s condition. In the greatest letter ever written, the book of Romans, Paul begins with a multi-chapter dissertation on the evil state of mankind. We find this in chapter 3:

Romans 3:9-18
9 For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they ave become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.", 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

There is no one who has escaped sin. Everyone sins (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:36; 1 Kings 8:46). The language of this passage of Romans is unmistakable. Paul is emphasizing the human condition of sinfulness to demonstrate how, even while we are sinners, Christ justifies the believer through faith. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The apostle John wrote regarding this:

1 John 1:8
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

The extent of sin is this – this is the verdict: Every person is sinful, and beyond cure. Every human is dead in transgressions. Apart from God giving us a new heart and breathing into us new life, and causing us to repent and believe, we are doomed to destruction and eternal punishment. The universality of sin is not a new concept. Paul is in fact quoting several Psalms in this passage. There is still more:

Ecclesiastes 7:20
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

Psalm 143:2
Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

Proverbs 20:8-9
8 A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows [disperse, cast away] all evil with his eyes. 9 Who can say, "I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin"?

Isaiah 53:6
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The Psalmist rightly laments:

Psalm 130:3-4
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

We are in a lot of trouble. Unless God forgives us, we cannot stand before Him. Take note that forgiveness is granted that God may be feared. He does not forgive us as an end in itself for our sake, but for His name’s sake (cf. Psalm 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 143:11; Isaiah 48:9; 1 John 2:12; Romans 1:5, etc). That concept is not remotely in question.

So why is it that a North American Christian thinks that he can overturn 2000 years of church history and biblical teaching? Christians since the earliest time have recognized that every human being is evil by nature.

Jesus Himself taught this. The apostles taught this. The command for everyone everywhere to repent and turn to Christ presupposes this. The universal condemnation of man proves this.

Please, think about this - how far off track from Scripture are you willing to go?

Moreover, do you think you're not evil? I honestly don't think you'd say that. Who isn't evil, then?

I think that it's easy to think people aren't evil in a prosperous land. They can hide it so well. They have no desperate pressure upon them to forego societal conformity.

The real problem here, though, is a view that will in turn result, whether by implication or in time, in a low view of God, namely, a sub-biblical view of His holiness, which in turns depreciates the extent of His mercy and grace, and a high view of man.

I'm personally convinced that a majority of theological error comes from this very notion - that people are not evil.

I'm pleading with you to reject this teaching. You will undercut every teaching in Scripture with this, from the character and holiness of God to the reason that Christ came, to the necessity of the Gospel.

This isn't a game of words on a blog: It is life and death. I'm not joking. Please, please reject this and repent of it.

And by the way, I'm a firm believer in the Imago Dei.

Knowing Christ doesn't just come with being a Christian. It is a journey, its a relationship. When you fall in love with someone you desire to be as close as possible, to know as much as possible about them. How? You ask questions, you talk, you struggle. You find new perspectives, realizing new things that were unexpected, surprising. You think you know them then, smack, something totally different comes up, you work through that. You fall even deeper in love. But all the time learning more then you ever thought possible. The more you find out, the more you realize there's so much more you don't know yet. Is this not the same as falling in love with Jesus?

i. I don't think this description is accurate. I do believe that eternal life it knowing God - relationally speaking, not merely cognatively - and that one must love Him more than anything. But before we even get to that, there's a bigger problem. You deny the universal sinfulness of man, that all men everywhere are by nature evil. This is such a massive misapprehension of biblical teaching that your understanding of Christ is fundamentally distorted.

ii. Every person doesn't get their own "Jesus". If someone thinks he can know Jesus apart from Scripture, then he has invented his own christ. A false christ. All Christians look to the same Christ in the same way - as He has been revealed in the Scriptures. That all men are evil is an explicit biblical teaching. You need to reckon with it to understand Jesus and who He is and why He came and what He did.

Even Cavey makes this point [i.e. that you need to reckon with the Jesus of the Bible to know Him] over and over in his book. I have serious issues with his theology, but it is a vital point nonetheless.

I trust that you know that this includes obedience to the apostles, for they spoke the word of God, under the commission of Christ Himself.

iii. This is all empty talk unless you submit to what God has revealed to His church and what she has held throughout the centuries, such as the sinfulness of man, and so forth.

iv. Is Christ God? If so, is He knowable, or too mysterious? If He is God, and knowable, than we can clearly and sufficiently know God.

I should note that relational knowledge presupposes intellectual knowledge on a number of fronts. This is especially so when one party, namely God, makes known particular things about Himself. Especially since His teaching methodology was well formed for memorization.

I do believe in the living Jesus. The risen Jesus. The Jesus who perfectly reveals the Father and makes Him known. The whole life of Jesus is the revelation of the Father. Jesus did all and only the works of the Father and He said all and only the words of the Father, and He alone makes the Father known (there's a massive theme from John). I believe in and love the Jesus who said:

John 15:15
"No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

God is not keeping His people in the dark. A view that God is so hyper-transcendence that He cannot be clearly known - and that doesn't mean exhaustively - is ironically more akin to second and third century gnostic teaching than anything else.