Christianity 201

June 20, 2016

The Culture of Jesus and the Culture of Guns

Swords into PlowsharesAt Christianity 201, I avoid topical issues; avoid them like the plague! But there can be no doubt that the issue of gun violence in the U.S. gives many pause to think, and hopefully pause to pray.

But what do you pray for?

We can think the issue through emotionally, or we can look at it constitutionally, or we can even look at it logically, but until we develop the mindset of looking at the world theologically, we’re not letting the light of Christ shine on and shine out of our lives.

We’ve looked at the question, “Is America mentioned in Bible prophecy?” or the similar, “Why isn’t the U.S. mentioned in Bible prophecy?” It occurred to me a few days ago that it is.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

I realize that there are many applications to prophecies of this nature, and how different overarching viewpoints on interpretation might affect what you take from any given passage. At Crosswalk.com we read,

Whole books—make that shelves of books—have been written on hermeneutics, but I want to mention just one hermeneutical principle here that, if grasped, will make a huge difference: Context is king. What is context? Well, an online dictionary says it is “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.”

When it comes to Scripture, we need to interpret prophecies—and everything else—in context. This means that we need to look at the context of a prophecy in several dimensions: the immediate context (the paragraph or section in which it appears); the larger context (the chapter); the Bible book; and the Bible as a whole.

At BibleOnly.org, the different methods are categorized:

The Historical/Critical school believes that prophecies such as Daniel are not really prophecy, having been written at a time later than stated in the text, and were designed to act as encouragement to Israel rather than being true prophecy.

The Dispensationalist/Futurist school believes that God has operated under different rules in different “dispensations”. The prophecies are to be interpreted exactly as written, without any transformation from physical Israel to spiritual Israel. They also believe that the seventieth week of Dan 9:24 has not happened, and will be in the future. This leads to predictions such as the restitution of literal Israel, with mass conversion of Jews, an antichrist who forms a one-world government, peace treaties with the Jews, and a physical battle of Armageddon.

The Preterist school believes that all prophecy has been fulfilled. The book of Revelation was written about AD60, rather than AD94 as many believe. Jesus came the second time in AD70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the “midst” of the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27. This coming was a spiritual rather than a physical event. In order to allow this interpretation, they maintain that the entire NT after the gospels is to be interpreted spiritually rather than physically.

The Historicist school believes that prophecy has been in large measure fulfilled, but that the second coming and events surrounding it have not yet happened. The physical promises to physical Israel became spiritual promises to spiritual Israel when the Jews rejected Christ. Rather than declare a priori that all texts should be read physically or that all texts should be read spiritually, historicists believe that the natural reading of texts should have the greatest weight, but that such a reading needs to take into account the linguistic and cultic elements of the day of the writer, as well as the conditionality of prophecy enunciated in Jer 18:5-10.

Still, it’s difficult not to read the “swords into plowshares” verse today without thinking of the unique American situation vis a vis gun violence. A collection of 13 different charts helps visualize the situation.

If you studied elementary economics, you’ve probably seen the graphs showing the trade-off between guns and butter. Interesting that Matthew Henry mentions this two-way street:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares; their instruments of war shall be converted into implements of husbandry; as, on the contrary, when war is proclaimed, ploughshares are beaten into swords, Joel 3:10.

Some, like Shane Claiborne, are actively involved in turning guns into garden tools, as described in this 2013 video, or this 2015 article:

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

Many Christians reading this however, do not hold to this view or support the broader pacifist position held by Shane, Benjamin Corey, most Mennonites, the Amish, the Anabaptists, and others. They are actively involved in the NRA (a gun lobby group) or are part of local church congregations who post “concealed carry” rules at the front door of the church, meaning that the person who is sitting in the pew next to you may be armed.

I mentioned thinking through the issue theologically. Much energy has been spent discussing both sides of the issue online. How can people, each committed to follow Christ, each reading from the same scriptures, come to such totally opposite views on the issue of gun ownership?

We do see times in scripture — such as Paul’s differences of opinion with John Mark and Philemon — where people agreed to disagree. Digging deeper, can we know the heart of God on some matters? Has God revealed himself on certain issues? What would Jesus do?

…At a longer article at GotQuestions.org, we read:

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, and they are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This would have to apply to gun laws, too. If American gun laws change, American Christians should submit to these changes and work through democratic means toward any desired alternatives. The Bible does not forbid the possession of weapons, and neither does it command such possession. Laws may come and go, but the goal of the believer in Jesus Christ remains the same: to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The country that I live in has landed the plane in an entirely different place on this issue; as have most other nations, so I see this issue quite differently than many of my American friends and readers at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. My wife and I have suspended all travel plans to the U.S. indefinitely.

The takeaway today is that you; that we think it through in the light of scripture. That we learn to process the issues of the day related to politics, lifestyles, money, and even worship itself through a theological lens.


The Christian and social issues
The Christian and current events

This is from the blog Nacreous Kingdom in 2010:

Karl Barth is said to have said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Actually, The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary has not been able to pin down exactly from whence that quote emanated. However, it is widely known that Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his illustrious career. They have, however, substantiated the following quotes…

In an interview from 1966, for example, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

Perhaps the source that is most consistent with the alleged ‘quote’ comes from a Time magazine article published on Friday, May 31, 1963, which states: “[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.'”


Learn more about turning swords into plows at RawTools.org


January 13, 2016

Why People are Leaving and Churches are Dying

Today we pay a return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. (And this time we looked into it and no, Shane and Kyle are not related!) To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below; there’s also a related article by him linked at the bottom.

The Real Reason Churches Die and People Leave

Experts say that nearly 4,000 churches close every year in America and over 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

Church is boring, ​and many churches are dying ​because the power of God has vanished from the pulpit as well as the pew. Like Samson, they “know not that the Spirit of the Lord has departed” (cf. Judge 16:20). But there is hope if we once again seek God. “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn” (John Wesley).

Shane IdlemanWe need genuine revival preaching: “Revival preaching is more concerned about an outcome than an outline. The revival preacher is more aware of his text than the time. He is bent on pleasing the Lord rather than pleasing men. His ear is tuned to hear and heed the voice of God” (Harold Vaughan). “We need more prophets in our pulpits and less puppets” (Leonard Ravenhill).

​Many know about ​2 Chronicles 7:14​ , but fail to apply it​​: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

God’s call is not to Hollywood, Washington, or the media, but to us. If “My people” turn back to Me I will heal and restore. We have a form of microwave Christianity. Service times are cut to just over an hour, prayer is glanced over, and worship is designed to entertain the masses. “People are bored,” they say, “so our services need to be more appealing.” You can increase attendance with slick marketing and entertaining services, but you’ll miss the heart of God. The church will be a mile wide but only an inch deep.

To seek in the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 means to “find what is missing.” The Hebrew word for seek, baqash, has a very strong meaning. Imagine losing your child in a crowded mall. Your entire heart would be engaged. How would you spend your time? Where would your energy be concentrated? Now parallel this with seeking God.

I’ve often said that one of the most difficult challenges associated with pastoring is not sermon preparation, leading a church, or taxing counseling appointments; it’s witnessing the tragic results of spiritual dehydration—watching people die spiritually with living water just steps away. Sadly, we are too busy and too self-absorbed to truly seek Him.

In today’s culture, there are countless enticements that pull us away from God. It is my firm belief that, second only to salvation, seeking God is the most important aspect of the Christian life…to truly know God: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Very few of us ever experience this close relationship with God because it involves things such as humility, dying to self, vibrant prayer, and heart-felt worship. This isn’t meant to discourage, but to convict. Conviction is a wonderful gift from God used to turn the heart back to Him.

Let’s be honest: how many can truly say like Jeremiah, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9)? How many have truly experienced Jesus’ words in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water?” How many can truly relate to “times of refreshing” found in Acts 3:19?

Many have head knowledge, but they’ve never truly experienced the presence of God. Often, it’s because of ongoing and unconfessed sin. Being tempted isn’t sin—surrendering to it is. Temptation is also an opportunity to do what is right by turning from it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

This “way of escape” is ultimately what tilts the scale toward seeking God. When we flee temptation, turn from sin, and seek God, the by-product is the filling of the Spirit. The door of temptation swings both ways—you can enter or exit. If we choose to enter, once inside, we may not see the exit sign so clearly again.

I’ll close with a correspondence I received from a man before he fully sought God with all his heart, “I had become someone I never thought I would become. I was in complete darkness…I would sleep in my clothes for as long as I could. I began wishing that I would die. The emotional pain was unbearable.”

Here is his correspondence after he passionately sought God and surrendered his life to Him. “I only wish that everyone could feel the love that I experienced. I’m able to forgive others and genuinely love them. I feel like I have been re-born…elusive peace has now been found.”

How long will you waver? If God is God follow Him (cf. 1 Kings 18:21). ​​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God at shaneidleman.com


Related article by Shane: Why Do So Many People Hate Preachers?

Related: A.W. Tozer quotation at Clark Bunch’s blog.

 

December 29, 2015

All Your Church Needs to Grow is Jesus

This is our 4th visit to Created to Give God Glory, the blog of Baptist pastor Prentis McGoldrick. Click the title below to read this at source.

Is Jesus Not Enough for Your Church?

Churches are promising undeliverable enticements for people to visit. I heard one recently that promised that the people who visited would learn the purpose and meaning for their lives. Yes, it is possible to find that in Jesus Christ but no one can promise, no matter how hard they preach who Jesus is, that you will find purpose and meaning in one visit. I am afraid this is what the visitors believe will happen if they come. The local bar has a better chance of delivering their expectations.

I noticed another church promising that those who come will receive a “dynamic” sermon. I’m not sure what that means. Surely, no preacher is trying to make his sermons boring. Most preachers don’t know if their sermons are boring. I know I don’t. I just notice the sleeping people. I conclude that the sermons are boring.

Many churches are using marketing as their main draw for people to enter their churches. They are using “churchy” words and drawing in people from other churches who believe there must be something better than they have where they are. Then, these churches are crowing about their growth. Attendance and giving have become the main goals of the modern church. Any means of packing them in is okay.

But let’s look at what the Bible says.

Jesus said that He would build His church.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV)
16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus said He would build His church on the testimony of a faith in Him as the Christ. This is the foundation of the Church.

Jesus said that the Father must draw people Himself before they can be reached.

John 6:44 (ESV)
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Is this why Paul was so determined to preach Jesus only?

1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For the longest time I blamed myself for every person who left the church and praised myself for everyone who joined. I kept thinking that I had to grab their attention with more creative messages. I searched for videos to enhance messages, practiced what I would say and did my best to find amusing and emotional stories to hammer in my points. Even now, I don’t think these things are inherently wrong. They are only wrong when the message of Jesus takes a back seat to the efforts of man.

Several months ago I began to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I have recently gathered with others to pray that God would fill our church with His Spirit. I am neither testing nor challenging God to act. I am asking that He would build His church on the testimony of His Son. I am praying that our church turns the corner and becomes so Spirit filled that no one says that it was marketing, better preaching techniques or any other reason for what God will do. I don’t pray that our church is filled with people. I pray it is filled with Jesus.

Personally, I believe He is enough.