Christianity 201

February 23, 2016

Warfare: Forces Fighting for Residency in the Human Heart

Today we pay a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. There’s a lot going on in this article, and it’s a bit longer than usual, but read slowly and carefully. Click the title below to view the article at its source.

Empty Shells

Jesus taught his disciples and all who came in reach of the sound of his voice to eschew the lifestyle promoted by Satan. He evicted demons from persons who had been forcibly enslaved by those demons for years, and he taught people how to live in harmony with God’s plan for human beings. In the gospel stories, there is obvious justification for the claim that Jesus taught a high standard of morality and lived by that standard as a perfect example.

However, Jesus was not a legal instructor. The scribes and Pharisees were religious legal minds, and they argued with Jesus constantly on fine points of the law. They argued, because the fine points were more important to them than the law itself. They thought that picking at the fine points made them look even more righteous.

Jesus was not interested in the appearance of righteousness. Everything Jesus taught was rooted in the transformation of a person at the heart level, deep inside. Jesus said that people who wanted to follow him and be like him had to stop fretting over the way they looked to other people and let go of themselves altogether. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(Mark 8:34) There was no room in a call such as that one for primping to look righteous in public.

Jesus made that teaching very clear when he talked about what happens when Satanic power is driven out of someone’s life. Jesus cast out many demons. When he came into view, the demons often screamed at him to go away. And when he prevailed over them, expelling them from their enslaved hosts, they reacted violently, often throwing the victim into a seizure. The demons did not willingly abandon their residence in human beings too weak to fight back. It always was occasion for great joy when Jesus cast out a demon.

But Jesus said that there is danger in casting out a demon if nothing replaces it. Jesus told this story:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

This is the risk when Christian advocates for godly morality in public law prevail against godless campaigns for social and political purposes. Christians rightly enter into public discourse on all topics: presidential campaigns, proposed legislation, military action, international diplomacy, and civil and criminal justice. Jesus said that Christians are to be salt and light in the culture, constantly holding up his perfect Truth as the standard to which the civil society should adhere.

However, those who sneer, “You can’t legislate morality,” are correct, as far as that statement goes. Passing good laws does not change anyone’s heart. If good law were enough to transform a society, ancient Israel would have been heaven on earth after God wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Sinai. Even if excellent laws are administered by righteous officials, the human beings that make up civil society can barely be corralled into compliant behavior. Nothing about good law changes evil hearts. In other words, the society governed by good law will always still contain people whose hearts are evil and whose every imagination is only to construct ways to get around the law or simply to ignore it. Good laws create pressure for officials to enforce and administer laws with integrity, but even if good law pressures a person to temporarily evict an indwelling demon, that person will be nothing but an empty shell waiting to be invaded again if he is not indwelt and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good laws do not produce a holy people.

It is not enough for good people to advocate for good law and to elect good officials who will administer the law with righteousness and justice. The Bible demonstrates graphically that righteous law and righteous administration of the law is not enough. The entire Old Testament is a narrative of what happens when a society has good law and even the blessing of God in the choice of national leaders. Good law and godly administrators do not change the hearts of evil men. Good law and godly administrators do not drive demons out of human hearts, and they do not fill such hearts as have been vacated temporarily by the demons who lived there. When those demons tire of looking for new homes and return to the evil hearts where they once lived, the people who cleaned up their acts without inviting the Holy Spirit into their hearts are as empty and hollow as they ever were, and the demons feel quite welcome to take up residence again, along with new friends.

It is very important for Christians to be active in public life. We must speak up for God’s ways, and we must demonstrate God’s ways in our own lives. We must advocate for good law and vote for good candidates. We must do all that is within our power to help our communities, our states and our nation to uphold and act on godly principles. But that is all window-dressing compared to our most important responsibility.

Our most important responsibility is to share Jesus with a world suffering from too much housing stock available for demons. Jesus did, indeed, task us with the responsibility to be salt and light in the world around us. We should, therefore, always be vocal and active in our advocacy for good law and good administration of law. But we should never confuse that part of our lives with our primary objective—to lead people to invite the Holy Spirit into the empty shells of their lives where demons love to dwell. If more Christians speak and act and vote, we will certainly have an influence on civil society that will be beneficial, but no amount of speaking and acting and voting will change hearts. Our civil responsibilities as citizens in a nation where government is of, by and for the people do not transcend or replace our primary responsibility—to share Jesus.

Erick Erickson’s book You Will Be Made To Care makes this point. In Chapter 16, “The Resurgent Believer,” on page 194 he says, “When the time of testing reaches your front door or place of business, it will be too late to study up on your beliefs.” We need to be solidly anchored in the principles of our faith in Christ, and sharing Christ needs to be our first and foremost concern. When we meet a person who is enslaved by Satan, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a people who are empty shells, trying to do good and stay out of trouble, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a person who has wandered from his faith, deceived or shamed or simply overpowered by the argument that “all roads lead to God, so don’t be snob about Jesus,” we need to share Jesus. When the city council in our home town decides to vote on a law that will promote immorality, we need to stand up for Jesus and use our rights and powers as citizens to advocate for what is right. After all, Satan’s minions have no hesitancy to use all the rights and powers of free citizens to advocate for what is wrong. We must be salt and light, we must stand up for the moral high ground, and we must not be ashamed of Jesus when the spotlight is on us for being on the “wrong side of history.” No matter what is happening, however, we need to share Jesus.

A Chinese pastor knew that he was being targeted by his government, because he was sharing Jesus in authorized ways and in unauthorized places. He did not stop sharing Jesus, but he did tell people that he knew his days of freedom were numbered. When the day came that he was arrested in the act of preaching in an unauthorized location to an unregistered church, he dutifully marched off to prison. On the way to the prison, he shared Jesus with the arresting officers, and during his term of imprisonment, he shared Jesus with his fellow prisoners. When he was finally released, he gave thanks to God for his opportunity to share Jesus with many people he would never have met if he had not been arrested. He knew that he could never change the government of China, but he could be used of God to change the people of China.

Christian advocacy for good law and good government does not change hearts, but it does make the world a better place to live. Under a dictator or a despotic monarch, Christians have no voice and no right to advocate for changes in law and government. In that setting, a Christian’s civic responsibility might be different. However, in the USA, under the Constitution, Christians are obligated by the responsibility of citizenship to speak and act and vote, but their even higher obligation is to share Jesus. The principles for which we advocate as citizens are shaped directly by our commitment to Jesus on the day when we let go of ourselves and stopped worrying about the way we look to other people and started following Jesus, trying to be like him. When we let Jesus shape our lives, we see all the empty shells around us, encircled by demons who want to take up residence. We certainly want to advocate for good law and good government in order to make our country a great place to live, but above that obligation, we remain committed first and foremost to helping the empty shells of human beings around us to become filled with the Holy Spirit and hang up “No Vacancy” signs for demons.

 

September 21, 2013

Where Cessationists Part Company With The Gospel

Cessationism is the belief that after the apostolic age, the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased to operate.  This article is from the blog Internet Monk a few days ago where it appeared as Reconsider Jesus — The Sent Out:

The following is an excerpt from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book: Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark.  This week we are looking at a part of Michael Spencer’s writing and speaking on Mark 6. I accidentally skipped ahead and will be returning to Mark 5 next week.  The material being covered today is on a subject that is important to both my co-editor, Scott Lencke,  and myself:  That is, Spiritual gifts, and their existence today.  In this passage Michael Spencer gives us a taste of some of his own thinking on the matter.  I am hoping that Scott will be able to join us for the discussion in the comments.  Are your views similar?  Quite different?  At Internet Monk a civil discussion is always welcome in the comments.  If you have been thinking at all that you would be interested in purchasing Michael Spencer’s book when it is available, please drop us a note at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com.  The more we get expressions of interest, the more attention we will get from publishers.


Mark 6:7-13

Mark 6:7-13. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

…It is very significant for me that Jesus empowers his disciples with his own authority, and specifically gives them power over “unclean spirits.” Jesus’ first miracle, according to Mark, was an exorcism, and the battle with the forces of darkness is never far from Mark’s focus. But this passage must be considered in the subject of whether spiritual gifts and ministries continue today, or did they cease when the “apostolic age” came to an end? This issue is the source of a major split among evangelicals and has been a major issue in my own life and ministry. Without getting on a personal soapbox, I can say that issues such as “Are tongues for today?”, “Does God heal today?” and “Should Christians cast out demons today?” have occupied hours and days of my own study and consideration. Is the Bible actually that confusing on these issues? I really don’t think so. In fact, the cessationist position (that all these gifts and experiences ceased with the apostles) may be well intentioned, but it has robbed the church of what Jesus clearly intended to give to his followers.

In the simple words, “he gave them power,” Mark communicates that Jesus intended for his followers to walk in all the power he ministered in and he intended to share his authority with his followers for the purpose of compassionate Kingdom ministry to the oppressed. When cessationists make the apostles into a special group honored by Jesus above other Christians by giving them power and authority, they go well beyond what scripture teaches. It is true that the apostles are mentioned in passages such as Revelation 21:14 and Ephesians 2:20 -”…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”- in a way that gives them importance within the body of Christ, but these scriptures point to the faithful testimony of the apostles as witnesses of Jesus and the conveyers of the Gospel. Certainly, the New Testament is “Apostolic” in the sense of being written within the circle of the apostles and upon their teaching. Paul mentions the “signs of an apostle” in 2 Corinthians 12:12, but where is the sense that these were exclusive to the apostles or would cease? Paul himself refutes such an idea in I Corinthians 12:4-11, where the manifestation of the Spirit is clearly given to all the body of Christ, as the Lord himself desires. In fact, how does the idea of supernatural ministry being the exclusive domain of the apostles square with I Corinthians 12:28, where miracles and healings are intentionally placed after the ministry of apostles?

Every cessationist I know is frightened by the excesses of the Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave movements. Certainly we ought to be concerned with excess, for it is the work of the devil, discrediting the real. But we ought to be more concerned about a kind of theology that tells the church supernatural means are not available to encounter the powers of evil and the results of sin. Cessationism is the primary culprit in turning the church towards secular and worldly means of doing everything from church growth to pastoral counseling. In some seminaries, secular psychology is accepted with little question, despite its corrupt worldview and self-defining methodology. In many churches, laying on of hands for the sick, anointing with oil or praying against the demonic would get the pastor fired or the church split. Yet, here we have Jesus entrusting his own power and authority to twelve disciples who would hardly be impressive today for their spiritual maturity or wisdom. They simply have faith and are, therefore, empowered for ministry. May God quickly send the day when this will not need to be explained…