Christianity 201

September 9, 2020

Not Holding Back: Making God’s Plan-A Clear

Acts 20:27

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

Many times in the church, the leadership is asked to comment on the social issues of the day; including things that simply never existed at the time the scriptures were written; but also including things which were the same in their day as they are in our own.

A pastor may feel pressed to comment on homosexuality, but I guaranty that a minister who is in the least compassionate will temper that message, or at the very least phrase things very gently, if he knows there are lesbian or gay people in the congregation, or people who are related to (by being parents or brothers or sisters) someone with that orientation. Even the most conservative sermon approach will, I hope, offer God’s “Plan A” in a loving manner; and hopefully some will allow for the possibility of other interpretations where their theology and convictions permit.

When it comes to abortion, in a congregation of any measurable size, there is even more likelihood that someone listening to the pastor’s words have walked down that road. The sting of those memories is still strong, and dredging that up in a weekend worship service may seem like the last thing they needed.

This bring up the question of, ‘Why bother to address these things at all?’

There is some wisdom which must be credited to those who follow a Lectionary approach to preaching. Prescribed readings for each week offer a compendium of scriptures over a three year cycle. There aren’t “sermon series” topics running consecutive weeks, or room to maneuver the preaching focus to social issues or political ones.

That said though, the scriptures have application to so much of every day life. A pastor who goes off on a rant on abortion at least once a month runs the risk of appear obsessed on the topic, and as stated above, may be trampling on the sensitivities of individuals in the church. A pastor who ignores the possibility* that abortion grieves the heart of God runs the risk of making the Bible seem irrelevant to social issues and practical concerns.

[*Okay, more than possibility, but this is what I meant by speaking things gently. In fact, having presented some foundational scriptures, making the point in an interrogative form — “Do you think perhaps this grieves the heart of God?” — is probably closer to how Jesus would handle this.]

But on the off-chance your church doesn’t have people who are homosexual (or leaning in that direction) or have had an abortion (or are close to someone who did), it is entirely possible that you have people in your church who have been through divorce, or are even about to proceed in that direction. Statistically, it is far more likely.

The most cited phrase is “God hates divorce;” but notice the difference in two popular translations’ rendering of Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.  NIV

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”  NLT (NASB, NKJV, GNT, NET, are similar on the key phrase)

But even with the NIV rendering, it’s clear that God’s original “Plan A” was marriage for life.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9 quoting Jesus

Some will ask, and the disciples did ask,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

to which

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  (Matthew 19: 7 above, and 8, NIV)

Even there we see grace, and in similar fashion grace* should be at the center of our proclamation.

[*Sadly some pastors don’t read Jesus this way and prescribe that people should stay together even in the middle of a physically abusive situation. Hardliners, including some pastors and authors whose names you would recognize, would insist that saying otherwise is creating situation ethics. But that’s a topic for another article.]

I mention all these things not because today’s devotional has in any way been an attempt to cover the subject of divorce, although if you’re interested in an exhaustive 3-part research piece on the effects of divorce on children, I encourage to read the one we ran here, here and here.

Rather, I am to say here that in the course of the life of a church congregation, certain topics should eventually surface in its preaching and teaching ministry, and at that point, one cannot avoid lovingly declaring “the whole counsel of God.”

So I want to end where we began:

Acts 20:27:

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

 

September 5, 2020

The Tongue is a Fire

“Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in the sight, O Lord.” (Psa. 19:14)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  Prov. 18:21

The title of today’s article is a phrase from the book of James.

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
 (3:6 NLT)

Of course, James had never heard of a typewriter keyboard, a computer, the internet, Twitter, etc. Today he might write, “the keyboard is a flame of fire.”

The full context is:

NIV.James.3.1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

There are so many issues right now which are fracturing and polarizing: Race relationships, mistrust of media, defunding the police, the American election, responding to the pandemic, the existence of the pandemic, climate change, religious freedom, immigration, women’s reproductive rights, technology and privacy, etc. Did that list strike some nerves? Do some of those topics raise your blood pressure? It’s easy to get drawn into these battles, especially on social media.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. II Tim 2:4

But for some of you, even that issue — how involved Christians should be in the issues being discussed in the public square — is enough to get you going!

Today we’re sharing a cover version of Steve Camp’s song The Tongue is a Fire. I thought we’d covered this song once before here, but when I checked, it was a different song by the same name. You can read that devotional here. At that time we quoted Stephen Whyte:

It is God’s desire that our tongues be a “fountain of life” (Prov 10:11) and that our speech be “seasoned with grace” (Col. 4:6) in order that we might “know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. (Isa. 50:4)  We probably cannot fully appreciate the positive effects which words of praise, encouragement, appreciation, comfort and compassion have on a person. But God is exhorting us to see that our very words can bring restoration and life into a situation where death is reigning. (Prov 16:24; 25:11; Eccl. 10:12)

Our friends at Live To Tell posted the song, and the video description explains why:

I felt compelled to perform this song because of all the dissension, confusion, anger and disillusionment that is being foisted upon us from all directions. Now more than ever, our greatest resource – our words – have become either a healing balm for troubled souls or weapons that destroy and plunder the lives and minds of so many.

I am not exempt from the damage that can be done from my inept, careless choice of words or criticisms, whether they’ve come from my typing on my keyboard or from out of my own mouth.

I pray we all focus on learning to take better care of/get a handle on our thoughts and verbal output, for ‘out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks’.

May God grant us the serenity (and the WISDOM) to change the things we can and weigh whether it is a good time to be quiet or speak out wisely and only after being extremely well-informed by reliable sources.

 Psalm 4:4 “ … do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

Proverbs 10:19 “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.”

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”

Here is the video:

December 26, 2017

“Go and Buy Swords”

I thought it was interesting that yesterday’s post was titled The Gift of Peace, and today we’re looking at the scripture where Jesus talks about buying weapons.

Keith Giles is an author, podcast host, Patheos blogger, and house church pastor. This is the first time we’ve featured his writing at Christianity 201. Click the title below to read at source and leave comments.

Why We Misunderstand Verses Like “Go And Buy A Sword”

In the dialog between Christians about whether or not following Jesus entails embracing a non-violent lifestyle, there are certain verses in the New Testament that have to be addressed.

For example, whenever non-violent Christians quote Jesus saying, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52), there are pro-war Christians who will respond by saying, “[Jesus] said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’” (Luke 22:36)

In other words, some Christians believe that Jesus fully endorsed owning and using weapons for self-defense (or for use in war), and other Christians believe that Jesus categorically prohibited His followers from using violence. What’s the real story?

Well, those verses where Jesus forbid violence are numerous and they are not difficult to understand. In addition to the one quoted above, we also hear Jesus declare that we should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek, and forgive those who seek to harm us. These are not figurative passages and taken together they paint (in my mind at least) a pretty straightforward picture of Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would not do violence.

In addition to Jesus’ commands we also have His example of forgiving those who crucified him, healing the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him in the Garden, restraining the Legions of angel soldiers at his command, and telling Pontius Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this Earth, and if it was his disciples would fight, begging the question, “If His disciples do fight then are they not part of Christ’s Kingdom?” (see John 18:36)

But this one verse where Jesus tells his disciples to go out and buy a sword is right there in the Bible, isn’t it? What’s it there for? If Jesus didn’t intend for us to own or use swords then why did he say this? Especially if, later on, he was going to contradict himself and rebuke Peter for using the sword he told him to go out and buy?

Well, here’s what I think is going on. First of all we need to look closely at this passage in Luke. Notice that right after Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword he goes on to say, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)

Right away we can see that Jesus’ statement about the swords is directly related to prophecy (“…this Scripture must be fulfilled in me”) and what is the prophecy that must be fulfilled? The one in Isaiah that says, “And he was numbered with the transgressors”.

Was the statement about buying a sword about self-defense? Probably not. Why? Because first of all, two swords are not “enough” to defend 13 guys against a legion of Roman soldiers. Also, because when Peter uses his sword in self-defense (or to protect Jesus from the soldiers) he is harshly rebuked with the verse we’ve already looked at, “Put it away! Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”.

Clearly, Jesus is not a fan of self-defense here. At least, not according to the overall context in this passage. However, he does tell the disciples that he wants them to have those two swords with them so that the prophecy about the Messiah being numbered with the transgressors may be fulfilled in Him. That’s why two swords are “enough” for Jesus; to fulfill the scriptures, not to endorse war or physical violence.

Are we sure that Jesus only meant this in light of fulfilling the prophecies about Himself? Yes. How? Because after Peter cuts off the soldiers ear, listen to what Jesus has to say, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54)

See? Jesus tells them to get a few swords so that the prophecy in Isaiah will be fulfilled. Then, once it’s fulfilled in the Garden he makes a point of saying that this is what he had in mind in the first place. So, it’s all about fulfilling the prophecies, not a statement from Jesus endorsing violence.

As sincere followers of Jesus we must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man. We must also be careful to interpret the Old Testament scriptures in light of Jesus, not the other way around (i.e. – trying to fit Jesus into the Old Testament context).

Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant, and He accomplished this in full. The Old Covenant is obsolete. (see Hebrews 8:13) We don’t need to refer back to it again when it comes to guiding our daily lives. We have Christ. We have the Living Word of God who has come to make His home in us. Jesus gave us a New Covenant and He lived a better example for us to follow.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6.27-28)

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


August 31, 2011

Christians and Capital Punishment

A couple of days ago I mentioned that if you’re really processing your faith at the “201” level, you’re going to have to have a “take” on certain issues that some might consider peripheral. I think the example was creation science. But what about something like capital punishment? Again, the tendency is to say, “Look, Paul, you started this blog to avoid getting into the kind of issues you deal with at Thinking Out Loud. This space is supposedly reserved for Christ-centered Bible exposition and discussion.”

Absolutely right. But Christ needs to inform all areas of our life and thoughts. Better yet, Christ will inform just about any subject that comes up for discussion. So with that in mind, let’s look at Christ in the case of a justice issue  taking place concurrent with His earthly ministry, and see how He responded. This is from Woodland Hills pastor Greg Boyd at Christus Victor Ministries where it appeared under the title, Sinful Accusers and Capital Punishment.

 

May 4th, 2011

The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-4; where was the guilty man?). They wanted to see how this increasingly popular, would-be Messiah, might respond. Their motive, of course, was to entrap Jesus (vs. 6). The law explicitly commanded that adulterers had be stoned to death (Lev 20:20; Deut 22:22). If Jesus agreed with this and had the lady stoned, it would likely get him in trouble with Roman authorities, for they alone had the right to try and carry out capital punishment. If Jesus disagreed with this, however, it would set him in explicit opposition with the Torah and justify the Jewish court trying him as a false teacher.

Displaying his signature genius, Jesus found a way to affirm the Torah in principle while undermining it in practice. “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said (vs. 7). In agreement with the Torah, Jesus affirmed that sinners like this woman deserve to be executed. Yet, he added, only a sinless person would be justified in carrying out this sentence. Since none of the woman’s accusers were sinless, they ended up dropping their stones and walking away.

Since all people are sinners, it seems to me that Jesus’ teaching in this episode applies not just to this particular accused sinner and to this group of sinful accusers, but to all accused sinners and to all sinful accusers. And if you think it through consistently, this entails that none of the Old Testament’s commands to carry out capital punishment should ever be acted on! Indeed, for followers of Jesus, it entails that no command to carry out capital punishment should ever be obeyed, regardless of where it is found or who it comes from.

The command itself may be just, but unless you are without sin, you’re not  justified putting it into practice.

Think about it, and have a blessed day!

~Greg Boyd