Doctrinal Pet Peeve–Christ’s Righteous Deeds Were not Added to Your Account

Yesterday I stated that “Christ did not keep the law for you.” Yes, His Law-keeping, which showed Him to be the spotless sacrifice, was all done to provide us with salvation, so in a general sense perhaps Jesus kept the law for you, but that’s not what people mean when they say this phrase.

“Christ kept the law for me” is another way of stating “Christ’s righteous deeds were added to my account.”

In other words, according to this statement, I am counted righteous because Christ’s righteous deeds He did while on earth (His law-keeping), was added to my account, thus making me right with God.

The theological term is: Christ’s active righteousness.

This is all part of the Calvinist system of salvation.

The full system goes like this:

“He [Jesus] took our sins and their penalty in our place by dying on the cross for us. This substitution leaves us with a ‘not guilty’ verdict as we face God’s judgment with respect to our sin.

“Yet being ‘not guilty’ is not the same as being righteous. This is where Jesus’ obedient life comes in. As our sin is debited to his account, Christ’s active righteousness is credited to our account.”

That quote is from a Calvinist professor. I have a number of problems with that statement, but I’ll stick to the active righteousness part.

According to this statement, which is the Calvinist understanding of atonement, we are justified by works of the law, it’s just that Christ did the works of the law for you.

One wonders why He had to die and rise again. One also wonders why Paul said we are justified by faith in Christ’s blood.

“One act of righteousness leads to justification and life” Paul said in Romans 5:18. It wasn’t a life of righteous acts, it was one righteous act. What was the one righteous act Jesus did that justifies? Paul tells us several verses earlier, “we have now been justified by his blood.” His death was the one righteous deed that leads to justification and life.

The Calvinist predicament is that since Christ took all your sin away and replaced it with His good deeds, He obviously couldn’t have done this for everyone, because not all are saved. Which leads to Limited Atonement–that Christ only came for the elect.

This is contradicted by Scripture in several places. Here’s one, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” World doesn’t mean “elect.” If Limited Atonement is true, the New Testament is a liar, whosoever will actually can’t, and the Gospel is not for anyone who believes.

What Christ did on the cross was huge. It’s what we put our hope in. I have heard many people question why there’s so little talk about the life of Christ in the sharing of the Gospel.

Well, because according to 1 Corinthians 15, the Gospel is about Christ dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. We are justified by faith in His blood, not by His law-keeping.

If you are not a Calvinist, stop saying “Jesus kept the law for me,” or “Christ’s righteous deeds are added to my account.” Because, ultimately, you aren’t defending the Gospel; you are defending Reformed Theology, Calvinism, and Limited Atonement.

Doctrinal Pet Peeve–Jesus Did Not Keep The Law For You

I am preaching through Galatians, which is a very doctrinal book, particularly chapters 2-4. Paul’s main thrust of these chapters is that justification is by faith, not by deeds of the law.

This seems a straight-forward point, yet I have heard so much ridiculousness come out of these chapters, it aint even funny.

One of my doctrinal pet peeves is when people say stuff like “Jesus kept the law for me.”

This is not a biblical statement. Yes, it is what some theologians have said, but it isn’t what the Bible ever said.

We are justified by faith, just like Abraham was.

No flesh was ever justified, or ever will be justified, by keeping the Law. The law was there to drive people to see their inability and push them on to faith in the One whom God would provide for salvation–Jesus Christ.

Since no flesh is justified by works of the Law, it is completely silly to say I am justified because “Christ kept the Law for me.”

Christ did keep the law, hear me rightly, He never sinned, He always did the will of His Father. But his law-keeping (which didn’t look like law-keeping to Pharisees) was to show He was the spotless sacrifice. In that sense, we benefit from Christ having kept the Law, and ultimately, this was all done for us. So, if that’s what you mean by “Christ kept the law for me,” OK, but find a better, fuller way to say it, please!

Christ did not keep the Law for you.

Think of it–the Law was given to Moses (this is the Law Paul speaks of in Galatians 2-4–the one ordained by angels and received by a mediator, Moses) as part of a covenant with the People of Israel to inherit the Promised Land.

It was a conditional covenant for Israel relating to Land possession. Read Deuteronomy and note how often it talks about doing the Law for the Land. It was the whole point.

Israel never did fully inherit the Land. They got close, but they never did it. And, as we know, what little of the Land they did get, was eventually taken away. They were taken into captivity and dispersed.

Why were they kicked out of the Land? Because they didn’t keep the Law.

The Law was not given to justify people.

Let me repeat this repeated point in the New Testament:

The Law was not given to justify people.

If Jesus truly did keep the Law for you, this would make you eligible to inherit the Promised Land.

I’d rather have heaven.

How to Better Judge Hypocrites

Paul confronts Peter in Galatians 2 for not acting consistent with the Gospel. Peter (who some think is the first pope, thus eliminating any confusion over whether popes are infallible), was cool with Gentile company until some of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem came to town.

“Gentiles? What’s a Gentile?” suddenly became Peter’s attitude.

Well, that’s weird Peter. Why cool with Gentiles until bigwig Jewish believers come to town? Something isn’t right there.

The big problem with Peter’s actions is that other people follow Peter’s lead. Paul is concerned that “other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

Even Paul’s partner on his first missionary journey, Barnabas, is led after Peter’s sin. (Some think this is the initial conflict that later led Paul and Barnabas to split over Mark.)

The KJV uses the words “dissembled” and “dissimulation,” which is cool. Very fun to say. But what do they mean?

They both share the same Greek root word “upokri,” from which we get our word “hypocrite.”

What Paul is saying to Peter is “your actions led other Jews to be hypocritical and even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”

Hypocrisy is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Christians all over the place are judged for being hypocrites. But many of these charges really aren’t hypocrisy.

The Greek word means “acting under a feigned part,” and, as you’ve probably heard many times, it’s a word used to describe an actor playing a role, a role he plays on stage, not at home.

Are there actors playing the part of Christians in the church? Absolutely. But most people aren’t being hypocrites, they’re just being bad Christians!

Allow me to explain.

I am a pastor. I have absolutely committed myself to the Gospel and to Jesus Christ. I have put myself in a position to lead in the Church, to help others know Christ better. I love this. I am absolutely sincere about this all the time.

Even at the time when I lose my patience with my kids, or when I make that joke I probably shouldn’t have made, or when I blow off talking to someone because I want to get going.

OK, I blew it. I messed up. This doesn’t mean I’m a hypocrite, it means I messed up. Messing up is part of life. It happens. Most theologies deal with this problem.

This doesn’t mean messing up is OK. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t hold Christians to a high standard (Christians should welcome a high standard and strive to meet it). It doesn’t even mean I shouldn’t be judged or criticized for having blown it.

But hold off on the hypocrite charge. I’m not playing a role that shifts based on who I’m with, I’m not fake, I just messed up.

Hypocrites are people who play one part in front of one group and another part in front of another group.

I guarantee you, whatever group of people I am with, I will say a joke I should probably not have said. That’s not me playing a part, that’s me not quite getting the oft-repeated lesson that I should shut up more.

Five Tips for Dealing With Jehovah’s Witnesses

The car pulls into the driveway. The old lady gets out. Ten minutes later she rings the doorbell.

“Oh Lord, what should I do?” I pray. “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go, there will be trouble. If I stay it will be double. So, come on! Let me know, Lord, should I stay or should I go?”

Yup, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have stopped by again. What to do? Over my years of experience dealing with JW’s here are my tips for dealing with the arrival of a Jehovah’s Witness.

1. Duck and Cover
This is a valid option. Yes, I have seen the old lady exit the car and then I dive behind the kitchen counter, army crawl into the hallway, and take shelter in a bedroom with the lights off. This also works effectively with Schwann’s trucks.

2. Argue
Hey, why not? You weren’t going to do anything else for the next hour anyway. JW’s have been trying to re-market themselves less as arguers, and more as friendly people just trying to get you to heaven. But many will argue. If you’re the kind of person who likes to argue, go for it, I won’t stop ya.

3. Edumacate yourself
If you’re going to have a problem with a group of people, you might as well know why. JW’s don’t believe Jesus is divine. They deny His bodily resurrection. John 1:1, according to their awful translation of the Bible (The New World Translation), says “the word was A god.” No trinity for them. There is no hell, unbelievers are annihilated. Only 144,000 go to heaven. They believe Jesus appeared on the earth in 1914 to teach a refresher course for true believers. They have wrongly predicted the date of Armageddon many times. They believe they are the only people to have a true and pure religion.

4. Always take the material they offer
I will often have a brief conversation with them, bring up how the 144,000 are actually Jewish folks during the tribulation period, which they have no idea what to do with that, so they will “be on our way” but will always offer printed material, which I take and throw away. It’s my small part to aid them on their way to bankruptcy.

5. Be nice
These are real people. The assumption is that door-to-door witnesses are highly educated, solid believers This isn’t the case. They have to do this sort of stuff. Many have no idea what they are talking about. They are trained to proof-text, not to do any in-depth thinking, you know, like Christians. You never know, you might help one truly find out who Jesus is.

In the end, JW’s do door-to-door witnessing to maintain good standing in their church. It took guts to knock on your door. More guts than most Christians have ever displayed. They look at it as a witnessing opportunity, and I believe you should too. Or you can army-crawl down the dark hallway. Either way.

Why there are Doctrinal Disagreements and What to do when Someone Disagrees with Your Doctrine

Doctrine is divisive. Christian unity is often predicated on the notion of “finding commonality.”

Loosely interpreted, “finding commonality” means, “let’s ignore 98% of doctrinal subjects.”

Over the years, many people have disagreed with my doctrine. There are two main reasons why this happens:

1) I not always communicate goodly. Putting doctrine into words that make sense to other people is tough at times. It is impossible to talk about the Trinity and not offend someone. There are times I know what I’m trying to say and also know I’m not quite saying it. Emotions also creep in and make me overstate things or use sarcasm or other such devices that don’t help.

2) People don’t hear well. This is an amazing one. I have had more people leave my church for having heard things I never said, than for hearing stuff I actually said. It’s an astounding phenomena. I had a person leave my church once because they said I was a Calvinist! If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you should pick up better on that one.

I used to take it very personally when someone disagreed with me. It took me a long time to realize there are other things at work in doctrinal disagreements besides doctrinal disagreements.

Never underestimate the force of personality clashes. Most church divisions are over personalities than over doctrine. I’ll stick to that statement. You can quote me on it.

One of the reasons people have a hard time hearing is because they’ve already determined to have a problem with you. Now to take something you said out of context to create said problem. Once I have that, then I can leave because of a “spiritual” issue rather than the petty fact I don’t like your leadership style because it reminds me of my dad.

Been there, done that.

About nine times now.

Another aspect of doctrinal division is that everyone is a sinner. Sin affects doctrine. Your pet sin, the one you have a particular penchant for committing, will cloud your reason and ability to apply God’s Word. Your guilty conscience, if nothing else, will keep you from talking on certain subjects.

Listen to a preacher for a couple years. Identify the sin he never seems to bring up. DINGDINGDING! That’s his favorite sin.

You can try that on me, but I’m the one who just said this, so I have, for years, attempted to address every sin so you’ll never know mine!

It’s also true that sinners are the ones disagreeing with your doctrine. What do they know anyway?!

No, you should always consider carefully people’s disagreements with you. Think over their arguments. Most importantly, consider carefully any verses they might use.

Remember this essential fact from the life of Christ–people disagreed with Christ all the time and HE WAS SINLESS!

Now, don’t go thinking you are sinless and have perfect doctrine like Jesus. You don’t. What you should remember is that the world is filled with morons.

Jesus told people how to know sound doctrine. Ready for it? Are ya sure? Cuz He told us how it worked. Lots of people say they want sound doctrine, but count the cost before reading ahead.

You sure you want to know this? You become accountable after reading it. Proceed with caution. Here it is:

“Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

The way to know sound doctrine is to desire to do the will of God. In case you don’t think that’s what it says because you don’t like my tone of voice, or the way I comb my hair, or whatever, here are some authorities on this verse:

Jamison Faucet and Brown—“singleness of desire to please God is the grand inlet to light on all questions vitally affecting one’s eternal interests”

Vine’s—“Sympathy with the will of God is a condition of understanding it.”

John Wesley—“This is a universal rule, with regard to all persons and doctrines. He that is thoroughly willing to do it, shall certainly know what the will of God is.”

Here’s what you do when people disagree with you on doctrine:

1) Examine yourself–are they right? Have you considered their verses in the forming of your beliefs? Is your sin blocking your growth or understanding here?

2) Consider the source–are these people who are concerned with doing God’s will? Are they desiring righteousness, or just picking fights? Is their life showing growth into Christ, or a testimony of sin and pride?

This is one of my greatest frustrations with internet communication. I have no idea who people are who disagree with me. I sort of have a “faceless mass of internet trolls” that I immediately assume disagree-rs are in. I generally dismiss all internet disagreements.

I think that’s why Church, being with other believers physically, is so vital to spiritual growth. A quote from Thomas Oden speaks volumes here

“The truth is harder to find when undebated than debated.”

In the end, doctrinal disagreement aint the worst thing that can happen to you. Especially if it comes from people you know, trust and live with. Internet debate? Yeah, that’s pointless. Here’s the Apostle Paul, who knows more than Thomas Oden, you, or me:

For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

If people disagree with you. Lighten up. Don’t take you and your rightness so seriously. Instead, use it as an opportunity to grow into Christ and become approved unto God.

Bart Ehrman and Christ Claiming to be God in Matthew, Mark and Luke

I made the mistake of listening to an interview with Bart Ehrman on NPR’s Fresh Air. Ehrman is a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. According to him, he grew up as an evangelical Christian, then turned into a liberal Christian and, now that he’s become smart and whatnot, has denied God altogether.

He has recently written a book about Jesus. His claim is that Jesus never said He was God, but His followers over the years developed Him into deity and did all sorts of stuff with His person that He never expected.

Now, if you are familiar with the Bible, you know that Jesus pretty clearly claims to be God a number of times in the Gospel of John. “I and the Father are one.” “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” “Before Abraham was, I AM.” All of that is in John.

Ehrman sees this as proof that Jesus being God was a later teaching of the church. John is the last Gospel written. Therefore, according to Ehrman, John is trying his hardest to make Jesus into a God-man.

Ehrman claims that in Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus never once claimed to be God. Here’s a snippet of Ehrman’s interview:

“These are all statements you find only in the Gospel of John, and that’s striking because we have earlier gospels and we have the writings of Paul, and in none of them is there any indication that Jesus said such things. …

“I think it’s completely implausible that Matthew, Mark and Luke would not mention that Jesus called himself God if that’s what he was declaring about himself. That would be a rather important point to make. This is not an unusual view amongst scholars; it’s simply the view that the Gospel of John is providing a theological understanding of Jesus that is not what was historically accurate.”

So, there you go. Jesus isn’t God. Jesus never claimed to be God. Jesus just thought he was going to be the guy chosen to rule in God’s future kingdom, that’s all. Just a silly ol’ bloke from the hill country with dreams of being a king.

One of the classic arguments people make with the Bible is denying your usage of it. I’ve seen this on many fronts. If you use the OT to make a point, “Well, that was just for those under the Law, not for us.” If you use a statement from Jesus, “Well He was only talking to first century Jews.” If you quote James, “Well, that’s James, even Luther didn’t think that was canonical.”

People breathe.
No they don’t.
Sure they do. Look, I’m a person and I breathe.
Well, you don’t count. I’m talking about other people.
OK. Look at those people. They breathe.
Well, I’m not talking about those people.

So, if Jesus clearly claims to be God in John, “Well, John is a later fabrication, you dolt.” They take away our crucial piece of evidence. Arguments like this drive me crazy. It’s like talking to a nine-year old.

So, ok. For sake of argument, let’s go with his assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

(However, even if we were able to show from Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Jesus claimed to be God, Ehrman doesn’t believe in the integrity of Scripture anyway, so this will also be removed. Handy piece of logic, eh? Bottom line, what Ehrman really means is: The Bible is full of crap. Fine, then stop talking about it.)

Matthew 1:23 says that one is being born who is called Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” This is a claim of the child born being God.

Matthew 7:21; 10:32,33; 11:27 and 12:50 all show Jesus referring to God as His Father, not a typical expression of God anywhere before Christ. Christ, also, in many of these passages, explains a crucial relationship between Him and the Father. No, there is no explicit “I am God” statement, but anyone with integrity who understands words and how the Bible uses them (like the Jews who heard Him say these things and wanted to kill Him for blasphemy) knows what He means.

Matthew 7:21 Jesus claims to be the judge of men and whether they did the will of the Father or not. What right does He have to be judge? How does He know who did the will of the Father? This is a claim to divine authority. He also says people will address Him as “Lord, Lord.”

Matthew 11:27 says the son reveals the Father–which is pretty much the same as “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” of John.

Matthew 16:13-17 shows Jesus asking who people say He is, and, more importantly, whom do you say that I am? Peter says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Again, the Son of God thing is huge. This is a key relationship on display. No, it’s not an explicit statement, but anyone who understands biblical terminology knows what this means.

Matthew 14:33 the disciples worship Christ after seeing Him walk on the water. They say “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” This is no mere man. He walked on the Water. Worshiping him as the Son of God is an admission that this man is spectacular.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are filled with miracles demonstrating His power like no one else before. They also fulfill prophecies written many years before. However, again, Ehrman throws this all out, so we can’t use any of that.

Matthew 26:63-65 Jesus is before His accusers and is asked if He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus says “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The high priest accuses Him of blasphemy. Why? Because He is claiming to be God–on the right hand of power is an admission of deity.

Mark 2:5-12 is probably the strongest passage. Jesus says He can forgive sins. Who can forgive sins but God? Is the charge leveled at Him. To show He has power to forgive sins, He heals the man. Jesus does not deny that only God can forgive sins. He proves He can forgive sins–PROVES HE IS GOD–by doing an act of power to demonstrate He’s not just speaking words. This is a clear claim to be God.

Mark 9:37 may be even better than the last verse. In this verse Jesus says “whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Again, this is the same as saying “I and the Father are one.”

Many times demons say things like, “We know thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” Ehrman thinks the title “Christ” merely refers to a king, an anointed one. Truly, Christ means “anointed one,” but it also holds huge significance for The Christ. This is no mere King; this is the King of Kings. Again, if one follows through biblical terminology through prophecies and so forth, one can clearly figure this out.

The Jewish leaders made the same mistake Ehrman does, thinking the Messiah, the Christ, is just some better than average guy. They too missed the many OT hints that The Christ is God in the flesh.

That’s why IN MARK, Jesus quotes some OT to confound the religious leaders.

“And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.”

The common folk knew what Jesus was saying–David’s prophesied son wasn’t just some kid to be born; it was God in the flesh. The religious leaders (the educated ones who made their living looking smart) missed all this while the common folk saw it clearly.

I fear Ehrman is playing this out once again. There aint nothin new under the sun, folks!

Is God Male? And Is That a Problem?

“If God is male, then the male is God.”

I read that quote in a theologian’s answer to the question, “Is God male, cuz, like, aren’t all males jerks?”

OK, that wasn’t the exact wording of the question, but it was the gist.

His unequivocal answer was “No! God is not male.” Male and female are different, mainly biologically. God is not a biological being, so, yes, God is not male. God is God. He has no biological maleness.

Scripture, however, does describe God in male terms. The theologian went on to say that we call God “Father” merely because God needed a title, so He went with Father. This doesn’t imply God is male though, just that He uses male titles.

Mmkay. Here’s where we need to be careful. No, God, who is not a biological creature, is not biologically male. Yes, God is described in vastly overwhelmingly male terms, which has to mean something.

Let’s examine a time when God did show up as a biological creature, when He was born to a woman, became flesh and dwelt among us. Was Jesus “Son” in name only? No, He was biologically a male.

Jesus is God. Jesus was a male. I’ll let you wrap up the conclusion there.

Yes, yes, I know God is also described as a hen who desires to gather her chicks, doesn’t that prove God’s non-maleness?

No, it’s an apt description of God’s desires. God created male and female in His image. First, it’s still HIS image. Second, femaleness, as much as we like to joke about it, is not an alien species. Males will have some female traits about them, just as females will have some maleness about them.

It’s like when my daughter pummels yet another opponent in a tennis match and I say to her, “You the man!” I am not saying she is male, I am saying her ability to destroy other people is a masculine trait worthy of praise in anyone, male or female.

We’re both, male and female, in HIS image, which means we will share some commonalities.

I understand the conflict that people have in describing God as male, or hearing that God is our Father. Many have had creepy, jerk fathers making this description hard to swallow.

I get it and do not want to demean dealing with jerk fathers, of whom there are many. But your father being a jerk does not imply that all males are jerks, nor that God, who is described as a male Father, is a jerk.

Imagine if God were described overwhelmingly in female terms, or that He revealed Himself as “Our Mother in heaven.” Do mothers have some sort of monopoly on goodness? Would there be no humans who would say, “You know, my mother was a real jerk, I struggle with knowing God as my mother.”

Of course there would be. There are just as many creepy mothers as there are creepy fathers.

The statement, “If God is male, then the male is God” is really bad logic. It’s the same as saying, “If apples are fruit, then fruit are apples.” Doesn’t work that way.

God purposely reveals Himself as male. God is never once referred to as “she” or “her” in the Bible. No female pronouns are ever used. A reading of the Bible will clearly show that God reacts in overwhelmingly male ways throughout. If God did all the same stuff, but described himself in female terms, it wouldn’t even read right.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. If we have issues with the word of God, if we don’t like what we hear there, this is a problem, and, let me suggest, it’s not the Bible’s problem.

Creating God in our image is dangerous. When we allow our feelings, pain, sorrow and confusion to dictate our understanding of God, we trivialize the revelation of Himself God gave us.

Allow me to suggest that if you have problems with God’s maleness, you probably have problems with males in general. If that is the case, there are some forgiveness issues you should deal with.

Whenever we come across parts of Scripture we have a hard time dealing with–whether that’s God’s maleness, the teachings on divorce, homosexuality being a sin, or any other problematic issue–it’s safe to assume the problem is with us and our understanding, not with God or the Bible.

Resist the urge to deconstruct God and then create God in our own image. He is who He is, whether we believe Him or not.

Atheism and the Problem of Evil

The problem of suffering and evil has historically been the leading cause of atheism. The thinking goes like this

God is good.
God is all-powerful.
Evil and suffering exist.
What gives? How can a good God allow suffering?

There are two extreme responses to this “predicament.”

1. Christian Science–I am not referring to Christians who go into the scientific fields, I am referring to Mary Baker Eddy and her particular brand of religion. Christian Science answers the Problem of Evil by denying that evil and suffering exist.

I once attended a Christian Science Church, just to say I had, and I was amazed, as the teacher taught about denying suffering, that half her audience was in wheelchairs. Hey, you can deny evil and suffering all you want, it’s there. Denying evil is not the answer.

2. Atheism–Rather than denying evil, which is pretty dumb, atheists decide to deny God. “Because evil exists, God cannot” is the logic. This is actually quite an admission by Atheists.

One thing that has always caused curiosity in me is why atheists never quit talking about God. I don’t think wood nymphs exist, which is why I never talk about them. Atheists have a very high view of God in some areas, one some believers could learn from.

My question, though, is how does denying God answer the problem of suffering and evil?

OK, God doesn’t exist, how does this deal with pain? How does this answer any questions about why bad things happen?

Let’s say a group of guys are playing basketball at The Y. Guys’ basketball games at The Y will get violent. There’s always a jerk who starts pounding on people. There is evil in the game.

A Referee is there to moderate the game. Jerk Baller is still pounding people, doesn’t stop one bit. Sometimes he’s called for fouls, and sometimes he isn’t, cuz pretty much every time he moves he fouls people.

The other players, getting frustrated at all the fouls, especially all the ones Jerk Baller seems to get away with, get mad. “How can so much evil fouling exist when we have a referee?”

If we use the above, there are two responses the fouled players can have:

1) Deny the existence of the fouls, man up and play through it. All the denial in the world won’t make those bruises go away, nor put in all the shots you missed because you were hacked.

2) Go the atheist approach, and deny that there’s a referee. If there’s no referee, then there’s no foul, there’s no right and wrong. But see, Jerk Baller is still hacking you every shot you take, whether there’s a referee or not.

Obviously, as with all illustrations, this one isn’t perfect. No referee is all-powerful, they will miss calls and even make bad calls, so it’s off a bit. But it makes the same point.

Denying God does not answer the problem of suffering and evil. In fact, denying God pretty much just leaves you with suffering and evil. That’s no answer.

I believe the problem to the conundrum–

God is good.
God is all-powerful.
Evil and suffering exist.
What gives? How can a good God allow suffering?

–is not with the first line–God is good. It is the testimony of Scripture that God is good–the goodness of God leads people to repentance.

We also can’t deny the third line–suffering and evil exist. They do. Take a look around.

Therefore, the problem must lie in line two–God is all-powerful. I believe we need a better understanding of this.

Many say “God can do anything.” This isn’t biblical, however. I did a post on this not long ago about whether God can create a rock too heavy for Him to pick up. In that post I list verses that say the things God can’t do.

Being all-powerful does not imply that God can do anything. God can do anything that is consistent with who He is. Part of His character is being just. He allows bad things to happen because people do bad things.

This is not to say that the amount of pain in your life equals the amount of sin you did. There are some who get more pain than others to no fault of their own. This is an unfortunate thing to witness or endure.

Evil and suffering exist because man rebelled against his Creator. That’s called justice. You reap what you sow. Man has sowed evil, so man will reap evil. The whole creation groans, even the animals, because of humanity’s rebellion.

Part of the answer to the problem of evil is for individuals to stop being evil. We are told to love others as Christ loved us. When we observe evil and suffering, are we moved with compassion to help, or do we merely have internal angst that makes us hate God and melt into a narcissistic corner?

Who is atheism’s Mother Theresa?

God actually entered into our suffering, showed His great love for us, by taking part in human pain. He took our sin on Himself and suffered and died because of it. But He also rose again, showing He has power over death, which demonstrated His power over sin.

This is the goodness of God. He deals with our bad by entering our consequences with us. Then He overcomes them, gives us new life that seeks to love others by entering their suffering with them and helping them through.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, your Creator who died for you, and you will be saved. Will you still need band-aids? Yup, we still live in a fallen world. But the believer’s hope is that a better world is on its way. We live for that one and endure this one.

Worship, Tattoos, Infant Baptism and Jeroboam

I read an article about whether Christians should get tattoos.

Christian tradition is that tattoos are taboo. Leviticus 19:28 is the prime text, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

Some have said this is a no-option passage–tattoos are sin. Others tie it in with the context and say it has more to do with paganism, dealing with dead people and weird stuff.

One of the voices in the article was a pastor who said he got tattoos because he was trying to attract the punk rock crowd to his church. Punk rockers are tattooed, therefore, a pastor who wants to reach the punk rockers needs a tattoo.

My personal opinion is that tattoos are really dumb and ugly. Whether they are sin, I don’t know. Leviticus 19:28 is the only verse close to it and it is against them. I’d be disappointed if my kids got one, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

However, the thing that bugs me is how a pastor decides to get tattoos because he was changing his church to reach punk rockers.

This is a common notion in the modern church growth movement–find out what the crowd wants and give it to them. If you have to change the music; change the music. If you have to shorten the sermon; shorten the sermon.

The church has not been called to fit into punk rock culture; punk rockers are called to be in the church. They change; not the Church. I know I’m in the minority on this issue, but alas, it bugs me.

Here’s my distinction–it is fine for a person to do things to reach people (Paul’s “all things to all people,” although I doubt he’s talking about pushing the lines of sin with things like tattoos), but I don’t think the church is called to change to meet the world’s desires.

The church is light. When the light decides that the best way to attract the dark is to become dark too, we defeat our purpose.

What good does it do to get the dark to come into the dark?

My fear is that the church is more concerned with marketing itself, with finding what the crowd wants and doing that so we get their money and retain our power, than it is with obeying God’s Word.

The Old Testament was written for our learning. Here’s a great example the Church can learn from.


Most of the commands in the Law (Leviticus and Deuteronomy) are about worship, primarily what happens in the temple with priests, sacrifices, etc. If the people kept those laws, God would be with them and bless them. If they didn’t obey His commands on worship, God would forsake them and kick them out of The Land.

Solomon married a bunch of foreign women who brought their foreign gods. Solomon began worshiping their gods, contrary to God’s command to “have no other gods before me.” Due to Solomon’s unfaithfulness, the Kingdom was split in two.

Along comes Jeroboam, who fears that Israel will leave him, turn on him and kill him because they’ll go to Jerusalem (across the border) to worship. He decides he needs to keep people from going there to avoid losing his political power and life.

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.”

In order for Jeroboam to keep himself in power, he changes worship. He ignores God’s commands about worship so he can manipulate and control the people and preserve his own rule. All these new worship ideas he “devised of his own heart.”

God’s word ceased to be his guide; his ideas took first spot.

So, Jeroboam changed up the worship, but his little ideas hung on longer than he did. Jehu became king later on and

Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.

Jehu follows Jeroboam’s ideas. But that wasn’t all. Jehoahaz comes along and

he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.

Another sheep comes along and blindly follows what the guys before him did. But he wasn’t all. Along comes another Jeroboam, Jeroboam II, and guess what he does?

he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.

King after king comes along and follows Jeroboam’s lead. One man’s desire to control the people and preserve his own fortunes, changes worship for years. This isn’t based on their ideas, nor on God’s Word. This new worship is based on one guy’s ideas from his twisted heart.

But that’s not the last time Jeroboam’s sin comes up. There’s one more passage, a doozy.

For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them;Until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.”

Yup, the whole nation is now walking in the sin of Jeroboam, going after his false worship ideas he invented. Unbelievable. God told them if they forsook His commands He’d kick them out of The Land. That’s what He did.

Jeroboam’s sin was to follow his own ideas, to put human desire first and God’s Word relegated to non-existence.

I fear this is the source of much of the Church’s habits. Infant baptism is a prime example.

There are no texts in the Bible about infant baptism. None. Baptizing households is the best they can come up with, and that’s a long way from the doctrine of infant baptism.

They remarkably point to circumcision to prove infant baptism, as if half the New Testament doesn’t exist. Circumcision is the constant problem in the NT. Faith is not about doing one thing one time to a kid.

Infant baptism is traced back to citizen rights in the Roman Empire. Kids born to Roman citizens went through a citizenship ceremony involving water. When Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, hey, why not have the church take this one?

Soon people were baptizing babies because some guy had the bright idea that he could manipulate people and keep himself in power. God never said to baptize babies, but we have cute notions invented in some guy’s heart, so for years the church has done it.

There is no way a novice Christian who sat down and read the Bible would get up and conclude, “You know what? I think we need to throw water on babies so they can go to heaven.”

Are we as concerned with the commands of God as we are keeping the traditions of men? Is our desire to attract a crowd trumping our obedience to our God?

These are crucial questions for the church and for the individual. Do we have the guts to change when necessary? Do we have the guts to not change when required? Do we have the ability to know the difference?

“Clear Texts Should be Used to Interpret the Unclear Ones” is Unhelpful Advice

A phrase I have heard several times by people who “know the Bible,” is that to find out what the Bible means we need to, and I quote, “use the clear texts to interpret the unclear ones.”

This is a fine sounding statement, and no doubt, is used just fine by many people who are clear on things.

However, if you’ve spent any time with Christians, and God help you if you have, you will know that finding any passage of Scripture that is clear to every one in the room is pretty tough.

One of the best ways to interpret Scripture is to know the Scripture and let the Scripture interpret the Scripture. That is a basic rule.

However, I think problems arise when we have “clear” and “unclear” passages neatly labeled. Romans 7 is a classic example. I have met many people who are totally clear on this chapter, and others who find it mind-boggling.

Your understanding of God plays into your understanding of Scripture. If you have a bad understanding of who God is, this will affect your interpretations of Scriptures.

Sure, you may feel you are clear on a specific passage, but if you’re wrong on that passage, it doesn’t matter who clear you think you are!

I’m probably not explaining myself well on this.

I’m not being clear, perhaps.

One problems is that we stick with the verses that are clear to us, and, unfortunately, just chuck the tough passages. We don’t let the “unclear” interpret the “clear,” which I think is just as important!

When Romans 3 says “There is none who seeketh after God,” that passage is crystal clear to many people. But when Paul says in Acts 17, “they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” That passage is crystal clear to another group of people.

Now, if you think Romans 3 is the clear passage, then no one can seek God. If you think Acts 17 is the clear passage, then you think it’s pretty easy for anyone to seek God.

Therefore, using the “clear” to interpret the “unclear” is decidedly unhelpful. Let’s let us use both and deal with the consequences.

Ready to Give An Answer

“Be ready always to give an answer” seems to be the favorite verse of many believers!

It is frequently used to defend arguing and being ready to confront all the morons who dare believe other things beside what you believe.

A full look at the verse begins with a call to sanctify your heart. Note this is not God’s sanctifying work, but a sanctification we are to do with our hearts.

Next comes “be ready always to give an answer.” Perhaps then, one could say, if you haven’t sanctified your heart, shut-up. One could say that, not sure one should, but one could.

I could.

I did, in fact.

And it was kind of fun.

But the full phrase aint done yet, it goes like this, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

This isn’t talking about being ready to argue, or being ready to defend your doctrine, or be ready to impose your will intellectually on the fools around you.

Rather, after having your heart sanctified (set apart to God in all your thinking, saying and doing), people will notice a difference about you and will ask. The answer is given to the question “Why do you have hope?” You then answer with meekness and fear, not self-defense, rhetorical grandeur or argumentation.

Ever been asked that? If not, then this verse is not applying to you.

Paul once expounded on the glories of Jesus Christ and in the midst of his glorying in Christ, he said of Christ, “before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession.”

One of the main things Paul praises Christ for is, not just that He is King of Kings, the only high potentate, the one who dwells in the light people can’t approach to, but that He did well before Pilate.

What stood out about Christ’s confession before Pilate? Largely His silence stands out. Pilate marveled at it.

I wonder, just wonder, if being quiet when people attack us, mis-characterize us or find fault with what we say and do, if we shouldn’t just keep quiet.

Seems to me faith remains quiet; uncertainty uses many, many words loudly.

I shall apply my own point.

And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you”

Peter and His Keys

It’s cliché that St. Peter stands at the gates of heaven letting people in or keeping them out. I believe, although one can never be too sure about origins of church traditions, this is because Peter was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Peter is a huge person in Catholic Theology, their view that Peter was the first pope and they can trace the succession of popes back to him (even the pirate pope) is well-known.

Protestants (non-Catholics) have long viewed this as being hooey.

Since Protestants are humans and humans go to extremes, we have tended to minimize and bash Peter. Paul is our man.

Paul was indeed the apostle to the Gentiles, but lets not be too hasty in dumping on Peter.

Jesus meant something by saying “upon this rock I will build my church” to Peter. There are many mental gymnastics Protestants have done to prove that “the rock” here can’t be Peter. But any simple reading of the context will show that, yeah, Jesus meant Peter is the rock of the church.

In fact, Peter being the rock the church is built on helps us understand what Jesus meant by “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Recently I read a guy (can’t remember who, he’s dead, an old guy from a long time ago, so you can trust him), that Peter is the one who opened the door for the Gospel to the Jews in Acts 2:14, the door to the Gentiles in Acts 10:34, and the door to the Samaritans in Acts 8:4-25.

Before Peter had shown up to any of these groups, the after-resurrection and ascension Gospel had never been preached to them before.

It almost seems as though God got Peter to these people first for some reason. Perhaps it’s because Peter was the rock, the beginner, of the church, the one who would open the way for the Gospel?! This is almost like John the Baptist opening the way for Christ: John decreases just as Peter does, as Jesus and Paul respectively take over.

Even Paul says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles, and Peter was the chief one after Christ’s death.

Seems plausible, more plausible than a lot of other dumb theories I’ve heard.

Peter is the rock the church is built on. He took the keys and opened the way for the Gospel to the people of the world. Thanks, Peter!

Christianity and the Subjugation of Native Americans

In reading books about white guys exploring the western US, you can’t help but have to deal with Native Americans and their plight.

In the biography of John Wesley Powell, who charted the Colorado River and Grand Canyon region, there is much about Native Americans. Powell viewed Indians as human beings, not as the majority of that time who viewed them as subhuman, worthy of nothing but extermination.

The author claims that it was, no doubt, Powell’s Methodist upbringing that led to the view that all people were created by God and worthy of respect. Even though Powell walked away from his childhood religion, it seems as though that stuck with him.

The problem with getting Indians to get out of the way so Whitey could take over, is that each tribe of Indians had myths, stories and religious meaning tied in with their geographic surroundings.

If you moved Indians from their land, you displaced them not only geographically, but you also messed with their heritage and religion.

That being the case, some ingenious white guys devised a plan to treat this particular inconvenient problem.

“He [President U. S. Grant] listened to a group of reform-minded Protestant ministers who asked that, henceforth, agents be appointed from their ranks to bring the kindly moral power of Christianity to bear on the Indian problem. If the natives could be made into Methodists or Quakers, it would take the fight out of them.

“Grant went along with the request, and the Methodists assumed jurisdiction over California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho; Baptists were put in charge of all agencies and reservations in Nevada; while the Presbyterians had responsibility for the Indians of Utah and Arizona.”
(excerpt from this book, page 267)

I never knew there was such a systematic plan for the Christian church. (It also appears as though Baptists got a raw deal here. What’s up with that?)

This, I believe, is a classic entanglement with affairs of this life the church is to avoid. Being used as a tactic to subdue people for the government is not the best usage of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I suppose there is resulting peace that can come from Christian revival, but to use that, to make the peaceful end your end, rather than the care of souls, seems cheap.

As you may have noticed, it didn’t work very well. The Church never wins when it becomes a pawn in the hand of human government. Note the gross doctrine that came out of the Roman Empire’s Church.

Not only that, but the world doesn’t win when the church is a pawn either. The true mission of the Church and the spread of the Gospel will be entangled in all sorts of other stuff. Note the hostility toward right-wing Christianity brought about by the Moral Majority and other Christian/Political organizations. To share the Gospel, we know have to talk politics for half an hour.

It’s Christ alone. Not Christ and nation building. Not Christ and political gains. Not Christ and subjugation of people you don’t like.

It’s Christ. Christ and Him crucified. Anything else is a muddying of the waters to our own destruction.

%d bloggers like this: