Wednesday, October 15, 2014

And so all Israel shall be saved, and salvation is of the Jews

I very seldom use multicolored posts but I will in this one.  I want to be very clear what Romans 11:25-26 actually says.

This passage, Romans 11:25-26, has been more widely misunderstood than almost any other passage in the Bible. In fact, it is amazing to me that so many Bible "teachers" try to make Romans 11:25-26 say just the opposite of what it says.

This is terrible because they are saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” when the Lord has not said that.

The setting of Romans Chapter 11 is that God is explaining that most of the people in the nation of Israel were blinded, but there is a remnant, chosen by grace, who have become saved. Paul used himself as an example of those who have become saved. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says in verse 5:
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

Then he says in verse 7:
What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

Spiritual blindness was the condition of national Israel throughout its history and is still the condition right up to the present day. They absolutely do not want the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not want Him as their Messiah. In verse 25, God begins to bring the first 24 verses of this chapter to conclusion. It is addressed to the Gentile world so that we will have an understanding of how national Israel fit into God’s salvation plan.

God says in Romans 11:25:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel [verse 7 says it happened to most of national Israel], until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. “Until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” means that national Israel will continue to be spiritually blind, except for a remnant chosen by grace, as long as there is one Gentile, or non-Jew, anywhere in the world, who is still to be saved.

In our generation, Israel has been a nation for over 60 years, and they are as adamant about their opposition to Christ as the Messiah as they were at any time in their history.There has been no change, and there will be no change. God says that their condition will remain the same until the last person who is of the elect of God becomes saved. When the last Gentile has become saved, it will be the end of the world. The world will continue to its predetermined end, but before the world can end, all those who have been elected to salvation will have become saved.
Then we read in the first part of Romans 11:26:
And so all Israel shall be saved. . . .

All kinds of Bible teachers do terrible violence to this verse. They understand this verse to say, “And then all Israel shall be saved.” In other words, they change the word “so” to “then.”

They teach that after the Gentiles have been saved, God is going to do a work in national Israel.First of all, that does not make any sense because national Israel, that is, the blood descendants of Abraham, have been on earth for 4,000 years.

What about all the Jews who lived and died unsaved during the past 4,000 years?
They are part of national Israel. They are not going to be resurrected and have a second opportunity. More than that, the word “so” does not mean “then.” “So” is not a chronological word. “So” means “in this manner,” or “thus,” or “in this way.” In what way? In what manner?

In the manner in which God describes in Romans Chapter 11, namely, that most of national Israel is blinded, but there is a remnant chosen by grace. In this manner, all Israel that is to be saved, shall be saved. This is not talking, in any sense, about a future change in God’s plan. It simply ties back into everything that has gone before, as God has reported in the previous 25 verses. God explains why His salvation can come to the remnant of national Israel that is chosen by grace.

He says in the second part of Romans 11:26-27:

. . . as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

When Christ came and took on a human nature, to whom did He come?

He came to the Jews. He was born in Bethlehem, a Jewish city. He was reared in Nazareth, a Jewish city. He was crucified in Jerusalem, a Jewish city. For three and half years, He ministered mainly around the Sea of Galilee, a Jewish area. He came to the nation of Israel, and a remnant of national Israel was chosen by grace. Later, He told the disciples that they were to go into all the world with the Gospel because salvation was to come to Gentiles as well. These verses are easy to understand if we read them carefully.


We cannot superimpose something we have been taught upon these verses. God does not have a future plan for national Israel; that idea is not found anywhere in the Bible. The Bible indicates that we are in the last days; we are headed right toward the end of time. When the last Gentile has become saved, that will be the end of the Gospel era. It will be the end of the world.

This leads now to a similar reading in John 4:22 where Jesus tells the woman at the well that salvation is of the Jews.  Let that sink in:  salvation is OF the Jews.

During Jesus’ lifetime, the term ‘Jew’ was used synonymously for all Israelites, excepting of course, the Samaritans, whom Jews considered unfit and unworthy of the name, “Jew.”  Samaritans were reckoned by Jews to be half-breeds because of their inter-marrying with the Assyrians, Greeks, and other non-Israelites, which were commonly labeled by strict, prejudicial Jews as being, ‘goyim,’ (goyim is a derogatory term that Jews used to describe Gentiles; it means ‘cattle,’ but was a Jewish euphemism for a pile of dung).  Thus, Jews excluded Samaritans from Yahweh’s covenant with the nation of Israel, based solely on manmade, fleshly, outward standards, which never did or ever will align with the view that God uses as criterion for salvation and/or worship.

With this all in mind consider again Jews was a Jew.  Jesus was born and raised a Jew and came to reconcile the Jew first and then others to Father God.  After the coming of the Holy Ghost, all have the ability to repent and accept Christ.  Before that only repentant Jews during the ministry of Jesus before His crucifixion had that ability.  That is why Salvation is of the Jews.

Jesus tells the woman that Samaritans worship what they do not understand.  Jesus is making clear for her to understand what she worships.  God made a covenant with Jews and no other people.  She will have to wait for her salvation until after Christ resurrects and the Holy Ghost comes.  Then there will be worship in spirit and in truth.  Not in Jerusalem nor on any sacred mountain.  In the heart and soul of the redeemed by Christ's blood.

Salvation is of Jesus Christ who again was born, lived, and died a Jew.  Today, Jesus Christ is God and calls all humanity to repent and turn to Him as Savior.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Who Are Puritans

I receive emails and questions all the time asking, "Who are Puritans and what do they believe?"  This also includes the false idea that Puritans are consigned to history and are no longer a Christian denomination.  This is untrue as I am a Puritan elder minister, a bishop if you will.

Puritans today are the inheritors of a Christian tradition that goes back to 1535 and the formal split of the Church of England (Anglican) from the Roman Catholic Church by King Henry VIII.  Puritans were discontent that the Anglican Church had not reformed from the Roman Catholic Church enough and was for all intent and purpose just an English speaking Catholic Church that simply translated everything from Latin to English and felt that was enough reform.

Puritans felt a full purification of the Church was needed.  The Mass needed to be completely reformed.  The altar needed to be disposed of because Christ performed the sole sacrifice on Calvary.  There was the sole sacrifice that once Christ resurrected had cleansed sin for those who repent, turn from sin, and take faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior.  The pulpit needed to be moved front and center as the preaching was the basis of the service.  Ministers were members of the community not a holy man above others.  Their job was to instruct their church on how to live the godly life through preaching.  Choirs were done away with and now the whole church sang.  Organs and pianos were tossed out as they were distractions to worship.  

The churches were simple with a plain table for the communion which now is a memorial NOT a sacrifice.  The pulpit is the center where the minister preaches.  No statues or paintings of "saints", we are all saints who are saved.  No stained glass windows depicting long archaic Greek symbols, snakes, dragons, or pagan elements.  Pews lost the kneelers as there is no kneeling to a piece of bread.  Hymnals were replaced by a simple reprint of the 150 psalms, these are the songs and sung in plain song melody easy to remember.

This is what Puritans did - purify the church so God became the focal pint of worship.  This purification is to come in all of life so that everything is done for the greater glory of God.

God became the center of worship not a piece of bread that sacrilegiously is referred to as the "body of Christ".  Transubstantiation is a heresy of the faith since the one sacrifice of Christ is already made and effective.  Any other sacrifice is pagan and not Christian.  This is true for us to this day, we as Puritans still hold to these practices.

A typical Puritan service (fellowship meeting) begins with a call to worship, a line of scripture such as: Lord open our lips and our mouth shall declare Thy praise.  The minister will usually walk from the front of the church to the pulpit as an expression of "coming form the community".   If there is to be communion: Christ our passover is sacrificed therefore let us keep the feast is usually the call to worship.  Then there is the Psalm which is either read right side to left side of the Psalm paragraphs or sung plain song depending on the particular congregation.  Then a reading form the Old Testament then a reading form a New Testament Epistle (Acts through Jude) then a reading from a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).  The Book of Revelation is usually preached on as a sole reading over the course of many months.  Then the sermon, and after the benediction.  If there is communion it is celebrated between the sermon and benediction.  Then a final Psalm and depart.

There are no seasons of a church calendar.  There is no Advent, Lent, or Ordinary Time.  Each Sunday is equally the sabbath so there are no special feasts like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday.  With the resurrection of Christ all time has been consecrated to Him.  

We worship on Sundays because at the very beginning, the church in Jerusalem met every day in the temple and in private homes (Acts 2:46). Since the first believers were all Jewish, it seems safe to assume that they continued to participate in Jewish synagogue and temple worship for some time.  In time the Apostles stopped observing the Jewish sabbath, but began worship instead on Sunday, a distinctively Christian holy day. 

The records that remain in the New Testament show that the first day of the week soon became a day of worship. When Paul wanted to collect an offering from the church at Corinth, he asked them to gather the money on the "first day of the week" (1 Cor. 16:2). And when he wanted to meet with the believers at Troas, the gathering took place "on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). 

As Puritans we hold to a strict scripture based doctrine and preach the living Christ who calls all to repentance and salvation.  Our two sacraments are the Biblical sacraments of Communion and  Baptism.  While they are symbols of our salvation they in themselves impart no salvation. 

We were the original free church.  We asked government for no permission to form and applied for no incorporation.  Our freedom as a church is in the fact Christ is head of the church and no king, tax agency, or government official.  Our churches rise, grow, and close on the will of the congregation and their needs.

Today the typical Puritan church meets in the pastor's home, or perhaps in the home of a congregant who wishes to sponsor a fellowship meeting.  There are special church buildings but more than likely the fellowship will be home based.  I grew up in a Puritan church in Farmers Branch, Texas after my family and I moved from Illinois.  It was the home of Rev. Bailey.

Rev. Bailey's home was Valley View Puritan Fellowship from 1971 to 1988

As you can see it was a home large enough to hold a good fellowship size.  We had at the peak of the congregation in 1986, 50 members and fellowship comfortably was held in the living and dining rooms. 

We later moved into a church building that was in the pastor's name.  The congregation supported the building and operation of the church from 1988 to 2013.  The congregation simply had dwindled away as Farmers Branch lost its residential base to a more commercial base.  The mega church craze also holds some of the reason for the closure of the fellowship.  I was honored to pastor this church from 1996 to 1998.  I then pastored an expansion of the church opened a mile away.  The old church building is now a Univeral Unitarian church.

Valley View Puritan Fellowship 1988 to 2013

Monday, October 6, 2014

Christmas Is Not Christian

As a Puritan it is inevitable that the mention of Christmas will come up and the question as to why Puritans to this day still refuse to celebrate Christmas.  Then the comments of, "Well you do believe in the birth of Christ, so what is so bad about celebrating His birth?"  "Tradition is just as important as scripture."  "Just for the kids to have fun is all the reason you need."

It is obvious folks really have no idea about what Puritans strive for.  We strive for three things: Giving glory to God alone, purifying our lives through our faith and worship of Christ, and offering to God a pure worship.  What is bad about celebrating the birth of Christ is the fact Christ in the Gospels commanded His death be memorialized through communion, not His birth nor resurrection.  We are to keep in mind the death of the Savior as our passover.  That is the feast we are to keep in the celebration of communion.

Tradition is not as important as scripture is.  It was a tradition for many to sacrifice human beings, but when one is saved by Christ the scriptures become the guide for living not human constructs of tradition.  For many Puritans the same goes for the tradition of birthdays.

Giving the kids a fun day is not a proper reason for celebrating Christmas.  It does nothing but reinforce the narcissism rampant in society.  Placating children with presents, food, and entertainment only raises petulant children who grow into even more petulant adults who refuse any just authority because Christmas reinforced the "It is about me" mindset.

Christmas is rooted in pagan practices from Rome, Assyria, Druids, Wicca, and all other witchcraft rooted pagan religions.  It is to this day a Roman Catholic holiday that was adopted by other Catholics of the Anglican and Lutheran traditions.  No real Christian would dare insult our Savior by even wishing to celebrate this day.  In fact for many Christmas was not even a holiday until the mid 19th century.  A Christian would do well to avoid any association with this day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Extermination of the Church of the East

The prophet Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh and the people repented and the city was saved (see Jonah 3:1-10).
 
According to tradition, eight hundred years later the apostles Thomas, Thaddeus, and Bartholomew also preached to those in and around Nineveh. And as it was in Jonah’s day, the people believed the Christian message, repented, were baptized, and the Syriac-speaking “Church of the East” was born.
 
The Church of the East should not be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church, that is, the Greek-speaking Church centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Church of the East was further east centered in Baghdad and Nineveh, which is across the Tigris River from modern-day Mosul.
 
Church historian Robert Louis Wilkin points out in The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, “If one looks at a map of the Middle East today, the Church of the East was spread across southeastern Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kuwait, eastern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.” From there, missionaries carried the Gospel to Armenia, India, Sri Lanka, and China. Timothy I who was chief bishop of the Church of the East from the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth centuries wrote a letter in which he mentions his plan to ordain a bishop for Tibet.
 
Despite the rise of Islam that assigned Christians dhimmi status (permitted to live in an Islamic country as a second-class citizen with the payment of a special tax), the Church of the East—also known as the Assyrian Church or the Chaldean Church survived, but just barely.
 
Romsin McQuade whose family roots are Assyrian writes in The Telegraph that Christians, while serving in the courts of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1517), were simultaneously the Caliphate’s scapegoats. “Their houses were marked with pictures of Satan, hundreds of thousands of them murdered, and accused of pledging loyalty to the Romans, their coreligionists, to bring down the Caliphate.”
 
According to McQuade, in the late fourteenth century, the Assyrian Christians fled “from the first butcher of
Baghdad, Timur, the Mongol ruler bent on exterminating them for being Christian.” “Then,” he goes on, “after the Ottoman Army has finished massacring 50 per cent of their population, 20th century Iraq also turned its
back on its own natives, executing 3,000 of them in less than five days.”
 
After Saddam Hussein was removed in 2003, things went from bad to worse in part because the United States did not demand that the new Iraqi constitution include religious liberty.  Rev. Canon Andrew White, known as the Vicar of Baghdad who told “60 Minutes” in 2007, “Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians. Probably ever in history.  They’ve never known it like now.” Many Christians fled Iraq for what seemed to be safety in Syria.
 
By now, things have become even worse. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has made life for this ancient Christian community impossible. McQuade writes, “The Islamic State’s dossier of systematic abuses against Assyrians reportedly includes: markings of the Arabic letter ‘nun,’ for the Christian pejorative, ‘Nasrani’ on their homes; execution of women for refusing to veil; church desecrations; rape of a mother and daughter for being unable to pay jizya [dhimmi tax]; destruction of the Christian-revered tomb of the Prophet Jonah; kidnappings of children and clergy; forced conversion of disabled Christians in a Mosul hospital; and even cutting off clean water supply to Assyrian towns in the Nineveh Plains.” 
 
ISIS reportedly inflicts torture, summary executions, beheadings, and crucifixions on Christians in Syria and presumably in Iraq as well. 
 
Rep. Frank Wolf, a champion of religious freedom, told Congress, “Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out…. I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide…. Where is the West?  Where is the Obama Administration?  Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.” 
 
Then he added, “The West, particularly the church, needs to speak out…. As William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist, famously told his colleagues, ‘Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’ ”
 
Now that you and I have heard, it’s time to speak.
 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Animals Can Teach Us Things

This bear can teach us that just because someone is different does not mean we should ignore them when they need a little help.  We are our brother's keeper.




Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do Not Oversimplify God

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“Oh! But the Elephant
Is very like a wall!
The Second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, “Ho! What have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!” 
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceedingly stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Oversimplification applies to a man’s evaluation of an elephant.  It also applies our efforts to understand the true and living God.

  I. What do we mean by oversimplification?
            A.        Definition: “to simplify to the point of causing misrepresentation, misconception, or error. To cause distortion or error by extreme simplification of a subject.”
            B.        This is an ever present danger when limited man tries to understand the unlimited one true God.
                        1.         The Bible reveals various facets of the person and power of God.
                        2.         Yet, in spite of everything, our efforts to conceptualize God often lead us to compartmentalize and categorize God.
                        3.         An infinite, all-powerful God cannot be dissected.
                        4.         We must vigorously avoid trying to put God in a box
            C.        Ps 106:2 - We can’t describe all that God has done
            D.        Ps 139:1-6 - We can’t describe all that God knows
            E.        Ps 145:3 - God’s greatness is beyond us
            F.        Ps 147:5 - God’s understanding is infinite
            G.        Paul’s description of God - Rom 11:33-34

II.       Oversimplification of God’s Love Leads to Universalism
            A.        “Since God is all loving, he will not condemn sinners to eternal punishment.”
            B.        This is an oversimplification of God. It is called Universalism
                        1.         An assumption that God is too loving, too patient, too kind, too longsuffering to cast erring men into the flames of Hell.
            C.        God’s love is beyond measure -
                        1.         John 3:16 - The extent of God’s love
                        2.         Eph 2:4-7 - The riches of His mercy
                        3.         I John 3:1-2 - To make us children of God
            D.        However, this does not mean that God will not condemn sinners to eternal punishment. God is also a God of justice who will avenge evil
                        1.         Ps 11:4-7 - God tests us and punishes the wicked
                        2.         Romans 2:5-11 - God renders to each according to his deeds
                        3.         Heb 10:26-31 - It is a fearful thing to face the wrath of God

III.      Oversimplification of God’s Omniscience Leads to Skepticism
            A.        “Since God is all-knowing, he is responsible for all human suffering.”
            B.        An oversimplification that leads to the disbelief called Skepticism
                        1.         God’s knowledge of human suffering renders him accountable for the same.
            C.        God is all-knowing
                        1.         Ex 3:7 - God knew the Israelites problems
                        2.         Isa 37:28 - God knows where we are and our thoughts
                        3.         Isa 46:9-11 - Declares the end at the beginning
            D.        However this does not mean God is responsible for human suffering.
                        1.         God is a God of laws that have consequences
                                    a.         Violation of God’s moral law brings sin and death into the world
                                                (1)       Gen 2:16-17 - The Law
                                                (2)       Gen 3:16-19 - The Consequences
                                                (3)       Romans 5:12 - Because of one man, sin entered the world and spreads because all sin
                                    b.         Violation of God’s natural law brings pain and sometimes fatal consequences
                        2.         Do not blame God for the consequences of sin.
                                    a.         Satan is to blame
                                    b.         We are to blame
                                    c.         But God is innocent

IV.        Oversimplification of God’s Sovereignty Leads to Hyper Calvinism
            A.        “Since God is omnipotent, he directly controls the eternal destiny of each individual.”
            B.        Following this oversimplification leads to Calvanism
                        1.         If God is all-sovereign, he must be ultimately responsible for deciding who will be saved and who will be lost.
            C.        God is all-powerful
                        1.         Isa 40:12 - God knows values we only guess at
                        2.         Jer 32:17 - Nothing is too hard for God
                        3.         Amos 4:13 - Examples of God’s power
            D.        However, this doesn’t mean God directly controls the destiny of each individual
                        1.         God has unlimited power and authority, but we must not forget that God created man with a free will
                                    a.         Joshua 24:15 - Choose whom you will serve
                                    b.         I Kings 18:21 - Make a choice between God and Baal
                                    c.         Ezekiel 18:4,20 - Man is responsible for his destiny
                        2.         We can choose to follow the steps of Jesus or walk in the pathway of Satan
                        3.         God does not force us one way or the other
                        4.         The choice and the ultimate consequences are our own.

V.      Conclusion
            A.        We know certain things about God
                        1.         He is a God of love and justice
                        2.         He is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent
                        3.         He is holy. He is good. He is longsuffering, patient, and kind
            B.        However, never forget that all of man’s efforts to systemize the doctrine of God are doomed to failure.
                        1.         Deity cannot be reduced to distinct, discrete component parts
                        2.         God cannot be catalogued, classified, or codified.
                        3.         Our Lord cannot be pigeonholed.
                        4.         An infinite God must of necessity exist in part beyond the experience and understanding of finite man.
            C.        We can only know God to the degree that he has revealed himself
                        1.         Any approach that overemphasizes one characteristic of God to the neglect of others leads to a false understanding of God.
                        2.         Accept what the Bible says and leave it at that
                        3.         Speak only as the Bible teaches - I Peter 4:11
                        4.         Deut 29:29 - The secret things are God’s, the revealed things are ours.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

33% Of Japanese Say Marriage Is Pointless

From Spa Magazine

Go to college, get a job, meet a guy or girl, and…don’t get married?

A recent survey suggests that almost one-third of Japanese people just can’t see the point in tying the knot and settling down. And after you see what some of them have to say about marriage, you might understand why.

Marriage has long been a staple of Japanese society, with enormous industries dedicated weddings and “omiai” (matchmaking). However, recent decades have seen a shift in social standards and the number of people staying single is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.

With this mind, the magazine Joshi Spa! conducted a survey inspired by a June event extolling the virtues of not getting married. The magazine revealed that 33.5% of the 37,610 respondents said they didn’t see any merit in marriage.

Here’s one person’s thoughts on marriage: “I’ve hated kids for forever and I never thought that I wanted any, so I kind of feel like there’s not point to it.”
Another respondent said, “If you’re single, you can use your money exactly as you like, and no matter how much you spend on your hobbies or interests, no one will complain, and you can live at your own pace. But if you get married, all of that disappears, so I really want to ask, honestly, is there any merit to getting married?”

Joshi Spa! helpfully broke the results down by age group as well, showing that the largest group of people who had no interest in marriage was in their 30s, with 40.5% of them saying “no!” to exchanging vows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 38% of those still in their teens teens shrugged the idea of marriage off, while 39.1% of 20-somethings, and 35.9% of people in their 40s were also uninterested in matrimonial bliss.

As may be expected, the older groups were more likely to find value in marriage. However, it’s hard to say if this is a sign of a permanent change in thinking or if the “youngesters” are still just having too much fun to settle down.

Shockingly enough, Internet commenters had a lot to say about this.

—Being broke, there’s more demerit than merit for me.
—It’s probably better not to marry someone who thinks about merits and demerits. Unless you don’t mind just being an ATM.
—The merits are just keeping up appearances and being socially responsible. The need for marriage like in the past is going to just keep getting less and less.
—I’m married, but, honestly, I think it’s better not to. Except for the kids… I like my kids.
—Everyone around me in me in their 30s, 40s, and 50s is getting divorced, and I hear nothing but rumors about affairs–it’s all just stupid. Aside from working together to raise kids, I can’t see any point to marriage.
—It’s great if you marry someone you really like. But going so far as to trying omiai or going out marriage hunting, I don’t see the need.
—Marriage is close to the image of getting a parasite and having it endlessly sucking the essence out of you. Seriously, won’t someone take my pig wife away??

Geez, wouldn’t want to be that last guy’s wife.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Christians and War

Objections to the pacifist interpretation of Scripture

Was Jesus a pacifist? A comprehensive study proves that He was not.


In John 2:14, Jesus comes to the Temple and finds people selling “oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.” Jesus sees that the religious leaders have turned this, His father’s house of prayer, into a marketplace. Instead of prayers and supplications, there is the noise of commerce. Jesus is burning with anger and indignation. The zeal for His father’s house consumes Him.
“And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:14-15).
This was a physically violent response on the part of Jesus. This makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was not a strict pacifist. The Bible is also clear that Jesus was sinless. Even in this situation, he did nothing wrong. 
In Luke 22:36-38, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure. He knows that the Jewish leaders are decidedly against Him. In the past, when He sent His disciples out, He took care of all their needs. But now things are going to change.
“And He said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And he was numbered with transgressors;’ for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’”
What is the context here? When traveling from city to city, people of that day often had to carry a sword in order to fend off robbers. Jesus told His followers that He was going to send them out there, and warned them to be prepared to defend themselves when appropriate. Clearly, Jesus was not a pacifist.

In the book of Revelation, there is a stronger example. Here is a portrait of Jesus, the warrior king. Here the elements of love and justice come together. Love and war can go together, if it is done on behalf of good.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. …From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Revelation 19:11, 15).
This is no meek and mild Jesus. This is not a pacifist. This is the mighty warrior, the God of love, who comes to wage war against his evil enemies. The imagery is graphic. It describes Him as treading the wine press, destroying His enemies as their blood spills over on His robes. Love and the pursuit of justice are not contradictory. They can go hand in hand.
John Calvin emphasized that a Christian soldier should never use force to gain self-advantage, but “use force out of love for thy neighbor.” Standing by and refusing to act while harm befalls a neighbor is not a virtue; it is a vice.


As someone else has said, “War can be a means to a just peace, and to break an unjust peace.”


Jesus was not a pacifist, nor was He a hawk. It is interesting that Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, because He can never be put in anybody’s box. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus wasn’t a hawk. He wasn’t a pacifist. He wasn’t a Republican. He wasn’t a Democrat. He wasn’t an American. He wasn’t an Iraqi. He transcends all categories.


PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC ROLES - Pacifists fail to make a clear distinction between a Christian’s private and public views. In Romans 12-13 we find Paul’s explanation of the role of the Christian and the State. Here he lays out some fine distinctions between how were are to conduct ourselves privately and publicly—how we are to manage our person, and how we are to manage our office.


In Romans 12:17-21, Paul lays out the responsibility of the Christian INDIVIDUAL. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. If possible…” Notice the qualifier, “if possible.”

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
What is Paul saying? There will be times when you cannot be at peace with all men. But when it is possible, when it depends on you, as an individual, strive for peace.
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
These are words very similar to those of Jesus. Verse 17 and 21 are saying the same thing: Never pay back evil for evil, and overcome evil. These two verses act like bookends in the text—one at the beginning and the other at the end. Everything between these two bookends supplies the definition and context for what Paul means when he says “evil.”

What is evil? Don’t take your own revenge; that is evil.
Why is it evil? Because you are usurping the prerogative of God who alone has the wisdom to know when retribution ought to be enacted. God is to be the judge, and God’s ministering authority, the State. Individuals should not take matters into their own hands. That is God’s job. To do otherwise is to usurp God’s right and to usurp the right of the State.


So, the evil that Paul, and I believe Jesus, had in mind to resist here is the evil of personal vengeance. The Scriptures are forbidding us from taking personal revenge. That is a lot different than forbidding us to pursue justice.
Revenge no; justice yes. 

It is no coincidence that Paul follows this passage dealing with the Christian’s private response to evil with a Christian’s public response to evil. In chapter 13:1-4, we see the role of the State.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it [government; the State] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

What is Paul saying? He is building an argument. First of all, government is established by God. As a minister of God, it acts as an avenger to promote good and to punish evil (some translations say “evildoers”). Essentially, the role of government is to promote justice.


As individuals, we are not to seek personal vengeance. We need to be willing to suffer injustice as Christians, and make an appeal to our God and to our State. We are to entrust ourselves to God.


But, as members of the State, we are to work for justice against evil, for the sake of others and of society.
That creates a tension for many Christians, trying to understand when is the right time to turn the other cheek. John Stott put it this way,

“If my house is burglarized one night and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty to sit him down and give him something to eat and drink, while at the same time telephoning the police.”
We have a private responsibility and duty, and we have a public one.
Conclusion about pacifism

Ever since Adam, the world has been in a war between good and evil. For this reason, the pacifist position is unrealistic. When taken to its logical conclusion, it would virtually do away with courts and police departments. It would ultimately lead to anarchy due to the nature of human hearts.
Pacifism is also unbiblical, because it does not take the whole counsel of Scripture. It does not separate a Christian’s private duties from his public duties, and the role of the State versus the role of the individual.
The Just War Theory

Just War Theory is the other dominant position held by many Christians. This position was first formulated by Augustine of Hippo and later refined by Thomas Aquinas. It is based on the following assumptions:

1. War is never good. But it is sometimes necessary.  Why? Because sin is an ever present reality that has to be dealt with  “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder” (James 4:1-2). At the forefront of much war and conflict is an idolatry that says, “I want more. I want what you have.” And so there are wars and rumors of wars. Much of it is rooted in human sin. Political parties and institutions are not evil in themselves. Evil is ultimately rooted in every human heart.   

 2. Necessary wars are to be conducted within the limits of justice.  The purpose of Just War Theory is to give us a common terminology, so that nations that wage war will operate within certain parameters that are just. As Christians, we need to be realistic, not naive. We need to get past the common white hat versus black hat assumptions about war. When it comes to war, there is rarely pure good versus pure bad. There are usually gray hats versus gray hats, with different shades of gray. We are all guilty sinners. The hope of Just War Theory is that by applying just principles we can be as righteous as one can be when it comes to waging war. 

3. Only governments, and not individuals, have the right under God to carry out retribution.  This rules out terrorists. They have no authority to do what they do.

 Within Just War Theory there is a seven-fold criteria.

  1. There must be a just cause. All aggression is condemned in Just War Theory. Participation in war must be prompted by a just cause or a defensive cause. No war of unprovoked aggression can ever be justified.
    Preemptive war can be legitimate in some circumstances, according to Just War Theory, if it is known that a grave act of aggression is imminent. If a government knows that their nation or another is about to become a victim, it can act to prevent the injustice before it takes place.

  2. Just intention. The war must have a right intention to secure a fair peace for all parties involved. One must have just motives for going into war.

  3. It is a last resort. Other means of resolution such as diplomacy and economic pressure must have been reasonably exhausted before war.

  4. Formal declaration. The war must be initiated with formal declaration by a properly constituted authority. Only governments can declare war, not individuals or militias or terrorist organizations—only governments.

  5. Limited objectives. Securing peace is the purpose and objective in going to war. War must be engaged in such a way that when peace is attained, hostilities cease.

  6. Proportionate means. Combatant forces of the opposition may not be subjected to greater harm than is necessary to secure victory and peace.

  7. Noncombatant immunity. Military forces must respect individuals and groups not participating in the conflict and must abstain from intentionally targeting or attacking them.

Conclusion

Based on my studies, a strict pacifist position is not only unreasonable, it is unbiblical. The presence of sin in the world means that is is sometimes regrettably necessary to use force in order to secure justice for the innocent and the helpless. However, when war is considered, its legitimacy must be carefully evaluated.

In doing so, Christians should remember that their ultimate allegiance is not to the State; it is to the commands of God. Unfortunately, history shows that individual Christians and churches have rarely stood up effectively against the State when the war is unjust. It is too easy for people to get caught up in patriotism. It is all too easy to buy into nationalistic interests. People are often so close to the situation that they cannot objectively judge the legitimacy of taking action against another nation. That failure was evident in Nazi Germany, where the Church became a lapdog to the State. Yes, there were those who stood against it in defiance, but most did not. The Church also failed in Constantine’s Rome.

Yes, there are times when war is just. We must be careful to step outside of nationalistic thinking and critique our nations so that we can be faithful to God, before our State, and then act according to our conscience.

Remember, God is sovereign. The nations rage, but God has established His King on Mount Zion. He has given Him an inheritance which is the whole world. And there will come a day when we will take our swords and craft them into plowshares. We will learn war no more. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Revelation's Daedalean Symbols


A daedalean symbol in literature is one in which the work, here Revelation, symbolizes something in a surprising and at first glance contradictory way. It involves a reversal of expectations.

These symbols often involve two statements, the first of which sets up certain expectations on the part of the reader and the second which reverses these expectations.

You can see them as a pair of two, seemingly contrary symbols that must be understood together to have a true picture of what is meant.

The best way to explain this is by looking at examples.

1. The lion that is a lamb



In Revelation 5, one of the twenty-four elders in heaven comes to John, who is weeping because no one can open the scroll that reveals God's will. The elder says:

"Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals" [Rev. 5:5].

This draws on symbolism from the book of Genesis where Israel's son Judah is described as a "young lion" (Genesis 49:9).

The added specification of "the Root of David" makes it clear that the elder is referring to Jesus, the Messiah, who was both from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David.

We are told that the lion "has conquered," enabling him to open the scroll.

Based on what John has been told, he (and the reader) could expect him to turn and see Jesus depicted in the form of a lion, a violent, deadly beast who "has conquered"—possibly with bloody claws and fangs.

But when he turns, John sees something very different:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth [Rev. 5:6].

Instead of a conquering lion, John sees a lamb that is "standing, as though it had been slain."

It is not a powerful, ravening predator with dripping claws and fangs but a weak, vulnerable prey animal that has been mortally wounded.

And yet it stands. This represents Jesus' resurrection (the Lamb stands) in spite of the fact that he was crucified ("had been slain").

Here we have a paradox--a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The Lion: The dangerous predator that conquers (overcomes its prey)
The Lamb: The vulnerable prey that is slain (overcome by its conquerors)

To fully understand this symbolism, we have to embrace both images.

It is true that Jesus is a Lion from the tribe of Judah. He has conquered.

But the way he has done these things is surprising and involves a reversal of expectations: He has conquered by assuming a position of vulnerability, by serving as the Lamb, and being slain--and raised again to stand despite this.

This is not the only symbol in Revelation of this type.


2. White Robes That Should Be Red




Later in Revelation, John sees a great multitude of people around God's Throne in heaven, who are wearing white robes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands [7:9].

Then one of the twenty-four elders comes to him and says:

"Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" [7:13].

John responds:

"Sir, you know."

And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [7:14].

Here there are definite expectations set up. We've been asked to envision a multitude of people from all nations in white robes. Then we are told the reason that their robes are white: "They have washed their robes and made them white."

How?

The ordinary expectation would be that they have been washed in water--the usual thing we wash garments in to make them clean and white again.

Water would even be an expected symbol, based on baptism.

But then our expectations are reversed when we are told that these robes were washed in blood!

What?

Washing a robe in blood would make it red, not white!

And so we we have a paradox--a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The robes that have been made white by washing
The blood of the Lamb that should have made them red rather than white

As before, we need to embrace both of these symbols in order to understand what Revelation means.

It is true that the saints "wear white robes"--their sins have been removed (forgiven) and they have done righteous deeds (cf. Rev. 19:8).

But the means by which these things are done (by which their robes are made white) is the shedding of Christ's blood on the Cross, by "the blood of the Lamb."


3. Whose Blood?




Another example of a paradoxical symbol in Revelation is found in chapter 19, where John sees one of the most intense sights in the entire book, when he sees Jesus on a white horse in heaven:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses [19:11, 13-14].

Here, once again, we have an interesting juxtaposition of blood and white linen.

We’ve already been given the key to why the followers of Jesus have white robes: They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

That likely tells us something about the blood in which Jesus’ own robe has been dipped.

Whose blood is it?

The expected thing, for a conqueror riding on a horse, would be that his robe has been stained by the blood of the enemies he has killed.

But in keeping with the paradoxical blood/white robe symbolism that has already been set up in the book, a different answer is suggested.

Jesus’ robe has been dipped in his own blood, not that of his slain enemies.

Indeed, thus far his enemies have not been slain . . .


4. The Sword That Is a Word




John’s description of Jesus isn’t finished, though. He then writes:

From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty [19:15].

This also is paradoxical. Conquerors normally don’t carry their swords in their mouths. They carry them in their hands (or, at least, in a scabbard strapped to their bodies).

But Jesus’ sword issues from his mouth. That tells us that it isn’t the usual kind of sword.

What is it?

Remember that John has already seen that Jesus is called by the name “The Word of God” (v. 13, above).

Back in Ephesians, St. Paul wrote:

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God [Eph. 6:17].

And in Hebrews, we read:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword [Heb. 4:12].

That suggests that Jesus’ sword, the sword of his mouth, is not a literal, physical sword at all.

It’s the word of God.

Jesus is even named “the Word of God” in this same passage (v. 13)!

St. Jerome notes:

We read in the Apocalypse of John . . . “Out of his mouth came forth a sharp two-edged sword.” . . .

It is a two-edged sword, namely, the word of his teachings. . . .

It is a two-edged sword that slays adversaries and at the same time defends his faithful [Homilies on the Psalms 59].

Again, we have two images that must be held together to understand the symbolism:

Jesus’ mouth—a mouth being something that his word would proceed from
The sword that proceeds from it—a sword being a means of conquest

The message is: Jesus doesn’t conquer through physical violence. He conquers through the word of God.


5. How the Battle Is Won




John then sees the battle between the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth who were gathered to make war on Jesus and his followers:

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army.

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image.

These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur.

And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh [19:19-21].

We have good reason to identify the beast of Revelation with the pagan Roman empire and, specifically, its emperors (see here and here), who persecuted and martyred Christians.

But they didn’t do this forever. The forces of pagan persecution were overcome, and the empire converted and became Christian.

The passage quoted immediately precedes the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints (20:1-6), which thinkers such as St. Augustine have identified as the present period, in which Christ and his saints reign in heaven and through the Church on earth.

Four Horsemen



How did that happen?

It was not through physical conquest.

It was through the preaching of the word of God—through the sword that issues from Jesus’ mouth.

It was also through the blood of the martyrs, who like Jesus suffered martyrdom that brought conversion to the empire.

And so we we have a paradox—a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The forces against God are destroyed by the sword
But the sword that destroys them is not material but is the word of God

Furthermore, the word of God is not intended to kill (though you will hurt yourself if you violate it) but to heal, to convert the enemies of Christ into his friends, if they will only cooperate and respond to his message.

The thoughts I have offered here are not, of course, the only way to look at the book of Revelation.

There are other ways, many of them!

But having an understanding of the daedalean symbols in the book and how they work can shed new light on otherwise perplexing passages.