Thursday, December 6, 2018

Social Justice in the New Testament

"No social program is given in Scripture for the institutional church in relation to civil society in general despite the grave social problems in the New Testament world. In fact, the New Testament barely mentions the social climate of its world at all. Slavery, a pernicious social ill in the Roman world, is never addressed as a structural evil to be eliminated by social "partnering" with evangelism or in any other specific manner. Jesus, Paul, nor any other writer called for the abolition of slavery . . . If the new evangelicals and others are right in their theory of societal activism, Paul's actions and counsel were either in error or the Apostle was unforgivably apathetic. If Paul today would denounce entrenched structural evil in the United Nations sessions and in corporate boardrooms across the world, as Carl Henry assumes he would, it is surely not asking too much for the great Apostle to have written even a few such lines in private correspondence to a Christian friend . . . Christian social involvement embraces the social responsibilities the church had toward its own people. The New Testament teaches the benevolence of the local church to its own members; it does not portray the church as the God-appointed watchdog over the social welfare of the world at large. The economic commonality of Acts 4:32-35 was of believers only and was not projected into civil society at large in fulfillment of some notion of a social mandate. In Acts 6:1-3 the local church developed a strategy to handle the social well-being of its own widows, not all of the widows in the wider area. The Christians in Antioch contributed to the relief of the famine-stricken believers in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). Romans 12:9-21 gives direction to believers in practical affairs, but there is no social directive except "contributing to the needs of the saints" (v. 13). Paul gathered money from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25, 27; 2 Cor 8-9). 1 Timothy 5:3-16 gives numerous instructions for the physical/financial support of the local church for its destitute widows, guidelines that demonstrate that the church's social program clearly was not intended for the greater civil community. James 2:15-16 involves a brother or a sister--a fellow believer--who is in need of food or clothing, and for whom mere platitudes are worthless gestures. James declares that the evidence of genuine, persevering faith is to "give them what is necessary for their body" (v. 16). In 1 John 3:17, the context is again limited to the saints and not the world at large; the material compassion is for the "brother" in need" (Rolland Mccune, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism, 261).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Wrath of God Is Revealed toward Evangelicals

As false teachers and cults worship false gods, they can only then distort the role of the image, which is ordered sexual activity via ordered gender relations. Right sexual activity and use of gender roles is the foundational means by which humans worship the true God and join Him in His creational work. Right relationship with the true God is right relationship to one another as gendered human beings and a right relationship to creation. When it comes to false religion, however, as Romans 1, 2 Peter 2, Jude, etc, indicate, these false gods and false Christianities beget false images who partake in disordered and chaotic sexual practices and confuse gender distinctions. The acceptance of contraception, egalitarianism, homosexuality, and now transgenderism is not what will bring the wrath of God upon professed American Christians. It is the wrath of God upon them, calling out that these do not belong to the true God.


The Imago Dei in Reformed Confessions

This is a nice summary of various Reformed confessions on the image of God.

Antichrist: Making the Devil's World a Better Place for Me and You

American Christians have always seemed to get caught up in culture wars. The binding of fundamentalists and evangelicals to political parties like the Republicans in the past, or the Younger Evangelicals to the Democrats later on, and now these Christians getting caught up in pc culture and social justice makes me wonder if Americanity, like a Chameleon, can't divorce itself from turning the color of its culture simply because it cannot distinguish the kingdom from the culture. If everyone is my neighbor, everyone an image of God, a child of God, in the brotherhood of man, then the culture is the kingdom to be straightened out by the Law that normally would function in its third use to straighten out Christians in the church and for the church. Preaching the gospel to the culture should be the goal of the church, not making culture look like the church without the gospel, i.e., without Christ. But, again, if the lines are made so fuzzy because Christ is not the only way to the Father (one has some positive relationship with God through those other means), then there simply can be no escape. "Christianity" will be continually syncretized with whatever cultural flavor of the month the societies in which it resides are devouring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Only God Can See a Miracle


Faith is submission. It is the complete surrender of the self. It sets aside the illusion of omniscience and bows to the reality of God’s. It believes what He says over its own interpretive traditions. In this regard, faith is seeing through God’s eyes rather than one’s own. It is when one looks through His eyes that he may see the world as it truly is, as well as all of the miracles to be found therein. 

For the naturalist, the world is natural. There are no miracles. What one thinks he sees is what is. He mocks the Christian for His professed belief in God who does not make Himself known to all through the extraordinary. He looks at the world and sees an absence of God because he looks through his own eyes. He is a blind man crying out that all who think color exists are fools, as he sees no color himself. He chides God to open his eyes or he will not believe that color exists. He laughs that this supposed God provides no evidence to prove Himself to him. In essence, he wishes God to submit to him. He demands God yield to him so that he may see color while blind. Yet, faith is the cure for blindness this blind man has rejected.

To justify himself, he will laugh at such claims. “These are the mere ad hoc arguments for God doing no miracles in the world,” he might say. “Christians see no more miracles than atheists,” he smirks. But he would be wrong. I have been a shepherd of God’s people for two and a half decades now, and I can tell you that I see miracles that are much more profound than those the atheist is demanding.
I understand why the atheist wants to see certain types of miracles. When I was a child I used to ask God to split water for me and move mountains at my command, as I mistakenly thought Jesus was saying in the Gospels. It never happened of course because that’s not the type of normative miracle that God does. He performs miracles at every moment, but He only allows those who see through the eyes of faith to see them.

The atheist, like a child, wishes to see God juggle mountains. If God displays such fireworks, he will believe. But miracles are not for the unbelieving, but for the believing. Juggling mountains may be a neat trick, but no one is created by it; and God is the Creator, not a clown.

I see miracles every day. In people who were once hostile to God and who’s flesh wanted nothing to do with conforming to His will now opening their Bibles in prayer, sacrificing their time and effort to come to the gathering of Christians, to meet with Him and learn His will. In those who are chaos becoming ordered in their thinking and life, willing now to let go of the poisonous things in which they found such security and comfort, exchanging their self-direction to be directed by Christ instead. From absolute rebellion to absolute submission, from complete darkness to light, these ordinary miracles are greater than the ones that children seek because, unlike neat tricks, they are the true magic that changes the mind and soul of something rather ugly into something beautiful. Miracles are everywhere, but the blind cannot see them, and that is the point. Only God can see a miracle, and only those who come to Him in faith, therefore, ever know when they have had the privilege of witnessing one.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Biblical Theology XLIII: 2 Corinthians


The Second Epistle to the Corinthians is an apologetic of Paul’s ministry against false teachers who have sought to undermine Paul’s teaching by attacking him personally. The false teachers are arguing that Paul is nothing one would expect in a blessed man of God, and thus, his teaching should be discarded. 

Theology: Paul argues against this through a series of examples that show that the human perception of what “things look like” do not often come to the truth of what things are. He begins by stating that the gospel itself is not something that those who are entrenched in reading the Law would have understood. They think the law is their means to salvation rather than their means to receiving the salvation of Christ. The gospel, Paul says, is veiled to them. They cannot understand what God has done because they hope in the things that are seen and not in the things that are unseen (Chapters 3-4). This theme that contrasts the things that are seen with the things that are unseen runs throughout the epistle. 

Paul will again use the example of our experience of death. To the human eye, it looks like this is the end of life, but Paul argues that, as Christians, we know that this is not true. We understand that life will be given again in the resurrection (Chapter 5). 

Christians should not be regarded according to earthly appearances, but rather according to whether they are new creations in Christ, having been reconciled to God. Christ Himself became a sin-offering for us, and He was saving us on the cross, reconciling the world to God (5:16-21), something that one might view as God having abandoned Christ as well. 

Paul also argues that Christians are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (6:14-7:1). They may have many commonalities between themselves on a superficial level, but what is unseen is that believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit and unbelievers are temples of idols/demons/Satan. 

The attack on his person continues as some argue that Paul only has a commanding presence in his writing, but not in person (10:9-11). Paul argues that this perceived weakness is due to his not wanting to bully them or puff himself up through boasting in himself, and has nothing to do with his lacking authority over them. 

He then argues that the false teachers themselves look like messengers of light, since the devil too disguises himself as an angel of light, but these perceptions are illusions (Chapter 11). 

Finally, he argues that his hardships (6:4-10) and illness (12:1-10) may look like he is not a teacher of God who has God’s favor, but in fact, he is a true apostle of Christ and teacher of God with God’s favor, and that the suffering he is given is due to God desiring His glory to be seen through Paul’s illness and hardships.

Ethics: Interwoven throughout the above argument are Paul’s pleas for the Corinthians to receive their teaching and love Paul and his companions as God’s ambassadors to them. The Corinthians evidently had withdrawn their support of Paul and to the other churches that believed Paul’s teachings. Paul argues that their love for them should be restored, and that the financial gift that was promised to them should also be made (Chapters 8-9).  

Second Corinthians is an important book because it contrasts what congregants may want in their church leaders versus what God desires them to look like. According to the claims of these false teachers, Paul is not someone to whom the Corinthians should listen because he is socially weak in that he has not visited them much nor does he have a commanding presence or speech when with them, he lives in constant rejection and hardship, and he is chronically ill. These are all signs to the false teachers that God has rejected him, and that he is a horrible example of a leader who should have everything together (health, financial stability, a commanding presence, good speaking skills, etc.). Paul makes a horrible politician and isn’t going to win any popularity contests. In a world that says it hates politicians, but in reality, wants them in their leaders, a true teacher like Paul looks nothing like what the church wants. This is the lesson of 2 Corinthians for the church. If it chooses poorly by choosing based on the things seen, i.e., superficially, it will end up being happy with the messengers of Satan who only look like messengers of light, supporting them and withdrawing their support for the true messengers of God. It must judge its leaders, not on the basis of their persona, i.e., whether they like them according to their human standards of “likeability,” but based on their faithfulness to the apostolic message concerning Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dividing Up the Law: The Bible Itself Makes the Distinction

It seems trendy today to argue that "they," apparently referring to the Jews, would not have divided up the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. It is surmised that the Bible never does it as well. Of course, this is a deceptive claim because what it really means is that the Bible doesn't use the words "moral," "civil," or "ceremonial," or that it does not divide up the law into parts. Actually, however, it does.

It is also odd to argue what the Jews would have done with the law, as Christ and the apostles obviously disagree with their view of the law, especially their emphasis on ritual law.

First, Jesus argues that there are "weightier matters of the law." In Matthew 23:23, He states:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”

Notice, in continuity with Jesus' distinction between moral and ceremonial law, Jesus implies that the act of tithing is less weighty than the activity of justice, mercy, and faith. The Torah "instruction" here likely refers to the Hebrew Bible as a whole. There are weightier matters and less weighty matters. Of course, tithing still takes care of people, i.e., the Levites, so it is still a good, and so are told that they should have done both, but, given the other things Jesus says about Pharisaical practice, it is likely being performed by them as a ceremonial practice.

The distinction yet again surfaces in Matthew between doing good and observing ceremony on the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:1-8 (also see Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5), the following exchange takes place.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

 The traditions of the elders that seek to apply cleanliness laws are pitted against the moral law in Matthew (15:1-9).

Likewise, in the clearest example possible, the food laws are pronounced null and void as opposed to the moral issues that truly defile a man (Matt 15:10-20). Mark records Jesus declaring that His statements here make all foods clean (7:19).

The civil law might be seen to be upheld in the Synoptics by the statement concerning paying taxes to Caesar, transitioning civil responsibilities to the state and away from the spiritual kingdom. 

This is all in the context of Christ proclaiming that He did not come to abolish the law, but to bring it to its fullest expression (Matt 5-7).

The Book of Acts argues that circumcision is not something that continues on into the church, nor any of the ritual laws that distinguish the nation of Israel from Gentiles, but what does continue on are the commands against false religion, represented by idolatrous practices (strangling and eating meat sacrificed to idols in worship festivals dedicated to them) and immorality represented by the prohibition against sexual immorality (Acts 15). Again, the ceremonial is discounted and the moral upheld.

Paul, in Galatians, pits circumcision and the doing of the whole law (especially cleanliness laws that would separate Jews from Gentiles) against the morality that comes from faith working through love and producing the moral law. Again, he looks to fulfilling the law, not doing away with it (Gal 5:14; also see Rom 13:8-10).

The author of Hebrews argues that Christ has fulfilled all of the sacrifices, festivals, etc., but then reminds the people that God will damn the sexually immoral and adulterers, to remember the doing of good, etc.

Romans, perhaps, has the best break up of the law, as Paul, after arguing that the church is Israel, now seeks to apply how the law might relate to those who are no longer seeking to be justified by it. He begins in Chapters 12 and 13 by arguing that the law of love as it expresses itself in morality toward one another is absolute. Then, in Chapter 13, he caveats that the civil law belongs to the state and not to the church. Hence, Christians should defer judgment of crime to it and pay taxes to support it. Finally, when commenting on the ceremonial portion of the law (i.e., foods, holy days, etc.), he states that these are a matter of conscience and what each believer wishes to partake in by faith. They are optional, but not a part of holiness (Chapters 14-15).

Whether we divide these up with the nomenclature is irrelevant. We're just debaiting semantics at that point. The fact of the matter is that Paul says Christians are to do X, when X refers to things that look moral, and to give Y to the state, when Y look like things that are civil, and to not judge one another over the preferences of Z, when Z refers to things that look ceremonial/ritual. What we call them is of no consequence to the argument that the New Testament, in fact, does divide up the law in this way. 

There are weightier matters of the law that reflect God's activity as Creator toward His people, and His people are to join Him in that activity, but there are other laws that reflect His activity through state, and yet, other laws that merely picture the holiness God desires of His people in their being loyal, exercising mercy, and doing justice. The new Israel worships the same God with the same moral principles, i.e., the same wine. It simply is not required to worship God with the same wineskins.