Friday, August 31, 2012

A Couple of Second Temple Texts Displaying that Sexual Immorality Is Not Merely "Sex Outside of Marriage"

The Damascus Document

 During all those years Belial shall be unleashed against Israel, as He spoke by the hand of Isaiah, son of Amoz, ' saying, Terror and the pit and the snare are upon you, inhabitant of the land (Isa. xxiv, 17). Interpreted, these are the three nets of Belial with which Levi son of Jacob said that he catches Israel by setting them up as three kinds of righteousness. The first is riches, the second is fornication [zenut, the word translated in the Greek as porneia], and the third is profanation of the Temple. Whoever escapes the first is caught in the second, and whoever saves himself from the second is caught in the third (Isa. xxiv, 18).
The builders of the wall (Ezek. 13:10) who have followed after ' Precept' - 'Precept' was a spouter of whom it is written, They shall surely spout (Mic. 2:6) - shall be caught in fornication [zenut] twice by taking a second wife while the first is alive, whereas the principle of creation is, Male and female created He them (Gen. 1:27). Also, those who entered the Ark went in two by two.
And concerning the prince it is written, He shall not multiply wives to himself (Deut. 17:17); but David had not read the sealed book of the Law which was in the ark (of the Covenant), for it was not opened in Israel from the death of Eleazar and Joshua, and the elders who worshiped Ashtoreth. It was hidden and (was not) revealed until the coming of Zadok. And the deeds of David rose up, except for the murder of Uriah, and God left them to him.
Moreover, they profane the Temple because they do not observe the distinction (between clean and unclean) in accordance with the Law, but lie with a woman who sees her bloody discharge.
And each man marries the daughter of his brother or sister, whereas Moses said, You shall not approach your mothers sister; she is your mother's near kin (Lev. 18:13). But although the laws against incest are written for men, they also apply to women. When, therefore, a brother's daughter uncovers the nakedness of her father's brother, she is (also his) near kin . . .

Notice first that the arguments made concerning sexual immorality appeal to two texts (Genesis 1, as it is also displayed in the Ark narrative and in the Deuteronomistic law code, and Leviticus 18). The New Testament use of porneia, in texts that give more to reference in their contexts also display an appeal to one or the other, if not both (cf. the decree of the Jerusalem Council that restricts Gentiles from practicing those thing prohibited in Leviticus 17 and 18, as well as Paul's coining of the word arsenokoites from the description of homosexuality in Leviticus 18, as well as his appeal to the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2 (1 Cor 5-6; 1 Tim 1:10). Hence, the NT is using this term in the same way that its STJ environment is using it.
Second to this, note that this refers to the marrying of a relative, not just sex with a relative outside of marriage. Lynn Cohick notes that the expansion of these laws to include uncle/niece pairs may present evidence of a direct critique of the Herodian family which had a large number of incestuous marriages among uncles and nieces (Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 207). The concept presented is the immoral use of the sexual act that nullifies the legitimacy of the marriage, not the marriage that sanctions the legitimacy of a sexual act. That's an important point, since many evangelicals perceive their sex acts to be sanctioned by the act of marriage. This leads to all sorts of distorted practices within marriage, not to mention the question as to why marriage cannot purify other forms of sex that are unproductive as well.

The Testament of Judah

And now, my children, in what things so ever I command you hearken to your father, and keep all my sayings to perform the ordinances of the Lord, and to obey the command of the Lord God.  And walk not after your lusts, nor in the thoughts of your imaginations in the haughtiness of your heart; and glory not in the works of the strength of youth, for this also is evil in the eyes of the Lord.  For since I also gloried that in wars the face of no woman of goodly form ever deceived me, and upbraided Reuben my brother concerning Bilhah, the wife of my father, the spirits of jealousy and of fornication [porneia] arrayed themselves within me, until I fell before Bathshua the Canaanite, and Tamar who was espoused to my sons.  And I said to my father-in-law, I will counsel with my father, and so will I take thy daughter.  And he showed me a boundless store of gold in his daughter’s behalf, for he was a king.  And he decked her with gold and pearls, and caused her to pour out wine for us at the feast in womanly beauty.  And the wine led my eyes astray, and pleasure blinded my heart; and I loved her, and I fell, and transgressed the commandment of the Lord and the commandment of my fathers, and I took her to wife.  And the Lord rewarded me according to the thought of my heart, insomuch that I had no joy in her children. 
And now, my children, be not drunk with wine; for wine turneth the mind away from the truth, and kindleth in it the passion of lust, and leadeth the eyes into error.  For the spirit of fornication [porneia] hath wine as a minister to give pleasures to the mind; for these two take away the power from a man.  For if a man drink wine to drunkenness, he disturbeth his mind with filthy thoughts to fornication, and exciteth his body to carnal union; and if the cause of the desire be present, he worketh the sin, and is not ashamed.  Such is wine, my children; for he who is drunken reverenceth no man.  For, lo, it made me also to err, so that I was not ashamed of the multitude in the city, because before the eyes of all I turned aside unto Tamar, and I worked a great sin, and I uncovered the covering of the shame of my sons.  After that I drank wine I reverenced not the commandment of God, and I took a woman of Canaan to wife. 

The term is used in this text to display that porneia can be committed within a marriage to an unbeliever or to a relative. Although Judah is not married to Tamar in the first instance, his reason for describing his sexual act with her as porneia is because he "uncovered the nakedness of his sons" (i.e., committed incest with them, as she was their wife, past and present through his youngest son who still lived and needed to fulfill the levirite duty to her). The deciding factor, therefore, is not whether a male and female are married, but whether their union intends to faithfully bring about a covenant child. In the mind of STJ, both of these unions threaten that goal. They are, therefore, classified as porneia, even though the individuals in the case of the unbelieving spouse, are male and female and are married.

Hence, the porn-root has a language family that has expanded from merely referring to prostitution to refer to any sexual activity, within or outside of marriage, that does not fulfill the goal of the creation mandate to fill up the earth with covenant children, which is the goal of God's creation in the display of His glorious victory over death and chaos.

"Thus the term [i.e., pornos] in the biblical tradition was understood generically of a man (the feminine porne designates the harlot) engaging in forbidden sexual conduct, alone or with others, whether married or unmarried" (Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, 87).

Since the term in STJ and the NT is based upon the logic of what is considered a good sexual act according to the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28, as it is displayed in the examples of sexual acts that would be prohibited by its observation, found in Leviticus 18, the term cannot merely refer to "sex outside of marriage," but instead, any sexual act, in which one purposely engages, that frustrates or hinders the goal of God's creational purposes in that union.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Is "Sexual Immorality" in the New Testament?

In the midst of our ongoing conversations about sexuality within evangelicalism, I think it's important to understand something that most evangelicals do not understand due to a heavily laid tradition concerning the concept of sexual immorality in the Bible.

Growing up in youth group and now the church, there is a constant misunderstanding of this term heard in Bible studies, sermons, books, etc., precisely, because I think that people have adopted a more recent use of the word in English contexts than they have actually studied the use of the word in the New Testament Second Temple context.

And that's the important point here. The New Testament is not using our modern context of the word as its referent, but it is using the language of its day. People need to understand that when an ancient author uses a word, it may refer to something identical to how we use it today, similar but not exactly how we use it today, or have nothing to do with how we use it today. So the language it uses gains its references from how the terms are used in that context, not how they are used in ours. And only by studying that context can we get a better understanding of the term.

The idea in our modern context, of course, is that the term refers to sex outside of marriage. Hence, one cannot commit sexual immorality within marriage. I think the modern definition is held out of convenience by evangelicals more than it has anything to do with exegesis; but it may be also due to the fact that the term often referred to prostitution that has brought the modern evangelical scholar to believe that it means "sex outside of marriage."

So what has complicated the matter is the fact that the term in secular culture at the time of the New Testament referred to prostitution ( whether heterosexual or homosexual). Hence, most evangelicals will appeal to these secular uses to justify the modern understanding of the word as "sex outside of marriage." However, it will become clear that the NT primarily refers to the type of sexual immorality found in Second Temple Judaism, which is an expanded meaning of the word. This doesn't mean that it does not retain the term's original use, but when it uses the particular term porneia, it most often refers to what Second Temple Judaism described as unproductive sexual acts, whether within or outside of marriage. In other words, whether one was married to the person with whom the sex act was being practiced had nothing to do with whether a sexual act was considered sexually immoral. The reason for this is found below.

The first thing we need to understand about Second Temple Judaism (STJ), from which the NT gains its idea of the concept, is how it viewed sexuality in its use of the term. STJ got its definition, of course, from two main texts within the Bible.

 The first text is Genesis 1:28. It believed that the sexual act was primarily (not solely) given by God to procreate human life within the context of a male-female relationship. Hence, the good use of sex was between a male and female who came together in order to bear the fruit of children (i.e., this is their role as the image of God: to be life-bearers). A purposeful engagement in a sexual act that was not in accordance with God's purpose with the reason His image bearers were to come together in sex was viewed as an immoral use of the sexual act (i.e., sexual immorality). Hence, what was sexually moral was that found in Genesis 1:28. What was sexually immoral was an act that was not of the nature of Genesis 1:28, but rather it's opposite (i.e., death/non-existence of human life rather than the producing of human life was the result of the sexually immoral act). Hence, the author gives examples of right (Adam and Eve having a son together with YHWH, the line of Seth described as "having other sons and daughters" as opposed to just one needed heir, God's reiteration of the creation mandate with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc.) and wrong (Ham's incest, the homosexuality of the men of Sodom, Onan's sin, etc.) uses of the sexual act throughout the book.

The second text that was used to display this, and is mainly the point of departure for the term porneia in many STJ texts, is Leviticus 18. The chapter is a closed pericope, a self-contained unit, that has a central theme throughout. And that theme has to do with the sexual act in terms of how it may negatively affect the lives of children. Engaging in a sexual act in disregard of the children who may have been produced by that act is viewed as an abomination to God for which the Israelites will be cut off from His people (i.e., as they have cut off their children in their sexual practices, they will not be considered His children either).

Hence, the first half of Leviticus 18 deals with incest, which is the engagement in sexual conduct that is threatening toward the life and well-being of the children who may have been produced through those acts. Incest can either create all sorts of deformations and miscarriages or it can create a hostile environment for the child (as was the case with Joseph and his brothers when two sisters were married). This emphasis becomes more explicit once the rest of the chapter is considered.

The second half of Leviticus describes what was considered sexual immorality in terms of children as well. Notice that the sin of adultery is mentioned here, but the prohibition is not about ownership issues, as it is in most texts dealing with adultery, but rather a command to refrain from giving semen that would produce offspring in one's neighbor's wife. Most English translations obscure this, but in Hebrew, it literally reads, "You are not to give your semen to plant seed/offspring into your neighbor's wife, becoming sexually corrupt/immoral with her" (v. 20). Whether the adulterous couple would often kill the child inside or outside the womb, or simply be put to death themselves if found out (and the child dies with the pregnant mother), such an act threatens the life of the child (and it certainly would threaten the covenant status of the child within a family if he survived).

Again, in vv. 22-23, we see two more acts that are incapable of producing the fruit of human life (i.e., they are incapable of fulfilling the role of the imago Dei to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the earth). They cannot obey the creation mandate in their sexual acts. Hence, they are viewed as abominations. These include homosexuality and bestiality.

But there are two instances here (aside from the incest laws where people are often married as well)  that tell us that this is something that has more to do with children than whether one is married. The reason for prohibiting homosexuality or bestiality should be obvious enough (i.e., they cannot fulfill the creation mandate, and yet, people purposely engage in them anyway); but the instances of not having sex with a woman in her menstrual period and sacrificing a child to a false god are prohibited for the same reason, yet one is often married in these instances. Hartley notes the close connection, and purposeful intention of the text to place this latter prohibition against sacrificing children in a group of sexual offenses, so it is not out of place (Leviticus 288). He thinks he had to do with all of the sexual offenses being connected to pagan rituals, but that is clearly not the context (what pagan ritual had you marry your mother or sister?). Instead, it is clear that the close tie the author seeks to make intersects at the aspect of procreation. Many pagans had children to sacrifice for a more prosperous life. Hence, they did not have them to raise in covenant with God, but to merely kill them in sacrifice when needed (think of Mesha who sacrifices his son on the city wall in order to stay the hand of Israel in war). Many did it for better crops, victory in war (think of Jephthah), etc. The point is that the act of coming together in marriage (note, this is most often a legitimate son or daughter) in order to have children to sacrifice rather than to raise in covenant with God is equally a sexually immoral act. In fact, the text says that such an act associates His Name with halal "a sexually corrupt act." Again, this sin has nothing to do with whether one is married. Hence, sexual immorality can be committed by married couples, and does not mean "sex outside of marriage" only.

The other example, as mentioned before, is that of having sex with a woman in her menstrual cycle. Although one can have a child during this period, it was understood to be more difficult and less probable, and so threatened the potency of the act (not to be graphic, but the blood may have been viewed as getting in the way of the semen mixing with whatever fluids they believed it had to mix with inside the woman). For this reason, God prohibits it as one of many examples that the Israelites were to remain holy in their sexual conduct, and seek to fulfill the good use of sex in procreation rather than the immoral use that engaged in sexual acts that were less likely to fulfill that creation mandate. Again, this is something that can be practiced in marriage by a married couple, and so when the term porneia refers to sexually immorality of the Leviticus 18 type, it does not merely refer to sex outside of marriage. Hence, that is not its definition.

Instead, the term that once seemed to be used exclusively of prostitution was expanded, precisely, because prostitutes were often used by men in Greek culture as alternatives to having children with their spouses. Prostitutes in Hellenistic culture often used various methods of preventing or aborting a pregnancy, or disposing of a child born from one her clients (infanticide via exposure was very common, since the prostitute would merely give birth to a child and then abandon it to die). Hence, prostitution in Greek culture came to be understood by the Second Temple Jewish Person as an unproductive sexual act, as that which is found in Leviticus 18.

Hence, when the term porneia was now used in STJ, it referred to more than just prostitution, but to any sexual activity where the act was not in accord with God's creative purposes to make a child and fulfill the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. The examples in Leviticus being only one part of many sins, both in and outside of marriage, that could qualify.

What I often ask my evangelical friends is whether pedophilia is wrong because it is outside of marriage, and then the individuals only need to get married, or because sex with a child cannot fulfill the creation mandate, and is therefore sexually immoral, an abomination worthy of death in the eyes of God? Even sexual acts with a young adolescent woman may be threatening toward the child (and the woman), and therefore, be considered a sexually immoral act between two people who were married.

Again, if marriage between opposite sexes is all that is needed, why can't men marry little girls? Apart from being reprehensible to our culture, we need something more in place to understand why it is absolutely, morally wrong rather than culturally taboo. The Greeks did not have a problem with pedophilia and thought it was an ideal way to receive sexual satisfaction without the repercussions of children. It was also viewed as a rite of passage for the child. There are some in the world today who organize with one another in an effort to try and make sexual love between adults and children legal. As long as it's between a male and female and within a monogamous marriage, what would be wrong with it, biblically speaking?

The same goes for homosexuality. Just saying that God made marriage to be between a man and a woman doesn't explain why He did it. I agree that we ought to obey whether we understand or not, but doesn't the above tell us why it's wrong? Doesn't the above also tell us why a host of other sexual sins within marriage are wrong?

You see, the reason why people like Mark Driscoll don't get it is because they have been trained within this evangelical culture that views sex within marriage as some free-for-all, but anyone practicing sex outside that covenant as committing sin. Hence, the married couple can never practice sexual immorality with one another. Because of this, all sorts of what the Bible would actually consider sexually immoral practices are not only allowed, but praised as being faithful to God's purposes with marriage.

The acts of sexual immorality are anticreational acts. They, like individual acts of murder, are acts that work toward reversing God's goal in creation to fill up the earth with human life. They don't accomplish the goal of reversing creation completely (or even get close to it) because God and His children are still at work in the world; but they are evil acts, abominations, in the sight of God nonetheless.

Notice, in Romans 1:26, we have Paul describe the judgment of God upon pagan cultures as a giving over that includes "their women exchanging natural functions in the sexual act with unnatural ones." This is usually viewed as lesbianism, but "their women" may refer to "their (masculine pronoun) wives." Hence, it refers, not to women with women, but men committing sexually immoral acts with their women/wives on the one hand, and those who commit sexually immoral acts with other men, in v. 27, on the other. This would set up a merism referring to all sorts of sexually immoral acts committed between humans, and it would be in line with Leviticus, which sees the dominant party in the sexual act (here it would be men) as the ones upon whom guilt is pronounced. In any case, whether one sees this or not, the point is that the term porneia in the New Testament does not merely refer to "sex outside of marriage," but to any anticreational sexual act that one purposely engages in.

So when the New Testament talks about sexual immorality (and its continual prohibition and consequences of being cut off from God's presence and people), it is important to understand to what that term is truly referring. It is not sex outside of marriage, but an immoral use of sex, regardless of whether the individuals involved are married. If this is true, then perhaps the sexual immorality that fills the average evangelical home today is a judgment of God upon it (perhaps for its idolatry per Romans 1). If so, we have a lot of work to do in repentance. I pray that reformation, rather than judgment, will come more quickly to us. O Lord God, let mercy come!

For more on this, you can read my The Christian Case Against Contraception, pp. 53-95 (although I really want to revise and expand what is said therein). Obviously, I can't get into everything in one blog post, but I've tried to talk about this throughout this blog, and you can see it in different places here. I hope that my book on Genesis will clarify much of these things for evangelicals, since I'm sure what I've written above is something completely foreign to their traditional thinking on this matter. May grace cover us all in the meantime.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Missions Trips

Dear Cousin,

     I wanted to write to you to let you know what a great and life changing experience I had on my recent missions trip. The people were so warm and friendly, and grateful I might add, since we were there to build them a new rec center. The food was delicious. I've never had so many different foods in one place. We were so stuffed. We saw so many of the countries tourist sites, places I'd never thought I would get to see. The culture and atmosphere were so stimulating. It was almost like being on vacation with a great bunch of people. Speaking of those people, my group was great. Everyone got along well, and we just had fun together, singing and dancing the night away. We got to pass out some gospel tracks after we put on a great show in the city square. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. I can't wait to go on my next mission. Thanks again for all of your prayers and support.

                                                                                            Yours in Christ,

Dear Cousin,

    I wanted to write to you to let you know how our mission trip went. God gave us great opportunity to preach the gospel, and allowed us to see a few saved. The majority of the people, however, were brutal to us. I myself was cursed at, hit, thrown in prison many times. There were also numerous attempts on my life, and one particular beating that brought me to the gates of death itself. We were many times cold and without food. We often encountered violent thugs in our travel from city to city. If the thugs didn't greet us on our way, the wild animals had us on the run instead. We were met with snarls in every place, and people just wanted us to leave. I admit, I just wanted to go home myself. People within our group often argued because of the hardships and some even split from us to the point where they began to slander us to the very people to whom we were trying to minister. It was a total nightmare. I never want to go on another missions trip again, but this isn't about me. It's about Christ and exalting Him in this world by proclaiming His awesome work to all He has marked out to hear it. So we will press on, even though I wish I could just settle down and live my life in peace and safety. I truly hate the mission field, but I love the mission. So at the sacrifice of myself, and for the sake of Christ and His beloved, I will endure this horrible thing called "missions." But I will tell you, this is anything but a vacation. Again, thank you for your prayers and support.

                                                                                                                   Yours in Christ,
Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ

The Juvenilization of the Church

How Would Have Our Postmodern Church Treated the Prophets?

Among the most neglected of biblical books, the minor prophets (and perhaps the prophets as a whole) should be ranked at the top. I truly believe that this is why our postmodern church has such a distorted view of God. It's ideas that negativity, wrath, judgment, etc. all tend to be bad things has produced a theology of God that is much like the theology of God's community in the Bible. Unfortunately, it's the theology of God's community that is under God's wrath and judgment, as it is not an accurate view of who He is. Because of this, I truly believe that the pomo church today would reject the messages of the prophets had the prophets lived in our day, or those within the pomo church had lived within the day of the prophets. We don't want to believe in a God of wrath and judgment that would send people to hell for sins. We don't even like to think of sin as evil atrocities committed against God, but as minor mistakes we make along life's journey that a grandfatherly figure we imagine to be God doesn't care much about. Hence, we dichotomize our relationship with God and repentance from sin as two separate issues in life. There is no need for repentance in order to have a relationship with God, so it's optional. Since it's optional, sin is not all that serious. Someone proclaiming judgment upon sin, then, is not to be taken all that seriously. But let's look at the messages of the prophets in order to see if what is said would really be all that palatable to the pomo church.

Isaiah declares that God is sick of Israel's worship and doesn't want them to bother offering things to Him if they're not going to repent of their sin. He declares that He will bring destruction and destitution upon the people for their evil.

Jeremiah proclaims that Judah will indeed suffer horribly and be sent into exile because God's wrath upon them has been filled up, and He is ready to cut them off from the land by the hand of the Babylonians. He proclaims this in the midst of numerous other "prophets" declaring that God is loving toward His people and would never bring such violence against them.

Ezekiel proclaims that God has indeed judged His people, and that His wrath is upon every wicked man who does not repent.

Daniel proclaims that the wicked will be completely overthrown, destroyed, and that their civilizations will perish.

Hosea reports that God rejects Israel as His people and continually likens them to an adulterous whore, that despite what Israel thinks, they do not have the truth, faithfulness to God, or knowledge of God. He further proclaims that the judgment applies to the priests and leaders as well. His wrath and harsh judgment is seen throughout.

"Woe to them, for they fled from Me;
destruction to them, for they rebelled against Me!
Though I want to redeem them,
they speak lies against Me." (7:13)

Joel prophecies that the day of the Lord (i.e., God's anger and swift judgment) has fallen upon His people. 

Blow the horn in Zion;
sound the alarm on My holy mountain!
Let all the residents of the land tremble,
for the Day of the Lord is coming;
in fact, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and dense overcast,
like the dawn spreading over the mountains . . . (2:1-2)

Amos proclaims judgment and destruction upon the king and Israel so much so that he is told by the priest at Bethel to stop preaching against God's people and to go back to his homeland to do something else. He also informs Jeroboam that Amos is stirring up trouble against him. Amos' response is to proclaim the destruction of God's people (Amos 7:10-17).

Obadiah proclaims God's wrath and judgment upon Edom. He declares, "You will be covered in shame and destroyed forever . . ." (1:10).

Jonah proclaims a judgment against Nineveh that indicates God's wrath is upon the city for its sin and He will therefore destroy it.

Micah preaches that Judah will be destroyed and its children exiled due to God's wrath upon their sin. The people are said to respond by saying, 
“Quit your preaching,” they preach.
“They should not preach these things;
shame will not overtake us.” (2:6)

God replies that they will certainly be destroyed even though the people want to hear about joy and comfort from God.

Get up and leave,
for this is not your place of rest,
because defilement brings destruction—
a grievous destruction!  If a man of wind comes
and invents lies: “I will preach to you about wine and beer,”
he would be just the preacher for this people! (v. 11)

Nahum proclaims the destruction of the great city of Nineveh by describing God as a God of jealousy and anger. 

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance
and is fierce in wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance against His foes;
He is furious with His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will never leave the guilty unpunished . . .
Who can withstand His indignation?
Who can endure His burning anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
even rocks are shattered before Him. (1:2-3a, 6)

Habakkuk calls upon God's wrath to be carried out upon the unjust. He proclaims judgment upon the wicked, and says of God, "You march across the earth with indignation;You trample down the nations in wrath" (3:12)

Zephaniah preaches that God will utterly destroy Judah for its compromise in pledging loyalty to both God and their human authorities who lead them into false views of Him and disobedience. 

I will completely sweep away everything
from the face of the earth —
this is the Lord’s declaration.

I will sweep away man and animal;
I will sweep away the birds of the sky
and the fish of the sea,
and the ruins along with the wicked.
I will cut off mankind
from the face of the earth.
This is the Lord’s declaration. (1:2-3)

Haggai prophesies against His people for not be concerned about what is sacred and belongs to God as much as they are about their own possessions and lives.

Zechariah proclaims that God's judgment and wrath was against Judah for its wickedness, and so He sent them into exile, but His wrath is now against its enemies. He states,

"For the idols speak falsehood,
and the diviners see illusions;
they relate empty dreams
and offer empty comfort.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
they suffer affliction because there is no shepherd.

My anger burns against the shepherds,so I will punish the leaders. (10:2-3a)

Malachi proclaims judgment against Judah for defrauding God in terms of what is due Him (tithes, covenant children, religious leaders who sanctify themselves, etc.).

All of the prophets speak God's judgment as a warning that God isn't playing around with sin and rebellion. He seeks the repentance of people everywhere. The warning itself is meant to be a catalyst for salvation. It provides the means through which one can wake up from the slumber of sin and be restored to God. It also provides comfort to the people of God that their destroyers will be destroyed. In other words, these judgments and proclamations of God's wrath are intended to be rebukes that bring about repentance, which in turn, brings redemption. But they are almost never perceived as such by the prophet's contemporaries. In fact, it always seems as though it is the generation that comes after the judgment has taken place that finally "gets it," simply because the reality of the destruction that has occurred forces them to receive the prophet as a genuine prophet, and to therefore, receive his rebuke. But the prophets are almost always rejected by their own generation. Even the Lord Jesus said that "a prophet is not welcome in his own home"; and that it was the very people of God, the ones who should have recognized God as a God of wrath and judgment, who repays evil with destruction, who persecute the prophets for saying negative and judgmental things toward God's people. 

There are many examples outside of the prophetic books that display this unwillingness by those who claim to be of God to acknowledge that God is impartial and is indeed a God of wrath when it comes to sin. Even the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament are not heeded in their time. Elijah is called a troublemaker for calling upon God's judgment for Ahab's sins. Moses is both ignored and rebuked for speaking judgment on Israel in the wilderness. Elisha is mocked as a fool rather than honored as a wise man sent from God. 

So, in asking how our pomo generation would receive the prophets, we need only to look at how they receive the doctrine that God is a God of wrath and judgment when it comes to sin. In doing so, I'm afraid that many within our generation are simply repeating the pattern of their unbelieving ancestors, who once thought that God was not like that, or that they were somehow immune from His judgments because they had some special understanding with God that allowed them to continue in unrepentant sin and self worship. I'm afraid that those who reject preachers of God's judgment and wrath upon sin today are but echoes of those who have perished in the past. They speak well of men who tickle their ears with pleasant things that can neither teach them about the just nature of God nor aid them in turning to God for redemption (as the Lord Jesus said, "so they treated the false prophets in the same way"); but they speak ill of those today who would proclaim His righteous wrath and judgment upon sin and self worship (and so the Lord proclaimed, "so their fathers used to treat the prophets in the same way"). 

In any case, it should be clear to all who know the Bible, that if your God is not the God of the prophets, then he is not the God of the Lord Jesus who vindicates the prophets, and he is therefore, not the God of the Bible (Old or New Testament) either.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Twilight of the Damned: The Ultimate Peril of Being Unequally Yoked

The "Twilight" books/movies, for teenagers, work to present an argument, like all venues of entertainment, that the morals and thoughts within are normative, i.e., they are the normal or best path to follow in life. There is a scene where the leading character, Bella, states that she would rather choose to be damned in hell in order to love Edward for a temporal time than to choose heaven and a temporal lifetime without him. What the movie should really show is Bella in hell a million years later and have another person ask her if it was worth it. Teenagers can be overly dramatic and lose sight of reality. They tend to have to experience the consequences of stupidity for themselves, so of course, one can make any statement such as the above in an exaggerated display of emotion; but in reality, no temporal relationship is worth losing the ultimate relationship for and toward which our very being has been crafted. And it certainly isn't worth an eternity in hell. Someone should slap that girl upside the head and say, "What are you, an idiot? Why would you trade temporary counterfeit of joy with some creature for an eternal relationship with God who is true joy Himself?" Unfortunately, the smartest of people can be duped into trading jewels that are eternally valuable for temporary costume jewelry. So many choose to trade their joy in a relationship with God for the false pleasure of temporary relationships.

I remember in youth group we played a game where one person stood on a chair and the other person stood below. The person below would try to pull the other down and the person on the chair would attempt to pull the other person up. It always, without exception, ended with the person below pulling the other person down. This was meant as an allegory to teach us that when you bind yourself to someone who is forever descending into the deceptive abyss of the world's system, that person will likely pull you down with them, rather than you who are ascending to the things above being the one who pulls them up.

I was reminded by this by a friend of mine who just finished a study on 1 Kings, specifically giving his last thoughts on the life of Solomon. You can read his comments here:

Solomon is used in Scripture as a primary example of this idea above, simply because, of all of the people who could have been savvy enough to have resisted such influence, he fell to it just the same. His unbelieving wives who wanted to imagine the divine differently than the orthodox Yahwism that God had revealed as the correct path to Himself, eventually turned Solomon's mind away from the true God, and he became a worshiper of other gods.

Samson, another example of this, is the strongest man who ever lived; yet he too fell due to his rejection of his covenant of God by pursuing unbelieving women. Examples are given in Esau, the Israelite who was killed for bringing a Midianite unbeliever to his family for marriage, Ahab, etc. The point is that the smartest man, the strongest man, and everyone in between will be pulled to the deception of their unbelieving spouse, simply because the promise made to God has been broken, and they are now without His help to withstand, and indeed, even may be given over by God to, the schemes of the devil and the world that was already working against them.

Now, you may not think there is any threat to a modern believer, since we are not surrounded by shrines and erected statues everywhere. However, the point isn't that every unbeliever will drag you down to worship Baal; but that he or she will pull you, just by virtue of their own worship, to whatever form of false religion/belief system is prevalent within your particular society.

I've seen it a million times. The believer arrogantly thinks that he is so far above being influenced in such a way that he assumes that he is invincible enough to date or marry whomever he wishes, believer or not. I knew a man married to a Mormon woman once, who seemed very strong in the faith; but the strain of the pull toward that direction eventually led him to attend LDS meetings with her, and eventually, his faith became nominal at best. Another friend of mine was equally strong, but his wife was not a believer. He constantly shared his life as a struggle between two worldviews that battled it out for what would be their daily routine and manner of parenting. Eventually, she won out. He stopped attending the church and was carried away by the tide. I can say the same for many, many women I knew as well. The justification of compromise to marry someone who is either nominally a Christian or not at all is not a small compromise, but a game changer altogether. The Scripture presents it as a denial of Christ, a giving up on the faith. The drifting away from the love of Christ is but the flower of that seed. In our culture, it manifests itself in false Christianities, false religions, agnosticism, atheism, etc. Whatever the worldview and religious or philosophical leaning of the unbelieving spouse might be, that is the direction in which the supposed believer is pulled to his or her own destruction.

Marry an atheist and you will become more atheistic. Marry an agnostic and you will become more agnostic. The two become one flesh and they tend also, therefore, to become one mind as well, since rebellion and a rejection of the faith on the part of the "believer" has already been made. The idea that he or she will not compromise his or her faith once in the relationship is a joke, since the biggest compromise of all has already been made in order to enter that relationship in the first place.

Let the fool become wise by taking note of Solomon's strength to uncover folly, yet his inability to stay the hand of apostasy to which the original rejection of his covenant with God, broken in order to marry an unbeliever, inevitably led to his becoming a complete fool when it came to the most important task any man could ever have in life.

I have seen many a fool justify his decision to date or marry an unbeliever, and it is alway because he scoffs at or ignores, to his own peril, the explicit warnings and examples the Scripture gives to him. Not many souls lay slain by the devil on the battlefield of life through a more powerful weapon than the justifications of a believer that allow him or her to enter into a relationship with a person who, simply by virtue of the influence or his or her worldview as it expresses itself in life and thought, will influence his or her spouse to eventually think like him or her. Since one continually seeks approval by his or her spouse more than any other human, the pull to capitulate and compromise further and further in an effort to be acceptable will eventually erode any remnant of the faith in the truth that may have been held once. If one does not seek acceptance, the mere daily observation of his or her spouse's worldview in thought and practice will convey a certain normativity to that worldview, so that it becomes more palatable and acceptable as truth to the believer who once viewed it as reprehensible.

We weep for Solomon because he was given so much to choose a true, loving relationship with God in the paradise of the palace, but instead he chose exile from God and destruction. How much more should we weep for those who have seen the love of God displayed upon the cross, and yet, have traded their true joy for hell in order to gain a moment of false pleasure?

Maybe viewing unbelievers as vampires is a good analogy afterall. They suck the eternal life right out of you. Choosing that over God who gives and fills with life can only mean that one has never understood what he or she has been given in Christ, and thus the counterfeit life is sought as the real deal. But happily ever after endings in vampire romances are for fictional novels and movies. Their real end is anything but happy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Prayer and Sanctification

This short interview with J. I. Packer is an interesting one. He notes the need we have for God to show us our sin and give us a love for Him that is above the love we have for Self that looks to express its rebellion in various ways. What is interesting is his analogy with the weed that grows underground. I thought it was interesting in that it rings true that when we deal with one expression of our sin, another pops up in its place, simply because sin is ever expressing itself in new ways. Yet, instead of giving up and becoming hopeless in ever conquering our sin, what this really does is bring out more and more of the root, as God pulls away at it. In other words, God sanctifies us precisely by letting sin manifest itself in different ways, lest we think that merely pulling out or chopping off a couple of leaves of the weed is sufficient, and be left with an almost completely rebellious Self. Instead, little by little, God teaches us to conquer sin, and then He moves on to conquer other expressions of sin in us. By this, He grows us up into spiritual maturity and slowly kills the Self that has usurped His throne in our hearts. But without the Word of God and prayer that would make our sins and the love of God for us known, this process never occurs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why the Media Needs the Westboro Baptist Cult in Its "Argument" against the Real Church

They carry to rallies those big signs that use offensive names for homosexuals. They protest funerals of fallen soldiers who died defending this country (even though it is a good creational act for a soldier to do). They're pretty much made up of a single family. And they are a cult.

If you notice, I called them a "cult," because I don't identify them as a legitimate church; but what is the media's fascination with these people? Why are they so front and center when it comes to the homosexual debate? Do you want to know why? Because the media needs to present them as the "other side." It doesn't have the vast majority of the church to use as an example of extreme hatred, because frankly, the vast majority of the church that makes up the true "other side" isn't hateful toward homosexuals. They tend to love them, as they do most sinners, and want to see them acknowledge the truth that would restore them to God.

But that doesn't work for the narrative the media wants to present as the church's position. It needs this fundamentalist cult to say to all people, "See this group? That's what you are if you oppose homosexuality." Of course, these people wouldn't want to be within ten feet of a homosexual without cursing at them, whereas 99.99% of the rest of the church would welcome anyone to come hang out with them.

I used to work with an almost completely homosexual staff at a hotel when I went to Trinity. I invited two to my wedding and they came. Did anyone yell slurs at them? Nope. Did anyone mistreat them or make them feel like they were worse than anyone else? Nope. Did I not want them there? I invited them in the hope that they would come, didn't I? And it wasn't to make a statement. I genuinely cared for them and knew the gospel would be presented at my wedding (even though they had heard it from us before), and I wanted them to hear it again.

What I would submit to you is this: that there is so little of the hatred that the media wants to present as representative of the Christian Church toward homosexuals that it has to focus in on the extremely few who are hateful in order to maintain that narrative. In fact, it seems that some homosexuals and homosexual groups need to fabricate hatred in order to present the other side as hateful, simply because there are so few genuinely hateful attacks they can emphasize. Case in point, this recent alleged attack that was well reported throughout the media:

Now, I'm not saying there aren't truly hateful people in the world, and that there are not genuine cases where people hurt someone precisely because they are homosexual; but that is true if people have big noses, wear Kmart jeans (at least it was in my day), or are overweight. Bullies are cruel because they want to be cruel. Their views of particular behaviors and characteristics have little to do with it. It has more to do with the fact that they are thugs looking for victims of any sort.

My point is that the reason why you have these fabrications or elevations of these tiny cults in the first place is because the larger body of those who oppose the thinking that homosexuality is morally acceptable actually care about people, regardless of their sin. If anything, this type of presentation that marginalizes such a massive amount of people has a greater chance of creating animosity between the two groups far more than there ever was before. An example of this might be the whole Chic-Fil-A mess, where the media got people so up in arms over a pretty mild statement reflecting the view held by Christians for the past 2,000 years, that it, no doubt, incited violence.

Here's the thing I want to say to the media: If you can't allow a calm discussion of the issues, but need to break the eighth commandment in order to "win," then maybe your position isn't really that strong. Maybe you're trying to win by force of power that drowns out the voice of all those who would oppose it? Maybe you want violence, because logical argument would expose too many flaws in your worldview? In any case, you do nothing but make it painfully obvious that the vast majority of the church, who opposes the legitimazation of homosexuality, is too loving and logical to allow them to represent their own position. You need the Westboro cult that doesn't represent anything close to Christianity to fill in as representatives in order to meet the requirements of a fabricated narrative that tells homosexuals that the reason why the Church opposes their sin is because it hates them.

So it's a race then. We who speak truth with love as our motivation must beat you to the punch. The sheer amount of our numbers ought to give us the upperhand, as we seek to display our love for homosexuals in calling them to be restored to God through Christ. We'll use the gospel of Christ that calls men to repentance, logical argumentation, and love to make our case. We'll see you at the finish line, and unlike you, we won't have to cheat to win.

Is the Reformed Church a "Debbie Downer"?: Thoughts on Truth, Blogging, and Church Discipline

One of my favorite SNL skits of all time is "Debbie Downer." It's hilarious to watch the actors try to make it through the skit without breaking into laughter themselves. That's because the amount of negativity is so over the top obnoxious that it becomes a riot. For those who have never seen it, Debbie is one of those people who always brings up some tragedy. Everyone else is having a good time, but Debbie manages to bring them down with some negative news. I think this is largey the way Reformed Christians are perceived today. I know that I am perceived this way. But if I may, let me share some of my heart here, and perhaps, you'll see the heart of other Reformed folks as well. As we always seem to be blamed for emphasizing the negative, let me tell you why that is by discussing the nature of the Church's duty in judging Christians (yes, it is to judge Christians, in case you were thinking that Christians are not to judge other Christians: "It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning" [1 Cor 5:12 NLT]).

According to Matthew 18, there is really only one reason for the church to exercise church discipline and shun a so-called brother, who is not acting like a Christian. It is the most serious of sins. In fact, it is the root of all other sin. This is the sin of rebellion, a disregard for the authority and fear of God, so as to not fear His Word and His Church that proclaims it. In other words, it is really idolatry of the Self, a lifting up of oneself and one's desires, above the will of God as it is expressed in His Word and through His Church that faithfully adminsters that Word.

The Church rebukes for all false teaching and sin, but this is a desire to restore the individual who is considered a brother or sister in Christ. If there is genuine repentance, there is no need to exercise church discipline, simply because there is no rebellion there. The person has submitted him or herself to God's authorities. He or she has humbled him or herself in the sight of the Lord. Hence, he or she shall be exalted as a Christian, not shun as an unbeliever and an apostate. Holiness, forgiveness and redemption is our goal.

The holiness of the church is the primary goal for correcting someone in sin. Hence, it is the primary goal for exercising church discipline when one does not humble him or herself before God's authorities. Bad company corrupts good morals, as the Scripture says, so rebellion in one's theology and ethics is an attack upon the church. This is why heretics (i.e., those who divide) are those who depart from the truth and thus split the unity we have therein, not those who seek to restore all to the truth through argument.

The second goal, however, is to save the individual from himself, from the devil, from damnation. So if he repents, we accept him as a brother in Christ. There is no more need for one to institute church discipline. What is often called "church discipline" when someone seeks to restore someone who has repented by getting involved more in his life through accountability is called "discipleship," not "church discipline." No one who has humbled himself to ask forgiveness should be placed under church discipline. No one who acknowledges his sin and seeks to overcome it should be placed under church discipline. Church discipline is for those who rebel and refuse to repent of their sin(s).

This becomes important for anyone who reads this blog, as one might get the impression that I would just shun everyone who falls short of what I say here. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have great compassion upon people who struggle with sin, as I am one of those people (last time I checked everyone on the planet is one of those people). I also have great affection for those who humble themselves before God and admit the evil of their sin and need of restoration. In fact, such an obvious indication of the Spirit of God endears that person more to me than one who I have never seen believe something false or commit a sin in front of me. An arrogant man can look perfect, but a man who admits his sin and makes way for the Word of God to be exalted above him is a miracle of God standing before you. There is just something special about that.

All of this is important to me, precisely because this is where my heart is when I argue for what is right and true. We cannot correct and bring repentance about if we distort what is true and good. We cannot be restored to God. We perish without correction and without love for the true and the good. As I said before, how will one know in which direction God wishes him to go if we do not stand up for what is true and right and make it the standard in the Church of God? Anyone can make rebellious people feel better about themselves and the "church" by conforming godliness to accommodate their sin; but it takes the Spirit of God to cause one to love His Church for the very rebuking and correction that seeks his repentance and restoration to God and His people.

Let no one, therefore, misread me. I'm not here to simply decry the sins of everyone else. I'm not here to complain. I care about your relationships with God and each other in what is true and good. I care about rebellion against the truth and humility toward it. When I speak of distortions of the Trinity, false gospels, abortion, homosexuality, etc., I have no condemnation for the person who has committed or is struggling with these things. He has only my sympathy and any support he may need from me. I take issue with the rebellious man who justifies the drinking of the poison of rebellion toward God's Word and Church, and attempts to get others to drink it as well. I have no issue with those who do not believe aright concerning the gospel, Christ, and God. No man is born in Christ with complete knowledge of the truth, but grows into it as he humbles himself to Christ's Church; but I take issue with those who would exalt their own experiences and opinions above God's proclaimed Word, as they are introducing the deadliest of cancers that steals life away from others and from themselves. If the way we are saved is through Christ's Lordship over us, then rebellion is the path to damnation. It reflects the primary love of one's life as being the Self, rather than God. It is idolatrous to the core, and a complete rejection of Christ as Lord. Hence, one cannot be a Christian if he persists in rebellion. Thus, the need to push him out of the community for the sake of others who might be deceived into thinking that one can be a Christian and be rebellious and for the sake of himself, if he is to be saved through tough love. In contrast to this, humility and submission to Christ as our Lord is displayed, as Christ said Himself, by accepting His Word and His Church to rebuke, correct, reprove, admonish us in the truth. But if we do not know what is true, we cannot be corrected by it. If there is one single, dominant reason why I do the minstry I do, it is that God might be glorified first in being exalted above our lies and that through this, those who are destroyed for lack of knowledge will no longer be without what they need for redemption.

So what I attempt to do is what the historic Christian Church has always done and is doing now by correcting what is false: seeking to save that which is lost. Is that not the work of Christ in us? Is that not more important than preaching positive thinking and talking about having joy among those who really need to repent and be restored instead. Let's talk about joy in the Lord as the result of one's repentance. Let's talk about it as our goal in pleasing Him and enjoying being in His pleasure. Absolutely. But let's not dichotomize it as though joy and the continual battle to keep the devil from gaining a foothold in the church and in a person's life are at odds with one another. They both need one another, as no joy will be experienced without repentance, and no repentance will come about without rebuke (how will they hear without a preacher?), and rebuke cannot take place if what is false keeps muddying the waters. So redemption needs all of this, but we must start with knowing the truth; and that largely means we need to start with smacking down falsehoods that seek to lift themselves up as true above what God has revealed.

It is the very act of rebuking and correcting that is an act that seeks the joy of redemption and restoration in Christ. It is not an act of simply being negative to be negative about something. It is not an act of self righteousness, as all have sinned and lack the glory of God. It is not an act of judgmentalism, where we get joy from showing others to be false. It is first and foremost an act of love that seeks to bring everyone back into the eternal joy and fellowship of God and His people in Christ. So rejoice if you are in the truth, but know that without your rebuke others cannot partake of your rejoicing; and that knowledge ought to make you love the church that disciplines, as a grown son loves his father for disciplining him out of love, and repudiate the "church" that does not. It may make us negative toward what is passing away and toward what damns souls, but it is done because we are so much more positive about the joy and life forgiveness through repentance brings in Christ.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great perseverence and instruction. (2 Tim 4:1-2)

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb 12:11)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (2 Cor 10:3-6)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Don't Want to Believe that God Has Spoken with Clarity about the Truth and Good He Desires All Men to Obey? You're in Good Company

... then I learned that all moral judgments are "value judgments," that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either "right" or "wrong." I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments.
Believe it or not, I figured out what apparently the Chief Justice couldn't
figure out for himself -- that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero,
multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any "reason" to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring --the strength of character -- to throw off its shackles....

... I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become
truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable "value judgment" that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these "others"? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog's life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as "moral" or "good" and others as "immoral" or "bad"?

In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no
comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I
anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my
education has led me -- after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.

Ted Bundy (spoken to one of his surviving victims)

Emerging Caricatures of Orthodox Christianity

Above all caricatures emergings make concerning the church it's the one that says, "You're not allowed to ask questions there," that really makes me think of the person who says this as a liar. I've attended more churches that I can remember, and every single one of them is nothing but discussing question after question. There is no end to asking questions and discussing issues. So it's an absolute lie to phrase it this way.

Instead, what they really mean is that these orthodox churches don't allow them to pursue and espouse heresy and false teaching as the answer to those questions. Well, duh, of course not. If I were a doctor, we can discuss medicine all you want, but I'm not going to say that your eating dirt as a solution to cancer is valid. Sorry. Likewise, churches shouldn't just make you think every solution is valid, even when it goes against God's Word and the orthodoxy into which He has led His people throughout the years.

And that's just it. Emergings want to be validated, regardless of what they believe. That's what they mean by "being able to ask questions." It really means that they want to believe whatever they want to believe, and they want the church to shun its role in dealing with things that the church has been set in place by Christ to deal with. They want the church to give up on the certainty of truth, so that they can believe heresy and take part anyway. They want a church that validates subjective experience over external authorities, such as the Bible and the Church. In essence, they want a Christianity that conforms to postmodernity rather than a postmodernity that conforms to Christianity. They want to play the serpent's role and be forever skeptics, saying to all things they don't like, "Did God really say . . ."

There is a time for questions (our asking) and a time for answers (we should be asking God through His Word and Church that can give us answers). The pomo church just wants to live in questions because a world of no answers means a world to believe and do as you see fit. It is a world of no lords but the Self, and as such, it is the opposite of orthodox Christianity. So, of course, those forever damned to questions without answers will never find solace in the historic, orthodox Christian Church of God, because love answers, rather than ignores, its children. But this doesn't mean one can't ask questions. This is just a way to present the Church as unthinking and close-minded when, in fact, I've been in emerging circles where you can't bring up numerous questions of what they're doing without being berated with insult and disdain. I think this is a case of liberals who like the idea of tolerance, but don't see that they're the greatest offenders in not giving it. In other words, it's simply the pot calling the kettle black.

But the lovers of Self, who want to preserve the Self by muddying the waters with questions seeking no answers, or what are really dogmatic assertions of heresy in the form of questions, simply want their own religion, not the one provided to them by God through Christ and His apostles. Well, so be it; but why attempt to take over Christianity? Is it because Christianity has the greatest explanatory power and they want to be seen as intellectuals? Is it because Christianity is seen as the greatest threat to pluralism and they want to take it down from the inside out? Or have they been deceived into thinking theirs is the more enlightened way and all of God's people in the past have been mistaken? Whatever the case may be, the continual asking of questions and being skeptical that one can come to a certain position of truth allows one to fall back on the Self and one's own experience (i.e., their journey) to discover truth apart from an external authority, such as Scripture or the Church, to tell them what is true. If that's true, why even go to church to discuss ideas at all? The asking of questions in every church I have been in exists because people are seeking answers to those questions. As Luther once said to Erasmus, "How shall I know what to do if I do not know what to believe?" That's a paraphrase of course. But the idea of a question is that one is seeking an answer, and that's what all real believers do, because God is truth and they seek to love and worship the true God rightly. They want to love one another rightly. They believe that if they ask God for the Spirit of Truth that He will give Him to them, as a child who asks his father for a fish knows he will not receive a snake instead. Any other kind of questioning is but the hymn to the preservation of the Self, not a song of love for God and others.

Hence, there are people described in our midst as those who are interested in spirituality, have an appearance of godliness, but deny the power thereof (1 Tim 3:5). They are self-seekers, not God-seekers. They want to explore what they think, not what God has said. And as such they are described as those who are "always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" (v. 7). As Paul says, "Avoid such men as these" (v. 5)

Friday, August 17, 2012

An Extremely Unconvincing Graphic Concerning Homosexuality

I've been wanting to comment on this graphic that has been making its rounds on FB. Others have already addressed it, but I thought I would just add my two cents as well.

1.  "Jesus Never Uttered a Word about Same Sex Relationships."

       I’ve dealt with this odd argument before. Jesus' teaching is directed to the Jewish community, which already believes it's a sin. His purpose is to point out where they were neglecting the Word of God, not where the Gentiles were neglecting it. He never addresses pedophilia either. That's because it was viewed as a Gentile evil. He was sent to the house of Israel first, so he takes on their sin, not the sins of others. His apostles will be sent to the Gentiles, and it is there that we see the condemnation of what God had condemned already in the Old Testament. But Jesus, in fact, did condemn homosexual activity, as I've argued before.
        Let me just summarize: (a) Jesus is YHWH God who said in Leviticus 18:18 that homosexuality is an abomination to Him (not just to the Israelite people), and hence, if a man has sex with another man, they are to be cut off from the people; (b) Jesus taught that God’s will is for one man and one woman to be married for life; (c) Jesus taught that sexual immorality, which is a term in Second Temple Judaism of the unproductive sexual acts described in the Holiness Code found in Leviticus 18, is evil; Jesus affirms that the Old Testament is the word of God, that not even the smallest jot or tittle of the moral law is to be set aside, and that the Scripture cannot be broken; (d) Jesus stated that the one who rejects the word of His apostles who come after Him, rejects Him as well, since their teachings are one and the same as His teachings, as they are given to the apostles by the Holy Spirit; and it is the Holy Spirit, who is also called the Spirit of/from Christ, who inspires all of the teaching of the New Testament; and finally, (e) the creation principle that is the foundation for all of biblical ethics/good is taught everywhere by Jesus throughout the Gospels and beyond. Hence, Jesus taught against homosexuality everywhere.

2.     "The OT says it's sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork. Should we still live by OT laws?" 

          I’ve also discussed this before as well. The ritual code is attempting to teach something about the holiness and defilement of sins found in the moral code (i.e., such as the morals found within the Holiness Code in Leviticus 18). Hence, they function as pictures of what holiness looks like, i.e., staying away from things that are disgusting to the Israelites functions as day to day lessons that God’s people are to stay away from what is spiritually disgusting to God. Hence, shellfish is disgusting to the Israelites, not to God. Homosexuality and sexual conduct that is unproductive (i.e., it doesn’t work with God, but rather against Him, in His creation purposes to create human life) is not an abomination to the people, but to God. Hence, those who practice such are to be cut off from His people (i.e., rejected as false believers/members of God’s community).

Hence, the Holiness Code also tells us that adultery is wrong, sacrificing children is wrong, incest, and bestiality is wrong. Likewise, Leviticus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Should we not live by these because God used living pictures to teach His people about their importance in having a relationship with a Holy God? It would seem absurd to suggest that we shouldn’t.

3.       "The original language of the NT acutally refers to prostitution, molestation or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships."

          Um, yeah, no, it doesn't. This is utter nonsense. It’s what happens when you have either people who don’t know Greek or who have basic Greek skills without the understanding of how language works. I harp on bad lexicography all the time, and this is a major example of bad lexicography.  The terms refer to both partners in the homosexual act, not to a specific relationship in which that act may occur. That’s because it is not a specific relationship (e.g., being promiscuous, prostitution, etc.) that is being condemned, but the unproductive sexual act that may exist in any relationship between two males.  To say anything other than this is to attempt an illegitimate totality transference, where the entire contextual referents of foreign contexts are imported into the New Testament context that is absent of them. This is like my saying the following: “The electrician is coming today. The man will be here at 2pm.” And then seeing that “man” in this context refers to the electrician, and then attempt to interpret all occurrences of the word “man” as referring to an electrician. Hence, when my wife says, “The man will be here to fix the toilet at 10am,” I end up concluding that the electrician is coming to fix my toilet, even though she’s referring to the plumber in this context. You can’t carry contextual referents over to foreign contexts, especially when they are being stripped of their relationships and described as the basic actions, regardless of relationship, instead.

4.    "Paul may have spoken against homosexuality but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man. Shall modern churches live by ALL of Paul's values?"

       Christians believe that the writings of Paul found in the NT are inspired by the Holy Spirit as the very Word of God Himself, so, no, the church should not live by ANY of Paul's values, because Paul was a man. It should live by the God's values spoken by the Spirit of Christ through Paul. That's why we also understand that God wants women to be women and not take roles that reduce their womanhood because of some modern chauvinistic idea pretending to be feminist that men's roles are better because they carry certain responsibilities. God is going to care for women as women, so He's not going to fall for our cultural propaganda that would be harmful to them. Again, that's why we need to follow the Scripture above our cultural conditioning to believe otherwise (because we end up doing more harm than good). So, yes, all values/principles taught to God's Church in Scripture should be followed today, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, heaven and earth shall pass away but His Words shall not pass away, the same Word that Jesus spoke will judge everyone at the end of time, and the grass whithers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Hence, the one who rebels and teaches otherwise does not have the Spirit of God within him and is to be considered an unbeliever.

5.       "That was when the earth wasn't populated. There are now 6.79 billion people. Breeding clearly isn't an issue anymore."

          First off, we don't "breed." We co-create human life. Only people who disdain human life and God's good act of creating it speak of it this way.
      Second, if there are plenty of people now so that we no longer need to obey the ethics that are derived from the creation principle (i.e., the creation mandate in Gen 1:28), then someone should (a) tell God that He should stop creating humans through our sexual acts, since there are enough now; (b) ignore the teaching of the Bible that tells us to refrain from sexual immorality, since that term refers to sexual acts that don’t work with God to create human life; (c) ignore the teaching concerning taking care of the poor, since preserving human life was only needed when the world had a low population. Now that we have seven billion people on the planet, we can afford to let a bunch of people die of starvation; (d) we can go ahead and ignore the prohibitions against murder as well, since they too are based in the creation principle, and again, we have enough people now, so that a bunch who are killed won’t be a threat to our numbers. If you want to throw out the creation principle, you can’t just pick and choose what ethics that stem from it you’re going to keep. The creation principle, in all actuality, is at the foundation of all Christian morality. It defines what the Bible means by “good” and likewise gives reference to what it means by “evil.” So, um, no, I’m not going to throw it out because you think God is making a mistake by making more people (of course, this person likely has a naturalistic understanding of the sexual act, where God is not involved in making people, but such is not a biblical/Christian worldview).

6.      "The Bible also define marriage as one-man-many-women, one man many wives and concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier & female prisoner of war."

          LOL. The Bible doesn’t define marriage clearly? Hugh? Your Jedi tricks don't work on me, Boy. People who actually know the Bible see all of the above in their ancient contexts, and as good in those contexts too btw (Q: What would happen in those contexts if women went unmarried/unprotected/unsupported? A: They would die. Is that a better option in dealing with the injustices of circumstance, rape and war, i.e., let a further injustice occur by letting the woman die? No thanks. I'll take biblical justice in those ancient contexts any day over yours).
       Here are two terms that I think would be helpful for everyone to learn: Descriptive vs. Prescriptive. There is one prescriptive teaching that defines marriage, and that is Jesus’ teaching that God originally made them male and female and the two are to become one flesh. This is what I call a “Priority Argument,” which is a common argument in Second Temple Judaism for displaying God’s ultimate purpose and intention with humanity. All other descriptions (note, “descriptions,” not “prescriptions”) are concessions between male and female(s) partnerships (i.e., although not ideal, they are all consistent with the creation mandate, since these male-female relationships can participate in procreation). Homosexuality, and any other unproductive relationship, is not accepted at any time, even as a temporary concession, as it cannot be used to produce human life).

7.      "Because it just disgusts me."
       Oh, I agree. Sexual morality should not be decided by how we feel about it. That's why so many who once condemned it now accept it as moral. We can be convinced in our depravity that evil things are good. Sexual immorality isn’t disgusting to us, so it's just a matter of making certain forms of it more normative in our culture. However, although it is not disgusting to us, it is disgusting to God. That’s the point. That’s why God had to actually condemn it and make it known through Scripture that it is evil because (like murder) it works against His creation of humanity and toward chaos that would see a humanless world instead. It is adversarial to God. If we knew that already, we’d have no need to pay attention to Scripture on the matter. We are distorted and our sexual mentality is warped, so we can’t go by what is disgusting or acceptable to us. I do think that when one begins to acquire the mind of Christ that it does become disgusting to us, but this occurs post-regeneration and is through a process of sanctification that seeks to align its own mind and heart with God’s. We may find certain sexual depravities as gross beforehand, but will likely find our own depravities acceptable until the mind of Christ is fully ours. Hence, in the mean time, we cannot rely upon ourselves. The only dishonest person is the one who knows his mind is sinful and incapable of lining up with God’s, but pretends otherwise.

Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph 5:6-14)