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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Prayer Request for Ray

Regular readers of my blog are probably quite familiar with frequent commenter, Ray, although Ray has been silent for the most part in the last month, or so.

I should have posted on this a long time ago, but back on April 9, Ray wrote a post on his blog about some eye difficulties and resulting surgery. This week, Ray posted another update about his recovery, which is slow-going.

Ray is a tremendous and wonderful brother in the Lord, and his comments here and his own blog have been a great encouragement to me. Would you please take a moment to lift Ray up to our Lord, the Great Physician, for his complete healing and recovery? And while you're at it, maybe swing over to Ray's blog and let him know you're praying for him.

Hurry back, Ray. We miss you!

Until next time,

steve :)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mixed Messages on Eternal Security

I definitely haven't forgotten the preaching/teaching series, and I apologize for the delay in posting my thoughts on teaching, but I want to open up another topic for discussion. This isn't going to be as much of me writing my thoughts as just questions that are running around in my mind.

First, a little background to the questions. I was taught eternal security when I was growing up. The so-called "once saved, always saved" teaching says that once a person is saved, they can never lose their salvation. There are Scripture passages used to defend this position (such as John 10:29), as well as appeals to the nature of God (i.e., because God is sovereign, it would be impossible for someone to thwart the work of salvation that has been done by God in that person).

Of course, there are people who believe otherwise, citing the many references in the New Testament that seem to indicate the possibility of falling away (e.g. Hebrews 6:4-6) or even being cut off by God for not abiding in Christ (John 15:6).

While it is not the purpose of this article to defend one position or the other, my questions are more targeted at the "can't lose your salvation ever, for any reason" thinking. (By the way, "lose your salvation" is a poor phrase, because it sounds like salvation is something that can be misplaced by accident! Even if one believes that it is possible to fall away from salvation, this should never be something that is used to cause people to fear unknowingly offending God and incurring His wrath.)

And here's where my questions start. Recently, in several different blog interactions, I have seen certain doctrines mentioned (the Trinity, inerrancy of Scripture, etc.) as things that don't need to be affirmed in order to respond to the call of salvation, but can't be rejected later on. For example, here is a quote from the Chicago Statement of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy:

We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

We deny that such a confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and the church.
(Article XIX)
Notice that the statement clearly denies it is necessary to "confess" the inerrancy of Scripture in order to be saved. Granted, this statement does not say that one cannot be saved if they deny the inerrancy of Scripture later on, but it does predict unspecified "grave consequences" if one does, in fact, deny the inerrancy of the Scripture at some point in their life post-salvation.

Others have gone further in their statements, though. Consider this comment made by Steve Camp in the discussion following a post on his blog:

Can someone not believe in the Trinity but yet still respond to the gospel of grace of Jesus Christ and be saved? Yes. Can someone claim to grow in their walk with the Lord, study the Scriptures and continue year after year to deny the Trinity and be considered a true believer in the Lord? Of course not.
Now, this introduces a very interesting dilemma, in my opinion. On the one hand, Steve (being fully Calvinistic in his doctrine) teaches very clearly that one cannot lose their salvation. Yet here, he states that, while a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is not necessary for salvation, one cannot later deny the doctrine of the Trinity and still "be considered a true believer".

This sends a very mixed message on the subject of eternal security. How can one be saved, but then later not be considered to a "true believer" because they later reject a particular doctrine that wasn't necessary for salvation in the first place? Either the doctrine is absolutely essential for salvation, or it's not. I don't understand this.

I'm just curious if any of my readers have any thoughts on how to understand this mixed message.

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Insecurity in the Believer -- A Response to Michael Spencer

Several times over the past six months or so (I'm not really certain), I have interacted with Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk. Michael has a very down-to-earth style of writing that, in many ways, I enjoy reading. Several months ago, however, I felt a certain amount of confusion regarding what I perceived to be a common theme in Michael's writing. Rather than approach it publicly on his blog, I emailed him privately. My concern was that while Michael was very accurate in pointing out difficulties in the human existence (even for Christians), he seemed to focus strictly on the negativity of those situations without expressing the true hope that can be ours in Christ.

Michael was very gracious to respond to my email, and a very interesting exchange took place. The conclusion on Michael's part seemed to be that I could not be honest about life's struggles because of my charismatic bent, and that his view is a "realistic" view of life based on certain passages of Scripture. At the time, we debated the relationship between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Michael's position, as I understood it, was that Romans 8 (as it relates to being set free from sin) is a truth that is not yet realized in its fullness, and that Romans 7 (the struggle of the "wretched man", as described by Paul) is the current state of the believer.

I attempted to argue from the context of the entirety of chapters 6-8 that I saw Paul emphasizing the freedom from the power of sin, and no longer a need for us to experience that "struggle" with sin as part of the "normal" Christian life. In the end, we could not come to an agreement, and I dropped the subject.

Recently, Michael wrote a new post entitled "The Echoing Prelude: Insecurity and the Christian Life". In this essay, Michael very accurately (and eloquently, I might add) describes the insecurity that is a natural part of all of us, and the games that we play to cover up our insecurities. And the essay then turns to insecurity within the Christian with the following paragraph:

I see this when I see my students, but I also see it in myself, and particularly in the Christians I’ve been around my entire life.
Michael goes on for a number of paragraphs to talk about how insecurity resides in the believer alongside the hope of future security (cosmic redemption, as expressed in Romans 8, being the final solution). And he makes some statements that talk about the work of the Holy Spirit and how we are not left in our insecurities.
We are not left to lead the same lives of insecurity we lived before. The Spirit of God is at work in us, at work in the church and at work in the world. We taste the firstfruits of the Spirit’s application of Jesus’ resurrection in our own assurance. This assurance comes alongside us as the Gospel calls us to renounce worldly securities, personal fears and the myriad ways we seek to repair our own uncertainties.
But then, in the same way that I always felt like there was a big "but" in the essays that had previously prompted me to email Michael and express my concern, this essay went on to say:
So what should we see when we are among Christians? Are we to see the same insecurities as we see in those who do not know Christ? The answer is both yes and no. We are still human, we are still fallen, we are still part of a fallen world. There is never a time in this life when we live without that reality.

Remember the correct meaning of a verse: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Co 5:17)

This verse means that to be in Christ is to be part of the new creation. It does not mean that all aspects of that new creation are operating at present. Our "new creation" experience is the "groaning" experience of Romans chapter 8. Our insecurities battle with the life of the Spirit and the birth of cosmic redemption. Jesus has won, and Jesus will triumph in a regeneration and renewal of all things.
In conclusion to the essay, Michael offered seven suggestions as to how we should respond to issues of insecurity in a Christian.
1) Those who are experiencing insecurity should not be condemned and shamed as sinners and unbelievers.

2) The human experience of insecurity is part of the Gospel story, and it should be put into the context of the Gospel story.

3) Worship should utilize the Psalms and all of scripture to hear the voices of insecurity that are part of the human encounter with God and the Gospel of the Incarnate Word.

4) Christians ought not to pretend that they have been delivered from all insecurities. Christian leaders should never lead from the manipulation of insecurity or the promise of deliverance from all fear in the present.

5) The life of the Spirit should be cultivated and grown through an organic, relational and honest community of Jesus.

6) Christians whose primary presentation of the faith is one of providing undeniable and absolutely certain answers should consider if they are not, in fact, manifesting their own insecurities.

7) The relation of insecurity and idolatry should be a subject of ongoing growth, prayer and teaching. The Gospel calls us to continually consider how we are seeking comfort and certainty in idolatrous ways.
In the comments section following the essay, I took issue with Michael's use of 2 Corinthians 5:17. Michael immediately expressed his feeling of being "more than a little annoyed" at my comments, and a few comments went back and forth with frustration and annoyance being expressed. Finally, Michael wrote:
Part of my evidnt frustration- which sounds pretty rude, I admit and apologize- is because I really don’t know what we are talking about.

I absolutely believe Christ Jesus changes lives now. I believe he breaks the power of canceled sin. I beliee the process of transformation begins. I believe we were slaves to sin but no longer.

I do not believe sanctification or any aspect of experienced salvation is perfect in this life. I do not believe we are delivered from sin in such a way that we are not tempted or still deal with a fallen nature.

I do believe we have breakthroughs and that God answers prayer. I believe drug addicts are delivered and marriages are healed, etc.

Ever since you first wrote that you found no hope in my writing, it has been frustrating to try and understand what you think I am preaching and teaching that is inconsistent with scripture.
I started to write a response, but realized that it was going to be quite lengthy, and so I am choosing to post it here instead of adding such a lengthy response on Michael's site. Here is my response:

Michael, your apology is readily accepted. And I'm sorry that it's frustrating for you. I really am. It is not my intention to frustrate or hurt you in any way, Michael. As I mentioned to you, my questions are very sincere ones. Let me see if I can try to help bridge the understanding gap. If not, I'll be happy to shut up for a while (I did try to give you a break from my questions for quite a while!!) :)

We have sinful natures. And we have this great and glorious gift of new life in Christ. The question is, which are we going to focus on? Are we going to dwell on our insecurities, our failures, the times we fall down? To me, part of the answer (and I think a big part) is the repeated instruction by Paul to "set our minds on things above", to "consider [ourselves] dead to sin", etc.

This is the whole "hope" discussion that I was trying to have with you before. Rather than continue to dwell on our failures, our sins, our insecurities, and just accept them as "reality", it seems to me that it is of greater profit to our spiritual maturity to look forward to what we already have by faith. Even if it's part of a "not yet" understanding, we live by faith and hope in what is to come. That is a faith and hope that encourages, that causes us to live more and more consistently in the life that is ours through Christ. Hope doesn't tell people to just grit their teeth and hold out for the afterlife. There are benefits to being part of that new creation here and now.

This has nothing to do with what some in previous comments on this thread have suggested as part of some selfish motivation to get what I want, or to accept only the things that we want from God. Nor does it necessarily lead to fringe charismaticism, as you implied in an earlier comment in this thread.

When Paul talks about his struggles, his persecutions, his difficulties, he doesn't stop at the point of saying "I'm insecure" or "This is depressing." He expresses great hope and moves on (like he does in Romans 8, regardless of which interpretation [already vs. not yet] you take of it) to talking about what he knows to be true in Christ. Even when, in Romans 7, he says, "O wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me...?", he immediately turns his focus to say, "Thanks be to God" because he realizes that reality in Christ (as he goes on in chapter 8 to explain) gives him that very rescue for which he cries out.

That's why I often think about the phrase "walk by faith, not by sight." I look around me sometimes and I see a lot of hopelessness and despair. People constantly want to speak negatively about life. Even Christians want to remind us that things are going to be very tough for us in our lives. But that's not what we need to set our eyes on! Those are the things we see with our human eyes. But we are to walk by faith. That is a faith that says, "I know this is what I see, but I know a truth that supercedes all of this." And that truth is what enabled all of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 to rise above what they were "seeing" and keep their eyes fixed on God.

Now, I think you believe all that I have just said. But look at your conclusions -- the final thoughts of your essay. Let me respond, if I might, to each point.

1) Those who are experiencing insecurity should not be condemned and shamed as sinners and unbelievers.

Right! They should never be condemned or shamed. But they need to be reminded of who they are in Christ, because then it helps them see that their insecurities are unnecessary in Christ. Security in Christ (Eph 1) is in direct contrast to our insecurities (which have more to do with putting our eyes on ourselves) because it is all about Him. We must take our eyes off of who we think we are (or aren't) and consider our lives "hidden in Christ", as Paul says.

2) The human experience of insecurity is part of the Gospel story, and it should be put into the context of the Gospel story.

I'm really not sure what you mean by this, but human insecurity is only part of the Gospel story to the extent that we must acknowledge that apart from Christ, we have no security whatsoever. But the beauty of the Gospel (which is definitely "good news") is that Christ came to preach freedom to the captives. Is insecurity not a captivity? Captivity to false expectations or false understanding of who we are.

3) Worship should utilize the Psalms and all of scripture to hear the voices of insecurity that are part of the human encounter with God and the Gospel of the Incarnate Word.

There's an obvious response of "why?" that I want to give here, but I'll move beyond that. The "voices of insecurity" that we would hear as Christians are no different from the very first temptation which began with "Did God really say...?" Those are voices, not from God, but from the enemy of our souls. And his words do not need to be given voice in our worship. If I am not mistaken, the voices of insecurity in the Psalms are still connected with expressions such as, "Yet I will praise Him". In other words, the Psalmist understood the need to counter those "voices" with the truth of what he knew by faith.

4) Christians ought not to pretend that they have been delivered from all insecurities. Christian leaders should never lead from the manipulation of insecurity or the promise of deliverance from all fear in the present.

There's no pretending necessary. Living in the reality of what God has given us requires no pretending. This statement assumes the false dichotomy that I have tried to point out in your writing. It is a dichotomy that says either you admit that you are struggling and that you have some real deep issues, or you must be pretending. This dichotomy is completely and utterly false. With regard to "the promise of deliverance from all fear in the present", the Scripture tells us very clearly that God has not given us a spirit of fear. We are also commanded not to be anxious for anything. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. We must acknowledge that fear stands in opposition to these commands.

5) The life of the Spirit should be cultivated and grown through an organic, relational and honest community of Jesus.

Absolutely. There is nothing here to be disputed. However, when you say "honest", and I interpret that word in the context of your other essays, I think that is probably a very loaded word. "Honesty" in Internet Monk writing seems to only focus on admitting negative things, not speaking positively about victory.

6) Christians whose primary presentation of the faith is one of providing undeniable and absolutely certain answers should consider if they are not, in fact, manifesting their own insecurities.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this, but one can speak of the "undeniable and absolutely certain answers" revealed in Scripture without it being based in insecurity. I would say that this point is really a red herring.

7) The relation of insecurity and idolatry should be a subject of ongoing growth, prayer and teaching. The Gospel calls us to continually consider how we are seeking comfort and certainty in idolatrous ways.

Idolatry is definitely a serious issue. But if we actually do find "comfort and certainty" in the person of Jesus Christ and in our relationship to and with Him, what is the problem? Yet, I think that you have been trying to explain to me that we will not have "comfort and certainty" in this lifetime. It is a "not yet" principle in "the Gospel according to the Internet Monk".

Part of what frustrated me in this discussion, Michael, is that you insist that the statement of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that the old things have passed away and all things have become new is something that is still future. While I am willing to consider that there is a fuller realization of that still to come, there is an awful lot of past and present tense in Paul's writings that I have yet to see you honestly engage. You read statements like 2 Corinthians 5:17 and tell us that we must remember the "correct" interpretation, which ultimately means that it doesn't mean what it says.

I don't mean this illustration to insult you, but it reminds me of how Oneness Pentecostalism deals with the text of the New Testament. The teaching of the Oneness teachers is that when the Bible says "son", you should substitute the word "flesh". When it says "father", you substitute the word "spirit." Therefore, they read John 3:16 to say, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten flesh...." This is absurd, and I'm sure you would quickly concur with me on that point.

But is that any different than taking any of the following statements of Paul and saying, "The correct interpretation is that this hasn't happened yet"?

  • "We died to sin"
  • "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness"
  • " that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God..."
  • "the law of the Spirit set me free from sin and death"
  • "You...are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit."
  • "You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear"
  • "In all these things [trouble, hardship, persecution, etc.] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

You expressed frustration that you don't know what it is I think you're "biblically inconsistent" in. Let me put it this way, Michael: What you teach is generally biblically true. But the whole basis of my question regarding your hope and my comments to this post on insecurity is based on a sense that you're not telling the whole story.

I don't know if that clears anything up, but if I am missing something significant, hopefully others will be able to see it and point it out to me.

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Blogger's Version of 1 Corinthians 13

Note: This is not meant to be disrespectful to the biblical text in any way. Just an attempt on my part to remind myself of what this is all about.

If I blog with words that impress greatly and have the most beautiful blog template, but have not love, I am only a bunch of meaningless pixels scattered across the screen. If I have large numbers of readers coming to my blog, and hundreds of comments on every post, but have not love, I am no better than the blogger who has no readers at all. If I can exegete Scripture impressively and convince others of my theological perspective but have not love, I gain nothing.

A loving blogger is patient and kind. Love does not envy other’s site statistics, it does not boast in its own viewpoints, it is not proud of what it writes. Love is not rude to those who comment, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered by disagreements, it keeps no record of wrongs. A loving blogger does not delight in speaking or reading evil but rejoices with speaking the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are blog hosts, their servers will fail; where there is heavy blog traffic, it will be reduced to nothing; where there is impressive writing, it will all be deleted from the file system. For we know in part and we write blog posts in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a beginning blogger, I wrote about trivial subjects, I jumped to conclusions about other viewpoints, I paid no attention to how I talked to others. When I became a mature blogger, I put beginners’ ways behind me.

Now we see but a basic representation of our words as on an old monochrome monitor; then we shall understand all of this theological truth in its fullest. Now I only understand a little bit about which I write; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: site statistics, creative writing and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Biblical Words for "Preach" in Context

We've been spending some time on this blog looking at the concepts of preaching and teaching and how they relate to the church. If you are new to this series and have not seen the former posts, let me point you to them here:

The comments on these posts have been really great, and I appreciate the involvement of all who have chosen to interact. I've been saying for some time now that I really want to look at the differences between teaching and preaching in the New Testament. The basic thrust of this series is that I have a hunch that the current model of church that we see here in America (and I know other western countries are very similar, too) is not a healthy one, and is not as biblically-based as many would like us to think. The concept of preaching is one area where I feel that we have missed the mark. Consider some of the following points that are rather common among most evangelical churches:

  • Church is viewed as a place where lost people can come and be led to Christ (read 1 Corinthians 14 to see what perspective the gathering of believers has with relation to the unbeliever)
  • The church service is almost always geared around a lengthy monologue of some sort from the same person who preaches every service
  • People are expected to join a church and sit under the preaching of that one man (or whomever is preaching) for their entire lives. The only ones who get a "get out of jail free" card (don't take that too seriously!) are people who end up pastoring their own churches, or missionaries who travel to another country to evangelize and preach.
  • A church is pretty much known by who its "pastor" is, and that pastor is viewed as the spiritual head of the church, as well as of each individual member, regardless of the size of the church and the corresponding ability for an actual personal relationship between the pastor and each member.

Since I've already attempted to show that Nehemiah 8 is not the model we should be using, it stands to reason that we need to look at what actually is talked about with regard to preaching and teaching in the New Testament. And with that, I'd like to first of all examine some uses of the word "preach" in the New Testament.

Please note that the nature of this blog is such that an exhaustive word study is not being presented. I am merely scratching the surface here to challenge your thinking and possibly cause you to search more on your own. If you have any questions about what I've included or what I've left out, however, feel free to address those questions in the comments section, and I'll answer them.

There are several different Greek words translated as "preach" in some versions. I have chosen to use the King James version for this word study, because I think it is through that version that a lot of our concepts of preaching have come. There are two words that appear more than any others. Those are the words kerusso (I'm using transliterations here since not everyone may have the same Greek font that I use) and euaggelizo.

Kerusso is basically defined as "proclaim" or "herald". This word is most often used in conjunction with the proclamation or heralding of the Kingdom of God. Throughout the Gospels, this is the word translated as "preach", with the two exceptions of Luke 4:43, which uses euaggelizo and Luke 9:60, which uses diaggello (defined as "to publish abroad").

Euaggelizo is defined as "to bring good news", and is used one time in the Gospels and translated as "preach". That is, as I just mentioned, in Luke 4:43. Throughout Acts and the epistles, however, both euaggelizo and kerusso appear in almost even numbers. In the vast majority of the verses where these words appear, and where context gives some indication of the purpose of the "preaching" being done, it seems to be clearly related to actual evangelism. Admittedly, it isn't as clear in every situation as we might hope (for the purpose of drawing distinct conclusions), but there are a couple of instances where it is most definitely referring to evangelism. Those are Romans 15:20 and Galatians 1:16.

Romans 15:20 says, "I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation." Here, Paul clearly states that his "preaching" was not a weekly task in a church full of believers, but evangelism in unreached places. Likewise, Galatians 1:16 says, "...that I might preach [Jesus] among the heathen...." Much as some pastors would admit that their congregation members seem like heathen (hehe), I don't think that's what Paul was talking about.

In the passages where evangelism is not clearly understood from the context, it is almost impossible to narrow down the purpose of preaching. While some passages are clearly evangelism, others are not clear at all. This includes 2 Timothy 4:2 which says, "Preach the Word". Context is not entirely clear in that passage, but Paul does exhort Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist", and I think that might give us a clue. Paul is seeming to be asking Timothy to carry on the work that he (Paul) had been doing, since his time was about gone in this life.

Regardless of how we interpret these "less clear" passages, one thing that I found is that there is never a clear example of "preaching" being done in the church gathering. One particular passage, however, that I have heard many times used to justify preaching in the church needs to be addressed. That is the story in Acts 20:7-12. Here, we read that Paul preached to them until midnight. In today's modern churches, it is easy to imagine that Paul must have stood up at a pulpit in the front, and preached to the people, monologue-style, for hours on end. I've been in some churches where that has pretty much happened! But something very important needs to be pointed out here. This word for "preach" is not kerusso. It's not euaggelizo. It's dialegomai. Does that word look like any English word you know? I'll give you a hint. It's different from our English word "monologue", and rhymes with "buy a log"! :) That's right. Paul "dialogued" with them until midnight. It was most certainly interactive teaching taking place.

So what about preaching, then? Does it have any place in the church? Well, quite honestly, it's hard to say. But I can say this: There is no clear example of a regular, weekly sermon being given in the New Testament church. And even if there were regular "sermons", it is not at all evident that the same man gave them every time. In fact, 1 Corinthians 14 deals with the fact that everyone can contribute something to a gathering of believers.

Many have suggested in the past that "prophecy" in the New Testament equates to our modern practice of preaching. I don't think that is the case, though. Note a couple things about the instructions Paul gives there. First of all, he says that there should be two or three that speak. Secondly, he clearly instructs that if one gets a revelation while another is speaking, the first should be silent and let the second speak!

Preaching is clearly used in the New Testament (this much we do know) in an evangelistic environment. In other words, regardless of whether or not you agree with his theology (that is not under debate in this context), Billy Graham preaches in a way that is consistent with the New Testament. He preaches publicly, with the intended audience being unbelievers (Acts 2, Acts 4, etc.) and preaches the basic truth of the Gospel to them, basically proclaiming the Kingdom of God. I believe there will always be a need for that kind of preaching.

Next time, we'll take up the words translated as "teach" and see what we can find.

Until next time

steve :)