Thursday, December 28, 2006
Well, here we are on the verge of the year of our Lord 2007. In just a few nights several would-be prophets will speak forth what saith their fertile imaginations for their itchy-eared fans. Charges to launch out into the deep, to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes; and promises of a breakthrough will be plentiful as masses of the deceived flood churches on New Years Eve for "Watchnight" service.
How quickly they seem to forget that they were promised the same things last year, and the year before that and the year before that. Of course, the failure of the previous prophecies will easily explained away by recognizing that it was not yet their "season". Doubtless, there have been individuals in probably every congregation who have realized a monetary windfall or some tremendous blessing from God; but I have never witnessed any of these wannabe Nostrodamuses (or is that Nostrodami?) identify the exact person or persons who would enjoy these blessings. They always send out some scatter-shot prophecy, general enough to find fulfillment with somebody. As the old saying goes, "if you throw enough mud against a wall, some of it has got to stick".
What all the blessing-hungry minions fail to realize is that what their local swami is doing is not prophecy; it's fortune-telling which was strickly forbidden by God in the Old Testament. And why is it that we never hear any "prophetic word" about bad things? The biblical prophets frequently predicted famine, exile and death. I bet you'll never hear any of these junior Jeane Dixons say anything like this: "2007 is going to be a year of severe trial. Some of you will die, some will be imprisoned, some of you will even go broke." Talk about emptying a church. A fire alarm wouldn't do it as fast!
I'm no prophet, but the truth is some Christian will die this year. Some Christian will be severely tried, be imprisoned or go broke in 2007. Wouldn't a little forewarning help prepare us? I guess that kind of forecast wouldn't scratch itchy ears. And It would definitely cut into the offering that night.
The letter to the Hebrews makes it pretty unmistakable: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spokento us by His Son . . ."(Heb 1:1-2a). The canon of Scripture is closed. There is no "new revelation". Heck, most of us aren't obeying the old revelation! Whatever 2007 holds, only becoming like Jesus is going to count for eternity.
Here's a prediction for you . . . God will continue to be Holy, faithful and in control of ALL things in 2007.
". . .fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand". Isaiah 40:10
B. L. B. B.!
(Be Like the Bereans Baby!)
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Even the most die-hard reformed Christian, if he is honest(reverse oxymoron), would prefer that life were easy. No problems, strawberry fields, champagne dreams and caviar wishes.
But even a casual glance at the Bible will reveal that all the major Bible personalities experienced great hardship. Contrary to what the prosperity preachers will tell you, "smooth sailing" ain't a biblical virtue. Even those who had great wealth frequently found themselves in great suffering. Read the stories of David, Joseph, and Abraham. And who among us has suffered like Paul, and all the first century Christians. Our Savior, Jesus, suffered more than all and He is God! So we really have some growing to do where our understanding of suffering is concerned. And don't give me that ol', "Jesus suffered so that we wouldn't have to" malarkey. Phillipians 1:29 makes a liar out of you.
No, the Bible is not a book filled with details about lives lived in ease.
Struggles with sin, exile, family and faithfulness is pretty much par for the course. This is counter-intuitive for us today. We definitely want the smooth ride. Our question when encountering adversity is always, "how can I get out of this"? Our question when encountering adversity should be, "how is Christ being formed in me through this"?(Your blogger makes no claim of having arrived here either. So this is for me too!)
Adversity is a new opportunity to trust God and to witness Him fullfill His promises. Without fail, for the true Christian adversity is the means God uses to grow us in faith, holiness and trust in Him. Ease, on the other hand is an opportunity to stagnate, become self-centered, forget God and idolize the temporal.
Consider some examples of "smooth sailing" in Scripture: Solomon, the Pharisees, the rich man (Lazarus' opposite)and the man whose barns were filled. God gave Solomon rest from all of his enemies. And what did Solomon do? He married pagans, worshipped idols and mourned it all in his, "Ecclessiastes". The Pharisees had it all: power, wealth and influence. But Jesus said they were, whitewashed tombs full of deadmens' bones and a brood of vipers. All of Dives', the rich man, money couldn't buy him a drink of water in Hades. The other rich guy thought that he would just eat, drink and be merry. That was until God told him that his life was required of him that very night.Don't forget all the wicked kings whose lives of ease ended with either murder by someone close or a nasty bit of judgement from God. It seems "smooth sailing" disguises the waterfall.
A question that begs asking is this: "Why does it have to be this way? We're saved, children of THE KING! Shouldn't it be easier for us?" I submit to you these admittedly unoriginal answers.
1. We still live in a sin-sick world. Attempting to live holy in a world infested with sin invites adversity. The world hates us, satan hates us, even our own flesh hates the new us. Can you see how we rub a lot of folks the wrong way.
2. Adversity tests our professions for authenticity. We habitually say things like: "God is faithful", "God will never forsake me", "I trust God", "I believe God's Word" and the Peteresque "God, I will stand for You". Adversity is one big:"Oh yeah?!" The proverbial rubber meeting the road.
3. Adversity is the means by which God conforms us to the image of Christ. What happened to Jesus, happens to His Church period (not necessarily in all its gory detail, but you get the point!).
The truth is, we must be tested. Suffering verifies our authenticity, facilitates our growth in Christ, identifies areas needing improvement and certifies our witness. Even the world provides evidence of the great value of hardship. The great athlete who sacrifices so much to become the best. The great sacrifices of the civil rights struggle of black people in America. The kid who beats the odds of growing up impoverished to be a great surgeon (Dr. Ben Carson). We consider these to be great triumphs. How much greater a triumph is our victory over death and the grave. How much greater is our eternal reward?
Don't let the Jakeses, Dollars and Bynums of the world (literally) rob you of the victory of your suffering. The riches they offer will all burn up on that day when they are tested in God's refining fire. But your faith and holiness borne of adversity will come forth as pure gold.
"Sail on, hon-ay", The Commodores(feat. Lionel Ritchie)
B. L. B. B.!
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I was intrigued by the cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Pictured on the cover is the Baltimore Ravens' perennial All-Pro Linebacker, Ray Lewis. What was particularly interesting was Lewis' pose. His hands are folded and his eyes are cast upward as in prayer; and the title of the article is "God's Linebacker". The purpose of this blog is not to question Lewis' conversion, but to ponder his affiliation.
Upon reading through the article I learned that Lewis' pastor is none other than the wrong reverend Jamal-Harrison Bryant(please visit my fellow blogger Melvin Jones' site for lots on Bryant www.pulpit-pimps.org ). After repenting for the words that went through my mind, I realized that there seems to be a pattern emerging between professional athletes and famous false teachers. Have you noticed . . . T. D. Jakes has former Falcon, 49er, Cowboy, Redskin and Raven, Deion Sanders on his roster. Former World Heavyweight Champion Boxer, Evander Holyfield is in Creflo A. Dollar's corner ( the "A" is for "Aboutha").
If he has a few more games like the last two, perhaps Michael Vick will be in the market for a guru.
It causes me to wonder, what is the attraction here? Obviously, these athletes already have the material goods to match their mentors. The common thread that I have seen is that these ministers are the fathers these guys never had. Lewis comments in the SI article that he never had a father figure during his childhood and I have never heard much about the fathers of Sanders or Holyfield either. One can certainly understand how Jakes fills that role, as he certainly has a ministry to the hurting. In my humble opinion, this makes these false teachers all the more dangerous. The question that begs asking is: what if finding a father-figure in these guys is as far as it goes. Yes, they have now found a man to affirm them but if that man does not lead him to THE FATHER through the only way which is Jesus Christ . . . then what? Additionally, the athlete brings with himself a legion of fans who also listen to the heresy these guys routinely spout and they are also left with nothing more than affirmation.
Talk about losing the big one.
B. L. B. B!
(Be Like the Bereans Baby!)
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I remember during my grade school years in the Bronx, there was a popular public service announcement that ran on television every weekday after school during the cartoons. It was about the importance of reading and was produced by a foundation named "R.I.F." The announcement would always feature a celebrity and some kids touting how basic reading is to all the endeavors of life. At the end, they would always close by repeating the foundation’s famous motto, "reading is fundamental," hence the name "R.I.F."
Truer words were never spoken. Consider, of all the ways Almighty God could have chosen to reveal Himself to us, He chose the medium of writing to be the mode of His special self-revelation. Since it is only through the Holy Bible that man has access to the special revelation of God that leads to salvation; reading is not only fundamental, it is vital! It would behoove any person who has a severe allergy to fire and brimstone to read and believe the words of sacred Scripture.
Just as reading the Bible is of paramount importance, there are important works of faithful men which are almost as indispensable for our growth in the Christian faith. There seems to be a great deal of neglect toward these great writers simply because they have committed the unforgivable sin of dying. Many of today’s readers miss out on a wealth of godly wisdom simply because they think yesterdays authors are irrelevant in our time. They believe that all our current "advances" in sciences and technology make us inherently smarter than those "dead guys." One has only to watch his local news broadcast to understand that what Paul wrote in Romans 1:22 is even more appropriate today: "Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . "
Of course, the Bible alone is "God-breathed" and is alone the final rule for our faith and practice.This understanding is what makes the works of the great Christian authors so valuable. There is no attempt to present some new revelation, which is the hallmark of many of today’s "Christian" authors. The faithful Christian authors of antiquity deeply revered the Holy Writ. They strove relentlessly to bring God’s Word to bear on the life of fallen man. And they did so without political correctness or sensitivity to the proclivities of sinful human hearts. God’s work through these authors has fortified our faith against repeated attacks from false religions and secular philosophies from without and from well-disguised heresies and apostasies within. We would do well to seek these "ancient paths" and "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).
"But wait a minute! ‘Christian’ books are flying off the shelves at bookstores. Even secular booksellers have dozens of ‘christian’ titles on sale. So, what is your complaint?" Let’s just say that the best of today’s popular "christian" writing doesn’t have much in the way of teeth. The popular writing is pathetically short on deep theology. Charles Haddon Spurgeon ( himself a "dead guy") said, " . . . the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father."
The vast majority of today’s "christian" writing read like cookbooks. The chefs, excuse me, authors provide recipes for people to have their needs met or to the "5 steps to finding the 5 keys to unlock the 5 doors to God’s fivefold plan for your spiritual and financial breakthrough." Of course, the law of supply and demand also applies to Christian book sales. So, what the people want the people get. This is plainly evident when you compare the sales record of "The Prayer of Jabez" to that of Calvin’s "The Institutes of Christian Religion".
When one considers the reasons for the snubbing of the rich history of profound Christian writing, many possibilities come to mind. I believe that lack of exposure, perceived impracticality and anti-intellectual bias are three of the major culprits. Any one of these conditions is enough to rob a growing believer of a wealth of time-tested wisdom. With all that is facing the Church of Jesus Christ in this country alone, none of these excuses must be uncontested. We must take advantage of the God-honoring testimonies that refuse to pander to the lowest common denominator . . . self.
"Quicker, faster, better" is the name of the game in our "microwave" society. We want everything as quickly and painlessly as possible. Thoroughness and painstaking accuracy are expendable, especially where our comfort and self-image are concerned. We have come a long way since the days of the Pony Express. Just a few short years ago, for many of us, we had to be content to wait for the mailman; now "dial-up" is too slow, so "broadband" is a must have. I’m sure that within the next two years "broadband" will be a dinosaur. This need for speed has also infected our growth as Christians. We want to go from pagan to "glorified" via the quickest, shortest and most painless route possible. We treat our faith just as we treat finding "it" on Ebay.
J.C. Ryle (another "dead guy") author of the classic "Holiness" said, "The natural heart in most men hates exertion in religion, and cordially dislikes patient, painstaking inquiry." This mind set finds its perfect match in today’s "christian" writing. The majority of these authors are telling us how to get God’s best . . . now! We no longer seem to care about holiness, mortifying sin, or true communion with God. Thus being conformed to the image of Christ has to wait until our "He-motions" have been soothed.
The writers of old invested multiplied hours in drinking deeply of Scripture. Of course, they had much fewer distractions in their time. There was no television, radio or internet, but they lived through the defining times of Christian history. The celebrated "christian" authors of today are constantly jetting across the globe, making movies, producing concerts and making television appearances. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, how much time can there possibly be left for sitting at Jesus’ feet to feast on His Spirit and His Truth? The popular writing dreadfully lacks any thorough exposition of the Scripture. There is only the patronizing empathy with our struggles and the "sound-bite" quick remedies that the Holy Spirit allegedly "dropped" into their spirit.
In the book of Jeremiah, God commands His people to seek the "ancient paths." We would be wise to do so presently. We should take advantage of the wisdom of Augustine ("Confessions"), Luther ("The Bondage of the Will") and Calvin. It is a grand misreading of Scripture that leads so many of these popular authors to proclaim that "God is doing a new thing." He is absolutely not doing a "new" thing. All of the Father’s purposes in redemptive history were completed in Christ Jesus before the foundations of the earth and they have not changed. We must avail ourselves to a thoughtful and defensible faith. Our Lord commands us to "regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect . . ." (I Peter 3:15esv). He also commands us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3nkjv). We cannot do this if we are preoccupied with ourselves. We are in the midst of spiritual warfare and the battle for the minds of men. We cannot afford to be so intensely self-absorbed and self-concerned. The writings of men like J. C. Ryle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("The Cost of Discipleship") and Francis Schaeffer ("A Christian Manifesto") spur us to stand for Christ in this the evil day. Knowing their struggles for this faith will help us to know what is truly worth fighting for.
The popular writers of today are mere tour guides of the temporal. There is a complete and utter lack of focus on eternal verities. While they oversell our "rights and privileges" as Christians, they undersell sober theological considerations of God Himself. What does it mean that God is eternal, immutable and holy? Why does the triune-nature of God explain the love and personalness of the God of Christianity better than the God of Islam or Mormonism? We are the children of the Most High God. We should be completely consumed with knowing Him and all available accurate knowledge about Him. Instead current brokers, excuse me, authors just feed us with schemes to get stuff from Him. The piercing insights of John Owen ("Mortification of Sin" "Communion with God") lead us to a greater understanding of what is required of us. There are benefits for us and there are promises made to us; however, with God the eternal is always in view. We must be constantly aware that we are only sojourners and pilgrims here. Our primary duty having been born-again is now to glorify God, not ourselves. Dead people like Jeremiah Burroughs ("Gospel Fear"), Jonathan Edwards ("Religious Affections") and John Bunyan ("The Pilgrim’s Progress) give us strong admonition to do just that.
There is undeniably an anti-intellectual bias afoot in our society today. Unfortunately this bias is all too alive and well within the Church of Jesus Christ. We must be like the men of Issachar in I Chronicles 12:32, knowing the times. The "mermaid’s song" that is today’s popular "christian" writing will only serve to lure us into indistinctness and ineffectualness. We should take the less-traveled path of the "studied" faith. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to " . . . love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind"(Matthew 22:37nkjv). The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.
"The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals," Samuel Davies (1725-1761)
I do not wish to broad-brush all of today’s authors as poor. There are today many writers whose efforts reflect the heart and commitment of many of the "dead guys" I have listed. I want to give "props" to the Luthers, Calvins and Owens of today: R. C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson and many more.
B. L. B. B
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
America is a great country. There just aren't many places in the world where you can publicly call the national leader an "idiot" and expect to live through the night. Not only can you do that here, but you can do it on national television without fear of reprisal.
Our host of rights, privileges and freedoms still make this the only place even the most liberal democrat will ever want to live. It is those very rights, privileges and freedoms, however, that can make being a biblical Christian a hazy concept for some. Take for instance the sovereignty of God. The whole concept of sovereignty is foreign to most of us. We have never served under a king or a military dictator or in some totalitarian regime. We the people vote for those we want to lead us . And gosh darn it, if they step too far out of line, we'll get rid of 'em! We have a voice in what does and does not become law and we can change what the schools teach our children.
Our rights, privileges and freedoms go beyond the political realm. We chose where we will live, what career we will pursue and we can even terminate the life of an infant in the womb if we so choose. Yes free will is apparently alive and well in the good ol' U. S. of A.
"But wait a minute", you say, "as Christians we understand the sovereignty of God. We believe that God is in control"! I ask you then, "is God in control of everything"? I have found that even the most ardent Arminian will proclaim that God is sovereign. When pressed about election, reprobation and predestination, however, they hit the brakes . . .hard. It seems that this is the only area where Arminians seem to agree with Calvinists that the words, "all", "whole" and "every" do not mean "total and without exception" when it comes to biblical idiom.
The "free will" advocate often claims that God voluntarily restricts His sovereignty where salvation is concerned so as to not interfere with man's freedom to choose. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "God forbid"! Can you imagine what would happen if God voluntarily restricted any of His other eternal attributes? Suppose He voluntarily restricted His omnipotence for a few minutes. Can you imagine the carnage? What if He turned off His omniscience for a little while?
Why would relinquishing His sovereignty over the actions of men be any different? Could God restrict His power over who is saved and have any real expectation that anyone would ever receive His precious gift of eternal life?
Interestingly, our American mind-set allows God to orchestrate everything right up to the point of decision. God may do everything necessary to get the Gospel in front of the sinner, but from there he's on his own. God can sovereignly manipulate the circumstances that drive the sinner to seek His help. God can allow any number of emotional, physical or financial calamities to strike and drive him to church or a Christian friend, but the "decision" is his. Suddenly, BAM, all on his own the unregenerate sinner realizes what the answer to his problem is and through the agency of his own free will he elects Jesus as his own personal lord and savior! Now that's democracy in action. The sinner is informed on the issues. He listens to Jesus' campaign speech. He believes Jesus' promises to fix his problems and he runs right down the aisle and casts his vote for the "King of kings"!
There are a few problems with this scenario. For one, it fails to consider the sinner's state prior to casting his "vote". Romans 3:10-12 states:
The motto of pragmatism is, "Does it work?". Therefore we have to be careful of what we mean by the word "work". If by "work" we mean that we are getting what we want then Christianity has a great deal of competition. I’m sure that for Tiger Woods, Buddhism is "working". I’m sure that for Tom Cruise, Scientology is "working". I’m sure that for Prince, Jehovah’s Witnesses is "working". The question is not whether something or some faith is "working", but is it true? Word Faith/Prosperity teaching is obviously working for the Copelands, Dollars and Prices of the world (pun intended), but it is not founded in a faithful exposition of Scripture. Therefore, by definition, it is not true.
It is not my intention to completely condemn pragmatism. Again balance is required. Living by the Word of God does bring about concrete results. Pragmatism in union with prosperity teaching, however, violates Scripture by disregarding context and treats it as some sort of recipe book for personal gain. Under this paradigm, God is reduced to a genie and the individual’s will is supreme. Health, wealth and happiness are all in the power of the individual’s tongue and the only reason anyone does not experience this is due to a faith that is not strong enough to make them come to pass.
Pragmatism of this sort makes one ripe for the enemy’s deception. Satan will go to any length to keep us out of the will of God. If that requires giving me a 4000 square foot home, he’ll do it. If that requires giving me a brand new 2007 Mercedes, he’ll do it. If that means hooking me up with Beyonce, he will do it. And I can "bless God" all I want to, but I will still be outside of His will and in sin. Every experience may be real, but every experience is not necessarily biblical.
Faith as Scripture defines it, is not a force we learn to master in order to shape our own reality. It is not what we use to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Faith is trusting God with the totality of our lives; the parts we like as well as the parts we do not like. We live reassured by His gracious acts throughout Scripture that He will use the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives to conform us to the image of our Lord Jesus and lead us safely to His side for all eternity. May it be our goal as His faithful children to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." II Peter 3:18
B. L. B. B!
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
Information for this blog was obtained from the following: "Christian Apologetics"(1976) and "Systematic Theology"(2002) by Dr. Norman Geisler, and "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds"(1994) by Os Guinness.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Pietism, itself, is not wrong or sinful. Christianity is a faith of both heart and head; however, when balance is lost all manners of sin are crouching at the door. Such is the case with pietism in the extreme. One of the first dangers of this type of pietism is a polarization of truth. Pietism out of balance gives way to a false antagonism between heart and mind, intellect and emotion, learning and experience. There is no true incompatibility between these concepts. The problem occurs when they are followed outside of their appropriate order.
Similar to the marital relationship as explained by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter five, there is a hierarchical relationship between these concepts. The heart must be informed by the mind. "Heart" in this context is often misdefined and a false dichotomy is set up between it and the mind. Biblically, the "heart" is the center of man’s understanding not his sentiment. "Heart vs. mind," therefore, is actually an oxymoron. Even if one persists in seeing the heart in a sentimental fashion, it must be guided by the mind in order to faithfully perform its function. In order to faithfully love God, one must know who He is. A poor understanding of who God is will lead to loving an idol and all types of heresy. The result of acting solely on emotion without trying them in the light of intellectual understanding is much the same. Who among us has not experienced embarrassment and /or pain by acting on uninformed emotion. Choosing to allow experiences to shape our concept of God even when those experiences blatantly contradict what Scripture teaches is fatal to our walk with the God of Scripture.
Pietism can also be dangerous because it is inherently introverted. It emphasizes inwardness, personal bliss and private salvation oftentimes at the expense of being the salt and light Scripture calls us to be. Seeking personal experiences with God, the pietist often retreats to Church rather than engaging in the spiritual warfare that Christians are automatically drafted into upon conversion. The danger of becoming ineffectual is always present where unbalanced pietism reigns. Having the "gifts of the Spirit" reduces to spiritual pride rather than edifying the body of Christ. Worshiping worship rather than worshiping God as He directs becomes the order of the day. The shedding of tears and relief of guilt are mistaken for true repentance and conversion.
One experience craves another; so church now becomes entertainment. Preachers become emcees and disciplined instruction in the Word of God is regarded as dead and without the "spirit." Pietism out of balance demands signs and wonders. If no one is "slain in the spirit" you didn’t have church. If nobody is healed, or if nobody’s debts are paid off the "spirit" was not "high" in your service. There is a constant craving for something new or some demonstration of God. Evidently, Jesus’ repeated rebuke that an "evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign"(Matt 12:39)is completely forgotten.
Unscrupulous preachers who provide these thrills ingratiate themselves to the piety- driven Christian. Consider the Svengali-like hold that the charismatic preacher, with his engaging personality and perceived genuineness, can have on the thrill-seeker. To the young man and woman he becomes a "spiritual-father." To the single woman, becomes an object of desire. To the married woman, he becomes the measuring-stick for her husband. To the older man, he becomes hero, the Michael Jordan of churchianity. Soon he can do no wrong and no matter how much he twists and distorts Scripture, he becomes the "Jesus that they see."
In sum, the Christian mind and thinking Christianly have been sacrificed on the altar of emotion and experience. Placing too great a premium on experience and emotion has the effect of nullifying Scripture and muting the believer’s witness to a sin-sick world. Failing to uphold the book we claim to hold so dear, portrays us as credulous dupes.
Though we must retain an ardent and unrelenting love for our Lord, that love is less than genuine if it is not rooted in an eternally growing understanding of the God who has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible. "In all your getting, get understanding"(Proverbs 4:7bNKJV).
B. L. B. B!
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
Stay tuned for Part 3, next week! Information for this article was obtained from the following: "Christian Apologetics"(1976) and "Systematic Theology"(2002) by Dr. Norman Geisler, and "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds"(1994) by Os Guinness.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
"I’ll Take Salvation with Extra Health and Prosperity, but Please Hold the Doctrine"
It has been well documented that the relativistic and pluralist mind set of the secular world has had a profound impact on Christianity in America. Many of the great apologists of our day have sounded the alarm to warn today’s Christians of the threat posed to us by unbiblical teachings and beliefs. Men of conviction such as: R.C. Sproul, James White and Hank Hanegraaf among others, have been steadfast in their efforts to hold the line against heresy and errant biblical exposition. Their efforts are to be applauded and their continued perseverance should be prayed for by those who love the truth of God. These apologists are frequently the targets of ridicule and defamation from a variety of sources; however, their motives are more under fire in the "black" church than with any other group of believers. While in other circles they may be accused of mere jealousy or having personal axes to grind; it is only in the "black" church that these men are accused of our day’s most heinous crime, racism.
When someone like Hanegraaf gives an honest and more important, biblically sound assessment of the teachings of someone like Pastor Creflo Dollar, Bishop T.D. Jakes or Bishop Eddie Long, their devotees immediately cry "foul." Without considering the content of the critique, these followers characterize the white apologist as motivated by prejudice against their black preacher. They perceive the reproof of their beloved preacher’s teachings to be an attack upon his person. No regard is held for the demonstrated biblical contradiction that the preacher has committed. Instead, they defend the preacher and fail to defend the truth . . . the word of God.
Those in the "black" churches who fall back on the racism ploy do have one thing in common with many in the body of Christ at large: the failure to obey the biblical admonition to "watch our doctrine and life closely"(I Timothy 4:16). The word of God is replete with commands to his people regarding our fidelity to sound Christian doctrine. The apostle Peter instructs believers to ". . . sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear . . . "(I Peter 3:15). The apostle Paul commands, "study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."(2 Timothy 2:15). Paul also warns that "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking misleading things, to draw away the disciples after themselves."(Acts 20:29-30). Our Lord Jesus also warned us to be on our guard when He said, "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15).
Many who disobey scripture in this regard insist that to point out error and call to the carpet those who teach it are divisive. They say it is "unloving" to hold their preacher accountable. I dare say that none of them would accuse Paul of being divisive or unloving when he publicly took Peter to a task for not being ". . . straightforward about the truth of the gospel." (Galations 2:11 - 21). No, expecting ourselves and our preachers to adhere to sound Christian doctrine is not divisive or unloving. It is a mandate of sacred scripture. We are commanded to protect the integrity of our faith from those who would compromise it, both from those outside of the church and from those within.
For years many black unbelievers have labeled Christianity as "the white man’s religion.". The thinking is, those slave owners during antebellum times introduced Christianity and the Bible to their slaves as a means of keeping their human property pacified and hopeful of a better life in the "great by and by." The truth of this is certainly up for debate; however, even if this was the "white" man’s intention, the plan did not work out very well. Just as with the patriarch Joseph, what others meant for evil, God meant for good. By giving us the Bible and Christianity, the "white" man gave us the very means by which we would be set free.
The word of God (as it has with everyone who has received it as truth) has been the source of strength for many black people through some of history’s ugliest events. Those of us who through its pages have realized that God is sovereign, have also realized that God was sovereign over slavery, discrimination and the civil rights struggles of the 1960's. The atrocities of those times were painful and full of suffering; however, God has sustained us and now we flourish. God is sovereign, even over the oppression and inhumanity we have suffered. He allowed it and He allowed it for His sovereign purposes; both the suffering and the blessing that it has and will work. None of our suffering is in vain. This victory; however, has one negative aspect. The black community, as a whole, has related to God on a foundation of pure emotion, pure corruptible emotion. An emotion that is unchecked by doctrinal understanding and Holy Spirit - led intellectual discernment. Our pursuit of God has been keenly subjective and our view of Him is mainly that of a "pain-killer" or liberator, not that of a Holy, transcendent God who commands His people to be holy. Understandably, during those times our cry was "God, save us from slavery". Now, our cry must be "Lord, make us like Jesus"!
The Bible with its promise of peace and protection was an oasis for a people thirsting for freedom. Those who had enough education to read God’s word naturally became our preachers and were instrumental to helping others understand who God is. It was the black church and its preachers who spearheaded the civil rights movement. The most notable of those preachers was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Under the dynamic leadership of men and women like Dr. King the walls of segregation and discrimination began to tumble down. Their articulation of the injustice and indignity inflicted upon the black people of America gave us the confidence that each one of us was being heard. And heard we were, by the grace of God we have advanced as a people. We have engaged and excelled in business, politics, the arts, education etc. God has truly brought us a "mighty long way."
Unfortunately, as often happens with those who are blessed by God, many of us have strayed. As more of the trappings of success and freedom became ours, we began to worship the gifts and not the Giver of the gifts. Just as the extravagances of the 70's and 80's drew many away from America’s churches, many blacks were drawn away from the "black" church through which many of those extravagances were made accessible. Following in suit, the "black" church began to lose its influence on blacks and society as a whole. In the mid 1980's however, many began coming to themselves as did the prodigal son. We began to realize that the self-indulgence of the previous years despite all of its promises left us empty and unfulfilled. We noticed Pascal’s proverbial "God-shaped" void inside of us and yearned to reconnect with our Lord. We began to return to church in droves. Soon small traditional churches were soon overrun and replaced with 10,000 plus capacity mega-churches. God was back in business. There was something different this time, however. We no longer wanted to hear messages about self-sacrifice, waiting upon the Lord, or being Holy as the Lord is Holy. We wanted to know how we could have all of the stuff of the previous years and get God to bless it. In other words, we wanted to have God and eat our cake too.
For every desire there is a corresponding fulfillment for that desire. It is natural then, that as we desired a God who bless us and let us have our stuff too, there came men and women who preached messages that promised us just that. The words of scripture once again proved true, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables."(2 Timothy 4:3-4). Fulfilling our desires, men and women came preaching guaranteed health and wealth and cheap grace. Catch phrases such as, "the anointing," "binding and loosening" and "pleading the blood of Jesus" became staples of Christian vocabulary. We were told that we are "little gods." Prophets returned in unprecedented numbers, however, these were unlike their old testament counterparts. The new prophets did not warn of impending judgement, convict of sin or forth tell the will of God. This new breed was indistinguishable from fortune-tellers. They forecast monetary blessings, business success, Y2K calamities and the debt-erasing Year of Jubilee. We were told Jesus, the disciples and Paul were all rich and that we should be too. We were told that we have the authority to bind sickness and the devil. Through our faith and the positive confession of our mouths, we can orchestrate our own reality.
We failed to search the word of God ourselves and unlike the days of slavery, this time we do not have the excuse of illiteracy. This time it is because we have been unwilling,
even worse, we have been lazy. We have depended on preachers to spoon-feed us our truth. We blindly trust that they would never give us a bad meal. Dependent as we have been, our allegiance to our preachers has become nigh idolatrous. Like King David’s mighty men we will fight for our preacher, we will exhort others to allegiance to them. We will even question your salvation if you disagree with them. These preachers, like Dr. King, have become our spokesmen, our leaders, our role-models, our spiritual fathers. The difference is that they are not speaking out for our civil rights, but for our "rights" as children of the King, our rights to the treasures that the enemy has stolen from us. They do this while doing violence to sacred scripture.
What further complicates matters is the fact that this new gospel seems to be effective. We have witnessed grammy award winning recording artists giving glory to God for their lustful, violent, drug endorsing music. The parking lots of our churches are filled with "Beemers", Benz’ and Hummers. Our preachers race across the globe in multimillion dollar privately owned aircraft. They take obscure personalities from scripture and turn their prayers into bestsellers. Surely, the thought must come to mind: "It may not be biblical, but is sure is working!" The truth is, Satan will give you anything you want if that’s what it takes to prevent you from having true communion with Jesus.
The problem is that after all our struggling to be free of the bonds of slavery and segregation, a slave’s perspective remains. We still depend on the spiritual "giants" to tell us about God. We applaud when Creflo Dollar tells us that we are "little gods" and that prosperity and perpetual health are due us. T.D. Jakes can espouse a heretical view of the Trinity without challenge because we are biblically illiterate. Juanita Bynum can prophesy "intercourse in the spirit" resulting in the birth of new prophets. Frederick K.C. Price can condemn asking the Lord, "if it be thy will". Carlton Pearson can embrace universalism without fear of reprisal because these congregations are not collectively educated in Scripture to challenge these wicked teachings. Instead, we take our cues from them, we obey them, we follow them and to top it off, we pay them . . . handsomely.
So what is the solution? I believe there are three things that those whom God has freed from this bondage must do. First, the Holy Spirit has certainly troubled many within these congregations regarding the false teachings and doctrines. These people must have the courage to challenge these teachings in love. Whether it is by writing letters to the pastor or by meeting with him or her in person, they must be confronted. Second, we must also remember to pray for these false teachers. God can convert anyone. Their charisma and talents for preaching and teaching are still gifts from God. Transformed for His purposes, these teachers can be useful tools in God’s hands. Third, if these teachers continue in their error; bible-believing, discerning Christians must separate themselves from these congregations. Paul said explicitly in Romans 16:17 "Now I urge you , brethren, note those who cause division and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them."
The "black" church must deal biblically with it’s own prejudice and embrace the truth of God’s word. Our current allegiances to personalities is the same mark of immaturity that Paul rebuked the Corinthian church about. We must strive, instead, to be more like the Bereans who "were more noble . . . in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).
B. L. B. B
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
You probably remember the very popular and successful song recorded in 1985, "We Are the World" by USA for Africa. Following the Grammys on the night of January 28th an all-star cast of singers and actors gathered in a recording studio in Los Angeles, California to record a song to help make us aware of the need for famine relief in Africa.
The effort brought in millions of dollars and spawned many legends about the whole evening. We’ve heard about some celebrities who would not participate and about some who tried to upstage the others. And who can forget Lionel Ritchie’s thumb? One thing that is particularly memorable is the sign that Quincy Jones (the coordinator of the event) is said to have posted at the entrance to the studio. Jones was obviously aware of the possible conflicts that might occur with such a group of superstars, so he posted a warning that read: "Please check your ego at the door!"
Something not very different from this seems to occur every Sunday at many churches in our country. Thousands of people facing the ordeals of life crowd into churches across the country seeking their own personal "famine" relief. Judging by what many of them are satisfied with, there seems to be another sign posted at many churches: "Please check your intellect at the door!"
"Thought" has become a four-letter word for many Christians today. Christianity is seen to be a "heart" religion and too much thinking somehow inhibits the "flow" of the Holy Spirit. There is also a premium on results. If something is working, it must be true. Neither of these ideas are entirely new. These approaches to Christianity and church have been around for centuries. They are called, "Pietism" and "Pragmatism."
For now let’s define them. Pietism stresses the primary importance of subjective personal experience. While Pietism holds to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, the premium it places on "feelings" tends to undermine the objective authority of Scripture. The bottom line is: "it must be true, because it feels so right".
Pietism is closely related to Liberalism (religious, not political) in that the basis of religion is found in experience. Pietism/Liberalism basically believe that truth and falsity do not apply to religion, they only apply to ideas. Religion, according to Pietism, is a feeling, a dependency. Pietism stresses the devotional over the doctrinal and believes that religion is primarily communicated by personal example. Under this paradigm, faith is "better caught than taught". By these standards it is easy to understand how biblical authority is easily compromised, if not obliterated.
Pragmatism holds that the first and foremost testing ground for truth is human experience. Does it work? If it does then it must be true. The implications of this approach are obvious when applied to "prosperity" teaching. If I speak wealth over myself and claim verses of Scripture even out of their proper context and receive a windfall of money; then "name it and claim it" must be true. With Pragmatism theology gives way to technique. "Know-whom has faded before know-how. Serving God has subtly been deformed into servicing the self. At its worst, the result is a shift from faith to the ‘faith in faith,’ which-along with faith in religion-is a perniciously distinctive American heresy."- Os Guinness. Worldliness is the foremost danger of this approach to Christianity.
B. L. B. B!
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)
Information for this blog was obtained from the following: "Christian Apologetics"(1976) and "Systematic Theology"(2002) by Dr. Norman Geisler, and "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds"(1994) by Os Guinness.