Friday, July 30, 2010

The Good Old Days Weren't Perfect

As I mentioned in my last post I am an old soul. I yearn for the transparent joy in the Holy Spirit that those who came before us basked in. However, it's easy to sentimentalize those days while disparaging our own. Honesty demands fair-handling. The good old days weren't perfect—far from it. We had some problems in our more demonstrative years.

1. Legalism

Not fun to look at but it's true; legalism went far beyond the boundaries of scriptural holiness and imposed more rules. For example, early in the 20th century my reformation movement of the Church of God (Anderson) had a controversy over neckties. Yes, neckties! Since we didn't want to dress in a worldly fashion some of the saints took a dim view of neckties. A necktie wasn't functional, only fashionable and, thus, vainglorious. We can laugh now at the silliness but God's holiness children of a century ago weren't laughing.

2. Bad Doctrine/Poor Scholarship

Last night I listened to an mp3 of a holiness preacher from years ago, I don't know the date. He was giving some reasons why holiness churches have "protracted meetings" but they don't turn into revivals. One reason, the good brother informed his audience, was because women in pants were praying for revival! He quoted Deuteronomy 22.5:
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
There are big problems with condemning women who wear pants today by appealing to this verse. First, this verse probably had to do with a pagan practice that the Lord refused his Israelis, not that God is condemning the modern fashion industry of today. Second, as Gentiles we aren't under the Law of Moses. The Torah was for Jews, not Gentiles, and it's been abolished as a covenant, anyway.

Over the years I've seen some poor handling of the Word of Truth. Verses taken out of context can place people in bondage to something God never commanded. In this regard inadequate scholarship can lead to legalism. Lack of scholarship and education led to some lousy theological points. Sloppy interpretation makes for bad doctrine.

Let me give you another example. A common appeal for entire sanctification has been taken from Paul's command to the Thessalonians:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification:
(1 Thessalonians 4:3a ESV)
Fair enough but the preachers need to quote more Scripture in that passage to get the gist of Paul's specific thought:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 ESV)
When all of these verses are read together in context it shows that Paul isn't giving general instruction about entire sanctification but speaking of believers living in holiness involving sexual matters.

Let's seek entire sanctification...and use proper Scriptures to support the doctrine.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm An Old Soul

Today I helped my father install a new air conditioner in his camper at Rippling Waters, the West Virginia Church of God (Anderson) owned campgrounds. I had some extra time so I walked the short distance to the beautiful chapel by the lake and went inside. I snapped this picture with my cell phone while standing at the pulpit.

I prayed for the campmeeting that begins this Monday, August 2, and runs through Sunday, August 8. I want a Great Awakening to begin this week on those grounds.

I'm an old soul. I'd rather learn of accounts of revival from 100 years ago then read the "It" book that will be published by a Christian bookseller next week.

Recently I listened to a 30+ year-old recording of an old minister exhorting a convention congregation to be entirely sanctified. He wasn't scheduled to preach, just exhort the crowd. God took over and an altar response ensued. The Spirit moved.

It made me feel sad, though. Not because it was sad but because I miss the days when saints shouted praises to God. I miss the days when people actually prayed at altars. I miss the days when we weren't so terribly concerned with looking educated and sophisticated and were so terribly concerned with God moving in the services.

What happened to us? What happened to the holiness people? I suppose it's the same thing that happened to our sermons on entire sanctification. The sermons disappeared...and then our fire did, too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Arguing With an Infidel

Apologetics is the defense of the Christian Faith. People like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel have put much time into presenting arguments for the veracity of Christ and Christianity. Apologetics has its place; Justin Martyr of the 2nd century is famous for it. However, the great British Baptist preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, gave interesting advice on how to reason with a hardened skeptic.
Another very great obstacle to soul-winning is unbelief. You know that it is written of the Lord Jesus when in "His own country that "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." This evil exists in all unregenerate hearts, but in some men it takes a very pronounced form. They do think about religion, but they do not believe in the truth of God which we preach to them. Their opinion is to them more weighty, more worthy of belief, than God's inspired declarations; they will not accept anything that is revealed in the Scriptures. These people are very hard to influence; but I would warn you not to fight them with their own weapons. I do not believe that infidels ever are won by argument; or, if so, it very seldom happens. The argument that convinces men of the reality of religion, is that which they gather from the holiness and earnestness of those who profess to be Christ's followers. As a rule, they barricade their minds against the assaults of reason and if we give our pulpits over to arguing with them, we shall often be doing more harm than good. In all probability, only a very small portion of our audience will understand what we are talking about; and while we are trying to do them good, most likely we shall be teaching infidelity to others who do not know anything about such things, and the first knowledge they ever have of certain heresies will have come to them from our lips. Possibly our refutation of the error may not have been perfect, and many a young mind may have been tinctured with unbelief through listening to our attempted exposure of it. I believe that you will rout unbelief by your faith rather than by your reason; by your belief, and your acting up to your conviction of the truth, you will do more good than by any argument, however strong it may be.
Spurgeon gave a personal story:
There is a friend who sits to hear me generally every Sabbath. "What do you think?" he said to me, one day, "you are my only link with better things; but you are an awful man in my estimation, for you have not the slightest sympathy with me." I replied, "No, I have not; or, rather, I have not the least sympathy with your unbelief." "That makes me cling to you, for I fear that I shall always remain as I am; but when I see your calm faith, and perceive how God blesses you in exercising it, and know what you accomplish through the power of that faith, I say to myself, 'Jack, you are a fool.'" I said to him, "You are quite right in that verdict; and the sooner you come to my way of thinking, the better, for nobody can be a bigger fool than the man who does not believe in God." One of these days I expect to see him converted; there is a continual battle between us, but I never answer one of his arguments. I said to him once, "If you believe that I am a liar, you are free to think so if you like; but I testify what I do know, and state what I have seen, and tasted, and handled, and felt, and you ought to believe my testimony, for I have no possible object to serve in deceiving you." That man would have beaten me long ago if I had fired at him with the paper pellets of reason. So, I advise you to fight unbelief with belief, falsehood with the truth, and never to cut and pare down the gospel to try to make it fit in with the follies and fancies of men.
Spurgeon's view reminds me of Jesus' warning:
"Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
(Matthew 7:6 ESV)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dragons and Unicorns

I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. (Job 30:29 KJV)

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? (Job 39:9 KJV)
Folks, there are reasons why we need to update our translations from time to time. Getting rid of dragons (except in Revelation when used symbolically) and unicorns is one of them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Am Not An Animal

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)
Godless evolutionists tell me I am an animal, nothing more than the sum total of macro mutations from the primordial ooze. If I believed I am an animal with a cosmic accident for a beginning and no future to speak of,
If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:32b ESV)
But the Word of God tells me that I have been created in his image. While the Scripture doesn't define what "image of God" means (though we conjecture that it meant that Adam and Eve were created with great characteristics such as freedom of will, self-aware intelligence and moral responsibility) it does show that I am distinguished from all of the other living things on this earth.

I'm special and so are you.

People get it all wrong when they ask (or imply), "How much can we get by with without getting into trouble with God?" This is a wrong way of thinking. Rather than wanting to toe the line to the outermost boundaries of acceptability we should ask ourselves something else. "How can I glorify God and reiterate the loftiness of my creation?"

Can you glorify God by cursing out another person created in his image? Or your car when it doesn't start?

Do you reiterate the loftiness of your creation when you indulge in sophomoric bathroom humor?

Do you announce to the world that you believe you are God's special creation (and live to glorify him) when you watch a dirty movie where people are behaving like animals and not special creation of God?

This is why I don't agree with committing sin.
This is why I don't agree with drinking.
This is why I don't agree with smoking.
This is why I don't agree with cursing.
This is why I don't agree with acting like an animal, led by base instinct.

This is why I believe in love.
This is why I believe in treating others rightly.
This is why I believe in holiness.

Because God created me and you as noble beings. We were created for the highest and the greatest of noble aspirations. We were created for heaven, not the gutter.

If you want to prove the evolutionists right—that you are nothing more than an animal—go ahead. I believe I was created for better things.

As Paul said,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
The word rendered "excellence" is ἀρέτη and it is an important word. William Barclay spoke of it this way,
In classical thought it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of a man. Lightfoot suggests that with this word Paul calls in as an ally all that was excellent in the pagan background of his friends. It is as if he were saying, "If the old pagan idea of excellence, in which you were brought up, has any influence over you--think of that. Think of your past life at its very highest, to spur you on to the new heights of the Christian way." The world has its impurities and its degradations but it has also its nobilities and its chivalries, and it is of the high things that the Christian must think.
What he said.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do you Really Want to Know the Truth?

I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV)
If the Holy Spirit asked if you would allow him to enable you to understand the Bible—all of the Bible—with perfect doctrinal clarity would you take him up on his offer?

Would you say, "Yes!"


Many professing "Christians" wouldn't want him to do that. God's truth would be too inconvenient for their choices, lifestyles and habits. They'd rather play their version of church (and Christianity) without God being so rude as to bother their consciences with the truth.

Many "Christians" are guilty of the sin of idolatry. They create a graven image, an idol, a false messiah, another "Jesus" and another gospel to affirm their heresies and sins rather than the real Jesus who confronts them with the truth.
Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29 ESV)
Doctrine is not based on what I want to be true. It's not centered on what I hope is true. Doctrine must only be formulated through careful interpretation of the Bible. God doesn't care what I want to be true. God only cares about what is true! It doesn't matter what I want Paul or Peter or James to mean; what matters is what Paul and Peter and James meant!
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (1 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV)
If you can't defend what you believe based on a careful examination of the Word of God then you don't have justification enough to believe it. Let me say that again: If you can't defend what you believe and approve based on a careful examination of the Word of God then you don't have justification enough to believe and approve it.

It's time for school to be in session. You must be like the Berean Jews after hearing Paul and Silas proclaim Christ:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11 ESV)
I have a passion to understand what the Bible really means. What did the authors mean when they wrote to their original audiences?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
This passion was borne from humbling experiences in Bible college where God showed me that some cherished doctrinal positions I believed were wrong. The Lord had to wreck me; he had to knock down faulty scaffolding and build new foundations. God had to deconstruct me before reconstructing me. And he did, trust me. Now I want to know the truth [hard gulp] no matter what.

Who cares if some of God's truth in the Bible offends my stupidities? God doesn't care. There is enough in the Bible to offend everyone. So what? There is enough offensive truth to get "Christians" angry at preachers who dare to tell them that truth.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 ESV)
Would you really want to Holy Spirit to reveal a doctrinal error to you—a doctrine, perhaps, that you hold near and dear to your heart, a theological falsehood that you derive comfort or even identity from? Are you willing to be disabused of a false notion? Or are you willing to be convicted of a wrong action that you've tried to tell yourself is okay? Are you willing for your life to be gloriously wrecked because God decided you needed deconstruction and reconstruction?

Are you loyal to the truth—whatever it is and wherever it leads—or your opinions, desires, prejudices and conveniences?

Do you really want to know? Really?
I fear that loneliness and pain often create the deepest theologians.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The "Surely God Wouldn't..." Fallacy

Several years ago a Baptist pastor colleague of mine lent me some videos about the superiority of the King James Version. (My pastor friend didn't believe the KJV was God's ONLY Bible in English.) The series started off politely enough but took a turn and went downhill from there.

The ancient handwritten copies of the Bible from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek have variants; in other words, a word here, a phrase there or a few sentences in the more extreme examples differ depending on what manuscript you are reading. One of the arguments given in the videotape series for the King James Version being God's only Bible in English boiled down to an appeal like this:
Surely God wouldn't have left us with any doubts whatsoever in any portion of the Bible about how it originally read!
That's what I call The Surely God Wouldn't Fallacy. How do we know he wouldn't leave us with less than absolute, 100%, incontrovertible certainty for every iota or yod of his word? He gave us the variants in the manuscripts to draw educated speculations over but who said he gave us the King James Version as perfect in every detail? The retort, "Because I say so!" doesn't cut it.

We can produce variations of this fallacy ad nauseam:

Surely God is so loving that he wouldn't send anyone to hell for his sin!

Well, why does the Bible say he does (Revelation 20.12-15)?

Surely God wouldn't let a missionary get sick while the minister is serving in a foreign land!

Well, he allowed Paul to get sick (Galatians 4.13).

Surely God wouldn't reduce his covenant people to cannibalism during the siege of Jerusalem!

Well, the Bible says he did (Jeremiah 19.9).

Surely God wouldn't let the wife of a prophet die in the midst of the man's very stressful ministry...and not even let him mourn his wife!

Well, tell that to Ezekiel (24.16-18).

Do you see my point? So often we think God wouldn't do something (or, if you prefer, allow something to happen) because it makes no sense to us. We just can't wrap our heads around it.

We're going to have to embrace the notion that God thinks way over our heads most of the time.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
Actually, it can be insulting to God at times to believe he thinks like us:
These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (Psalms 50:21 ESV, emphasis mine)
If you think God doesn't do anything we find unusual, consider this hairstyle:
"And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber's razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel." (Ezekiel 5:1-4 ESV)
Or this one when God makes Ezekiel play the ancient equivalent of toy soldiers:
"And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel." (Ezekiel 4:1-3 ESV)
Just obey his word. You won't always understand it. But he will.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Never mistake holiness with a surly and miserly dispositon that never wants to have any fun.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Embezzlement in the WCG? (Christian Women Connection)

I received an email today from Arnetta McNeese Baily, Executive Director of the Christian Women Connection, formerly the Women of the Church of God (or WCG for short). It's not good news. Here is the email:
Dear Partners in Ministry,

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you some disappointing information before it becomes public. In February of this year, I decided that we should have a fresh set of eyes review our accounting procedures. We selected a new certified public accounting firm to conduct an audit of our financial statements and internal processing procedures for the fiscal year 2009–2010.
This audit revealed some irregularities. With the help of the auditing firm’s fraud investigator, an investigation was conducted. As a result of this investigation, it appears that money was inappropriately funneled out of the organization. The person who is believed to be responsible in this situation has been terminated from Christian Women Connection.
Our insurance company has been notified, and we are cooperating with them and with the auditing firm to determine the total scope of our losses. We are optimistic that our insurance policy will cover the losses. Regardless, I want to assure you that we will do whatever we can to recover the loss. We are also actively implementing the recommendations received from the auditing firm in the audit’s management letter.
Please keep everyone involved in this situation in your prayers. The leadership team of the Christian Women Connection specifically seeks your prayer for wisdom in resolving this situation.
I will keep you informed as more information becomes available. We continue to be committed to serving Christ through serving women and equipping them for ministry. We worship a mighty Lord, and we seek His guidance as we move forward in ministry to women within the Church of God .

Pray for the leadership and organization. This must be one very large headache that nobody wants.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Preachers: Keep Repeating the Basics

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2.2 ESV)
I have long held that one of the most important things a pastor can do is remind his congregation of what they already know. Due to our human frailties we constantly need to be reminded lest our harried and disjointed lives help us forget what is really important.

As New Testament evangelical scholar (and one of my favorites) D. A. Carson put it during a lecture on the book of Revelation and the genre of apocalyptic literature:
I sometimes tell my students that if I have learned anything in 35 odd years of teaching, I have learned that my students don't learn most of what I teach them. What they tend to learn is what I'm excited about. What they tend to learn is what I keep repeating. What they tend to learn is what I place at the organizational center, that is, so that everything gets related back to it.
Get excited about the cross, the now-empty tomb and the throne that Christ sits upon in heaven. Emphasize his offices of Prophet, Priest and King. Don't let your people forget them.