Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why I'm Still a Baptist

Why am I Baptist?  Why not a Presbyterian?  Why not a Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, or a Pentecostal?  Is the issue of baptism really so important so as to break fellowship over it?  Besides, Baptists were, generally speaking, the last to enter the game, they were even after the Reformation and aren't even, technically speaking, part of the Protestant movement of the 16th century, so why think they got it right and the rest of the church got it wrong for so long?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Marriage and Membership in Modern America

I quit blogging for my own reasons, but recently I've had a couple of friends ask me to write up this blog.  The Supreme Court of the United States has determined that the right for homosexuals to marry is a fundamental right.  In fact, as others have noted, this right of homosexual marriage actually places such marriages in an even higher standing that heterosexual marriages.  Whereas a state can refuse to recognize a heterosexual marriage that occurs between partners who would not be allowed to marry if they had applied for a marriage license in that state, (for instance, if first cousins marry in a state that allows for such, that marriage is not recognized in other states where such marriages are not allowed) states are not allowed to refuse to recognize homosexual marriages, even if such a marriage would not normally be allowed under their laws.  But, recent court decisions have gone even further than this, requiring individuals who object to homosexual marriage on religious grounds to participate in those marriages if asked to do so by the couple getting married, or face the penalty of anti-discrimination laws if they refuse to participate.

 One of the concerns of many pastors in America is that this same legal pressure will be used on churches to force them to participate in homosexual marriages, despite their objections.  Before we brush this concern aside as mere foolishness, it should be noted that even 5 years ago, we would have laughed at the idea that homosexual marriage could be called a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution.  The fact is that there are churches who offer some of the most beautiful wedding scenery available, and there are couples who would love to have access to that scenery.  Additionally, there are those in the militant activist wing of the homosexual community who will not stop until homosexuality is not only normalized, but celebrated in every aspect of our culture.

Yet, despite the fact that churches face this potential future challenge, the obvious answer to the cultural conflict we find ourselves in doesn't seem to be widely discussed.  The simple answer to address this conflict is for churches to allow their facilities to be used for marriages only by members.  This would be a major policy change for some churches, but it would bring these churches in line with biblical principles.  After all, why should churches participate in joining individuals in marriage when they have no ability to foster the development of the image of Christ in those marriages?  Enforcing a "members only" policy of marriage would require individuals who want to use the facilities of the church to also submit themselves to the teaching of the church in regards to marriage.

As important as this is for churches, it is even more important for pastors.  Ephesians specifically teaches that the true purpose behind marriage is not the happiness of the man and woman, per se.  The real meaning behind marriage is that it is to represent Christ and the church.  Yes, this results in happiness and blessing for the couple, but the goal of the marriage is to image Christ, not to make a couple happy that they can be together.  For a pastor, joining people together in marriage is a serious act, it is saying that here are two people who are committed to Christ and who will image Christ to the world.  Why would any pastor want to participate in joining together two people whom he does not know, or whom he does not have the ability to teach and correct so as to lead them into a greater image of Christ?

But, marrying only members is only the first step in churches addressing the challenge facing them.  The fact is that a homosexual couple can be members of a church.  The way most churches (at least in the Baptist world) are set up today, an individual can join the church very easily upon profession of faith.  Once that person has joined the church, what prevents them from then seeking to use the facilities of the church as a member?

Membership in the early church meant that the church recognized you as a Christian.  What I mean by "the early church" is the church up to about A.D. 1950.  Yes, less than 75 years ago, being a member of a church was not simply a social matter, it was also a declaration by both the member and the church that the person in consideration is a Christian, at least to the best knowledge of all involved.  What that meant was that when a person behaved in such a way that their profession of faith was called into question (drug abuse, alcoholism, spousal abuse, etc.) that person was subsequently called before the church to determine whether or not they really were a Christian.

For membership to have meaning today, churches need to get back to requiring Christian behavior from members.  But, the only way to do that is to have covenant membership.  It isn't sufficient for churches to have membership, without a covenant that membership is simply a voluntary act of the individual, which the church itself has no way of enforcing.  How many churches today have hundreds of individuals on their roles who have not entered the church in months, if not years?  How many churches today have members living in open sin, in defiance of what Scripture teaches, but do not hold their members to account for this?  Such a thing ought not be!

A covenant membership would require the members of the church to actually sign the covenant, acknowledging that they will adhere to the teaching of the church.  This then allows the church to include in their documents a statement of marriage and sexuality, a statement on church discipline, and whatever other statements are seen as necessary for the health of the church.  These statements then become part of the teaching of the church, and thus part of the covenant to which a person is committed.  Ultimately this allows the church to remain healthy by setting standards for what it means to be a Christian, and then encouraging and helping members to live by these standards.

So, how does this finally address the problem of homosexual marriage in America today, and the fear that churches will eventually be forced to participate in such marriages, regardless of their teachings?  If covenant membership is utilized, then that means a church can remove practicing homosexuals from membership, not because of hatred, but out of a love for the person and a desire to make clear that continuous sin of any kind demonstrates that a person does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  When combined with limiting marriage only to members, this means that the church would not be in danger of being found in violation of the Constitution by refusing to marry a person due to their sexuality, but that the person is not a member of the church, and thus does not have the right to use the facilities of the church for marriage.  Likewise for pastors, by allowing that they will only marry members of their congregation, they can avoid any accusations of discrimination.

Along with addressing the legal situation of pastors and churches today, there is an even more important reason to return to covenant membership.  The best reason for returning to a covenant membership for churches is because it is the biblical thing to do.  The church, throughout history, was the arbiter in determining who is and who is not a Christian.  We do not begrudge any other group the right to determine who is and who is not a member; likewise how can we complain when the body of Christ says that this person is not a part of that body?  Our own bodies reject when alien materials are introduced to them, so too should the body of Christ reject the entrance of alien DNA that seeks to redefine what it means to be a Christian.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Slavery in the Old Testament

There are some things that are morally wrong.  There is no gray area, they are just wrong.  Rape, murder, torture, and many other forms of abuse fall into this category.  We may argue about what constitutes "torture" or when someone has actually committed murder, as opposed to justifiable homicide, but once we have determined than an act falls into one of these categories we all recognize that it is wrong.  In English we use the term "inhumane" to describe these kinds of things, because we understand, from a primal level, that it is wrong to do these things to other humans.

But, what do we do when we come across an act that seems to fit into this categorization, and yet is permitted, even regulated by God?  That is to say, what would we do if we found a section of Scripture that said it is okay to rape a woman under certain circumstances, or that it is okay to torture someone under specific conditions?  We don't find those kinds of passages in Scripture, do we?  Is God so immoral that he allows inhuman acts to be committed by his people, and does not call these acts sin?  If not, then we have to have an answer for slavery in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New.

Before we can discuss slavery in the Old Testament we have to address a certain psychological problem we have in the West today.  When I say the word "slavery" or think about the term, the pictures, the ideas, that come to my mind are the horrible images of the African slave trade.  The facts of history are that millions of men, women, and children, were forcibly taken from their homelands in Africa and then sold, by other Africans, into slavery.  They were purchased like property by people in Europe and the New World (and even in India and the East), and were treated horribly.

The justifications for treating people like this was that they were less than human.  The rise of Darwinian evolution in the 19th century, as an example, allowed white Europeans to say that black Africans (or any other race for that matter) were less than themselves.  This same racist, vile attitude still persists today in various forms.  The sad reality is that we are sinners by nature, we dehumanize, devalue, and desacralize others all the time.  This is part of our curse, as we seek to flee from God we deny his image in man, for that image is the constant reminder of our rebellion against him.

This form of slavery, though, was not the slavery of the Old Testament.  In fact, the Old Testament explicitly called for those who practiced this form of slavery to be put to death.  Exodus 21:16 specifically says that any man who steals a man, and any one who is found in possession of a man who has been stolen, shall be executed.  What is being taught here is that if you kidnap and sell someone, then you forfeit your life.  Slavery in the Old Testament did not allow for the kind of dehumanizing man-stealing that modern slavery employed.

So what was slavery in the Old Testament?  First of all, slavery was a method for the poor to find provision.  Again, look to Exodus 21.  The first law we see is an admonition about buying Hebrew slaves.  Since these could not be captives in war (since Israel wasn't supposed to go to war against Israel) and these couldn't be men stolen and sold into slavery, how did they become slaves?  In hard economic times if a man lost everything he had, his home, his fields, his animals, and had no way to pay his own debts, then he could sell himself into slavery as a means to have provision.

If a man knew that he could not afford to pay back the debts he had incurred, then he could sell himself to someone else, a wealthy person in the area, who would then put him to work as a slave.  In this situation the slave was still a paid man, but he received less than a hired hand, and he did not have the same freedom as someone who simply hired himself out for labor.  We see this in Scripture as we read Deuteronomy 15:18.  Here we see the expectation that a slave would still be paid, though it would be less than a hired hand.

So, slavery was an option for the very poor.  In selling oneself as a slave it meant you would have shelter, food, clothing, and after seven years you would be able to go free with money in your pocket (assuming the law was kept).  For those in this situation, while slavery was not ideal, it was certainly better than the alternative of death from starvation, exposure, or thirst.

But, what about women?  Immediately after reading about a man being a slave in the text we read that a woman sold in slavery is not to be set free in the same way.  But notice something more in the text.  The assumption is that a woman bought in slavery was being purchased as a wife.  The text says if a man buys her for himself he must treat her as his wife, if he designates her for his son, then he must treat her as a daughter-in-law.  The assumption of the text is that a woman bought as a slave would be introduced into a sexual relationship, and thus she must be given the rights of a wife.

Women, usually, did not have the economic opportunities or the rights that men had in the ancient world.  We see this again when we look to the story of Boaz and Ruth.  Ruth, as the daughter-in-law of Naomi had the right of redemption through a close relative of her deceased father-in-law, and yet it was Boaz who went to the gate and sat among the judges and requested the man fulfill his duty.  Though Ruth had the right to be redeemed, because she was a woman, a man had to step in to secure that right for her, and to call the other men to acknowledge what was right.

You can complain about this social structure, and we can certainly look at the morality behind such a system, but that's another post in itself, and a separate issue.  For the sake of understanding female slavery in Israel we have to recognize that a woman, separate from her family and in poverty (as she would have been if she was sold into slavery) would be in a very bad situation if she was simply turned out after seven years.  Her reputation as a woman, and her future opportunities, would both be severely diminished compared to what a man would expect.  Therefore a woman was not to be turned out after an allotted period of time.

But, what about the wife of the man sold into slavery?  We see that the man goes free, yet his wife and children remain.  Isn't the bible simply saying that masters could play a cruel game, marry off their slaves and then tell them, "You can go, but you'll never see your wife or children again."  Isn't this just emotional blackmail as a means to keep slaves from seeking their freedom?

Again, look to the text.  If a woman was not pleasing to her master, that is if he did not marry her himself or give her to his son, or if he found her displeasing after taking her, then he was required to allow her to be redeemed, that is purchased back.  And, as the freed slave was supposed to be given wealth upon his release, he would then have the opportunity to seek to redeem his wife and children.

Consider that as an economic investment, selling the wife and children would make more sense for the master.  He would have extra mouths to feed (the children wouldn't be older than about 6, at the most) and he would be getting no extra economic value from holding onto them, so it would be in his interests to let the man who was just released also have his wife and children.  Otherwise the maintenance of this additional family could be an additional strain on the man's own budget.  And, as the children would be Israelites, he would not be able to keep them perpetually, but would be required to set them free, as we see in Leviticus 25.

Yet again we might ask though, what if a woman was purchased just to be a slave in the house, to care for a young daughter, or do other tasks.  What if there was no sexual relationship implied and no intent to marry her?  What if she was sold as a girl and was still of age to return to her father's house after a time?  It would seem cruel in such a situation to require a woman to be a perpetual slave.

There seems to be an exception given in the case of women who were purchased as slaves, but were not intended to be married.  In Deuteronomy 15 we see that the text says that men and women are to be treated the same in regards to releasing them after 7 years.  So, if a woman was purchased but was not taken as a wife, or was not forced into a sexual relationship, she would go free, just as a man would, after her seven years of service.   So, the only time a female slave would be kept perpetually would be if she was married, in which case she was to be treated as a wife (or daughter, depending on who married her), and not a slave.

But, what about permanent slaves?  In Leviticus 25 we see it written that the Israelites were allowed to make permanent slaves of those they defeated in battle, or those of the land around them, or even buy slaves from others who came to live with them.  Isn't there inhumanity in the way God allows them to be treated as slaves forever?

In short, no.  God is making a distinction between his people and the rest of the world.  Notice that God says the reason that an Israelite is not to be treated as a slave like others, but rather is to be treated as a hired hand is because the Israelites are God's slaves.  His point is that these other nations do not know him, they are not his people, but Israel is his, and as such they are different.

Still, a "permanent" slave was to be given the same rights as others.  He was to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath, he was to celebrate the jubilee year and not plow the ground or work the fields, he was to be given his freedom if his master so wounded him as to cause permanent damage (knocking out a tooth and blinding an eye being the two examples used in Scripture).  And, in the even that his master killed him he was to be avenged.  Again, a radically different kind of slavery than was seen in the West, where often there were few laws regulating how a master could treat his slave.

Moreover, as slaves in the ancient world routinely accrued wealth, a slave could even purchase his own freedom.  While perhaps not common, and certainly not easy, it also meant that slaves were allowed to own property of their own.  Again, this is a distinction from modern slavery where slaves would be allowed no property, or could have what little they had acquired taken from them at the will of their master.

A final word is worth mentioning in regards to the attitude of those who purchased slaves.  God reiterates multiple times the fact that he is the one who brought Israel out of the house of slavery.  God notes that Israel is his; they are his slaves.

The biblical attitude seems to be one that should lead masters to have mercy toward their slaves.  Even if the slave was a non-Israelite, it was not seen as appropriate to treat him cruelly, or abuse him.  After all, what was God's attitude toward his slaves?  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the more time we spend with God, the more we become like him, so those who were supposed to be his people and follow his law should have been continually transformed by that relationship in men of mercy and compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love to their slaves.

"Slavery" is just a word.  Similarly the term "servant" is just a word.  There is a denotation for these words, describing the fact that a servant and a slave are those who are bound to submit to their masters, they do what they do from obligation, because they are required to, not necessarily because they desire to do so.  Yet, the connotation of "slave" that exists in our culture, and the ideas of "slavery" that exist in our culture, when read into Scripture are anachronisms.  The wickedness of modern slavery is not what God permitted or regulated when he gave the righteous law to the Israelites.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

1 Peter: The Foundation of Christian Ethics

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded by faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  (1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)

Socrates riled up the Athenians, in part, by challenging their basis for ethics.  In the dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates asks the question, "Is a thing good because it is loved by the gods, or do the gods love it because it is good?"  He goes on to further ask, "What if one god loved a thing, but another did not?"  In essence, Socrates revealed to the Athenians that their basis for ethics, doing good because it pleased the gods, was really no foundation at all, because it did not answer the question, "What is good?"

This method of undermining the Christian basis for ethics doesn't work like it did in Athens because we do not have many gods, but one God.  Therefore it is impossible that what one god should love another should despise, for we have but one God.  What God loves, therefore, is good.  There can be no question of which came first, the love of God or the goodness of the thing, for God is the first and was before all things.  Christians thus have no issues with basing our ethical foundation on what God loves.

But, even if we know the right thing, why should we do that which we no do is right?  James notes that he who knows the right thing to do and does not do it sins (James 4:17).  But, so what?  What does it matter if we sin?  What does it matter if we do right?  We must have a reason, a foundation, for actually doing good.

Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine), in book 2 of his Confessions, tells of a time when he stole some pears amongst a group of friends.  Augustine notes that he knew what was good and would likely have not stolen those pears if he had not been around others encouraging him to steal, but he still acknowledges that he did what was wrong despite knowing better.  This raises the question that all of us must ask, "Why should we do what is right, when what is right is not always what we want to do?"

1 Peter 1:3-9 gives us the answer to that question.  In 1 Peter we come to understand why we ought to do what is right, and what the real foundation of good is.  We understand the value of good works from what Peter tells us of our own future.  Consider what Peter says here, "[your] inheritance [is] imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you."  The promise of Scripture is that we will have an eternal inheritance, which will never fade, never be blemished, and can never be defiled.

You see, the basis for Christian ethics is the eternal reality of our future inheritance.  This is a matter of guarantee, having been promised by God, and therefore it cannot be revoked.  Our inheritance is a permanent, eternal dwelling with Christ, the one we love.  And it is because we love him and will be with him forever that we strive to please him now in our actions, our attitudes, and our thoughts.  It is our nature to strive to please the one we love, and it is because of the great love we have for Christ, a love given to us by him who first loved us, that we desire to do what is good.  For what pleases Christ is what is good, and as we desire to please him we do that which is good.

You see, for the Christian, that which is good has eternal consequences.  Here is the real strength of Christian ethics.  We do not strive for what is good for an hour, a day, or a year.  Rather, that which is good is, for the Christian, eternally good.  This does not mean that what is good in one situation is good in every situation, rather that when we do what is good we do an act of eternal significance.  We see this in Peter's declaration that our faith will result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  That which is good is that which is pleasing to Christ, and that which is pleasing is that which is done in faith, in love of him, so that it is the act of faith that results in the praise of Christ at his revelation, which praise will never end, so that every act of faith has the eternal implication of bringing glory to our Lord and Savior.

Christianity thus answers the question of what is right and good in a way which no secular system can answer, by showing us that our actions are not good for a moment, a year, or even a lifetime or a hundred lifetimes.  Our acts are eternally good, never ceasing to have value.  This is the limit of the secular world, arguing that what we do helps another human, or a thousand humans, all of whom shall die and one day cease to be.  Every good act, from a secular perspective, one day will cease to have any meaning.  We will die, our children, and their children, and so on for as many generations as mankind continues, until one day the sun burns out, the earth grows cold and every good work, every kindness, every act of charity and love comes to mean nothing.  In the cold blackness of the eternal fate of our reality no good work is rewarded, and no wickedness is punished, for all end up the same.  This is the secular world view, and it cannot sustain us in doing what is good and right.

But, for the Christian, we know that God is eternal.  Every good work is forever remembered by him.  And as he is eternal, thus outside of time, every good work is eternally so, known by him in the moment it was done, thus being eternally good.  We shall live forever rejoicing in the good that was done, never losing the value of the kindness of charity and the beauty of love.  We may live in a world that will one day pass away under the judgment of God, but we live for a world that will be eternal, never ceasing.  And it is 1 Peter that shows us the basis for why we do good in a world passing away, because of the inheritance to come, of a world unending, dwelling with a God we love more than the temporary pains that come in this fleeting life.

Live to do good.  Love your God.  Rejoice in the salvation that has been purchased at such a great cost.  Understand that your good acts are not in vain, and though evil may be repaid in this world, our God has stored up great and wondrous treasures for those he loves.  This is the greatness of the gospel of Christ; it gives reason for life, reason for hope, and a reason to do good in the midst of an evil time and fallen world.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Christian Sabbath

I've been derelict in my duties.  I had a friend ask me a full month ago about the Sabbath.  In fact I had two different friends ask me about the Sabbath, coming from different perspectives.  I should warn you, though this is a post about the Sabbath, it is also going to address some adult topics.  As such, if you are uncomfortable with adult topics, or if you have a child reading this with you, you may want to put this aside for a later time.

The first question I was asked was about the Sabbath in relation to the Old Testament Law.  Basically, my friend asked me, "Since we do not set aside the other commandments in the Ten Commandments, why do Christians not observe the Sabbath?"  This is an honest and fair question that many Christians ask, and many of them then find themselves in a situation where they make a point of observing the Sabbath, resting from work and the world and just spending time with family.  However, I'm going to argue that no Christian sets aside the Sabbath, we just aren't always aware that we are observing the Sabbath.

The answer to the question about the Sabbath can be found in examining the Christian response to the Law as a whole.  For instance, while it may certainly be said that Christians do not set aside the Ten Commandments, I would argue we also do not limit ourselves to the Ten Commandments.  Take the second commandment for instance, that we should make no idols or graven images, and we are not to bow down to any idols.  We do not stop at just this, but under the guidance of Christ we go further so as to say that God is spirit, and those who worship him must do so in spirit and in truth.  Likewise, where God says we shall not take his name in vain, the Christian goes even further and says that our words must be such that we take no oaths, for it is known by all that our "yes" is "yes" and our "no" is "no."  (Likewise, if we understand this passage to be about attempting to manipulate God and use his name for magical purposes, as was commonly done with the names of deities in the ancient world, the Christian recognizes our submissive relationship to God, and that he is our Lord, not just a tool for us to manipulate to get ahead in this world.)

So, how does this help us to address the Sabbath?  Well, just as we do not limit our ethics by the Law, so we also do not limit our response to the commandments by a simple wooden understanding of the text.  We take the command of God as being even more significant in light of Christ.  We don't do away with the Sabbath, but we live in light of a greater command because Christ has changed our lives and made the law more than it was to us in the past.

Consider what Paul says in Romans 5:1-9.  He notes that there are those in the church arguing over what can be eaten, which days should be recognized as holy days, and other problems.  What is Paul's response to this?  He says that we ought not judge one another over such matters because God himself is our judge, and he will determine what is right or wrong when we stand before him.  And God will, through the atoning work of our savior, make us to stand on that day.  That is a glorious truth!

So, what has this to do with the Sabbath?  Everything.  Paul informs us that when it comes to considering holy days we must be fully convinced in our own minds, and that this is not a subject to split and quarrel over.  We see Paul speak in this same way in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2.  In Galatians Paul says that the strict legal adherence to worship days and the law made him fear that his labor was in vain (because they were depending on their strict obedience to the Law to be their salvation).  In Colossians Paul says that we ought not concern ourselves over the judgment of others in regards to the what we eat or drink, or even in regards to the Sabbaths.

Does this mean that Christian sets aside the Sabbath?  No, in no way are we setting aside the Sabbath.  Rather, as Paul says in  Colossians, and as the writer of Hebrews sets as the focus of his book, the Law is a shadow, and Christ is the real thing.  Thus the Law is to point us to Christ, and in Christ finds its fulfillment.

The Sabbath is part of the law, and is fulfilled in Christ.  The point of the Sabbath, from what we see in Genesis 2 is that God rested on that day.  Thus, as God rested on the Sabbath, God set apart a day for the rest of the Israelites.  But why set apart a day of rest, and then set that as part of the Ten Commandments?  It would be one thing if this was included in the Law as given in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but the Ten Commandments stand apart as what the rest of the Law will explain and expound upon.  To put the Sabbath as one of the commandments thus makes it stand out all the more, especially when you consider the context of the rest of the commandments.

The first commandment sets up God as the only God, the second says that God is not like anything on earth, and thus no image can reflect him so as to be an object of worship.  The third commandment admonishes us to remember the holiness of the name of God, and says that his name is uniquely sacred.  The fourth command says that we must remember the Sabbath, and keep it, for God himself set up the Sabbath.  The fifth to tenth commandments then instruct us on how our lives with our fellow man should be lived.

So, the fourth commandment is placed along with the rest of the commandments teaching us about our relationship with God.  Thus, I think the Sabbath is pointing to something more than just our need for a day of rest.  The fourth command is reminding us that God has rested from his work, and that we are called to rest, looking forward to the fact that one day we will be at rest with God.

For the Christian, the Sabbath becomes something more than it ever was in the past.  The Sabbath is our relationship with Christ, our rest from our works as we are objects of the New Creation.  As God rested when he finished the first creation, so we now are at rest in him as part of a New Creation completed in Christ.

Yet, here the great "already-not-yet" shows up once again.  Already, we are at rest, we are complete, we are perfect in Christ.  Yet, not yet do we see this completion, not  yet do we enjoy the rest we have.  Still we strive, living for the day we will be made perfect.

The Christian does not set aside the Sabbath, the Christian lives in the Sabbath.  Can we set aside a day to recognize that fact and rest on that day?  Absolutely.  Will setting aside that day result in our salvation?  No, for only Christ can save us, and only his blood atones for our sins.

If this doesn't convince you, so be it.  You be fully convinced in your mind about what the Sabbath means, and you live that out before God.  It is before God you will stand, not before me, and you must do what you are convinced in honoring to God.  This attitude doesn't mean to sin and appease the flesh, but to live under the graceful conviction of the Spirit, being guided and growing to full maturity in Christ.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Genealogy of Jesus

My father and my wife both do genealogy.  I find it interesting to hear about the various people I'm related to and to learn who I'm descended from in my family tree, but overall, as much as I love history, I don't really get terribly involved in genealogy.  Yet one thing remains true in my family tree, from the work both my wife and my father have done: every one of my ancestors has only and exactly two parents.  Now, this doesn't mean that I don't have polygamists, divorces, widows, or adoptions in my family tree, I certainly do.  Genetically though, all of my ancestors have only two parents, even if we aren't sure who those parents are.

I bring this up because when you look at the genealogy of Jesus, unless there is something seriously missing within the text, you would almost have to wonder how many parents Jesus had and how many parents each of those listed in the genealogies would have had.  For instance, Luke 3, in telling the story of Jesus ancestry, lists a different father for Joseph than Matthew 1 lists.  From Jesus' grandfather through several generations the lines are different, until we reach Zerubbabel and Shealtiel, then they differ again until we get to David, where they are the same until Abraham.  So, unless Jesus had two fathers named Joseph we run into a bit of a genealogical snag when we look at Matthew 1 and Luke 3.

However, what this presents is an opportunity to do further research.  One thing I have learned through talking with both my father and my wife is that we often find some tangles in our genealogy.  It isn't uncommon to find that one person who thought was the son of another person really wasn't related to him at all.  And sometimes you find that what appears to be conflicting information in the genealogy is really just a miscommunication or an error that crept in due to a lack of records.

In the case of Jesus' genealogy we have the records.  Both Matthew and Luke provide a record of the family line.  So, how do we reconcile the differences?

There are multiple theories offered to resolve the conflict, but before I get to the theories I want to pause to point out the wisdom of the past.  What I mean is that we aren't the first generation to read the bible.  In fact the bible wasn't originally written in English.  People have been reading the bible for thousands of years.  And, thousands of years ago, believe it or not, people were having children, and they understood how children came to be and that a child could only have one father and one mother.

My point is: the people who originally put the bible together, the church fathers, knew about the differences between Matthew and Luke.  The differences didn't bother them.  There was no great conspiracy to clean up the genealogies.  And from all the records we have, the differences in genealogy didn't seem to be a major problem for them in taking the bible to be true and accurate.

This alone does not resolve the problem, but it does council us not to think that the problem cannot be answered.  Even if we are not happy with the answers we currently have, we have reason to believe that those who originally handed the manuscripts down understood the differences and understood how the passages were reconciled.  It is possible that it was something that was so widely understood that there was never any thought given to needing to explain it.  Certainly the early opponents of Christianity could have made a big deal about the genealogies, and yet it doesn't appear that this was ever a problem in the earlier history of the church.

So, how do we explain it?  If it was something that the early church found easy to explain, shouldn't we understand that today?

Okay, there are two competing theories that I think are the best explanations for what we have going on in Matthew and Luke.  First, there is the levirate marriage possibility.  In this case the explanation issued is the Matthew is giving the physical ancestry of Jesus and Luke is giving the legal ancestry of Jesus.  This would have occurred because Joseph was the legal son of Heli but the physical son of Jacob.  It gets somewhat complicated to explain as we don't use the levirate method of marriage today (siblings across America are sighing with relief that they don't have to marry the siblings of their spouses), but, it is an actual possible explanation of the text and would have been a common enough practice in Jesus' time that people would have understood it without confusion.

The second possibility is that Matthew is tracing Jesus lineage through Joseph, but Luke is tracing his genealogy through Mary.  Now, the difficulty in this explanation is that the text does not say, "Jesus, son of Mary, daughter of..."  Yet, at the same time Luke does say, "Jesus, the son of Joseph, it was thought..."  Some scholars take this as a hint that Luke is giving the actual genealogy of Jesus through Mary because he wasn't really the son of Joseph biologically.

To add weight to this view we can also note that in Jesus time it was not uncommon for a son-in-law to simply be called a son.  This would be especially true in the case where a man had no sons of his own, so his son-in-law would be his legal heir, or in the case where a son-in-law lived under the roof of his father-in-law.  Either could be the case with Joseph and Eli.

In addition, the use of Joseph could be because it was improper to give the genealogy of the mother when noting ancestry.  Yet, as Mary was now under Joseph, Luke chose to give her ancestry as a more accurate account of Jesus' origin, and so listed Jesus as son of Joseph and Joseph as son of Eli because this would have been an accurate description of Joseph's relation because of his marriage to Mary.  Culturally it would have been very odd to give the genealogy of a woman, but that wouldn't be the only thing odd about the life of Christ.

Remember, the bible had a very high view of women, more so than the surrounding culture during the time it was written.  The bible had the women as the first witnesses of Christ's resurrection, which testimony would have been invalid in courts of the day.  The bible noted that there were wealthy women who supports Jesus' ministry.  The bible also records the names of women in the genealogy of Jesus.

There are other arguments for why Matthew and Luke may be different, but I think these two are the strongest contenders when you examine the evidence.  At the end of the day we cannot give an absolute answer, but we can be confident that the question is not without an answer.  Yes, believing that this conflict can be resolved takes faith, but if you want to argue about something as minor as Jesus' genealogy lets argue about something that requires real faith: the idea that a man died and rose again from the dead, and that this man was God incarnate, and that sinners are redeemed through his blood.

Is there a reasonable answer as to the differences between Matthew's and Luke's genealogies?  Yes, there are in fact at least a couple of reasonable answers.  Can I tell you, with certainty, which of those answers is the right answer?  No, I can't.  But, still we can hold that the bible is absolutely true in all it says, and this question is not the death knell of Christianity.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Calvinism the Heresy?

I like to watch posts over at The Lighthearted Calvinist.  Recently, in the FAQ post a commenter by the name of Arthur Adam Haglund made the argument that Calvinists are heretics.  His argument, as I was able to ascertain, is that Calvinists teach a different gospel (one that requires belief in Calvinism for salvation) and that Calvinists make God into the author of evil.  I wanted to post a reply to him for a while, but I never found the time to do so, and now, unfortunately, he has been asked not to post at that site anymore (I leave it to you, dear reader, if you want to peruse the comments in the FAQ to determine why, the issue is moot to me).  Therefore, I have decided to post my reply to him here, at my own site and invite him to reply if he would like to.

My goal in this post is not to bring shame to anyone, nor to attack anyone.  My goal is to honestly engage the question as to whether or not Calvinists are heretics.  I do this because I think there are many who believe as Mr. Haglund does, and I would like to offer an honest and logical argument to the contrary.  I do not wish to argue that those who holds opposing view points are heretics, but rather to demonstrate that there is sufficient room within the borders of orthodoxy and logic that the two groups may both recognize one another as Christians.  This is not to say that there are not those who are heretical within Calvinism, but rather that Calvinism in and of itself is not necessarily heretical.

In order to address the issue I begin first with the allegation that Calvinists teach a separate gospel.  In this I would agree with Mr. Haglund, with an "if".  If someone were to teach that without a strict belief in Calvinism one cannot be saved, then that man is presenting a different gospel.  The gospel is that we are sinners who have offended a holy and righteous God, and that because of our sin we are damned to hell and in need of a savior.  Because we cannot save ourselves we find ourselves in a horrible predicament, which can only be rectified by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  Because Christ was the perfect offer for our sins, the only Son of God, and because he died for sin, those who place their faith in him will not die but will have everlasting life.  Because Christ rose from the dead, we therefore have hope that we too shall be raised from the dead.  This is what we are called to have faith in, not any specific set of doctrines that discusses issues like "irresistible grace" or "perseverance of the saints," "total depravity" or any other point of Calvinism.

If anyone teaches that without a thorough grasp of Calvinism that one cannot be saved, that man is foolishly making the work of man a necessary part of salvation.  The idea of election is not in Scripture to save the lost, it is there to comfort the saint.  Growing in grace in knowledge is what happens after we are saved, as we walk with Christ.  And even then there are those who disagree with Calvinism.  Calvinism is not necessary for either salvation or orthodoxy.  There are many, both Arminian and Semi-Pelagian who are saved and in the family of Christ, and there are probably Calvinists who know the 5 points and could argue them convincingly who are as damned as anyone because they do not truly know nor have a relationship with Christ who is their Lord and only savior.

But, the more interesting argument, in my opinion, comes from the question as to whether or not Calvinists are heretics because they make God the author of sin.  Here Mr. Haglund notes that, strictly speaking, Calvinists argue that God has ordained everything that happens, including sin.  This is because Calvinists see God as totally sovereign, so that nothing happens without God willing that thing to happen.  Therefore, if God has ordained sin, Mr Haglund argues, God is responsible for sin.

Now, the Calvinist would respond that God uses secondary Causes, and therefore God is not responsible for sin.  That is to say, God ordains what will happen, but he also ordains how that event will happen.  In regards to sin God so acts so that the secondary cause (either men or angels) do what they want without him being morally responsible for what they are doing.  So, when a man commits murder, God has ordained the death of the man, and the manner of the man's death, and even the one who would kill him, yet at the same time God is in no way responsible for the moral decision the man made to sin by committing murder.

It seems Mr. Haglund's response to this is that it is foolishness to argue that God is not morally responsible.  In the case of any primary cause acting so as to bring about the event through a secondary cause, we always hold the primary cause culpable for the event.  To use an example from Mr. Haglund:  Suppose I shot a man and fatally wounded him.  He is rushed to the hospital where the doctor realizes the man has very little blood left and so orders an immediate transfusion.  For whatever reason the doctor orders the wrong type of blood and so the man goes into shock as his body rejects the blood that has been forced into his body, and thus dies.  Now, the cause of the man's death is that the wrong blood was given to him, but this is only the secondary cause.  The primary cause of the man's death, the one responsible for the man's death, is the fact that I shot the man.

However, in the case of God we are not so arguing from unintentional secondary causes, but rather what we are arguing is that God acts in such a way that men choose to bring about the very events which God desires.  And God does this without over riding the moral autonomy of those men.  Such an example is seen in Scripture where we read:  "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23) And, "for truly in this city were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."  (Acts 4:27-28)  Thus we see that the disciples themselves argued that the crucifixion occurred according to God's plan, but was carried out by evil men acting in their own will.

Another example we see of God using secondary causes would be the story of Joseph in Genesis 37.  Joseph first has a dream where he sees his brothers bowing down to him.  Then he has a dream where he sees his brothers, his mother, and his father, all bowing to him.  He tells these two stories to his family and the dreams make his brothers hate him even more than they already did.  In fact, the two dreams seem to be the tipping point that leads to his brothers eventually selling Joseph into slavery.

When Joseph goes to see his brothers in Shechem (he actually finds them in Dothan) they see him coming from far off and say to one another, "Here comes this dreamer."  It is the dreams that finally caused Joseph's brothers to determine that they can stand him no longer and want to kill him.  We even see them mocking Joseph's dreams by commenting on how his dreams will come to nothing after they have killed him.

However, after Joseph was sold into slavery, God used the same gift that so angered his brothers to lift him up in Egypt.  Joseph was able to rise to great power in Egypt because he understood dreams and had been given wisdom by God in how to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.  And, just as God used that which angered his brothers to lift him up, so God also used the famine of the land to bring Israel to Egypt.  Once in Egypt, Joseph became the one who provided for his family by telling them what they should say to Pharaoh in order to get the grazing land they desired.

Finally, after Israel dies, Joseph's brothers come to him and tell him that their father asked him to forgive them of their cruelty to him.  Whether or not his brothers were lying is left unmentioned by the text.  However, Joseph has no intent to harm his brothers because of what they did to him, but loves them very much.  So Joseph addresses them with a powerful line and says to them:  "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good."

What this story shows us is that God was using secondary events all along in Joseph's life.  First, God used Joseph's pride as he recounted the dreams he had, which came from God, to bring about the anger of Joseph's brothers.  Then, God used the anger of Joseph's brothers to bring Joseph into Egypt.  Then, God used Joseph in Egypt to save his brothers and his family.  Thus, God ultimately used Joseph's pride, his brothers' anger, and Joseph's slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, all as a means to accomplish his goal of bringing Israel into Egypt to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years.

As to the counter argument:  God does not ordain sinful events, however, he looks through time and uses those events as part of his plan.  This argument seems good on its face, but there are logical problems with the argument.  Bear with me and I'll explain.

First, let us assume the argument is true.  God looks through time and simply knows what people will do in the world he has created.  He does not ordain the sinful actions of man, but he does know them and he so arranges the world and his plans so that the things he does ordain take into account the sin of humanity.  In this case God still brings about events such as Joseph entering Egypt, but he never ordained that Joseph's brothers would enslave him or hate him.

Yet, there is a problem with that argument.  If God ordains that Joseph will rise up into Pharaoh's service out of slavery, but does not ordain that Joseph will be a slave, then there is a logical failure there.  That is to say, if God ordains that Joseph will rise up out of slavery then it becomes logically necessary that Joseph must first be enslaved.  Thus, while we may argue that God does not ordain that Joseph will be a slave, in fact God makes it logically necessary for his plan that Joseph be a slave.

Thus, while we're saying God is not ordaining Joseph be slave, at the same time we are saying it is logically necessary and part of the required plan of God that Joseph will, in fact, be enslaved.  It seems thus that God must necessarily ordain that Joseph be enslaved as he has ordained his response to Joseph being enslaved.  The only way to avoid this conclusion would be to say that God has ordained what he will do "if".  But, the problem is that if we say God's plan is only "if" then we must assume that God is not all knowing.  As soon as we allow that God is all knowing we must also admit that God has planned every event that will ever happen, and that every event that happens must happen as part of God's plan.

Thus, God ordains every event that happens.  God does not override the moral decisions of his creations in ordaining what they will do.  God does not become the author of sin in ordaining that certain sins will, or must take place.  Man is still fully responsible for the choices he makes, and God still, rightly, holds him responsible and judges him according to those choices.  And yet, the choices of man are not outside of the dominion of God.

Are there other ways that one can interpret the passages of Scripture I chose to look at?  Perhaps, but I would be interested to see how anyone would be faithful to both the text of Genesis and Acts and still argue that God did not ordain the specific sinful choices in view of those texts.  This is not an easy to wrap our minds around, it is not an easy doctrine to agree to because it makes us nervous about what we are claiming, and it certainly makes me want to defend the character of God.  However, if God so chose to reveal himself in this way, and chose to make it clear that he ordained the choices of Joseph's brothers and the men of Israel who crucified Christ, and yet he also holds them accountable for the actions they took and the sin they committed, though it brought about his purposes without their knowing it, if this is the God of Scripture and his power, then who am I to complain against him?  He is God,  I am man, and his ways are above mine, his power is not for me to complain against, but rather to trust in, knowing that in his goodness he will accomplish every good purpose he has intended, all to his glory.