(This blog is part 3 of a series of blogs on “the Gospel and power”).
The first blog in this series addressed the “upside-down” nature of the Gospel—namely, that the kingdom of God comes through faithful, sacrificial, and loving witness. I, also, addressed matters of church discipline. And thirdly, I referred to a documentary that focused on a movement among some Christians to influence the world by placing godly men in positions of power around the world.
The third point—putting godly men in positions of power—seems like a good idea to many. I, however, am deeply troubled by this idea. In addition to what I wrote earlier, I am troubled because I believe that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel and the mission of God’s people.
God’s people are to advance the kingdom of God through their faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness. To say it again: the gospel advances when God’s people faithfully, lovingly, and sacrificially witness for the kingdom. That is, we do so the same way Jesus did—by dying!
Now, it may seem incredulous to suppose that the kingdom of God advances through the death of God’s people. And that is the point! The kingdom of God doesn’t advance its empire the way the world’s empires advance! This may be hard to swallow but it is the absolute message of Scripture and it is supported by church history.
The thinking behind those who aim to place godly men in power, then, falsely assumes that it is God’s desire to place Christians in power so that they can affect Christian laws upon a secular society. Now, this might be a noble endeavor. But I would vigorously contend that it is an inherently non-Christian endeavor.
For one, the endeavor to impose Christian laws and ethics upon a culture does not make Christians, nor a Christian empire. It may make for a society with good laws. But it doesn’t necessarily make a society of good people.
Now, do not misunderstand. I am not saying that Christian men (and women) cannot or should not be in positions of power. Nor, am I saying that making good laws is not a noble endeavor.
What I am saying is that God’s desire for His people is to work for His kingdom. There will indeed be a day when Jesus will rule all the nations. But it will not be by placing Christians in power in this age. Instead, the ruler of this age (the devil) must be permanently cast aside; and, death and sin must be eradicated. Until that happens, which I would affirm takes place at the second coming of Christ (but if you want to push it to the end of the millenium it doesn’t matter to me), the people of God are called to lives of faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness.
Until then, the people of God may attempt to influence the nations of the world. We may seek positions of power. But we must understand that it is not through power, force, or military might that the kingdom of God comes. It is through a faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness. As a result, our deeds are just as important as a words.
Thus, when Christian leaders in power fall from grace and commit blatant sins, they should model repentance and contrition, and they should step down. After all, if a pastor or other leader did such, we have already agreed that they should step down.
For some reason, there is a fear among Christians that we cannot have Christian political leaders step down because someone who is not a Christian—someone who doesn’t share Christian values—might step in and fill the office.
This line of thinking is seriously in error. Our Christian witness is of greater importance that having Christians in seats of power. “They will know you are my disciples” not because you made Christians laws, but because of your conduct and character. When Christians hide their sins, or confess them, and, yet, do not step down, they are testifying to the world that their power is more important than their character.
When they don’t do what we would expect any other Christian in leadership to do, then we have placed too great an emphasis on the position and the power. And we have failed to understand that this is not the way the kingdom of God comes.
Hence, the documentary; which was produced to warn people about the Christian agenda to rule the world and influence the nations for their cause.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) Jesus explains that in the Old Testament law one was not permitted to murder, commit adultery, or lie. But, in His kingdom, Jesus explains, doing any of these in one’s heart was equal to doing them in one’s actions.
The point is that having good laws does not make one Christian. The nature of the Gospel is to have one’s heart transformed.
When we endeavor to force Christian values on others through power, it often repels people from the Gospel. When Christians are respected for being Christians and for living according to their ideals—which are predicated on a faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness—then the Gospel flourishes.
 In my upcoming book I spend much time defending this statement.
(This blog is part 2 of a series of blogs on “the Gospel and power”).
The first blog in this series addressed the “upside-down” nature of the Gospel—namely, that the kingdom of God comes through faithful, sacrificial, and loving witness; and matters of church discipline; and a documentary that focused on a movement among some Christians to influence the world by placing godly men in positions of power around the world.
The third point—putting godly men in positions of power—seems like a good idea to many.
I, however, am troubled by this idea. I am troubled because I believe that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel. In this blog, I will contend that putting Christian people in positions of power may well lead situations that conflict with the Gospel.
The aforementioned documentary went on to show that those values sometimes went ignored if/when they were transgressed. For example, when men committed acts of adultery, instead of doing the very things we should expect men of God to do, they were protected by the Christian establishment.
From the vantage point of those producing the documentary this was the height of hypocrisy. From their perspective, these Christian organizations were trying to obtain power in order to impose their social, economic, political, and moral standards on others (which to some in the secular world, appears cultic). Yet, these men of Christian ideals were not willing to live up to those very same standards when they violated them. They wanted to impose Christian values on the world, in other words, but they were not willing to follow them themselves.
Many of you may be reading this and conclude that there is nothing wrong here. These men, at least some of them, were contrite and repentant. They probably sought reconciliation. They likely tried to do the right thing.
Let’s assume for a minute that this were true in all cases. We have already established that Christian leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard than others. Furthermore, for their own sake, and for the sake of others who have been injured by the leader’s fall from grace, and for the sake of the church’s witness to the world, these men need more help. To allow them to remain in their positions of power after a significant sin conveys the message to all that these men are to be treated differently from the rest because of their positions of power. This is precisely the opposite of what I set forth in the first blog. When leaders sin, the consequences need to be more severe.
What, in effect, is happening in these cases is that keeping men in positions of power is deemed more important than the Gospel. This might sound outrageous. But the Gospel, which includes our witness to the world, is adversely affected when Christians, especially Christians in places of power, sin.
Not only that, but allowing them to remain in positions of power sends a message to the leaders themselves that they are special and need to be treated as such. Consequently, they do not receive all of the consequences for their sins that others might. The result is that they fail to get the necessary counseling and help that they need. Instead, they retain their positions of power, and begin to live with a sense that they are above the law. Because they do not face the necessary consequences of their sin, they often continue living unscrupulously. The end result is that the very law that they are put in positions of power to impose on others does not, in effect, apply to them.
Another effect of this special treatment for those in power is that sin itself is often minimized. This is used to justify the softer punishment for the leader who has sinned. In order to minimize the sin, however, the victim is often pushed aside. After all, giving the victim the necessary care they deserved, would only validate the severity of the sin.
Why do good Christian leaders in positions of power compromise their own core Christian values? More importantly, how can the Church not stand up and object when this happens?
The answer is, of course, complex, but a key catalyst is the conviction that it is deemed more important to have such men in positions of power, than it is to impose Christian discipline. In other words, the desire to have men who espouse Christian ideals in power is deemed more important than having men who actually live them out on a consistent basis.
There is another, and more significant, flaw with this approach to power. Namely, that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel of Christ.
The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord and that through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He has become the world’s true Lord. Jesus presently reigns as king through His people, who are called to proclaim His kingdom to the world. We proclaim the kingdom by imitating Jesus. The overriding ethic of Jesus’ kingdom is love! Thus, just as Jesus overcame power through faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness, so shall we. (In the book I am currently writing I spend 60-100 pages laying this out and defending this thesis. But I suspect that you expect a blog to be a bit shorter). At some point in the future, Scripture indicates that Jesus will return, vindicate His people, and establish His kingdom in full. At that time, death, sin, and corruption will vanish.
The Gospel has often been referred to as the "upside-down Gospel." Jesus’ way of doing things doesn’t fit with the world’s way. The world uses power. Jesus uses love. The world demands that we look out for number one. Jesus demands that we look out for the other—especially the one that others won’t look out for.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with this notion. Well, we at least have no problem with this in theory. We all recognize the difficulty in living it out.
. . . .
If a pastor or church leader were involved in some form of moral failure, I suspect that most everyone reading this would recommend some form of pastoral care for the afflicted and church discipline for the offender. Such discipline should, in the least, include confronting the offender so that he/she repent, demanding that they obtain counseling and other help, and then aiming for eventual reconciliation.
Most would agree—depending on the nature and severity of the sin—that the pastor or leader should step away from ministry for at least some specified period of time, if not forever—depending of the seriousness and length of the sin, as well as how well the pastor or leader has received help.
In such instances, church discipline is intended to address issues of sin on at least three levels.
First, there is the care for those injured by the pastor or leader’s sins.
Secondly, it is designed to help the pastor or leader who committed such acts.
Finally, there is the witness of the church to the world. Certainly, this third level is only secondary to helping those who have suffered recover, and those who have sinned get well. Nonetheless, when the church deals with sin in a congregation, especially when that sin is committed by a leader, it must be cognizant that the world is watching.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with what I have just set forth—other than the fact that such situations are difficult and grieving and because of this we often fail to do it out well.
. . . .
I recently watched a troubling documentary. Apparently there are Christians who perceive that God desires to place Christian men in leadership positions around the world in order that they may influence the world for the gospel. Their motive is certainly fine. And, I suspect, their hearts are in the right place.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with this notion. In fact, I suspect that most of you think that this is a good thing.
 This is what is supposed to happen. We all, likely, know of instances in which this process wasn’t followed. In effect, once you have finished this book you might see why.
 The documentary was presented from a secular perspective and aimed to expose the movement and its agenda. I am not addressing whether or not it was good. My point is in regard to the concept that Christians should aim to advance the kingdom by putting people in positions of power.
Can you worship in a van? Can you worship with a fan? Can you worship in a house? Can you worship with a mouse? Can you worship in the dark? Can you worship in a park? Can you worship in a tree? Can you worship . . . ? The answer to all of these should be “yes”! Because worship is a matter of the heart.
I just saw a blog that was posted in which the title was “Why Churches should ditch projector screens and bring back Hymnals.” Seriously! Now the author does attempt to make some defense for his thesis, but I suspect that the bottom line is: he personally worships better with hymnals than screens and so he assumes that everyone should.
His first argument is that “screens are ugly” (actually, the author states “they’re horrifically ugly”). He argues that they may look okay in a house or gymansium, but they “don’t fit” in a traditional church building. I’m laughing, sorry. But, do I need to note here that Jesus, Priscilla and Aquilla, Tertullian, and most every Christian until the 4th century worshiped in houses?
Next, the author argues that screens “reflect our tech obsessed culture.” Now, there is something to be said regarding our tech obsessed culture. But, does he not realize that he is writing a blog!!; which was published on a website? (let that sink in for a moment). And that in order to read his blog I must look at a screen? And does he not realize that hymnals didn’t exist until after the invention of the printing press—aka technology. And that organs and acoustic guitars can’t be played without electricity? Shall I go on? If we rail against technology, where do we start and where do we end?
He then contends hymnals are better than screens because it is difficult to teach new songs with screens because there are no notes. He says, “If you’re not already familiar with the tune, you cannot sing from a screen. There are no instructions on how many pitches you must devote to each syllable.” Seriously? I can’t read music. And I suspect that most (?) people can’t either! So, where does that leave us? Of course, it doesn’t matter for me how many pitches to devote to a syllable because I can’t stay on tune anyways.
Finally, the author contends, “To Save Worship, We Must Rediscover Hymnals.” Do I really need to respond here? If so, please reread the title of this blog.
If you want a hymnal, then use one. But many don’t know how to use a hymnal. And they are not likely to learn. Getting rid of the screens will hinder worship for them because they will not know the words.
I have many thoughts about traditional v contemporary and all that. But, for those in the church who are having this debate, I simply ask: where is your heart?
In addition to this, I find it ironic that people in the Church argue for one form of worship over another when worship at its core is self-denying and other focused—namely, God/Christ. So, when a person argues that my preferred form of worship is better than yours, they are often failing to deny themselves and, thus, hampering true worship.
I would hope that you could worship with an organ, or a guitar, from near or from far!
NB: One final note: a good friend and fellow pastor posted a link on his Facebook page titled “Dear churches, here’s why people are leaving.” Now, I don’t think that the reasons stated in this blog are comprehensive enough, the author does hit on some good points. Basically, we are not addressing the issues that need to be addressed. I would say that the attitude that says we must get rid of the screens and bring hymnals back is a part of the problem. The younger generation doesn’t know how to use a hymnal and they spend much of their life looking at screens. Some come to church and don’t want to look at a screen. But, for many others, screens are a way of connecting them to worship! So, if you want hymnals and no screens, you might have them. But you will also need to shut your doors in a few years.
 I realize that “worship” needs to be defined here, but I think most readers know that I am using it in the context of deep praise and adoration during a public service. I certainly agree that “worship” should be holistic.
 If you are not familiar with them I encourage you to read Acts. They were a key couple in the life and ministry of Paul
 I really want to say, “I guess they should have used screens!” but I won’t.
Christianity as a Relationship
In order to understand the nature of discipleship it is also important to recognize that Christianity is about a relationship. Many are familiar with the notion that in becoming a Christian one becomes a child of God. We receive God, our Father, who cares for and attends to His children—even more than a loving earthly father. All of this is certainly true.
There is a danger here, as I see it. Many Christians think of having a relationship with God in terms of their own personal gain! God is there for me when I need Him. The focus of which is on God being there for me. Certainly, there is a personal gain, and certainly God is there for us. But if that is what it is about, then it is not predicated on love, but on selfishness. This means that we have the roles reversed. Instead of surrending to Christ as Lord, Christianity becomes about me. This leaves myself as Lord.
So, it is indeed about a relationship. But that relationship begins and ends with Christ as Lord.
Discipleship as Imitation
The fundamental feature of Christian discipleship, then, is that it is about becoming like Jesus! Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In Ephesians, Paul says, “Be imitators of God” (Eph 5:1). Since Paul was convinced that he was striving to imitate Christ in his own life, he felt that he could urge his disciples “be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:16). What an incredible statement! Instead of saying “imitate Jesus”, Paul says “imitate me.” Now, I do not think that we can suppose that Paul was arrogant here. I suspect that Paul meant, and his readers knew, that he was doing his best to follow Jesus and was asking them to follow along!
That the goal of the Christian life is to attain Christlikeness is why Paul says, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col 1:28-29). Paul says that he labors and strives to present everyone “complete” in Christ. The word for “complete” (teleios) has the sense of attaining the goal, or the end.
Now, we recognize that will not attain Christlikeness in this lifetime. We will, however, in the resurrection: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him” (1 John 3:2). This is why Paul says,
“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:10-14).
Imitation in suffering
Imitation of Christ includes suffering as Jesus suffered! Suffering is a fundamental component of being a Christian. Peter notes that Jesus suffered as an example for us: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). This is why Paul says that our imitation of Christ includes following Him in the way of suffering: “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). Later, in the same letter, Paul notes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings” (1 Thess 2:14).
This is why Jesus states that “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
 Cf Luke 11:13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
 The different translations help us to see the full meaning of the word: ESV, NET, NIV, and NRS render it “mature in Christ”; and the NLT uses a phrase “perfect in their relationship to Christ.”
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
What is discipleship?
Let me state it from the outset of this chapter: discipleship is the goal of the Christian life and the essence of discipleship is cross-bearing. Jesus commanded us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). And He added, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Matthew 28:19-20 is the central command of Christianity. The command is to make disciples, not converts. A number of years ago the late Dallas Willard wrote, “The Great Omission.” Now an omission is to leave something out. What is it that Willard suggests we have left out? His answer was “the Great Commission.” The Church has omitted the Great Commission. The very thing we have been called to do is the very thing we have not done.
Instead, most churches have replaced discipleship with conversion. Now do not misunderstand: conversion is a part of the process of making disciples. But, conversion is not the same as discipleship.
How so? Conversion is a one-time event. It is a one-time deal—though, admittedly, it may be a process for some. A person prays and asks Christ into their heart. Done! Fini. Game over. Even for those who come to faith in Christ over time, there is still a point, even if it is unknown to them, when conversion has taken place. Discipleship, however, is a lifelong journey.
A disciple is a learner, or a student. Essentially, the goal for a disciple is to grow in the likeness of their rabbi or teacher; which for a Christian means that we are on a journey to Christlikeness. When Jesus commands us to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20), He is saying that we are to help people join the journey of growing in the likeness and image of Christ. Making disciples, then, is a life-long journey.
Tragically, as Willard observed, “The governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be “Christians” forever and never become disciples.” This is because for much of evangelical Christianity the goal is conversion. Pastors and church leaders often wonder why they have so much trouble getting people to come to church, to live seriously for Jesus, to read their Bibles, to come to a prayer meeting, to volunteer and serve. Yet, the answer is simple: why should they? After all, if conversion is the goal, then all else is extra. If the choice is between the football game and going to church, between the kids soccer and a Bible study, between sleeping in and not sleeping in, between a night at home and a night at a prayer meeting, then the decision is simple: “if I am already a Christian and all that is good to go, then I might as well as stay home and enjoy the game, or the extra sleep.”
The problem is that, for many, they were never told they were supposed to do anything beyond believe. Though, admittedly, it is sometimes implied, and often taught, that those who commit their lives to Christ “ought” to live moral lives. What is not recognized enough is that the preaching of moralism (do good things and not bad things) is often a source of conflict for many. They feel burden to do the right thing. The result is that we find degrees of faithfulness in the church, but mostly as a result of a sense of obligation.
The reality, then, is that we have sold them the wrong product. Then we wonder why they are not doing what we believe is vital to their spiritual growth.
 Willard, The Great Omission,
 Willard, Omission, xi.
I would like to take our discussion of what is the Gospel further. In doing so, we need to ask two questions: First, what is the goal of the Christian life? Secondly, what is the purpose of the Christian life? The first question pertains to the topic of personal discipleship. The second question to the mission of God’s people. It is essential, however, to note that the answers to these two questions are intricately interwoven. We must not, and cannot, separate our growth as disciples from our call to fulfill our mission.
Here again, the Gospel of personal salvation becomes problematic. I suspect that if we were to ask most western Christians what the goal and the purpose of the Christian life are the answers would be something along the lines of: “to accept Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die.” For most, this is both the goal and the purpose.
As a result, it is not uncommon for Christians to consider Christianity as a one-day-a-week, or even a one-day-a-month thing. Most Christians have little sense that there is much beyond accepting Jesus as their savior. Pastors struggle to get their members to come, to be engaged in Bible studies, to engage in outreach, and to serve. As long as Christianity and being a Christian is defined in terms of my personal salvation alone, then the struggle to help Christians understand that there is more and to experience this more will be ever present.
In order then to understand the Gospel further we must explore what discipleship is and what it means to be a disciple. This will be our next series of posts.
The Gospel and the Kingdom
To this point we have established that the gospel in its simplest expression is “Jesus is Lord” and that it is to be believed because it is the truth. In order to further our understanding of the Gospel, it is, also, necessary to observe the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God!
The gospel and the Kingdom of God are deeply intertwined in the NT. We see this in Mark’s opening description of the ministry of Jesus: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). Though some might suggest here that Jesus was referring to two related but different things—first, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), and secondly, He was also “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark 1:15)—the Greek construction indicates that these two elements are in fact one. That is, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God,” and what He was saying (i.e., what constitutes the gospel of God) was: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this statement, then, we see a clear connection between the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, likewise, connects the gospel with the Kingdom of God. Matthew uses the word “gospel” (euangellion) four times (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; and 26:13). In each of the first three occurences (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) the gospel is directly connected with “the kingdom.”
Matthew’s first two uses (Matt 4:23; 9:35) are especially significance for our sake. A comparison of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 shows that these two verses are virtually identical:
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (4:23)
“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (9:35).
The repetition of virtually identical statements, as we see in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, forms what is known as an “inclusio.” An inclusio is one of the primary means by which an ancient author identifies the beginning and ending of a section or an entire work. The use of an inclusio not only serves as a way of indentifying the beginning and ending of a section, but also serves to indicate its key purpose—somewhat like what we do with a “thesis statement.” This means that Matthew 4:23-9:35 should be viewed as one extended section. The central themes of which are Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and His doing the work of the kingdom. We see then that one cannot separate the proclamation of the Kingdom of God from the acts of the kingdom.
This means that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”; and, this proclamation is directly correlated with both the proclamation and the doing of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, this means that in order to comprehend the gospel more fully we must gain an understanding of the kingdom of God. (to which we will turn in a future post)!
NB: if you like these posts and find them helpful please let others know!
 This understanding is reflected in the NET, NIV, and NLT translations: NET “Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’”; NIV “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”; NLT “Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” The key here is that the Greek will often introduce a quote by utilizing two references to “saying.” For example, the Greek NT will often state, “Jesus was teaching and saying.” In such cases, we are not to suppose that Jesus was doing two different things here: namely, teaching and saying. Instead, the second verb “saying” is just the ancient writers way of introducing the content of the speaking. Note, they didn’t use quotation marks. So, the second verb often serves as our English equivalent of quotation marks.
 Note the NAS translates the identical construction in the Greek of Matt 4:23; 9:35; and 24:14 slightly different in 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom”; instead of, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Of course, “this” and “the” are grammatically interrelated.
 There was no need to be absolutely identical. We must bear in mind that Matthew was read aloud. The hearers of the text, upon hearing Matthew 9:35, would recall the earlier statement of Matthew 4:23: even even if they were not able to recall if the statements were identical.
 Since the ancient text was read aloud and most were “hearers”, the use of paragraph breaks and chapter headings wouldn’t have been useful. In addition, the cost of paper was such that the ancient authors were in need of saving space. As a result, ancient writings not only lacked paragraph breaks and section headings, they often lacked space even between words. Verbal markers, that is things that could be heard, were the primary means of assisting the ancient hearer in regard to structure and flow of thought.
What is the Gospel?
A look into the NT shows that the word “gospel” is used in a basic sense to announce the “good news.” The “gospel” is a proclamation of good news! Now, this is a good start, but we still need to declare what the “good news” is about.
In its simplest expression the gospel, or the “good news” is that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem elementary, but the implications of it are profound. In fact, I would contend that we cannot utter anything more profound than the declaration, “Jesus is Lord!”
If Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is; neither is power, nor military might. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not: neither is pleasure, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. It means that my personal security is not: neither is my accumulation of wealth, my accomplishments, my talents, nor my education, nor, in my case, my good looks! It means that my personal desires are not. It means that my family is not. It means that neither is my house, my car, my clothes, nor any possession. To proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” begins with the acknowledgement that no one or nothing else is!
The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is profoundly simple. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them.
Why should someone believe the Gospel?
Now, the "gospel" begins with and extends beyond the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. But, before we proceed, we need to address one somewhat tangential question: “why should someone believe the Gospel?” The answer is simple: because it is the truth. That is it. Jesus is Lord and we are not. And that is the truth. There are no other reasons. We should submit to Jesus as Lord because He is Lord!
The problem is that very rarely is the Gospel presented in our western Christian culture as something to be believed and followed because it is the truth. Instead, we market the Gospel as something to be believed so that you can go to heaven; or so that you won’t have to go to hell; or so that you can get your life back together. In otherwords, we typically present the Gosepl as something that will result in personal gain.
The question, then, becomes: if I believe in Jesus only for my own gain, have I really submitted to Him as Lord?
Now, I recognize that submitting to Jesus as Lord may be a process. Just as we know that it is appropriate to teach a child to do right by offering them a reward, so, also, we may attract youth to a Wednesday night event with ice cream, movies, video games, and whatever is necessary. Even adults are introduced to Jesus or the Church through fun events.
The danger, as I see it, is that when we incentivize the reasons why someone should believe in Jesus, we risk minimizing the Gospel. Sure, there is truth in the notion that: “if you go to Bible study, you will may learn how, through Christ, you can overcome your troubles”; or, “if you cease living immoral lives, you can find true pleasure in Christ.” There is truth in the fact that in coming to Christ we may begin to experience all the blessings that come from being a child of God. But, there is also truth in the fact that the call of Christ is not easy.
Two potential problems arise. First, many churches are only offering more candy: “If you come to church we will make sure you enjoy it.” This makes it very hard for that same church to preach the radical call of Christ. In all honesty, it is a bit hypocritical and unfair to offer them candy one day and then demand that they carry their crosses the next. We lured them in with candy. Then, after they stayed a while, we switched out the candy for green beans!
Secondly, what happens to this person and their faith in Christ when things do not go well? We told them that in believing they would be blessed; they would have peace; God would provide for all their needs. We told them about the good things that would happen if they come to Christ—they will gain wisdom and other spiritual gifts in the present, and they will have comfort knowing that eventually they will be in heaven with Christ forever. We might also tell them a little of the demands of Christ. How they are supposed to bearing their crosses—mostly in the form of moralistic preaching; such as, be sexually pure and do not lie. But, when things don’t go well, they sometimes spiral.
When the Gospel of Jesus as Lord is proclaimed, we can tell them that He remains Lord in the midst of their sufferings, their fears, and their longings. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus as Lord entered our sufferings for us in order to redeem us.
The reality, however, and I know you are thinking it, is that if we are more explicit with the nature of and the demands of the Gospel, not as many people will believe.
This is why I believe that the Parable of the Sower is vital for our understanding of the Gospel and the life of the Church. But, that is the subject of another post!
 It has been said that there are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If Jesus is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
 This fact stands whether or not God is good. If He is Lord, then we should submit. It just so happens that He is good! Thank God! Sorry for the pun!
It doesn’t get more basic to Christianity than to ask: “What is the gospel?” The question is pretty simple. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in part 1, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer.
In addition to the alarming reality that many Christians cannot define the Gospel with any clarity, comes the realization that for many the definition of the Gospel is often “me” centric. That is, the Gospel becomes merely something that was done for me. It is common, for example, for someone to define the Gospel as: “Jesus died for my sins.” Or, “if you have faith in Jesus and repent then you shall be saved.” I suspect that defining the Gospel in terms of this “me” centered—how do I personally get saved—approach proliferates Christianity.
One website, in fact, states:
“When Christians refer to the ‘Gospel’ they are referring to the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, ‘the Gospel’ is the sum total of the saving truth as God has communicated it to lost humanity as it is revealed in the person of His Son and in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.” In the next sentence, the author of this article encourages readers who are uncertain if they are saved to click on the link to learn more about “God’s plan of salvation.” In addition, The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia states, “The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement.”
Now, let me be clear: the gospel is certainly the good news of God’s gracious gift for those who believe that we might be saved. It absolutely entails the finished work of Christ. The result includes the restoration of our relationship with the Father. But it is much more! And, in fact, I would contend that when it comes to defining the Gospel I am not sure that this is the best place to start.
For one, defining the Gospel solely in terms of what it does for me fails to account for the most fundamental element of the Gospel: namely, the sovereignty of Christ. The Gospel is not about us, it is about Him. The Gospel begins and ends with: “Jesus is Lord.”
Secondly, defining the Gospel in terms of what it means for my salvation makes salvation the focus, or the goal. The problem, as we will explore in the following chapters, with making salvation the goal, is that once a person is saved all is completed! This leaves the process of discipleship!—the very thing Jesus commanded us to do (Matt 28:19)—out of the picture. I will contend that if our understanding of the Gospel only entails that which corresponds to our personal salvation, then what we are left with is a truncated gospel; one that serves to facilitate our western, individualistic, consumerist, and self (me)-centered worldview. We must ask how much a “me” centered gospel is really the Gospel? After all, can we reconcile the summons to follow Jesus, which begins and ends with, one must “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), the very epitome of self-denial, with a “me” centered version?
There is a third problem that arises from a “me” centered definition of the Gospel. Namely, that is leaves out the mission of God’s people! A good definition of the Gospel captures the fact that Jesus is Lord, that He not only rules as “King of kings,” and that He has called us to be the means through which He establishes His kingdom! Perhaps the clearest support of this comes from 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God has chosen us, Peter says, “so that” we may “proclaim” His excellencies!
 See: https://bible.org/article/what-gospel. viewed 3-28-18.
 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), electronic media. Cited in bible.org. https://bible.org/article/what-gospel 3-28-18.
 For an excellent discussion of the Gospel see Tim Keller, Center Church, parts 1-2.
 The Greek uses hopos, which, in constructions such as this, indicates purpose.
In this final post I wish to ask the question: What does this mean for the Church today?
I will contend that the Sabbath is indeed an abiding provision. The fulfillment has begun in Jesus, and it continues through the present day. The Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, but not abolished by Him. It is through the work of God’s people that the fulfillment of the Sabbath continues. What might this mean?
First, just as communion reminds us of what God through Christ has done for us, so also, the Sabbath is a reminder that God has rescued us. In addition, just as taking communion looks forward to the eternal banquet in God’s kingdom, so also, practicing the Sabbath looks forward to the eternal rest awaiting us. Practicing the Sabbath reminds us that God has set us free from slavery. In fact, to not practice the Sabbath is to reject the notion that God had rescued us. It is a flagrant denial of the fact that we were in slavery and have been set free.
Secondly, a theology of the Sabbath means that we are to recognize the holiness of the day. This is best done in the weekly gathering of God’s people. For those who work on a Sunday maybe it means attending a weekly Bible study or some form of corporate fellowship, worship, and study.
Thirdly, we can rest and take time off weekly, because God is our source. The Sabbath reminds us that God’s economy does not follow the economics of the world. God blesses His people because they are obedient and because they practice justice. It is the economics of the kingdom of this world that begs us to work too much. In taking a day off each week, we are living out the Kingdom of God and confirming He is Lord and will provide. Consequently, we can take a day off each week to worship and serve the true King of kings. In doing so, we have no concerns about wealth—losing income or productivity—because our King reminds us that He is the provider. Practicing the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God is in control.
Finally, to practice the Sabbath means to ensure that justice is done. This means that we are not engaging in activities that foster inequity and that we are actively seeking to eradicate injustice. Boy did I just opened up a can of worms! Having a kingdom ethic and engaging in kingdom practices means that we must ask the tough questions and put the answers into practice.
 I highly recommend the very challenging book by Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity.
Jesus asserts, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What He means here is that the Sabbath was made to protect people from being exploited. We were not made to observe the Sabbath (“not man for the Sabbath”). Instead, the Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humanity (“the Sabbath was made for man”); especially those who were being exploited.
If the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, then, with the coming of Christ, the end of oppression is at hand! This is what Jesus means when He enters the Nazareth synagogue and asserts that, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Now, what better day was there for Jesus to demonstrate this than on the Sabbath! The very day that was established to prevent injustices.
Therefore, contrary to popular perceptions, Jesus was not proclaiming that the Sabbath no longer applies. He was confirming that it was fulfilled. In Him, all injustices are being eradicated. This is exemplified in Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13. “When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness’” (Luke 13:12). She was freed! Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and freed, so also, this woman has been set free! This healing, then, provides an affirmation that Jesus has come to set the captives free! Indeed, the prophecies are being fulfilled. The healing of this oppressed woman is precisely what the Sabbath was for! In healing this woman, Jesus is demonstrating that the fulfillment has begun! The healing of this woman didn’t violate the Sabbath; it was exactly what the Sabbath was for! Consequently, despite the religious leaders’ objections to Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, His actions were in accord with the very nature and purpose of the Sabbath!
Jesus was not denying that He was working on the Sabbath. He was indeed working. His work, however, was not in violation of the Sabbath—though it was in their mind. Instead, it was fully in accord with the Sabbath.
Sabbath as Holy
Now, in order to complete a theology of the Sabbath it is important to also note that practicing the Sabbath is also a holy act. Genesis says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). While the first six days of creation are called “good”, the seventh day is blessed by God and made holy. To be made “holy” or “sanctified” means to be “set apart.”
It is also important to place the Sabbath discussion in the discussion of God’s economy! Throughout Scripture we see that in God’s economy He provides for His people as an act of grace. That is, God’s people will succeed because they are blessed by God. They do not get ahead because of their hard work, or their ingenuity. They certainly will not get ahead because they abuse their workers!
Another way to understand how the economy of God is directly related to the issue of the Sabbath is to note that the land was also supposed to enjoy the Sabbath.
“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” (Exodus 23:10-12).
It is very important to note that the provision of letting the land rest is also in accord with providing for the poor and the needy: “so that the needy of your people may eat” (Exodus 23:12).
Now, if one thinks about it, this doesn’t appear to be the best way to reap an economic boom. After all, only sowing in six out of seven parts of the field will not reap as large a harvest as sowing on all seven parts. Sure there are studies that have concluded that the land is actually more productive when it is allowed a year of rest. But we must wonder if the ancient Israelites knew this. There were simply instructed to give the land a rest every seven years. How were they to find provisions during the seventh year? God will provide!
This is how the economy of God operates. God provides and His people are blessed. They are blessed not because they followed the economic ideals of the world. Instead, they are blessed because they have been obedient to God.
In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who was crippled by an evil spirit for eighteen years. The problem, at least from the perspective of the local synagogue official, was that the healing took place on the Sabbath. The official remarks to the people, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). His statement has a clear allusion to Deuteronomy 5:13: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
Now it must be understood that the official’s complaint seems reasonable. The woman could have found Jesus the next day. After all, if she has been troubled by this spirit for eighteen years, then what is one more day? And if healing someone is indeed a work, and there is no absolute standard to say that it is or it isn’t, then Jesus’ healing was a violation of the Sabbath.
What many Christians attempt to do at this point is to justify Jesus’ actions on the basis that healing someone is not “work” and, therefore, He didn’t violate the Sabbath. Is this, however, the best way to read the passage? Was Jesus quibbling with them over the definition of “work.”? No. In fact, His reply seems to suggest that He was working, but so were they.
On another occasion, Jesus unequivocally acknowledges that He was working on the Sabbath. The Gospel of John notes, that “the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). Jesus, then, replies, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Instead of quibbling over what is work and what is not work, Jesus’ defense is that they do not understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
Thus, in Luke 13:15-16, Jesus replies to the official, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16).
Note that Jesus’ reply alludes to Deuteronomy 5:14—recall that the synagogue official had cited Deuteronomy 5:13 in his exhortation to the people. Jesus was, in effect, saying that he should have kept reading. After all, according to Deuteronomy 5:14, the Sabbath also applies to one’s ox, donkey, and cattle: “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle.” Jesus is pointing out that they were willing to untie a donkey and lead it out to water on the Sabbath so that it may drink—something that was not life-threatening. If they are able to do so for an animal, and the Sabbath applies to their animals, then shouldn’t He be able to set this woman free on the Sabbath?
Now, if Jesus were merely arguing, “well, I am working but so are you,” the official might well respond by acknowledging: “yeah, you got us. We probably shouldn’t be leading our animals to drink on the sabbath. Thanks for pointing out our inconsistency.” This would leave Jesus in a corner. He would then have to submit to the Sabbath regulations that prohibit work; including healing. Clearly there is something more going on in Jesus’ argumentation. And discerning such, will help us determine our theology of the Sabbath.
Towards a theology of the Sabbath
In order to discern a theology of the Sabbath, we must first understand that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ. Paul affirms this directly in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
In saying that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, we mean that the nature and purpose of the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus. It is important to note that in saying that the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus does not mean that it is eradicated. Instead, it means that the very purpose for which the Sabbath was established finds its fulfillment in Jesus. What, then, is the purpose of the Sabbath? Is it not simply a day for rest? The answer is that the Sabbath is much more than that!
The key for understanding what Jesus was doing in healing on the Sabbath, as well as, for our understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sabbath, and, consequently, for our discerning a theology of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath rest is a matter of justice. The Sabbath, along with the rest of the ten commandments, was established in accord with creating an economy of justice. All one has to do to understand this point is to ask: who wants the workers to work seven days a week: the owners of the field, or the workers in the field? The Sabbath was established in order to protect those who were most likely to be exploited: namely, the working class.
That the Sabbath was intended to create an economy of justice—i.e., it was designed to protect those who were most vulnerable—is why, after the Sabbath law is stated in Deuteronomy 5:14, the next verse reminds them that they were slaves in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). The Sabbath, then, is a way of saying “you will not exploit your workers; after all, you should remember what it was like when you were exploited.” The Sabbath law, then, points us to the time when injustices and oppression will cease!
 It is intriguing that the official does not address Jesus.
 The plural “hypocrites” suggests that Jesus was addressing more than just the official.
If you travel to Israel today you may notice that some of the major hotels will have “Sabbath day elevators.” On the Sabbath, these elevators, which are clearly marked so that non-Jews might avoid them, stop at every floor. This accomodates those who believe that pushing a button would constitute “work.”
In June 2008, I was in Jerusalem on a Friday night. It was around 9:00pm. A friend of mine and I were walking through the Jewish quarters back to the hotel. Suddenly, a man came running down a set of stairs and called out, “excuse me, gentlemen. Can you give me a hand?” We said, “sure.” He then escorted us up the stairs to his home and proceeded to explain to us that he had a large number of people coming over for Sabbat (the evening celebration of the Jewish Sabbath; which begins at sundown on Friday) and that he had forgotten to turn his air-conditioner on.
Over the next 20 minutes, we had a great conversation. He told us how he was a podiatrist from Los Angeles who had moved to Jerusalem years earlier because it was a better environment to raise his kids. After getting a small tour of his home, he noted that his company would be coming any minute. Then he pointed to the top of a bookcase and said, “its up there.” We reached up and found the remote that controlled his air conditioner. “It is that button” he noted as he pointed to the power button. We pushed the button turning on his air-conditioner and left.
Now many of you might think that it is silly that a man is able to walk up and down the stairs but not able to push a button on a remote. Certainly, the latter is less “work” than the former. I suspect that many Christians will look upon this man’s efforts to adhere to the rules of the Sabbath with a measure of disdain. But, I must ask, is the common Christian approach to the Sabbath any better?
A theology of the Sabbath
I suppose that most Christians do not have a theology of the Sabbath. In fact, I suspect that most do not even know what it means to have a “theology of the Sabbath.” Those that do will likely assert that the laws of the OT were fulfilled in Jesus, and, therefore, the laws of the Sabbath do not apply any longer.
As a result, few Christians practice any form of Sabbath keeping. Some have a conviction that Sunday (or at least one day a week) is to be set aside as a day for rest. But even amongst them, there is often little concern as to what “rest” or “work” means.
Over the next several posts I intend to set forth a biblical theology of the Sabbath. Was Jesus working when He healed on the Sabbath? What was the Sabbath for? Do we need to keep the Sabbath today? If so, what might Sabbath keeping look like?
This post is a review of the book Israelism and the Place of Christ: Steven Paas (Ed.), Israelism and the Place of Christ: Christocentric Interpretation of Biblical Prophecy, (Beiträge zum Verstehen der Bibel), Zürich: LIT Verlag 2018.
Steven Paas (red.), Het Israëlisme en de plaats van Christus: Christocentrische interpretatie van Bijbelse profetie, Utrecht/ Soest: Boekencentrum & Boekscout, november 2017.
This collection of essays, published in English and in Dutch, includes such notable contributers as G. K. Beale, Colin Chapman, and O. Palmer Robertson. The book addresses the profound and deeply significant question: “what does the Bible say about Israel?” The question is profound, not simply because of the deep divide that separates evangelical Christian scholars, but because when answered poorly it has led to serious consequences. The Church has been on the wrong side of history too often. As a result, many fear to tread where this volume treads. Because of this, Steven Paas and the contributors to this work should be applauded.
The Bible and Israel
Chapter one begins with an introduction to the Bible and Israel by Steven Paas. Paas’ opening chapter wonderfully sets forth the tone of this collection of essays. He clearly establishes a Christocentric hermeneutic in which Israel is not rejected, but expanded, by finding its fulfillment in Jesus. That is, the Bible is by, for, and about Jesus. Though this is widely accepted among biblical scholars, it remains a central point of contention in the contemporary discussions pertaining to Israel and the Church. For either Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises throughout the Scriptures, or there remains a fulfillment for modern, ethnic Israel.
Paas contends that “In the history of salvation, Old Testament Israel — land, people and religion — does not have an end in itself. Its existence is functional, a means of God serving His plan of salvation for all peoples” (16). Paas then surveys the OT to flush this out. Israel was to serve as a kingdom of priests (Exod 19:4-6). Israel was a servant (Isaiah 42, 49). Most significantly, Paas concludes, “On the cross of Calvary followed by His resurrection Old Testament Israel has reached complete fulfillment” (18).
As for the relation between the Christ, the church, and Israel today, Paas notes, “Christ is the root of the noble olive tree onto which the faithful branches are grafted” (19). Because of this, he concludes, “Believers of Jewish and of Gentile origin are not rooted in Israel but in Christ, who is the fulfillment of Israel” (20). Paas concludes that the true Israel are those (whether they are Jews or Gentiles) who believe in Jesus.
What does this mean for the Church and Israel today? Paas contends, “The advent and work of Jesus Christ did not end the promise of salvation to Israel as a people but widened it to all peoples. The people of God, observes Paas, are now defined by Jesus the King. The land of God now extends to the whole world. And the temple is Christ Himself (22). The result is that “This conclusion makes it impossible to stick to a certain separate status for the contemporary people of the Jews, or of Israel if one prefers, without (unintentionally) compromising the unique position of the Servant of the Lord” (25).
Chapters 2-13: Summary
Chapter two is an essay by Erik van Alten on John Calvin’s view of Israel and the Church. Van Alten primarily looks at Calvin’s remarks on the book of Acts as the basis for his assessment of Calvin’s views. He notes that Calvin looked at Israel and the Church as a continuum. Because of this, Calvin viewed the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel being found in Christ and the Church and leaving no room for the notion that there remain promises that will someday be fulfilled by ethnic Israel. Van Alten notes that, Ephesians 2:14, which Calvin references in his commentary on Acts 2, is a “hermeneutical key to his understanding” (48). He concludes, “For Calvin there is no discontinuity between Israel and the Church. The Church is Israel, of which the believing offspring of Abraham is an integral part” (56).
The third chapter is a vital chapter in this work. G. K. Beale addresses “Israel’s Land in Relation to the New Creation:” which was originally printed in Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology. There is no question that land and family are the two key components of the OT covenant. God’s promise to Abraham included a land and a family. Not only does God promise Abraham and his descendants the land, but after they were sent into exile the latter prophets promise a restoration in which Israel will be returned to the land and have a greater peace than before. Beale notes that there is a problem “when we try to discover in the New Testament how this land promise could have begun fulfillment in Christ and the Church. When Christ comes and performs His saving and restorative work, He does not return believing people to a physical land as a mark of their redemption. Nor is there mention of Christians returning to Israel’s promised land” (60). To this I would add the fact that the NT shows the people selling their land (Acts 4:34-37). Beale postulates that the land has been fulfilled by Christ. He notes, “redeemed people do not go to a geographical place to be redeemed; rather, they flee to Christ” (60). Beale concludes that “these promises [of land to Abraham and Israel] have begun [to be fulfilled] spiritually and will be consummated physically in the final new creation” (61).
Beale, then, contends that the promise of land must be connected with Eden. The reason why this connection is so important is that as Adam and Eve were fruitful and multiplied and filled the Earth, Eden would also expand and fill the Earth. Since Israel was a corporate Adam, then it stands to reason that the OT land promises were also not limited to the land of Israel. Beale notes, “It is this expansive Temple-land theology that underlies other prophecies of the universal expansion of Israel’s land” (63). Beale provides ample references from the OT to confirm his thesis that the promise of land was to expand and fill the earth. He also confirms that extra-biblical Judaism anticipated the universalization of the land promises.
Beale then looks at the New Testament’s universalization of land promises. He sets forth Matt 5:5; Rom 4:13; Heb 11:8-16; and Rev 21:1-22:5, as instances in which the OT land promises are universalized. Beale, also, appraises Heb 1:2; Romans 8; Eph 1:13-14; and Col 1:12-14 as examples of the “already/not yet” references to the land promises. (Though Beale’s chapter focuses upon the land promises it is important to observe that the promise of family to Abraham was also extended to include an innumerable multitude that certainly would extend beyond the borders of the land promises.)
The fourth chapter is a contribution by Colin Chapman. Chapman, who has spent much of his ministry in and around the Middle East, writes on “Christian Interpretation of Ezekiel’s Prophecies.” Chapman argues that the book of Ezekiel provides a good template for seeing how the NT writers understood the OT prophecies. He argues, with a good level of depth that Ezekiel’s prophecies about a coming Davidic king, the sanctification of the name of God, the nations knowing God, the cleansing from sin, the gift of a new heart and of God’s Spirit, the covenant of peace, and God’s sanctuary being among His people forever, are all fulfilled according to the NT in the coming of Christ.
Chapman then responds to those who, though agreeing that these prophecies are fulfilled in Christ, still wish to contend that some of these prophecies require a literal fulfillment in the return of the Jewish people to the land. Chapman provides five responses to this line of thinking. First, he observes the differences between the return of exiles in the 6th BC and the return of Jews to the land in the last century or more. He notes that the recent historical return of Jews to the land was not preceded by repentance, as required by Deuteronomy 30. Thirdly, he affirms that the return of the Jews to the land also speaks of a spiritual renewal, which has not accompanied the modern day return. Chapman adds that Jesus never spoke of an exile and return when He spoke of judgment on Israel. Finally, Chapman contends that the redemption and restoration of Israel was fulfilled in Jesus according the Gospel of Luke.
In chapter 5, Bram Maljaars contributes a thorough look at Acts 3:17-26 and suggests that it has been misundersood. Maljaars’ study is very well researched. He concludes that the traditional understanding that the repentance of Israel will result in the coming of Christ, or the “times of refreshing,” is mistaken. Instead, Maljaars demonstrates that the “times of refreshing” coincides with the first coming of Christ and not the return of Christ.
Chapter 6 is a contribution by Joost van Meggelen, who looks at the issue of the restoration of the kingdom in Acts 1:6-8. This passage is, perhaps, one of the most commonly misunderstood by dispensationalists and Christian Zionists. Meggelen concludes that the restoration of the Kingdom is realized in the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, for the book of Acts, the fulfillment occurs as the Gospel goes from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the end of the Earth.
Chapter 7 is an interesting look at “Israel, the Nations and the Mission of the Church,” by Duane Alexander Miller. Miller shows that throughout the OT and the NT the mission to the nations has played a fundamental role. Miller notes, among several examples, that the nations were included among the Israelites in the Exodus. He then reiterates, what several authors of this present work have noted, that many of the promises in the OT were pointing to Jesus. He addresses the interpretation of Hosea 11:1 as found in the Gospel of Matthew and concludes that it too finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
Theo Pleizier addresses “In Spirit and Truth” in chapter 8. Pleizier asks what it might mean for us today that worship is now “in Spirit and in truth.” He concludes that Christian spirituality “is about a spiritual attitude that keeps itself in tune with different interests and loyalties, to discern truth and justice in the here and now and to be steadfast in the hope for a new constellation of heaven and earth, and to keep alive the expectation of Christ’s reapparence” (191).
In chapter 9, Raymond Potgieter, in his chapter “Gnostic Traits of Israelism and Messianism,” presents an interesting argument in which he concludes that those views that propose a chronological process that results in an idealistic view of the return of Christ risk becoming a form of modern Gnosticism.
O. Palmer Robertson tackles the massive question of “The Israel of God in Romans 11.” Romans 11, of course, is one the pillar texts for Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, who suggested that Paul sets for the contention that there will be a national restoration of ethnic Israel. Palmer concludes that when Paul refers to “all Israel” he has in mind all believers. Palmer also notes that nothing in Romans 11 leads to any conviction that a national restoration of ethnic Israel is set forth in Paul. Palmer concludes, “the redefined Israel of God includes both Jews and Gentiles in one body” (231).
Chapter 11 is a contribution by Stephen Sizer titled “The Jewish Temple: Past, Present, and Future.” Sizer addresses the notion that a literal temple must be rebuilt—a common position among Christian Zionists—before the return of Christ. Sizer contends that Ezek 43:19, which states that “you are to give a young bull as a sin offering,” is the “Achilles’ heel” for Christian Zionists (236-37). After all, Sizer notes, the sacrificial system has been fulfilled by Christ: something Christian Zionists affirm also. Sizer finishes his chapter by noting that the promises of the temple are fulfilled in the NT people of God.
In chapter 12, Jos M. Strengholt addresses the issue of a “literal” interpretation and the Christian Zionist’s use of Zechariah 14. As Strengholt points out, the use of “literally” is quite problematic. The term is thrown around often by Christian Zionists without much attention as to what it means. He observes, “I’ve never observed someone who proclaims that we all must take all prophecy ‘literally’ who really does what he preaches. Usually one is not aware of the selective way in which one takes literally only what fits in one’s own perception” (247). After showing that taking everything “literally” is not practical, Strengholt addresses the common criticism from the Christian Zionists that to not take everything literally results in “spiritualizing” the text (which it is assumed to be bad). Finally, Strengholt addresses the interpretation of Zechariah 14. He argues well that a Christocentric interpretation of the NT confirms that the prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.
In the final chapter, Martin van Veelen addresses “Who are the Goyim?” Van Veelen looks at Psalm 2 and Acts 4. He notes that in Psalm 2 the Davidic ruler is given to the nations, which van Veelen contends are those that surrounded Israel (265). This Psalm is then cited in Acts 4 as fulfilled in Christ. Van Veelen then points out that in the interpretation of Psalm 2 the unbelieving part of Israel is taking on the role of the nations who rebel against the Lord’s anointed.
Overall, this is an excellent collection of essays. I applaud Steven Paas and the writers of this volume. This work addresses the fundamental issues with regard to Christian Zionism and the Christian Zionist’s interpretation of Scripture. In particular, a number of essays address the assumption that Scripture must be interpreted literally. Several address the OT promises of land and family and how to understand them in light of Jesus and the NT. Still others address the nature of the kingdom of God.
One of the chief criticisms I have is that several of these essays fall into the trap of concluding that either the promises of land were fulfilled “literally” or “spiritually.” This is the same problem that plagues various versions of Christian Zionism. Both sides seem to concede that the promise of land isn’t fulfilled literally in the NT. The Zionists then assert that, therefore, there must be a future, literal fulfillment. Several of the writers within this book postulate that the promises were fulfilled spiritually. This conclusion was prominent in two of the stronger essays in this collection: the chapters by Beale and Chapman.
Beale’s conclusion that the land promises are spiritually fulfilled in the present and will be fulfilled physically in the new creation too heavily relies on Epicurean dualism. Such a dualistic approach is not warranted, nor is it necessary. Chapman concludes that the promises were fulfilled in the NT’s kingdom of God, but that they were fulfilled spiritually. He argues that the Kingdom of God “is spiritual and therefore has nothing to do with any piece of land” (112-13).
But the NT does not transform the land promises to some spiritual reality. Instead, as I have argued in my book, These Brothers of Mine, which has been translated into Dutch and published as, Op zoek naar de familie van Jezus, Wie zijn familie van Jezus? the physical and spiritual fulfillment is in Christ Himself and, through the Spirit, the NT people of God. There will indeed be a final consummation in the New Jerusalem, when the Temple of God fills the whole Earth. What makes it hard for some to understand in this regard is how land promises could be fulfilled in a person and a people. But this is no different than the promises of the temple being fulfilled in Jesus and the NT people of God. If the promises of a restored temple are fulfilled in a person (and this is virtually undisputed in light of John 2:19-21) and in a people (cf Eph 2:19-22; 2 Cor 6:16), then it should not be hard to see that the promises of land could also be fulfilled in Christ and the NT people of God.
When we add to this that the land promises are related to the promises of the restored temple—the land was to be the place where God dwelt—then it is even clearer to see that if Jesus and the NT people of God are the temple, then the promise of land must also be where they are—i.e., Christ and the NT people are the land! This is why the NT promises of inheritance are so consistently applied to the people of God (cf Acts 20:32; 26:18; Gal 3:18; Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Col 1:12; 3:24; 1 Pet 1:4; see also Jesus’ assertion that the land will be given to others: Mark 12:8).
I would also question Pleizier’s conclusion that we should be “reticent” about speculations regarding the significance of contemporary events (190). I understand why he says this. It is a gracious response to the Christian Zionist’s claims that 1948 and 1967 were a fulfillment of prophecy and their continued efforts to find further fulfillments in other contemporary events. At the same time, I see no reason for such a gracious concession. The events of 1948, 1967, and any others, are not a fulfillment of prophecies. God has not abandoned the Jewish people. Nor, has He replaced them with the nations. But, as several authors in the volume have noted, the NT people of God (comprised of Jews and Gentiles—whose distinction is absorbed into one: Gal 3:28) are the true Israel. Therefore, any fulfillment of prophecies in the present world would have to do with the true Israel of God. This might include ethnically Jewish people becoming Christians. But beyond that there are no prophecies that can be fulfilled apart from Christ, by the Jewish people or the modern state of Israel.
I affirm Chapman’s conviction that the NT provides the basis for understanding how to view the OT. The notion that the OT stands on its own, as some Christian Zionists contend, makes sense, but is simply contradicted by Jesus and the NT writers. The NT writers clearly understood the OT in a transcendent manner—note: it is not a matter of did they understand it literally or spiritually. The NT writers understood the OT Christologically and pneumatologically, and ecclesiologically. Thus, the promises of the temple are clearly fulfilled, according to the NT, in Jesus. There is no need to debate if this fulfillment is literal or spiritual. Such an effort reflects a modern worldview, which is, as mentioned above, influenced by Epicureanism, and has no basis in understanding the biblical text. If we were to use such a distinction, I would have to say that Jesus is the temple of God spiritually and physically—though I think such a distinction is ultimately meaningless.
Maljaars’ essay was the most insightful. I was personally convinced that his interpretation and recommended translation of Acts 3:19-21 is correct. This is the case even though I have written and supported a modified traditional interpretation. Looks like I will need to consider a third edition of my book (Understanding the New Testament and the End Times)!
In all, this is an excellent collection of essays. They set forth a Christological reading of the Scriptures and address most of the key issues pertaining to dispensationalism and Christian Zionism.
The author of this article, Rob Dalrymple (PhD Westminster Seminary), is a pastor and professor. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 29 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His work, These Brothers of Mine, looks at the theological issues relating to the Holy Land. His other writings include: Understanding the New Testament and the End Times; Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation; and Revelation and the Two Witnesses. You can learn more about Rob by examining his website www.determinetruth.com and following his podcast “determinetruth” at podbean.com or on itunes.
It doesn’t get more basic that this: “What is the gospel?” The question is pretty simple; yet, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer.
I was at a conference recently with several thousand church planters—mostly from evangelical backgrounds—when during one of the breakout sessions the speaker suggested that if he were to ask those in attendance “what is the gospel?” he would likely get a hundred different answers from the hundred people that were in the room. I was, in one sense, flabergasted, and in another, grieved.
I was both flabergasted and grieved by the fact that the church has become so shallow that a hundred pastors and church planters could not come to any consensus on what the gospel is! I do think that this speaker was overstating his point. But, at the same time, I also suspect that many in that room would have had trouble articulating what the gospel is! (and if pastors and church planters would have had trouble defining the Gospel, then what should we expect from the average congregant?).
If it wasn’t enough of a problem that pastors and church planters would have a difficult time defining the Gospel, I became significantly more flabergasted when the speaker himself went on to define the gospel. He said, I define the gospel as, “radically transforming the world.” I am serious. That was his answer. I immediately thought to myself (okay, I probably did more than think this to myself, I am sure I whispered it to a few around me), “what makes this statement uniquely Christian?” There was no Jesus in this answer. Couldn’t this definition be used by any other religion? In fact, I suspect that most corporations would hope that their organizations aspired to “radically transform the world?” I then commented to someone next to me, “I think Hitler did that!”
I am not sure what was worse: this pathetic attempt to define the gospel in such a way that fails to distinguish it from any other religious group’s mission statement—or even that of a corporation or tyrant—or the fact that most of the 100 pastors and church planters “oohed” and “awed” after he made this declaration!
I am not saying that there is one definition of the gospel that all Christians adhere must adhere to. Of course, it would be nice if this were so. There are, however, core, essential elements of the gospel that underlie the Christian faith. So, what is the Gospel?
'These Brothers of Mine'This article is meant as an introduction to Dr. Rob Dalrymple’s These Brothers of Mine, 1 The author of that book is a Presbyterian minister in California and a member of an Evangelical Network, which looks for peace and justice in the Middle East. The book contributes to the debate in the Christian world about the relationship between Israel and the Church. As such, it is a call for Christian love in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially but not exclusively for those whom Jesus in Matthew 25:40 named His ‘least brothers’: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me’. I am not reviewing or summarizing the book here, but just drawing the attention of a wider readership to it. Because the Israel issue is a hot item in the Netherlands too, in cooperation with the American publisher, Wipf & Stock, Rob and I intend to have the book published by a Dutch publisher. I am working on a translation. The book’s core consists of various chapters of Bible study, which interpret the nature and purpose of Israel, especially Israel’s fulfilment in Christ. In my view, this has resulted in an effective answer to the ideas of Christian Zionism and Replacement Theology. Dalrymple has shown that these two seemingly mutually contradicting movements have much more in common than their adherents would have liked. After all, both have failed to recognize the meaning of Israel according to Scripture, the former by elevating Israël’s place and the latter by downgrading it.
Read the full article here:
Donald Trump is no Saint
I received the following note (italics) and thought it was necessary to respond:
“Throughout Biblical history God has chosen very flawed men and women to lead:
[NB: In writing this I am making no assertions as to whether Donald Trump is a good president or not. Frankly, that is very far from my concern. My concern has always focused on the people of God. Are they growing in Christ and fulfilling their mission of making God known to the nations? Of course, by “making God known” I mean is the Church doing so effectively?: that is, are we demonstrating love and grace?; showing compassion and advocating for justice?; etc. I am writing this because I believe that the evangelical right’s unapologetic support for Donald Trump as president is downright shameful and often extremely hypocritical; not because he is a bad president, but because he is exemplifying a seriously flawed character that in now way should be affirmed by the Christian community. Again, let me reiterate, my focus is on the Church being the church that Christ called us to be in whatever country we might live in and under whatever laws that country may wish to impose.]
It must be noted at the outset that the basic premise of this argument is seriously in error. For one, unlike many evangelicals, I am not looking for a saint to be our president; nor, am I expecting the President to be our savior. I am constantly bewildered how western evangelical Christianity continues to look to a secular state and its political leaders as though they will be the salvation for the Church. One reading of the book of Revelation provides us with an indication that the state is not the means of the salvation for the people of God. This conception seriously confuses a secular office with a religious person and the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God. [This error is perhaps the most serious error reflected in the assertion above and in the evangelical communities embrace of Trump; but, it is beyond the scope of this response.] Thus, I have a pastoral concern for you and others who minimize Trump’s sin and behavior. My concern is that you are minimizing sin which diminishes what Christ has done for us, as well as, diminishing our witness to a hostile world. I hope that you are putting your trust in Christ as our king and not any politician, nation, or government.
It is worth noting that the line of reasoning presented in this letter inherently contains a concession that Donald Trump is “very flawed.” The argument seems to be that though Trump is seriously flawed, so also were these many biblical men and women, as is all of humanity, yet, God used them, so, also, God can use Trump.
Furthermore, the implied, if not stated, assertion that Trump is no more flawed that the biblical persons mentioned above is seriously suspect. The basic premise is that we are all “very flawed” people. The use of “very” seems a little loose here. If we accept the premise, then it could be used to suggest that even people such as Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot may be used by God “to get us back on track.” After all, they were “very flawed” men too. But, if we are going to use “very flawed” for Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot, then I would suggest that its application to all people is inappropriate. After all, we have to have some means of distinguishing Hitler from Mother Teresa. One may absolutely affirm that all persons are flawed, with varying degrees of flawedness, but not all are “very flawed.”
Additionally, the letter used “very flawed” in regard to Moses, Noah, Rahab, and the above list of biblical men and women. Although the point that God has used flawed people, and continues to do so, is a valid point, I am not sure that “very flawed” is appropriate for most, if not all, of the biblical characters listed. Neither does it seem valid to equate the sins and character flaws of these biblical persons to Trump.
For one, the sins of most of the biblical characters listed above probably do not qualify them as “very flawed” persons. The assertion that Noah was a drunk is simply unfounded. Noah got drunk. But, that doesn’t make him a drunk. In fact, Scripture says that, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). The author of Hebrews speaks of Noah in the following terms, he “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb 11:7). Sure, Noah had flaws. We all do. But I dare say that comparing the flaws of “a righteous man” to Trump, or most any other person, is quite dubious.
Including Moses as “very flawed” is likewise highly questionable. Yes, he committed murder. Though the act was in response to an abusive Egyptian who was beating one of his kinsman. Luke records Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 in which Stephen contends, “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:24-25). This one time act, which we may well consider horrific—though we must acknowledge the fact that the Jewish world had come to consider Moses as a rescuer of the Jewish people—hardly qualifies Moses as “very flawed.”
Perhaps, we could contend that Moses was “very flawed” because he struck the rock twice in anger (Num 20). This, also, appears to be stretching things a bit too much. Sure, he got angry. We all do. This is hardly enough to constitute him as “very flawed.” The author of Hebrews, in fact, also describes Moses in quite glowing terms, which hardly befits considering him “very flawed.” Hebrews says, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Heb 11:25-28).
Finally, I am not sure how one can say “worst of all” was Paul. For one, the “character flaws” of Paul listed was that he persecuted Christians. This hardly seems to qualify as a character flaw. He was doing his job. In fact, he references his actions as a Jewish leader prior to his conversion to Christ as religious zeal (Phil 3:6). He likely held the conviction, derived from the OT law, that blasphemers within the people of God must be punished lest God punish the nation: “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev 24:16). There is no doubt that Paul had flaws—as we all do—but in terms of Christian character, I think we are safe to say that Paul was one of the most exemplary persons in history. I don’t think many Christians in history would dare make the assertion that Paul does: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
We could do the same exercise with each of the persons listed above. Thus, I am not sure that “very flawed” is an appropriate designation (with the possible exception of Gideon—though that brings into the discussion the purpose of the book of Judges, which will take us too far afield). As suggested above, we should reserve “very flawed” for persons such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the like, in order to distinguish them from the rest of humanity.
Now, at this point, those who were attempting to promote the supposition that Trump is “very flawed” just as the following biblical characters are may attempt to backtrack and contend that perhaps, then, Trump is not “very flawed.” It is not necessary, of course, to get into a semantic war. The interesting point is that those who make this argument appeared content to acknowledge and accept Trump’s flaws when they were thought to have been no worse than Noah’s, Moses’, and Paul’s. I dare suggest that even an effort to backtrack and contend that Trump isn’t that bad, is not going to result in an adequate comparison between Trump and any of the biblical characters listed in the above argument.
Moreover, there are other significant difficulties in the above reasoning. Most notably, and this really is the bottom line, the biblical characters above, and even others not listed, all repented. They recognized God’s sovereignty in their lives. They, indeed, were flawed—though I would hesitate to use “very flawed”—but they sought God. Trump has shown no genuine indication that he is seeking after God. Nor, has he shown any sign of repentance for groping women, demeaning foreigners and the less fortunate, mocking handicapped persons, his acts of belittling others, etc.
Furthermore, and what is most significant from my perspective, is that the above argument appears to be employed in order to justify Trump’s ill behaviors. The argument, appears to acknowledge Trump’s sins, but this passing concession becomes a seeming acceptance of them. It is sort of a “yeah, well so did Noah, Moses, and Paul.” But should we so quickly accede such ill behavior? Should we laud a leader who has grossly abused women, mocked handicapped persons, and displayed blatant disrespect for so many? I dare suggest that if this behavior were to come from persons who were not republican leaders, then these very same evangelicals would cry out against them. Evangelicals would quickly assert: “How could someone lead our country and be so unChristlike and irreverent?” But since the offender is of the same political persuasion as those making the argument, somehow, the offenses are acceptable—after all, God used Moses!
Now, it must be said that I do not agree with the approach of the so-called Moral Majority (though I admit that I once did). I do not believe that the Church’s role is to be moral police of a secular state. We are to be the bearers of light and the source of hope. Sure, we are the source of truth. But when truth puts out our light/witness, then the truth (which is a ultimately a person) has become a weapon and not a source of life. The western, evangelical church must wake up to the reality that their efforts as the moral police within a secular nation have done more harm than good.
It is bewildering and grieving that the very same people who have decried the immoral behavior of those they oppose (especially homosexuals and advocates of abortion), have been so quick to accept, and even at times justify, the behavior of Trump. If evangelicals are going to speak against the sins of others, and I am not convinced that they are going about this in any way that conforms to the imperative of following Jesus, then why are they so quick to overlook and even ignore the blatant and despicable acts of Trump?
My question is why are evangelical Christians endorsing this man and his character? Why are they not speaking out when it comes to his harsh and sexist attitudes towards women, minorities (inside and outside our country), and the handicapped? Let me note again: you may like him as a President. You may consider him the greatest president of all time if you’d like. You may endorse his foreign policies. You may support his judicial appointments. But we cannot endorse this man as a champion of the Christian values and convictions. He is not, nor can any secular leader ever be, the savior of the Church. To suggest that God uses “very flawed” persons should in no way be used to endorse this man’s moral failings.
Finally, the task for the people of God is to be God’s witnesses. Our task is to make Christ known. It is not to live in peace and security. If our nation allows us such, then so be it. But we are called to live for Christ. Endorsing a person because of their political abilities is one thing; but to laud a person who has shown serious character defects, and then to dismiss them as acceptable because God has used others with such flaws is deplorable.
Tragically, and this is my most important point, the evangelical church’s endorsement of this man’s many moral failings and character flaws, has had a significant impact on the church’s witness in the world. This alone would suggest that this is not the hand of God, but the hand of the enemy.
[NB: as for the notion that one can see the hand of God in our founding documents let me note briefly a few points. First, the founding documents of this country have been influenced greatly by the Scriptures. So, it is not surprising that one might see God’s hand in them. They reflect, to some extent God’s principles. But, I have great hesitation in making this assertion. For one, the notion that this country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all is simply not true. It is not true if you happen to be an American Indian—the original inhabitants of this land; who were displaced and, at times, ruthlessly treated; and finally relegated to “leftover” parcels of land. It is not true if your race did not correspond to that of the founding fathers. Furthermore, the Scriptures do not exhort God’s people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in accord with the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we are to forgo the pursuit of such things and take up our crosses and follow the one true King. In doing so, Scripture warns us, we will be persecuted and often killed. So much for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness].
 It is quite interesting to note that evangelicals are often quick to defend Moses’ act, and God’s righteousness in using Moses, lest it be that God use a murder to dispense the law; a law which states, “thou shall not murder.” Yet, many of these same evangelicals then determine that Moses “very flawed” in order that a secular leader like Donald Trump can be seen as “no different than Moses.” You can’t have you cake and eat it too.
Women in ministry
I thought I would take on another easy question: ‘What about women in ministry?’ Admittedly, the question is multi-faceted and the issues are complex. (I recognize for some that the issues are not complex: for some the Bible says that women should not be in authority—though many define authority differently, which affirms my point that the issues are complex—and so it is black and white). The complexities include at the most basic level whether or not women can teach in the Church at all (including the teaching of children; youth; or, adults—whether that be women only, or both women and men). The issues also include whether or not women can have authority in the Church and at what level (including authority over children; youth; adults—whether it be women only, or both women and men).
Before we look at the primary biblical text in question (1 Tim 2:12-14), allow me to digress and give a brief background of my own journey with regard to these issues. I came to faith in Christ in a wonderful, but very conservative, church environment. As a result the Bible was read as very black and white (aside from the red letters of course!). The Bible lays it out very concretely—as I was taught—women cannot ‘teach or have authority over a man’ (1 Tim 2:12). Over the years two things began to cause me to wonder if this was not too simple. (Now I have always held a very high view of Scriptural authority, and still do).
First, I had several encounters with women in higher education. On a few occasions I had the privilege of having a female classmate during my post-graduate work. I noticed that she was much brighter and had a keener sense of Scripture than most of the men in the class. Furthermore, I found myself studying various scholarly articles and books that were written by women. I wondered to myself at the oddity of it all. These female scholars are very gifted. They are great writers and communicators. And they appear from their writings to have a deep passion for the Lord. Yet, ironically, what they write and communicate can be used to teach and train leaders and pastors, but at the same time, they themselves are not allowed to speak from a pulpit on a Sunday in many churches. This just didn’t seem to mesh for me.
A second catalytic factor that caused me to delve more deeply into the Scripture was the fact that I have clearly witnessed women in the Church who are quite gifted in a variety of ways. Some of these women are high level executives that are quite gifted at running and managing multi-million dollar corporations. Yet, many of them are suppressed in today’s churches and their voices are not heard simply because of their gender.
Now, I fully understand that this does not have to be this way. That is, women can thrive in environments in which there gifts and passions are utilized, where they are affirmed and not suppressed, and yet they are still restricted for cultural reasons from having full authority in a local church. After all, when we look at the Church of the NT we find that women held prominent roles/positions in the Church and thrived even though they were restricted from having pastoral authority: e.g., Priscilla, Pheobe, Philip’s daughters, among others. Jesus seemingly allowed women as disciples. Furthermore, women were prominent in the Gospel accounts. Etc. Yet, at the same time Paul forbade them from holding the office of ‘pastor over men’ (1 Tim 2:12). This demonstrates that women can simultaneously be used effectively and esteemed in numerous ways in the Church, all the while being withheld from holding high offices in the Church. I get that.
But, we must also acknowledge that we don’t see women at the time of Paul writing commentaries, scholarly articles, being esteemed professors, and even presidents of seminaries! So, the question remains, ‘how can we allow women to do such things in our modern academic environment and then tell that same woman that she cannot teach on Sunday?’ She can teach our emerging pastors in the colleges and seminaries Monday through Friday, but she cannot teach our congregations on Sunday. This is a fundamental difference between our setting and the setting of the NT.
You see, the irony is much deeper. Many young pastors and teachers write their messages based on outlines, lectures, etc., that they had from their time in formal education. So, if the notes that this young pastor used on a given Sunday came from a lecture that a female professor gave to him, that would be okay: as long as he gave the sermon? He can tell everyone what he learned from her, but she can’t deliver the same sermon (even though she is more qualified and perhaps more gifted to do so)?
Now, in order to gain more consistency in these matters, one option would be to eliminate women from positions in higher education. But, these women are highly qualified and quite gifted at what they do. We would be essentially asking them to not utilize gifts that God has given them. And we would be restricting in a manner in which Scripture does not forbid.
But what about Scripture? Fair enough. We still need to contend with the Scriptures. Space will not allow me to delve into all the texts, nor even every nuance of 1 Tim 2. But a good look at the primary text in question, 1 Tim 2:12-14, is necessary. Here we find the command of Paul that: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12).
Now we immediately recognize that this is not an absolute dictum forbidding all teaching activities of women for several reasons. For one, we see women doing just that throughout the NT. Priscilla is teaching Apollos in Acts 18. Philip’s four daughters are prophesying in Acts 21. And in 1 Cor 11:5, Paul stresses that women must have their heads covered when praying and prophesying in Church (note: the act of prophesying entails teaching).
Also, we must observe that the twin prohibitions of ‘teaching’ and ‘having authority’ in 1 Tim 2:12 appear to entail the primary functions of a pastor. Thus, while not absolutely forbidding a woman from teaching in every setting, Paul is forbidding them from the role of a pastor or church leader ‘over men’. This would suggest that a women preaching on a Sunday morning to the congregation may well be permitted even by Paul; for though they are performing a task that a pastor performs they are not exercising his position as pastor and leader of the flock. That is, the text forbids them from two things that together constitute the position/office of what we term ‘pastor’. This does not mean that a woman cannot perform the task of teaching—which is why we see women teaching at various times in the NT. To suggest that women cannot preach on Sunday, but yet they can present the same message to a classroom on Wednesday is quite silly. What is the difference between a woman teaching a message on a Wednesday and her giving the same message on a Sunday morning? She is performing the task but not the office of a pastor. This distinction is quite significant. Paul allowed the former and forbade the latter.
Furthermore, we should also note that Paul seemingly restricts women from having this role of authority (pastor: i.e., ‘teaching and having authority’) not absolutely, but only over ‘a man.’ For many, and I would concur, this means that women are permitted to function and serve as children’s pastors, or, even pastors of women. That this holds true finds support in Paul’s letter to Titus in which he counsels Titus on how to relate to younger and older men and women. Propriety, even in Paul’s day, suggests that women are better suited at addressing and ministering to women.
It is at this juncture that most evangelical churches would actually be in agreement with me. They have no problem with women being in authority over women and children. Some refuse to allow a woman to preach on Sunday, but, as we have shown, that does not appear to be what Paul is forbidding here. At this point, we could stop and most everyone, even the quite conservatives, will be content, though not necessarily in full agreement, with what has been said. Paul seemingly allowed women to teach in various settings and to be in authority over women and children. But, let’s look at the prohibition of women in 1 Tim 2:12-14 to see if there is more.
What we notice is that Paul’s prohibition of women from occupying the office of pastor over men is justified by Paul in 1 Tim 2:13-14. Here Paul gives two reasons for his prohibition. His first justification is that Adam was formed first (2:13). This is a reference to what is called ‘primogeniture’ (basically: the order of birth or creation). Paul is saying that since Adam was first in creation, we are going to establish a rule that man is to be first in the Church. Now this appears very concrete and very conclusive. It remains true today that Adam was formed first—in fact, it will remain true forever. Therefore, Paul’s prohibition appears to be eternally validated. Thus, in order to argue that Paul’s prohibition of women being pastors over men was culturally conditioned (that is, it is not necessarily the result of absolutely binding and eternally fixed factors), one would need to contend that the law of primogeniture is not absolute.
Well, it is not. There are numerous occasions in which the one who was first was not given the privilege forever: Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Ephraim over Manasseh; Moses over Aaron; David is the youngest in his family, etc. Furthermore, primogeniture is culturally bound in that it was necessary to impose in a culture that was intimately tied to land transfers and the allotment of inheritance. This was important in the ancient world. For, it was necessary to pre-determine who was the inheritor of the land and such. In such cultures it was often essential to not split up the farms equally among all surviving heirs as this would have been detrimental to the long term survival of the clan. In such societies, then, it was natural to choose the oldest—since the oldest was more likely mature enough to care for the family; and younger siblings may even have been in need of care themselves. Choosing the oldest as a rule also eliminated/minimized the potential for sibling rivalry. These pragmatic factors made primogeniture a part of the fabric of the biblical world. But, as such, they do not necessarily translate to our contemporary situation. Thus, to say that Paul was saying men can be pastors and women cannot based on an absolute fact that Adam was made first, fails to recognize that it was not based on this absolute, but on a culturally accepted practice of primogeniture. Thus, for Paul, this was a valid reason. But it was a reason that was culturally conditioned. And one that does not necessarily translate into all cultures for all time.
The second reason that Paul states to justify his restriction of women from the office of pastor over men is that Eve was the one who was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). Again it appears that Paul has provided for us a theologically grounded basis for his rule—the fact is that she was deceived first. Paul appears to be setting forth the fact that Eve, and the women of his day, were more susceptible to deception.
This is an important point. But, before we look at the nature of this assertion we must reflect on the fact that for Paul the pastor must keep watch over the flock. In doing so, one of the most central roles of the pastor is to watch over the teaching and beliefs of the flock and to guard them from deception (note: the devil’s name is ‘the deceiver’: this is one of his primary weapons!). Therefore, whether it is a woman, or anyone else for that matter, who are more subject to giving in to false teaching and deception, Paul lays forth an important rule that the pastor must not be one who is more susceptible to deception (I’ll return to this in a moment).
Now, we must ask why it is that Paul deemed that women are more susceptible to deception. For a while, I myself concluded that since Paul stated that women are more susceptible to deception, then it must simply be so. However, more recent studies have revealed (beyond the fact that I was naïve among other things) that there are several causes that make a person more susceptible to deception. Among these factors are such things as age (children are more easily deceived than adults), experience, intelligence, and education (the more educated the less likely to be deceived). Note that gender is not a factor! Thus, Paul was not saying that women by nature are more naturally deceived. Why then did Paul say that women are more easily deceived? Considering all the factors that contribute to a person being subject to deception, the only factor that would have been generally, and perhaps almost universally true of women at the time of Paul, is that they were not privileged to the same levels of education as men. As a result, women were, generally speaking, not qualified to serve as pastors.
But, as access to education is made more available to all, including women, then we may conclude that women may well qualify to serve as pastors over men—and many of them are quite qualified. That is why we can have women as scholars, professors, and university presidents today, yet they essentially did not serve such roles in Paul’s day. Paul wasn’t forbidding a woman who lectured on Wednesday from teaching on Sunday. The educational preparation wasn’t there. Now that it is, it stands to reason that Paul would have been willing to allow women to teach the same message on Sunday that they did on Wednesday and to allow them the authority to lead the entire church.
What does this all mean? First off, even if we take Paul’s prohibition as an absolute restriction that excludes women from the office of pastor over men, I do not see any reason why women cannot function as pastors over women and children, or why a woman cannot teach or preach. But, it also does not appear that Paul has given us a timeless edict. He has laid down a principle that cannot be ignored: namely, that whoever serves as a pastor must be educated and prepared so that they are not easily deceived. This would apply to men and women. Anyone who is not educated well enough is more subject to deception (modern studies have confirmed this to be one of the leading factors for deception among adults), and therefore should not be in the office of pastor in the Church. This corresponds with Paul’s list of qualifications in 1 Tim 3 for pastors: including the fact that they cannot be a ‘new convert’ (1 Tim 3:6) and that they must be ‘able to teach’ (1 Tim 3:2). For those who are new converts will be susceptible to deception as they are likely not educated in the teachings of the Church. And those who cannot teach means that they are not qualified with the knowledge of the Word, which also would make them more susceptible to deception.
Why stress this point? Because some of these very churches who adamantly restrict women from being pastors and teachers in the Church based on 1 Tim 2, have men in these positions who are not qualified based on the fact that they lack the education necessary to protect the flock from the deceptions of the devil. The principle, as Paul has set forth in this passage, is that anyone who is more easily deceived cannot serve as pastors and teachers over the Church. Paul simply eliminated all women because in his day they were, generally speaking, not privileged to the education necessary to qualify them for such positions. But, in chapter 3, as we have noted, when he lists the qualifications for pastors, he notes that men who are not educated (i.e., new converts and not able to teach) are similarly excluded from the office of pastor over men.
In all, women have tremendous gifts and callings from the Lord. These gifts and callings are essential to the full growth and edification of the body! It is time that we all recognize them for who they are and what they can bring to the table!
 Cf Acts 18. Note in 18:18, 26, Rom 16:13, and 2 Tim 4:19 her name precedes that of her husband suggesting strongly that she has a more prominent role. 1 Cor 16:19 is an exception where Aquila appears first, but this only makes one wonder more why Priscilla (or Prisca) is listed first in every other occasion.
 Rom 16:1 appears to call Pheobe a deaconess. Though most translations use ‘servant’ here. The calling out of Pheobe itself suggests someone of note. Grammatical considerations also lend towards her being a deacon.
 Acts 21:18-19: they are called prophetesses. One must remember that a prophet in the NT is more than one who receives oracles from the Lord. But they are often associated with teaching and exhorting. Cp Paul’s contrast of those who speak in tongues vs those who prophesy in Acts 14.
 Luke 10:39 has Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him, which is the posture of a disciple. Luke has seemingly depicted her in the role of a disciple.
 Granted that one may contend that perhaps Priscilla may have performed tasks similar to these.
 Other passages do not forbid women from being pastors. 1 Cor 14:34 is discussing abuses in term of disorderly conduct in the church and not roles and functions of authority and does not need to be discussed here.
 My own translation. The Greek is interesting here because the word order reads: “to teach women (the word ‘women’ is in the case that identifies ‘women’ as the object of the verb) I do not permit, nor to have authority over a man”. This suggests that Paul is stressing the words ‘to teach’ and the word ‘women’.
 Titus 2. Note: Paul gives no provisions for Titus on how he is supposed to counsel younger women. Presumably, because this would have been inappropriate.
 Now I am not suggesting that Paul allowed women to be pastors of women in his day because such is an anachronistic thought. It doesn’t appear that they had such roles then. I am suggesting that if Paul were here today in our contemporary western churches he would have had no problem with women being ‘leaders’ of women. You’ll see why below I refrained from using the designation ‘pastor’ here.
 The Greek of 1 Tim 2:13 begins with gar (for) which often states the reason why something is true. That is, Paul is effectively saying, ‘The reason why women cannot be pastors over men is . . . (v 13) and . . . (v 14).
I kinda chuckle at the title of this blog. I know that for many guns are a big deal in America. I am not here to address US—or any state’s—policy regarding guns. I am not an expert on that issue and don’t ever desire to be. I am, however, well equipped to address the issue of Jesus, the New Testament, and violence.
Christians are not to engage in violence
At the risk of giving away my conclusion at the front I will note two key points: 1) Jesus demands His followers to be absolute advocates of peace; 2) the people of God are not permitted to engage in retaliatory violence.
1)Jesus demands His followers to be absolute advocates of peace and the Kingdom of God
This one is simple. Jesus emphatically declares that it is the peacemakers who are blessed (Matthew 5:9). Perhaps a better way of explaining this point is to note that the primary mission of the people of God is to be proclaimers of the Kingdom of God. Our mission is to be a light to the nations. It is essential to note that the fundamental nature of the Kingdom of God is that it comes through love and not violence.
In addition, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace—a kingdom in which weapons of war will be used for agriculture and war will cease (in fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4). Now, it is without question that this kingdom has not yet come in fullness. But the point is that we are to be advocates of this kingdom. It is this kingdom that we pray will come (“Your kingdom come”; Matthew 6:10).
As a result, one cannot utter the Lord’s prayer and advocate for guns. This is tantamount to saying that “Jesus is Lord” (whose kingdom comes through love and suffering) but so also is Caesar (whose kingdom comes through violence). No, Jesus is Lord! And though Caesar may think he is, he is not.
The simple conclusion then is this: if Jesus is Lord, and if His kingdom is one of peace, then we are to be advocates of a kingdom of peace. We cannot, at the same time, be advocates of guns and violence. For that is how the kingdoms of the world operate. To use such means is to affirm that they have some rightful claim to power.
2)The people of God are not permitted to participate in retaliatory violence
The reason for making this point is simple: the primary violence in the NT is that which God’s people suffer. Do they ever respond with retaliatory violence? The answer is no. Never in the book of Acts, nor in any of the letters of the NT, are the people of God recorded as participating or encouraged to participate in retaliation. In fact, they are particularly exhorted to not retaliate: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” (Romans 12:19-20).
Furthermore, Jesus provides no opportunity for retaliation among His followers: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).
In fact, we can take this one step further. The people of God are not only not permitted to retaliate with violence, but they must respond by giving a blessing: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). The notion that a follower of Christ may yield a gun for retaliatory violence appears to blatantly contradict such passages and the whole tenor of the NT.
Responding to objections
Buy a Sword
Now at this point, many cite Jesus’ command to sell your robe and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). It is very difficult to conclude that Jesus meant this literally—even though the disciples appear to take Him literally (remember the disciples are the ones who want to call fire down from heaven and destroy the Samaritans; Luke 9:54)—when the following factors are considered.
It is first important to note the context of Luke 22. Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry to the nations, which was about to begin. Jesus explains to them that their future mission will not be like the missions He had sent them out on previously (cf Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-11; Note that Luke 22:35 directly refers to the events of Luke 9 and 10). While they were relatively safe in their earlier missions, their future missions will be perilous. Note the strong contrast, “but now!” in Luke 22:36. This emphasis, which is readily apparent in the Greek, is meant to heighten the disparity between the relatively peaceful efforts they experienced in the previous sendings (Luke 9, 10), with what is coming! Thus, Jesus declares, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
That Jesus was speaking hyperbolically (exaggerating for the sake of effect) and not literally is evident first by the overwhelming testimony of the NT that demands radical non-violence and non-retaliation. For Jesus to be encouraging them to buy a sword for self-defense would contradict everything He has been saying for the past three years.
Secondly, just a dozen or so verses later, Peter, using one of the swords which the disciples possessed, cuts off a man’s ear. Jesus’ response is not: “I told you that you would need those.” No, Jesus rebukes them for using it, and reverses Peter’s action: “But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
Thirdly, there is the fact that nowhere else in the NT do we find any teaching on the use of swords for self-defense. We don’t see any indication of the disciples defending themselves in Acts by means of a sword. There were certainly ample opportunities for them to do so. Stephen could have used a sword in Acts 7. A sword might have been helpful to James and Peter in Acts 12. Paul could have used a sword on numerous occasions. None of the letters of the NT encourage the persecuted churches to fight back, or to purchase swords. Furthermore, the people of God in the book of Revelation have only one weapon: namely, their prophetic words (Rev 11:5).
I did not come to bring peace
Others may attempt to cite Luke 10:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The problem here is that Jesus is not suggesting that Christians are to go around seeking conflict! It is clear that in order to be peacemakers we are to avoid conflict. After all, we are to be ambassadors for the prince of peace (in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6). What Jesus is indicating in this passage is that the inevitable result of the Gospel is division. Division may not be the goal, but, unfortunately, it is the result. When one family member becomes a Christian, it often results in division. That is precisly what Jesus says in the next two verses (cf Luke 10:52-53). It would be downright silly to suggest that Jesus would have us respond to this division with violence.
If the fundamental expression of Christian living is to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me (Matt 6:44), then, I ask, how could I do so with a gun holstered to my side? Does this express contradiction not end the discussion? I think this is all summed up in this: a good friend, Sami Awad, a Palestinian, non-violent peace activist, has a sticker in his office that says, “when Jesus said, ‘love your enemies,’ I think He probably meant don’t kill them.”
(This blog is in no way a rant, or a complaint. It is written primarily to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, alongside whom, I do ministry. It is also intended to help those in the church be a little more cognizant of the struggles faced by those in ministry, with the hope that it might elicit a greater understanding in order that we might better fulfill the charge in Hebrews: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” [Heb 13:17].)
I recently sat with three other pastors with whom I am in a covenant group. We gather together several times a year to share our stories, our struggles and our joys, our needs and concerns, to commisserate together, but more importantly to encourage one another. It is good to be among colleagues. It is encouraging to be reminded that my struggles are shared by others. My takeaway from our last meeting is simple: Ministry is hard. Very hard.
I am not saying this to complain. I love what I do. In fact, everytime I am driven to consider doing something else, one thought comes to mind: “what would I do?” I enjoy very much what I do. More than that, I am doing what I am called to do, and what I am gifted at doing; and in this there is no greater joy.
One of the struggles of being in ministry is the self-imposed burden to make sure that I am doing first what I am calling others to do. I believe that I can’t exhort them to forgive, if I am not willing to forgive; to give, if I am not willing to give; to witness, if I am not willing to witness; to love the other, if I am not willing to love the other; and to study, pray, fast, and serve, if I am not willing to do all of these.
Not that doing all of these is a burden, or a task. For I truly enjoy following Christ. It is just that sometimes I believe we pastors put pressure on ourselves to live to some unattainable standard. I suppose that it is not that I am putting this pressure on myself, as much as it is the fact that I know deep down, that others are putting this pressure on me. I do my best to ignore them, after all, I don’t live to some standard to impress others, but to be faithful to Him.
Being a pastor is hard, because we see some many people who are struggling in life and we desire to help; we want them to be well. We believe so strongly in the Gospel and that it is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” and that the Gospel can change their lives; yet, so many refuse to trust. In baseball, if you get a hit 30% of the time you can be a hall of famer, but in ministry it seems that our rate of success is far less than that. Yet, we know that our success is not a game, but one that has eternal consequences. And so we grieve when we fail.
I suspect that for many pastors, and probably to a much greater degree for myself than I am willing to admit, being a pastor is also hard because of the constant struggles with those in the church. You might suspect that those within the church would be our greatest source of comfort, support, and encouragement. After all, we are all on the same team, working for the same Lord, trying to achieve the same goals. I suppose that it is this that makes it more difficult.
You see, I get it, though I may not like it, when someone from outside the church creates strife. The Gospel, even when presented in the most loving and Christlike manner, is offensive: “Jesus is Lord” means that I am not and neither are you. People don’t want to hear this. But for those who have agreed that Jesus is Lord, those who confess to be on the same side, for them to be the source of strife makes ministry very hard.
I suppose that I could continue for some space here. There are indeed many reasons why ministry is hard. But, for those in ministry, I wish to close with this encouragement: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5).
It doesn’t get more basic that this: “What is the gospel?” The answer is pretty simple; yet, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer. I was at a conference recently with 5,000 church planters—mostly from evangelical backgrounds. During one of the breakout sessions the speaker commented that if he were to ask those in attendance “what is the gospel?”, he would likely get a hundred different answers from the hundred people that were in the room. I was, in one sense, flabergasted, and in another, grieved.
I was flabergasted and grieved by the notion that the church has become so shallow that a hundred pastors and church planters could not come to any consensus on what the gospel is! Now I do believe that this speaker was overstating his point. But, at the same time, I do suspect that many in that room would have had trouble articulating what the gospel is!
If that weren’t enough, I became significantly more flabergasted when this speaker went on to define the gospel. He said, I define the gospel as, “radically transforming the world.” I am serious. This was his answer. Note, there was no Jesus in his answer. I immediately thought to myself, “what makes this statement uniquely Christian?” After all, wouldn’t most religions aspire to “radically transform the world?” I then commented to someone next to me, “Hitler did that!” Which apparently caused them to suddenly realize the emptiness of his defnition.
I am not sure what was worse: his pathetic attempt to define the gospel in such a way it fails to distinguish it from a corporation, tyrant, or any other religious group’s mission statement; or the fact that most of the 100 pastors and church planters “oohed” and “awed” after he made this declaration!
I am not saying that there is one definition of the gospel that all Christians adhere to. Of course, it would be nice if this were so. There are, however, core, essential elements of the gospel that underlie the Christian faith. So, what is the Gospel?
The gospel is quite simply that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem quite simple, but the implications of it are profound. For one, if Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is! Furthermore, if Jesus is Lord, then I am not! If Jesus is Lord, then neither is wealth, power, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. If Jesus is Lord, then my pride is not.
It seems so easy to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them. Will we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him?
There are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If He is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
What does the NT teach about giving?
Some of you are likely reading the title and deciding to at least peruse this blog because you want to know what the Bible, and the New Testament (NT) in particular, says about giving so that you can be obedient. You may be a little fearful about venturing forward. But you are willing—as long as this blog doesn’t get too long!
Some of you are reading this because you want to know what the Bible says so that you can be faithful, but in all reality you are hoping to discern, “what is the least I can get away with giving?”
Some of you may be reading this because you are convinced that the idea of a tithe is Old Testament (OT) and that giving is simply not required in the NT. You may be reading with the mindset that if I say anything contrary to that you are ready to disagree.
Let me answer the question right off the top: there is no law on giving in the NT: NT giving is strictly from the heart! To say, however, that giving in the NT is from the heart is not enough! And it likely lets most of us off the hook way to easy! So, let’s go a bit further by examining Jesus and the law.
First off, Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). Then He clarified that statement by saying that no longer was it merely acceptable to not murder someone, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that hatred towards a brother was murder; and He added that no longer was it merely acceptable to not commit adultery, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that to lust was to commit adultery. So, what then do you think Jesus might say about the tithe?
Before we answer that, let me note that I would affirm that the command for a “tithe” (i.e., giving of 10%) is not found in the NT. But to stop here, and make giving simply a matter of what one decides in their heart (2 Cor 9:7), seriously misunderstands the relationship between the law, Jesus, and the life of the people of God today.
What, then, does the NT teach in regard to giving?
Since Jesus did not abolish the law, the notion that the tithe is not in the NT and therefore it doesn’t apply for us today stands on precarious footing. Secondly, when Jesus affirms that the two great commands are to love God and to love one another (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27), He is upholding the essence of the law. Thirdly, as noted above with regard to murder and adultery, Jesus, not only doesn’t abolish the law, He intensifies it. These three things should sound an alarm to anyone who simply wants to dismiss giving as something previously, but not presently, required. As well as those who want to relegate giving to only “what we decide in our hearts.”
In addition, it is important to note that Paul says we are “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1 NAS). The significance of this is that, though we fully affirm that the sacrificial laws were fulfilled by Jesus, and that we have no need for sacrifices today, the principle of sacrifice is not eradicated but transferred. Yes, Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. Now, we, also, are called to be living sacrifices!
How then does this affect our understanding of giving? Simply put: what if we were to understand giving as something that Jesus and the NT intensifies? Just as murder has now been extended to hatred and adultery to lust, might we also surmise that giving is intensified beyond the tithe (10%)?
Now, there is much more to say of course. And a brief blog post cannot address it all. Let me note two things.
First, if you cannot afford to give, then don’t! There is no law in the NT on giving. What I am arguing is that NT principle—not law—is that we should give everything we have—and that stopping at 10% may not be fully surrendering our hearts. The person who makes $250,000 might well give more than 10%. But the family that makes $25,000 might not be able to give financially at all.
Secondly, if we give 10% or 20% and our hearts are not right before God, then our giving is worthless.
There is much more to be said. I encourage you to listen to my two sermons on giving delivered Mar 11 and Mar 18, 2018. See www.northpres.org
The relationship between doctrines/teaching and obedience is inseparable. Generally speaking, one cannot obey Jesus unless one first knows Jesus; and one cannot do the will of God, unless one knows the will of God.
Now, in saying this, I do not deny that there is a problem on both sides of the spectrum. On one side, there is way to much theological debate within the church and not enough doing the Gospel. On the other side, however, those who are actively doing the “Gospel” apart from theology and knowing Jesus are not any better off.
I hear way too often the notion that we do not need to be concerned with the words of Jesus but with doing the works of Jesus. In fact, just this last week I was at a conference where a speaker gave a impassioned plea to stop worrying about theology and doctrine and to simply get busy doing the work of the kingdom. Now let me acknowledge that there is a sense in which I not only understand the motivation behind the presentation, but even to some extent agree with the thrust of the message.
The problem with this message is that it was presented as an emphatic either-or-proposition. Either we spend our efforts on understanding the teachings of Jesus, or we spend our efforts doing the deeds of Jesus. The problems with this line of thinking are numerous. I will try to keep this brief.
First, there is the logical inconsistency (the argument is self-defeating) in that they must teach us that we don’t need teaching. The presentation I heard this week was a 20 minute passionate plea to stop talking about Jesus and start obeying Him. Hmm?
Secondly, the Scriptures are clear that learning precedes obedience. Ironically, another speaker at the same conference, who not only applauded the previous speaker, but also went on to scorn the role of seminaries in training leaders, used an illustration from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) to support her argument. The problem here, and this speaker apparently failed to notice, that in the story Mary (the learner) was praised by Jesus (“Mary has chosen what is better”), while Martha (the doer) was reproved.
One does not have to look hard to find that the role of preaching is foundational to the Church (see the book of Acts). And we could cite Romans 12:1-2 (“renewing of your mind”) as well as John 8:32 (“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”), and 22:27 (“love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”), and a plethora of other such references.
Thirdly, to deny theology its proper place leads quite easily to the problem of identifying what Jesus one is following. If it is true that Jesus is the way, then there remains a valid and necessary place for theological dialogue. (Again, let me affirm that there is indeed to much theological bantering going on in many places within the Church). But it is essential to know which Jesus we are following.
A symptom of the problem inherit in this theology v action thinking was evident in one of the breakouts I attended at this conference. One of the speakers defined the gospel as “radically transforming the world.” What? There was no Jesus or anything explicitly, or implicitly, involved in this definition. Does he not realize that Hitler “radically transformed the world?” Many people radically transform the world. This is not the Gospel! The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord; and Hitler is not! The Gospel includes the fact that Jesus is in process of radically transforming the world. But to leave Jesus out of a definition of the Gospel is incredulous!
Now, I must close by reiterating that I fully affirm that there is way too much debate and theological rancor in many Christian circles. There are many churches that need to get beyond “knowing” Jesus—as regard intellectual assent—and get busy with imitating Jesus. The point is that one cannot do the deeds of Jesus unless one knows Him and are doing His deeds.
Colossians 1:28 “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
It is sad that I have to hesitate to write a comment on contemporary American politics. But, too many are so entrenched in their views that they have trouble hearing criticism.
My exhortation remains: the Church should be above politics—especially above political parties. We should be willing to acknowledge truth and error regardless of what side of the political spectrum it comes from. We should be willing to compliment and criticize. And we should always do so in love. We want to see justice for everyone; redemption for everyone; respect for everyone.
As for what I have seen lately. I have seen a country that is opposing freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech, and the right to protest and speak your thoughts (whether we agree with them or not), is a basic freedom that has made America a great country.
As for our president’s comments the other night (that the NFL players who are protesting are - - - [insert profanity here] and that they should be fired), I am grieved that our leadership is shaming those who are protesting. You don't have to agree with the protests. But the right to protest is what makes this country great. Our president and leaders, in fact, should do everything to protect that right. For our leader to refer to professional athletes who are protesting with profanity and to suggest that they should be fired, is to take a step towards tyranny.
Again, I don't have to agree with your views. But I should absolutely defend your right to have them. As a Christian, I affirm that you are made in God's image and that you have freedom to act as you believe. I believe that in your acting on your freedoms you are acting humanly. I, of course, believe that to be truly human one must use that freedom to bring Glory to God. Thus, to slander those who are using their freedoms to peacefully protest, is unAmerican; but more than that it is unchristian.
#freespeech #ImageofGod #determineTruth#loveyourneighborevenwhenyoudisagree