Doesn’t Paul say women can’t be pastors?
But what about 1 Timothy 2 were Paul seems to forbid women from teaching and having authority in the church and he appears to do so with abiding justifications and not culturally relevant ones? “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim 2:12-14).
Before looking at this passage we should note that this was not an absolute dictum that forbade women from all teaching activities. After all, we see women doing just that throughout the NT. Priscilla was teaching Apollos in Acts 18. Philip’s four daughters were prophesying in Acts 21 (note: the act of prophesying entails teaching). And in 1 Cor 11:5, Paul approves of women praying and prophesying in church, He simply requests that they have their heads covered when doing so.
Now, it is widely acknowledged that the twin prohibitions of ‘teaching’ and ‘having authority’ in 1 Tim 2:12 entail the primary functions of a pastor. Thus, while not absolutely forbidding a woman from teaching in every setting, Paul was forbidding them from the role of a pastor or church leader; at least “over men.” This would suggest that a women preaching on a Sunday morning to the congregation may well be permitted; for though they are performing a task that a pastor performs they are not usurping his authority as pastor and leader of the flock. That is, the text forbids them from two things that together constitute the position or 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, but forbade the latter.
Secondly, Paul’s prohibition that women should not have authority in the church is not absolute either. Paul simply states that alongside the restriction of teaching she cannot have 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; just not over “men.” 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 older women. Note that Paul gives no provisions for Titus on how he is supposed to counsel younger women. Presumably, because this would have been inappropriate. Propriety suggests that older women were better served at addressing and ministering to younger women.
It is at this juncture that most evangelical churches would 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 was forbidding. At this point, we could stop and most everyone would 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.
It is important to observe that the prohibition of women from occupying the office of pastor over men is justified by Paul in 1 Tim 2:13-14. Here he 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. It remains true today that Adam was formed first—in fact, it will remain true forever. Therefore, Paul’s prohibition appears to be based on an abiding principle.
In order, then, 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 was the youngest in his family.
In addition, primogeniture was culturally bound. In a culture that was intimately tied to land transfers and the allotment of inheritance, it was necessary to impose some standard that determined who was first. 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, it was natural to choose the oldest—since the oldest was more likely mature enough to care for the family. After all, younger siblings might even be in need of care themselves. Choosing the oldest as a rule also eliminated or 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 his reasoning was based on a culturally accepted practice of primogeniture. For Paul and the early church, 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 first (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. Though this reasoning seems a bit arbitrary, it was not. Paul’s argument is that Eve, and the women of his day, were more susceptible to deception. Now, this may appear to be a bit sexist.
Before we look at the nature of this assertion we must reflect on the fact that 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 church and to guard them against deception (note: the devil’s name is ‘the deceiver’: deception is one of his primary weapons!). Therefore, 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 were more susceptible to deception. For a while, I myself concluded that since Paul stated that women were 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! Paul was not saying, then, that women by nature were more naturally deceived. Why, then, did Paul say that women were 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 because they were not privileged to the same level of education and were, thus, more likely subject to deception. Consequently, it was not their gender that was the problem. Might we conclude that as access to education is made more available to all, including women, that women may qualify to serve as pastors over men?
Paul wasn’t forbidding a woman who lectured on a Wednesday from teaching on Sunday. The educational preparation for women in his day wasn’t present. Now that it is more readily available, 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.
 Titus 2:1-8.
 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).
Women and the Kingdom of God
There is no question that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God (KOG). Now, the KOG is in its essence the restoration, redemption, and reconciliation of all creation. Though the kingdom of God is a central focus of Jesus’ teaching, it is in the description of the New Jerusalem in final two chapters of the book of Revelation (21-22) that we find the climax of the kingdom. One of the keys to understanding the Kingdom of God is to note that the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 is in accord with the restoration of Eden.
We know that in Eden male and female were created to be equals: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26-27). The Genesis account unequivocally asserts that both male and female were equally made in the image of God.
Some suggest that the formation of Eve in Genesis 2 asserts that subjugation of women. This, however, is not a good reading of the text. When Genesis is read against the background of the Ancient Near East it is clear that women are not to be relegated to inferiority. For one, the Genesis account is unique in the ancient world in that it describes the formation of women! Other Ancient Near Eastern accounts do not include women in the discussion.
It has been asserted that since according to Gen 2:18 women were made as a helper for men, they must be inferior to men. The text states, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
The problem here is that the designation “helper” does not imply inferiority. In fact, “helper” is used most often to describe God’s (Yahweh’s) relationship to Israel. But God is Israel’s helper because He is stronger. If anything, then, one might suggest that women are superior to men. The context, of course, does not indicate this either. The point being, the Genesis account asserts that both male and female were made in the image of God. There is nothing in the context that suggests that women are inferior.
If, then, the Kingdom of God is the restoration, redemption, and reconciliation of creation, and, if in the original creation male and female were equals, then it stands to reason that in the new creation male and female are equals again.
In addition, if the new creation has begun, which 2 Corinthians 5:17 surely indicates (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”), then the church should be at the forefront of advocating for women in the present—both in society and in the church. To deny such is to deny that the new creation has already begun in the life of the people of God.
Some may respond that the NT has plenty of instances in which women are inferior to men. How can this be if the new creation has already begun and women were moving towards equality with men?
First, one must recognize the radical nature of the church and the role of women in it. As mentioned above, in accord with Peter’s citation of Joel, women were equally filled with the Spirit. They were also fulfilling roles as prophetesses and deaconnesses. And women were praying and prophesying in the church. All of this was revolutionary.
I believe that one can easily understand passages in which Paul and the NT writers were putting restrictions on the progress of women in the church as a temporary restraint in light of the cultural conflicts that arose. Simply put, if the church were viewed as too progressive in regards to women, and they likely were in danger of doing so, then it may well have had a negative impact on their witness. As a result, Paul thought it best to reign things in a bit. Thus, when women were to pray and prophesy in the church, Paul says that they should do so with their heads covered (1 Cor 11:3-16). Note that Paul did not forbid women from praying and prophesying in the church—something that many churches do today—but that he simply yielded to the cultural pressures in order to maintain peace with the culture. In other words, Paul decides to lay down this rule in order to not offend beyond what was necessary so that the gospel may proceed.
 Cf Mark 1:14-15. Jesus’ opening announcement in Mark is that the Kingdom of God is at hand!
 Note the presence of the tree of life (Rev 22:2).
 See for example: Exod 18:4; Deut 33:7, 26, 29; Ps 33:20; 115:9-11.
 See below for my response to the notion that Adam was superior simply because he was made first. Primogeniture (being first) does not necessitate superior.
Can women serve equally with men in the church?
Admittedly, the question is multi-faceted and the issues are complex. 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), and 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).
I will argue over this series of posts that with the coming of Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit, the new creation has begun. This is why Paul can say, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Now, since the new creation is understood in terms of a new Eden, then, just as there was equality of gender, ethnicity, and socio-economics in Eden, so, also, shall there be in the new creation. This is stated explicitly in Galatians 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
But, and this will be my main point, if the new creation has already begun in the present, then should we not begin to implement the new creation in the life of the church today? Paul exhorts the church in Colosse to do just that when he says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above” (Col 3:1). I don’t suspect anyone would object to the assertion that the key ethic of the kingdom is love and this ethic is to characterize the people of God in the present. Love is indeed eternal (1 Cor 13:4-13). Love is not simply an ideal that is awaiting a future fulfillment. Love is an ethic that must be implemented in the present. The question, then, becomes: should we not do the same when it come to the role of women in the church and in society?
Now, I realize that complementarians (those who believe that men should continue to have authority over women in the church and home) will simply respond that the Bible says so (citing 1 Tim 2:12-14 as the primary text). I will address this passage also. First, however, I will expand on the argument that the NT is clearly moving us towards a new creation reality in which men and women are equals in the kingdom.
Before I venture down that path, I will briefly relate my experiences that caused me to begin to question my long held convictions.
Why I began to reconsider matters
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!). When it came to women in ministry, I was convinced that the Bible lays it out very concretely: women cannot “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). Now, I understood this verse allowed women to teach children and other women, but not men. Over the years, in addition to my coming to understand the Scriptures in light of the new creation, the Lord used several experiences that began to nudged me look at things afresh.
First, I had several encounters with women in higher education. In my post-graduate studies I came across numerous articles and books written by women. I wondered to myself at the oddity of it all. These female scholars were great writers and gifted communicators. And their writings reflected a deep passion for the Lord. I thought that it was ironic that I, as a man, could take what they wrote and use it in teaching and preaching, but they themselves, simply because they were women, were not be permitted to do so. I began to wonder why women could teach our emerging pastors in the colleges and seminaries Monday through Friday, but those same women were not allowed to teach our congregations on Sunday? I was puzzled by the reality that their students, who were not as equipped as they were, could preach, but they couldn’t.
A second key factor that caused me to delve more deeply into the Scriptures was the fact that there are many gifted women in our churches. Some of these women are high level leaders, teachers, and even executives in the workplace. Yet, their leadership, teaching, and management skills are suppressed in today’s churches simply because of their gender. If God has gifted them, then why are they not able to use those gifts in the local church?
In a society in which women’s rights are suppressed, should not the church be at the forefront of advocacy for equality? How can we read Gal 3:28 and still advocate for the superiority of one gender above another? The answer is that we can do so only by failing to read Gal 3:28 in regards to the coming of the kingdom.
 The NAU (cited here) says “new creature.” Most English translations (including the ESV, NET, NIV, and NRS) read, “new creation.”
Wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters around the world experience significant oppression. They are, simply because of their gender, routinely deprived of education and other opportunities afforded to men. In some countries, women are forced into unwanted marriages. According to the World Health Organization 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non partner sexual violence in their lifetime. One out of every three women have been a victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And it is not just out there. In the United States, one out of every six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
When all factors are equal, such as experience and education, women working the same jobs as men are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Gender discrimination goes well beyond pay: it includes a lack of respect. Women often feel less important. They are passed over for promotions or important assignments, and even turned down for a job simply because of their gender. In addition, women are more often harassed than men: 70% of women believe online harassment is a major problem; and that it is often overlooked or dismissed.
If we are appalled at the practice of slavery, then we should be far more appalled at the global treatment of women today. There are as many as ten times more women trafficked in sex slavery today than there we slaves brought to the new world.
Though there are more women in the western and European world today, and though they tend to live longer lives, demographers have estimated that there are between 60 and 100 million missing women from societies due to infanticide of female babies. In many countries girls are aborted far more frequently than boys.
For evangelicals who are so radically concerned with the abortion issue, why are we not speaking up! This is not what God intended! It is time for the church to stand up and cry out at the injustices brought upon our wives, our daughters, our mothers, and our sisters.
Women in the church
Women have played a prominent role in the church for centuries. Historically women have been the majority members of the church. The large female membership likely stemmed in part from the early church's informal and flexible organization offering significant roles to women.
When we look at the New Testament we learn that women held prominent roles in the early church: including, the evangelist Priscilla, the deaconness Phoebe, and Philip’s daughters that prophesied. Luke portrays Mary in the posture of a disciple when he notes that she was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Women were prominent in the resurrection accounts of all four gospels. The letter to the Corinthians indicates that women were praying and prophesying in church.
It appears that the hallmark of the new covenant is that men and women will equally receive the Spirit. Thus, Peter’s citation of Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
When we read of women taking on such prominent roles, we must recognize that this was radically counter-cultural. The church was blazing a trail that had not been much trodden.
When we look at the church today, however, women are often consigned to a second-place status: a second-place that is often a significant distance from first. Why, then, if the NT consistently elevates the role of women, do most churches relegate them to an inferior status?
In this series of posts, I will contend that women play a significant role in the NT because in the new covenant God is restoring His creation which includes the equality of gender and race. Hence, Gal 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
 Two out of three of the world’s illiterates are women. See: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/global-programs/education/girls-education.
 One third of the world’s girls are married before they are 18. One of every nine women are married before they turn 15. See: https://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures/.
 See: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women.
 See: https://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics.
 See: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.
 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 Phoebe a deaconess. Though most translations use ‘servant’ here. The calling out of Phoebe itself suggests someone of note. Grammatical considerations also lend towards her being a deacon. Some contend that the masculine “deacon” is used and not the feminine “deaconness” but it does not appear that the feminine “deaconness” had to come into use yet.
 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.
 1 Cor 11:5.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I was recently having dinner in Jerusalem. Our group had just arrived that day from various part of the States. Though many of the people at the table knew each other from previous relationships, I was just getting to know most everyone at the table. The group decided that we should go around the table and introduce ourselves: tell about our family, etc. Then, they suggested, we had to answer any questions the group wanted to ask over the next three minutes (yeah, they were mostly younger and more adventurous people).
When it came to my turn, I gave the generic info about myself, my wife Toni, and our four kids. (Okay so I probably bragged a little about my family. Okay, a lot). Anyway, during the three minutes of questioning I was asked, “what is the greatest advice you would give you’re your kids?” I replied, fairly quickly, “never be afraid of the truth.”
Now, I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses of the others at the table. They were taken aback—in a good way. At was as if I had just given the greatest answer in world history (okay, maybe not the greatest answer, but one of the top ten—or top one hundred). The questions then followed, “what do you mean by that?” “Why would you say that?”
As a Christian, I would state emphatically, that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). This is a pillar of my faith. He is not merely the source of truth. He is the Truth. All truth resides in Christ (Colossians 2:3).
Because of this conviction, I believe that all truth will only point me to Christ. If I am in error on something, then, ultimately, I have a weakened understanding of Christ. I need to be corrected and aligned with Christ. (fortunately, this for me this doesn’t happen very often! Maybe I should have said, “hypothetically, if I were in error”!). Yet, I believe that we tend to live in fear of truth. We shelter ourselves (though some might object to this statement, I am convinced that it is far more correct then we are willing to admit).
But, if all truth leads me to Christ, then what am I to fear? I’ll tell you what we are to fear: we should fear being in error. Of course, we will never hold all truth. The sad reality is that some of what I believe now is wrong. I know this because I can tell you a long list of things I used to believe five, ten, and twenty years ago, that I now no longer believe. As a result, I am sure that some of the convictions I hold to now, will change also.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can’t know anything with certainty. Of course we can (in fact, to say we can’t is a self-refuting statement).
What I am saying is that it is our sacred responsibility to seek the truth. And, as a Christian, I have nothing to fear because all truth will only lead me to Christ. (Oh, how I wish I could stop this blog at this point. But I must say more).
Be forewarned: There is nothing easy with seeking the truth. For one, I have to be willing to admit that I was wrong. We don’t like this. Especially when it comes to issues that that annoying uncle holds to. I’d rather rot in a cave somewhere, than admit that he was right! Never being afraid of the truth means that I will have to face situations like this. What if that Republican, or Democrat, of Libertarian was right after all?
There is another difficulty that comes along with never being afraid of the truth. Namely, that truth always demands a life change. Now, I could always choose to go on living as I am and never face up to that change. That is what we do most of the time. But, if I admit to the truth, then I have to admit that I am not living consistently with what I know.
For example, let’s say that I am a smoker. I could just deny that smoking is harmful. Or, I could try to avoid the question. Or, I could minimize the hazards of smoking. The fact is, however, if I agree that God has given me a responsibility to care for my body, and if smoking is bad (i.e., it is deadly), then I must confront the fact that I should stop smoking—of course, you might say, “many things are harmful and we all do them, this is just my weakness.” (now some of you are probably thinking, “preach it brother.” While others are upset, or frustrated, or wanting to object). (PS whether you quit smoking or not is up to you. I am just using it as an illustration).
The list goes on. If I know that going to church is important to spiritual growth, and I believe that spiritual growth is what Christ calls me to, then I need to change my life and make church attendance a priority. If I know that I should stop (fill in the blank here), or start (fill in the blank here), then I should change my life accordingly.
The problem is huge. The fact is, we simply don’t want to change. We like things the way they are. So, we ignore truth. We deny truth. We resist truth. We spend time, money, and great effort to reinforce our convictions as to what truth is. We bully the other. We demonize the other. We silence the other. We do whatever is necessary to maintain our convictions as to what the truth is and our comfortable way of life.
Now, most of you have read this blog and thought, “well, that is interesting.” Many of you will find this helpful. And that is good. You see, I wasn’t too edgy here. I didn’t challenge you on issues that you hold dearly. I used smoking and church attendance as my illustrations. But what if I used __________ as illustrations? Would your attitude have changed? I hope not. But, let’s be honest, we have core convictions that we don’t want challenged. And then Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Have you ever experienced giants in the land? A time when jobs weren’t opening up and the bills were piling up. A time when the doctors weren’t giving the diagnosis you wanted to hear. A time when relationships were crumbling and you saw no way out. A time when you learned that your beautiful child was addicted and you couldn’t get through to them. A time when your debt was so great you had no idea how you would ever get by. A time when. . . .
In case you don’t know the biblical story, it goes like this.
God’s people go down to Egypt during a famine (end of Genesis). They become enslaved (beginning of Exodus). 400 years later God calls a man named Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go and to lead the Israelites back to the land of promise/Canaan (still Exodus). Moses, at first, resists God’s call. Finally, he agrees.
Pharaoh, of course, rejects Moses’ request to let the people go. Why, after all, would he allow hundreds of thousands of slaves go free? God, through Moses, performs a series of miracles; which for the Egyptians were more like plagues (still Exodus). Pharaoh, finally, agrees to let them go.
The Israelites flee Egypt: only to be chased by the Egyptians after Pharaoh changes his mind. The final miracle—that ensure the Israelites escape from Egypt—is the parting of the Red Sea in which the Israelites cross on dry ground and the Egyptians are swallowed in the waters (still Exodus).
The Israelites, however, disobey God and are forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Exodus and the book of Numbers). During this wilderness time, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each of the tribe of Israel) into the land of promise to check out the land before they plan their attack (Numbers 13).
After viewing the land, ten of the spies report back to the Israelites:
“When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Thus, they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there’” (Numbers 13:25-28).
Caleb, however, one of the other two spies (along with Joshua), reports: “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
The voice of the ten, of course, overtakes the voices of Caleb and Joshua: “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size’” (Numbers 13:31-32).
This story reminds us that there are often giants in the land. We all face giants. The fact is that God often calls us into places where the giants are. In fact, it seems like God likes to put giants in our way. We can’t seem to avoid them. Well, we do when we disobey.
But there is something beautiful about giants in the land. When God calls us to something and there appears to be no way that it can be accomplished, it seems that this is the time when God is most active in our lives. At times like this we must rely on Him. We know we can’t do it be ourselves. So, we cry out to Him. Our prayer time increases. Our searching increases. Our walk with Christ increases. Of course, our heart rate, our anxiety, and our stress levels all increase too. But these don’t have to.
When we face giants in the land, maybe we should step back and stand behind the One who rides on the white horse and has a sharp two-edge sword coming from His mouth (Revelation 19:11-16). Maybe if we surrender all things to Him. And in doing so, we can step back and watch Christ slay the giants in our lives.
The beauty of all this is that when we face giants in the land we get to watch the miracles. And when the giants are slain, only God gets the glory for slaying them!
I was asked by a good friend to respond to the following:
“please respond to the those who are citing Ps 33:12 ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance’ and claiming that God has chosen Trump to save America.”
The context of the Old Testament in general and this Psalm in particular suggests that the nation addressed here was Israel. The Psalmist was writing to encourage the people of Israel to call upon the Lord so that the promised blessing would come to fruition. Of course, one could hypothetically suggest that this promise of blessing applies to any nation. The reality, however, is that only ancient Israel was ever in a position to fulfill this command. For, it is only in the context of ancient Israel that the chosen people of God were essentially identified with a particular nation (of course there were exceptions, such as the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7); but such exceptions only prove the rule).
Once we reach the Christian era the people of God are now composed of individuals from many nations. Since no one nation today is composed wholly of the people of God, there is simply no way to receive the blessing of this Psalm on a national scale.
Could the blessing of this Psalm be applied to an individual? Sure. In fact, the focus of God’s blessings today applies to the people of God. Note that 1 Peter 2:9 even identifies the people of God in nationalistic terms: “a chosen people and a holy nation.” The NT application of Psalm 33, then, would be, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.”
In conclusion, any attempt to apply this Psalm on a national scale in the contemporary world is simply anachronistic. No secular nation may receive the blessing of this Psalm.
Nota Bene: I was searching images.google for an image to go along with this post (as I usually do) and was surprised when Ps 33:12 showed up in the search box. I was more surprised when the page loaded and hundreds of images with the script of Ps 33:12 and the US flag appeared. I am sorry but in light of my post here I just don't see how this connection can in any way be supported by this text. (note there were also images of the Star of David--the Israeli flag. This has more potential to be correct. The problem here would be twofold: one the modern state of Israel is an avowed secular state. Second, the people of God are defined as those who follow Christ. And though some Jewish people indeed follow Jesus today, the essence of Judaism today is a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah)
I try to stay out of actual political discussions for one reason: too many people in the Church have convictions that are, in my opinion, too deeply held to. The result is that when one speaks something that even appears contrary to these deep-seated convictions one incurs wrath. Not worth it. (unfortunately, I can assure you that many pastors and leaders in the Church feel this way and to some extent it is a great shame!)
For me it is not worth it for another reason. I hope and believe that I have an important voice when it comes to biblical matters and living out the kingdom of God today. I want this voice to be heard. My concern is that if my political opinions do not correspond to the convictions of some, will I lose my voice on matters that I believe are far more significant? If so, why bother?
But I am compelled to speak—fully aware of the implications. I am compelled to speak for one reason because people I love are being slammed for voicing their thoughts! Furthermore, some of these people include young persons who are training for ministry. Do you adults understand what you are doing to our young people? Are we not to teach and encourage such young people to think and process and discern? Furthermore, how can we treat one another with such contempt?
It might also do us well to realize that there are people in Russia, China, and many other countries of the world who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The point: such people don’t hold to the same political views that we in the west do.
In fact, to be more provocative, there are people who will vote for Trump, for Clinton, for Johnson, for others, and some who will refuse to vote for any of them, who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
When Jesus commanded us to love one another, He didn’t specify that we should qualify our love based on political convictions!
Now this does not mean that we cannot disagree with one another. But the viciousness, and meanness, and unChristlike rhetoric is simply unacceptable! What kind of love is this? What kind of witness is this? Yes, non-Christians read your Facebook posts too.
So where do I stand on the current political landscape?
Simply put (and hear me out before you pour forth scorn), I cannot vote for any of these candidates. Sure there have been candidates in the past, though not perfect, who have displayed the character and qualities necessary to hold the office of President. But I don’t see how this is one of those times. I do not see how any of these candidates for president are worthy of my vote. I cannot stand before God and justify voting for any of them.
That this is so should not surprise us. The people of the nations are most often out for themselves; aiming for power, and greed, and their own self-interest. It is a system such as this that Christians should be very careful about participating in (yes, I am voting for many measures and even some candidates this year: just not for a presidential candidate). Our caution is part of the exhortation to be in the world but not of it!
Now it is true that when this election is over it will be my Christian duty to pray for and submit to their leadership. I will not be a disgruntled citizen who gripes and complains at their poor leadership. I already suspect that they will be poor leaders—though I do think they will do some good also.
Bottom line: the focus for the Church is on the Kingdom of God. This kingdom comes through the sacrificial love of God’s people. It does not and will not come through secular politics. It is the failure to realize this that I believe is causing most of the problems in the Church today.
God’s blessing or judgment on our country?
We are hearing all kinds of rhetoric regarding the potential for God’s curse to be upon our country if the election turns a certain way. This nonsense is radically unbiblical. Let me explain:
1)The nature of God’s blessing is primarily covenantal.
Throughout Scripture God makes a covenant (an agreement) with a people. The stipulations of the covenant include blessings or curses. What is essential to understand for our sakes is that the covenant, and its promise of blessings and curses, are for the people of the covenant—that is, God’s people.
If we are faithful we will experience God’s blessings (which in the New Testament are found in the beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23); and if we are not faithful we will experience God curses (Luke 6:24-26).
2)People of the covenant are independent of the nations
The people of God today—those who are in covenant with God—are not and cannot be identified with any nation. The people of God are in many nations. But no one nation (e.g., America) is to be identified with the covenant people.
The covenant people of God are those who follow Christ. Christ followers live in many nations of the world and no one nation is exclusively Christian. (That means that the US has never been and never will be a “Christian nation”)
Now, it is true that in the time before Jesus the covenant people were restricted to the nation of Israel. But such is not true today.
This means that the promise of blessings or the threat of curses do not and cannot apply to any nation. To say, then, that America will be blessed if we vote on way and cursed if we vote another is simply not true!
3)What about all those nations that elect corrupt leaders?
Consider this: There are many countries in the world that have elected people far worse than our present candidates. Why don’t we go about warning those countries that they are in danger of God’s judgment?
To this someone might reply: that America is in danger because we are/were a Christian nation and that because we have fallen God is bringing/will bring judgment on America. Sorry this cannot be justified from a biblical perspective. It is simply not true.
4)The nations will face judgment
It is true that the nations of the world will face judgment in the end. They are not judged, however, because they made unchristian laws or elected the wrong person as president.
The judgment of the nations is founded upon one thing: how they have treated the people of God (cf Matt 25:31-46).
If you want the nation you live in to be blessed, then be faithful
To claim then that this or any election is vital for our nation is seriously in error. What is vital is that the people of God are faithful to His mission! That we, the Church, are Jesus to the world. That we are shining the light of Christ to the nations.
If we want the nation that we live in to be blessed, then be faithful. After all, politics always flows downstream from culture! Want to affect politics, then change the culture!
But note: we cannot change the culture through legislation. We change the culture one heart at a time; and this begins with ourselves!
I find it quite interesting that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other author of the NT addressed Jewish or Roman politics. They didn’t address slavery—there were millions of slaves throughout the empire—nor Roman militarism, nor the many other ills that proliferated throughout the Roman world.
Now one can make the argument that Christians in the US have a different role because we live in a democracy. Certainly, living in a democracy carries with it the responsibility to participate in the political system.
One of the problems I see rising with regard to evangelicalism and politics has been the failure to properly distinguish between the church and the nation. It seems as though many within evangelicalism are convinced that it is necessary to impose Christian laws on the nation. For many, the reasoning is that Christian laws make for a better nation. And though I am certainly inclined to agree with this, my question is whether or not this is the role of the Church?
Is it the job of the Church to make sure the nation has good laws?
I see several weaknesses and unintended consequences that call into question this approach.
First, the people of God need to rise up and follow the law of love, which is THE law for the Church, well ourselves before we seek to legislate it on others. In fact, demanding that others obey what we ourselves do not is the essence of hypocrisy.
Secondly, imposing Christian laws does not address the issues of the heart. And it is the heart that matters. Having godly laws with uncircumcised hearts didn’t do the Israelites any good. Why should we expect things to be different today?
Thirdly, such efforts are more and more impacting our Christian witness in a negative way. Why is it that many Christians are surprised when non-Christians reject Christian laws? After all, if they don’t believe in God, or if they just don’t wish to follow Him, then why should we expect that they would want to follow God’s laws?
This is key. The fact that they have rejected God’s laws and often God Himself means that our efforts to impose such laws on them will often result in a further alienation of individuals from Christ.
This is one of those unintended consequences I was speaking about. The effort to impose Christian laws on a secular society is often received by that society as an attack. It is perceived as an attack on their freedoms; an attack on their convictions; and sometimes an attack on themselves personally. The end result is a further alienation of such people from Christ!
Such efforts have placed our civil responsibilities above our kingdom responsibilities.
Our goal is not to make a Christian nation. Our goal is to reflect Christ to the world in such a way that the world is attracted to Him! If our efforts to impose Christian laws on a society have a negative impact on our witness, then we should discard such efforts.
Now I am not saying that our intentions aren’t good; or that such laws are not good. But if the end result is detrimental to the cause of the kingdom, then we must abandon ship!
Is the Church called to be agents of social change?
Yes, but not by forcing such change on the state. Our means of affecting social change is first by living it out ourselves—regardless of the laws. This is how the early church overthrew Rome.
Finally, many Christians are operating from the perspective that our responsibility is merely to present the Gospel. That is, we are responsible for what we say and not what others hear. But if love is our over-arching ethic, then we must care how others are hearing our presentation of the Gospel. Now, certainly, we cannot control this at all times. But we do bear some measure of burden to communicate and express ourselves in love.
“But, God’s laws are good for society!”
I would agree. But we live in a democracy (a democratic-republic) and the nature of such is that people have the right to vote and decide what they want. We can try to influence their vote. That is true. But we must do so in a way that respects them and their vote!
This, I fear, has not been done well by the Church in recent years.
The Church must proclaim the Gospel in a manner that is relevant and palatable to the culture. Preachers should always speak against injustice. They should exhort the Church to be the people of God in the midst of injustice. This is the Gospel facing culture! We should raise up our congregations to advocate for those who are suffering oppression.
Many Christians are convinced that our country is going downhill and going there fast! This great nation is in decline. Election day is viewed by many as the means of reversing this trend. Folks, election day is not the day to reverse this trend. Every day is. Every day is another chance for us to reflect Jesus to the world. Only He can change hearts!
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16).
One of the problems that I see for the Church with regard to politics is the failure to grasp clearly the fundamental distinction that Jesus makes in John 17:16. The Church is in the world, but not of it. The Church is to reach the world and claim it for Christ, yet we have been rescued from the world.
Of course, this verse has been abused by the incursion of secular thinking that proposes the Jesus is saying we are to dwell in the spiritual realm and not in the physical. Time will not allow me to delve into the multitude of errors that come from this thinking. Simply put, Jesus is not telling us to escape the world as though it has nothing to offer. Instead, He is asserting that the people of God, as members of His kingdom, are to stand in distinction from the kingdom of the world. For, as John writes, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). The kingdom of God aims to redeem the world and claim it for Him. We do so neither by discarding the world, nor by imposing Christianity on it.
Missions of the Church and the State are Never the Same
It is essential to understand that the mission of the Church and the mission of a nation are never the same. The mission of the Church is to make Christ known; to proclaim Him as Lord! We do so both by loving one another and our neighbor as ourselves. This mission is one of great risk—as any study of Church history will show. That is, we do so knowing that it may cost us our freedoms, our jobs, and possibly our lives.
The mission of the nations may reflect some aspects of the Christian mission—depending on the nation and how much influence the Church has been able to have. But the mission of the nation will always transcend the mission of the Church. After all, they exist with fundamentally different goals: while the Church exists to make Christ known, the state exists to protect its people and to ensure their safety and well-being.
To put it another way: the Church’s main task is to be the means through which God brings the nations to Christ: to make known to them that there is one true Lord, one true King. The nation aims to maintain its own sovereignty and to protect its citizens at all times. There is, therefore, a fundamental tension between the Church and the nations.
Efforts to Legislate Christianity Inevitably Fail
We must also recognize that the mission of the Church is not to impose Christianity upon the state Christian. Now on the surface this might seem as something good. History, however, shows that efforts to legislate Christianity always leads to the Church’s demise. Attempts to impose Christian laws on a secular society inevitably drive people away from Christ. Os Guinness in his book The Call notes, “There is a direct and unarguable relationship between the degree of the church’s politicization in a culture and the degree of the church’s rejection by that culture” (168). This is of grave significance. Since our mission is to make God known to the nations for the purpose of their redemption, it is imperative that we do so in such a way that people come to Christ.
In other words, the Church must understand that although the imposition of Christian laws upon a nation may temporarily have good results—including the benefits to the people of God themselves who prosper from living under such laws—the net result is consistently detrimental to the mission of God’s people.
What Then Shall We Do?
How then should the people of God relate to the state? This is not an easy question. I would begin by noting that the fundamental mission of the Church is to work to change the hearts of the people. We know that if the hearts of the people are changed, then the laws of the land will change.
But honestly we shouldn’t care so much about the laws of the land. We should care primarily about the Kingdom of God. Don’t take me wrong here. It is great to live in a country where the laws are good and just. But a country with good and just laws where no one knows Christ is not better than living in a brutal dictatorship with no freedoms and a thriving Church!
Does this means that the Church is only to worry about spiritual things and leave political matters alone? By no means! Never. The Gospel does not work like this. It means that we should we focus on transforming people and not the state. The transformation of the state will happen only when the people have been transformed. To aim to transform the state without addressing the hearts of the people is to put the proverbial cart-before-the-horse. And the result in inevitable: neither is transformed. In fact, as noted earlier, the Church dies in such nations.
I would like to reiterate that my blog and facebook blog posts are intended to address Christians. My tag line is “Challenging the Church to be the Church.”
In recent weeks I have posted a number of comments on my facebook blog page about the refugee crisis. I am somewhat grieved by the Christians who are contentious on this matter. One of the primary mistakes people are making in their responses is the failure to divorce their responsibilities as Christians from their nations concerns.
One person honestly asked about the need to balance the love of Christ with the need for security. Here is my response:
My response is not just for you but for the many who might read this. I would simply say that sometimes the balance you ask about involves a risk. Though I personally don't think that part of the equation (the risk issue) is our (i.e., the Church’s) responsibility. Our job is to love like Jesus. The nation’s job is to maintain national security. And the US has one of the most extensive vetting processes already in place. But if they choose to close the borders because Christians are telling them to do so, then we have a problem.
Christians should be advocating love towards everyone! Period. Sure, we all take the personal responsibility to lock our doors, etc. But to shut them and not let them in: ever?
The entire Bible (OT/NT) is a story about refugee people! We are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13). Jesus told parables about welcoming the refugees. He says, "I was a stranger and you let me in" (Matt 25:35). Jesus Himself was a refugee—remember the Christmas story how they fled to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Him? The early Christians were refugees after Saul began to hunt them down. Christians over the centuries have been refugees!
So, where is the Church now? Are we hiding behind our western comforts? Sleeping in warm beds and homes while our brothers and sisters are struggling to survive? Are we content and well fed while our brothers and sisters go hungry? Are we amusing ourselves with all the luxuries of the western world, while our brothers and sisters flee? I could go on for a long while with Scripture after Scripture (OT and NT) that commands that we take them in! Love our neighbor; love the alien within our midst; They will know we are Christians by our love; etc. Why are we as Christians more concerned about political argumentation and our nation’s self-interest than we are our responsibilities toward the refugee?
(Note: I am not saying that we don't have the responsibility to our families and our neighbors to be wise. Neither am I saying that a nation shouldn’t do what is right for its national interests. Nor, am I saying that nations do not have the responsibility to protect its citizens. In fact, I am not addressing how a nation responds!)
Instead, I am speaking as a pastor and a leader in the Church. I am speaking as a scholar and a teacher. I think I know the Word a little. And the Scriptures I read are unambiguous on this one. What I am saying, then, is that for the Church the command to love trumps these in times like this. Love the Refugee. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).
Lord, Jesus, have mercy on your Church, that we might give mercy to the world.
“Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:14b-15)
My heart is broken.
I just returned from a dynamic conference hosted by the Telos Group in Wash DC focusing on bringing peace to the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular. The platform of Telos is to be Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-peace. The gathering was of high-powered religious and political leaders from around the world along with social activists and human rights leaders.
During the three days we heard the heroic stories of the likes of Jeremy and Jessica Courtney who are risking their lives to bring life-saving heart surgeries to the children of Iraq. We listened to the cries for peace from Daoud Nassar, Roni Keidar, and Jamal Shehade; a Palestinian, an Israeli, and an Arab-Israeli who live out this conflict as a part of their daily lives and work tirelessly to promote peace across borders. We were inspired by the transformative work of Rev. Traci Blackmon who was instrumental in bringing diverse groups together to work for peace in Ferguson, Missouri. And we were briefed by high level world leaders on the status of peace in the Holy Land.
And my heart was broken.
My heart was broken because despite all the efforts of these dynamic people to work for peace, peace has not merely alluded us; it has fled. While families on both sides of this conflict, who want nothing more than what we have—namely, peace, safety, and opportunities of education, employment, and hope for their children—continue to struggle for daily subsistence, the powers that be continue to be thwarted when it comes to brokering peace.
My heart was broken because we were made all too aware that the sun is setting on the prospects of peace—in fact, it may have already set. And when peace fades, hope will soon follow.
My heart was broken because as I sat there those three days I knew deep within that this conflict has been exacerbated by the theological views of some within the western evangelical church.
My heart is broken because I know that a major step in bringing peace is to awaken the evangelical church and I worry that there is simply not enough time to arouse this sleeping giant. The fact is that the conditions on the ground are beyond desperate. When you remove the prospects of peace from this tinder box, and with it hope, the likelihood of an increase in violence, which tragically has already begun, increases exponentially.
The Role of the Evangelical Church
The evangelical church acknowledges that Jesus is the prince of peace. It affirms a call to advocate for justice and to love their enemies. At the same time, among some segments of evangelicalism, there is a running eschatological (“end times”) conviction, which has gained widespread traction, that actually promotes conflict in Middle East. They consider such conflict as evidence of the imminent return of Jesus. As a result, when it comes to peace in the Holy Land, many become apathetic.
“Why work for peace in the Middle East when the Bible says it won’t happen.” “Only the return of Jesus can end this conflict.” “The Bible says that there will be ‘wars and rumors of wars’ and that ‘such things must happen.’” From popular proponents like John Hagee and Pat Robertson, this rhetoric tragically pervades many communities within the evangelical world.
So, as I sat through session after session in DC, my heart was broken. I met people from both sides of this dreadful conflict who desperately want peace. And, yet I knew that one of the most significant obstacles for the peace that they so desperately need lies in the hands of the evangelical church.
(some of you may wonder what I mean by this comment, or question it outright. Simply put, politics always flows downstream from culture. I have attended a number of Congressional dinners as part of these conferences in Washington DC. Every time the congressmen who come let it be known that they cannot flow against the current of culture which staunchly advocate for one side and against the other in this conflict. It is not just that these political figures want to keep their jobs. They are often acting from a genuine sense of duty and a responsibility to be faithful to their constituents. As a result, if a large percentage of the voters who elected them favor one side over against another in the Holy Land, then their hands are somewhat tied.)
God causes the growth
So, is there any hope? Not as far as we can tell. The desperate situation on the ground appears to have moved beyond a political resolution.
But, then, I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor 3:6).
Maybe we are to continue to press forward all the while clinging to this truth. After all, He is the One who is building His church. He is the One who is the Prince of Peace.
So, I ask you to join with me in pressing forward and pursuing the peace that Christ calls us to. As the Psalmist says, “Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:14b-15).
You can begin by gaining an understanding of this conflict and the role of God’s people in bringing justice and crying out for the oppressed. For the sake of those on both sides, let us help to wake up the Church.
Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour
Understanding Eschatology, by Rob Dalrymple
These Brothers of Mine: A Biblical Theology of Land and Family and a Response to Christian Zionism, by Rob Dalrymple
OK Church, get over it. The conception that the prophets were like us. We do Bible studies on Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and the like and we think of them as leaders among the people of God. We memorize their words. We cite them in argumentation. We paste Jer 29:11 as a tag line at the end of emails.
But folks. Though they were leaders among God’s people, the prophets were hated. They were outcasts. They were killed!
Stephen, in his debate with the religious leaders shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus states, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
Yet we read this and assume that Stephen could not be speaking to us. He was speaking to “them” (whoever the “them” may be all we know is that it doesn’t include “us”). Ironically, most of the people to whom Stephen and the prophets were addressing didn’t think they were in the wrong either. They pointed to their fasting and giving and all things apparently religious as proof that they were on the good team. Surely, the people thought, the prophets were speaking to “them” and not “us.”
So, if the “them” back in the day thought that they were the “us”, then shouldn’t we be more cautious about assuming that we the “us” aren’t the “them”? Why should we assume that we are somehow different?
I suppose it all stems from the fact that we always assume that we are the good ones. Since the prophets were the good ones, then they must be part of us. Since the prophets were speaking to the bad ones, they must be talking to “them.”
Jesus Himself warned, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city” (Matt 23:34). Here again, when we read Jesus, we of course assume that He was speaking to “them” and not “us.”
You see, we all know that we are in league with Jesus. So, we are part of the “us” and Jesus was definitely speaking to “them!” We may even go so far as to assume that we are the ones about whom Jesus was referring when He says that He will send prophets and wise men!
Now, I am not suggesting that we know who the “them” might be today! I just think we ought to be careful to too quickly assume that it aint us. Something I think we don’t even consider.
So, who might the “them” be? Well, if we think about it, the “them” cannot mean the secular world; the state; the people of other religions. After all, when we look at the text we realize that the “them” to whom Jesus was addressing was some of the religious leadership within Israel (the OT people of God). Does it stands to reason then that, if there is an application today, the “them” would similarly be some of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God)?
Ouch, that hurts. Since, I myself as a pastor would have to be considered as one who constitutes the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God). Of course, I am a part of the other “some.” But, no one considers themselves today to be a part of this “some.” Which means that the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God) today are actually “none.”
So, maybe it would be good if we regularly step back and assess our place in God’s household—without always assuming that we are the “good.” Now, I don’t say this to suggest that your salvation must be questioned regularly. Or, to have you constantly being introspective to the point that you live in fear. I am, in fact, not even speaking to you (singular), but to you (plural).
My point: as long as we assume that we are the “us” and do not allow ourselves to consider the possibility that we might be the “them”, we will never hear a prophetic message. As a result, we may well continue the pattern of shooting the messenger! Then we will indeed have become the “them”—the very “them” Jesus was warning against.
PS I chose this particular photo of a prophet to accompany this blog because the prophet here is left-handed! Like me! See, I am definitely one of the “us.”—or is it that he is like me?