“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.
The Gospel and the Kingdom
To this point we have established that the gospel in its simplest expression is “Jesus is Lord” and that it is to be believed because it is the truth. In order to further our understanding of the Gospel, it is, also, necessary to observe the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God!
The gospel and the Kingdom of God are deeply intertwined in the NT. We see this in Mark’s opening description of the ministry of Jesus: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). Though some might suggest here that Jesus was referring to two related but different things—first, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), and secondly, He was also “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark 1:15)—the Greek construction indicates that these two elements are in fact one. That is, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God,” and what He was saying (i.e., what constitutes the gospel of God) was: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this statement, then, we see a clear connection between the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, likewise, connects the gospel with the Kingdom of God. Matthew uses the word “gospel” (euangellion) four times (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; and 26:13). In each of the first three occurences (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) the gospel is directly connected with “the kingdom.”
Matthew’s first two uses (Matt 4:23; 9:35) are especially significance for our sake. A comparison of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 shows that these two verses are virtually identical:
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (4:23)
“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (9:35).
The repetition of virtually identical statements, as we see in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, forms what is known as an “inclusio.” An inclusio is one of the primary means by which an ancient author identifies the beginning and ending of a section or an entire work. The use of an inclusio not only serves as a way of indentifying the beginning and ending of a section, but also serves to indicate its key purpose—somewhat like what we do with a “thesis statement.” This means that Matthew 4:23-9:35 should be viewed as one extended section. The central themes of which are Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and His doing the work of the kingdom. We see then that one cannot separate the proclamation of the Kingdom of God from the acts of the kingdom.
This means that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”; and, this proclamation is directly correlated with both the proclamation and the doing of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, this means that in order to comprehend the gospel more fully we must gain an understanding of the kingdom of God. (to which we will turn in a future post)!
NB: if you like these posts and find them helpful please let others know!
 This understanding is reflected in the NET, NIV, and NLT translations: NET “Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’”; NIV “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”; NLT “Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” The key here is that the Greek will often introduce a quote by utilizing two references to “saying.” For example, the Greek NT will often state, “Jesus was teaching and saying.” In such cases, we are not to suppose that Jesus was doing two different things here: namely, teaching and saying. Instead, the second verb “saying” is just the ancient writers way of introducing the content of the speaking. Note, they didn’t use quotation marks. So, the second verb often serves as our English equivalent of quotation marks.
 Note the NAS translates the identical construction in the Greek of Matt 4:23; 9:35; and 24:14 slightly different in 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom”; instead of, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Of course, “this” and “the” are grammatically interrelated.
 There was no need to be absolutely identical. We must bear in mind that Matthew was read aloud. The hearers of the text, upon hearing Matthew 9:35, would recall the earlier statement of Matthew 4:23: even even if they were not able to recall if the statements were identical.
 Since the ancient text was read aloud and most were “hearers”, the use of paragraph breaks and chapter headings wouldn’t have been useful. In addition, the cost of paper was such that the ancient authors were in need of saving space. As a result, ancient writings not only lacked paragraph breaks and section headings, they often lacked space even between words. Verbal markers, that is things that could be heard, were the primary means of assisting the ancient hearer in regard to structure and flow of thought.
What is the Gospel?
A look into the NT shows that the word “gospel” is used in a basic sense to announce the “good news.” The “gospel” is a proclamation of good news! Now, this is a good start, but we still need to declare what the “good news” is about.
In its simplest expression the gospel, or the “good news” is that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem elementary, but the implications of it are profound. In fact, I would contend that we cannot utter anything more profound than the declaration, “Jesus is Lord!”
If Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is; neither is power, nor military might. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not: neither is pleasure, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. It means that my personal security is not: neither is my accumulation of wealth, my accomplishments, my talents, nor my education, nor, in my case, my good looks! It means that my personal desires are not. It means that my family is not. It means that neither is my house, my car, my clothes, nor any possession. To proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” begins with the acknowledgement that no one or nothing else is!
The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is profoundly simple. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them.
Why should someone believe the Gospel?
Now, the "gospel" begins with and extends beyond the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. But, before we proceed, we need to address one somewhat tangential question: “why should someone believe the Gospel?” The answer is simple: because it is the truth. That is it. Jesus is Lord and we are not. And that is the truth. There are no other reasons. We should submit to Jesus as Lord because He is Lord!
The problem is that very rarely is the Gospel presented in our western Christian culture as something to be believed and followed because it is the truth. Instead, we market the Gospel as something to be believed so that you can go to heaven; or so that you won’t have to go to hell; or so that you can get your life back together. In otherwords, we typically present the Gosepl as something that will result in personal gain.
The question, then, becomes: if I believe in Jesus only for my own gain, have I really submitted to Him as Lord?
Now, I recognize that submitting to Jesus as Lord may be a process. Just as we know that it is appropriate to teach a child to do right by offering them a reward, so, also, we may attract youth to a Wednesday night event with ice cream, movies, video games, and whatever is necessary. Even adults are introduced to Jesus or the Church through fun events.
The danger, as I see it, is that when we incentivize the reasons why someone should believe in Jesus, we risk minimizing the Gospel. Sure, there is truth in the notion that: “if you go to Bible study, you will may learn how, through Christ, you can overcome your troubles”; or, “if you cease living immoral lives, you can find true pleasure in Christ.” There is truth in the fact that in coming to Christ we may begin to experience all the blessings that come from being a child of God. But, there is also truth in the fact that the call of Christ is not easy.
Two potential problems arise. First, many churches are only offering more candy: “If you come to church we will make sure you enjoy it.” This makes it very hard for that same church to preach the radical call of Christ. In all honesty, it is a bit hypocritical and unfair to offer them candy one day and then demand that they carry their crosses the next. We lured them in with candy. Then, after they stayed a while, we switched out the candy for green beans!
Secondly, what happens to this person and their faith in Christ when things do not go well? We told them that in believing they would be blessed; they would have peace; God would provide for all their needs. We told them about the good things that would happen if they come to Christ—they will gain wisdom and other spiritual gifts in the present, and they will have comfort knowing that eventually they will be in heaven with Christ forever. We might also tell them a little of the demands of Christ. How they are supposed to bearing their crosses—mostly in the form of moralistic preaching; such as, be sexually pure and do not lie. But, when things don’t go well, they sometimes spiral.
When the Gospel of Jesus as Lord is proclaimed, we can tell them that He remains Lord in the midst of their sufferings, their fears, and their longings. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus as Lord entered our sufferings for us in order to redeem us.
The reality, however, and I know you are thinking it, is that if we are more explicit with the nature of and the demands of the Gospel, not as many people will believe.
This is why I believe that the Parable of the Sower is vital for our understanding of the Gospel and the life of the Church. But, that is the subject of another post!
 It has been said that there are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If Jesus is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
 This fact stands whether or not God is good. If He is Lord, then we should submit. It just so happens that He is good! Thank God! Sorry for the pun!
It doesn’t get more basic to Christianity than to ask: “What is the gospel?” The question is pretty simple. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in part 1, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer.
In addition to the alarming reality that many Christians cannot define the Gospel with any clarity, comes the realization that for many the definition of the Gospel is often “me” centric. That is, the Gospel becomes merely something that was done for me. It is common, for example, for someone to define the Gospel as: “Jesus died for my sins.” Or, “if you have faith in Jesus and repent then you shall be saved.” I suspect that defining the Gospel in terms of this “me” centered—how do I personally get saved—approach proliferates Christianity.
One website, in fact, states:
“When Christians refer to the ‘Gospel’ they are referring to the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, ‘the Gospel’ is the sum total of the saving truth as God has communicated it to lost humanity as it is revealed in the person of His Son and in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.” In the next sentence, the author of this article encourages readers who are uncertain if they are saved to click on the link to learn more about “God’s plan of salvation.” In addition, The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia states, “The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement.”
Now, let me be clear: the gospel is certainly the good news of God’s gracious gift for those who believe that we might be saved. It absolutely entails the finished work of Christ. The result includes the restoration of our relationship with the Father. But it is much more! And, in fact, I would contend that when it comes to defining the Gospel I am not sure that this is the best place to start.
For one, defining the Gospel solely in terms of what it does for me fails to account for the most fundamental element of the Gospel: namely, the sovereignty of Christ. The Gospel is not about us, it is about Him. The Gospel begins and ends with: “Jesus is Lord.”
Secondly, defining the Gospel in terms of what it means for my salvation makes salvation the focus, or the goal. The problem, as we will explore in the following chapters, with making salvation the goal, is that once a person is saved all is completed! This leaves the process of discipleship!—the very thing Jesus commanded us to do (Matt 28:19)—out of the picture. I will contend that if our understanding of the Gospel only entails that which corresponds to our personal salvation, then what we are left with is a truncated gospel; one that serves to facilitate our western, individualistic, consumerist, and self (me)-centered worldview. We must ask how much a “me” centered gospel is really the Gospel? After all, can we reconcile the summons to follow Jesus, which begins and ends with, one must “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), the very epitome of self-denial, with a “me” centered version?
There is a third problem that arises from a “me” centered definition of the Gospel. Namely, that is leaves out the mission of God’s people! A good definition of the Gospel captures the fact that Jesus is Lord, that He not only rules as “King of kings,” and that He has called us to be the means through which He establishes His kingdom! Perhaps the clearest support of this comes from 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God has chosen us, Peter says, “so that” we may “proclaim” His excellencies!
 See: https://bible.org/article/what-gospel. viewed 3-28-18.
 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), electronic media. Cited in bible.org. https://bible.org/article/what-gospel 3-28-18.
 For an excellent discussion of the Gospel see Tim Keller, Center Church, parts 1-2.
 The Greek uses hopos, which, in constructions such as this, indicates purpose.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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
I often hear people say that they want a class on how to share their faith with others. I understand fully this desire. Many Christians want to share their faith but are afraid to do so. Some are uncertain because they don’t think they have they know enough. Others are uncertain because they think they do not know how to do so. The fact is that we will never know enough and that there is no perfect way to do it. We just need to get out there and tell the world about Jesus.
Now, if anyone says to you, “here are the 10 keys to effective evangelism,” or, “use these effective strategies for guaranteed conversions”, or, “win them over with this irresistible trick,” be cautious. They may well have good insights. But no one has the corner on “sharing the Gospel with success.”
When we think about it, our theology tells us that those who come to Christ are called by Christ. This means that there is no way we can be certain that our “secrets” to sharing Christ will ultimately lead anyone to faith. No matter how good our presentation was. If they are not called by God, they will not repent.
At the same time, however, we can go about it the wrong way. So, here are some thoughts on how we might share the Gospel more effectively.
Pray for them
Really, truly, deeply, and consistently pray for them. We believe that it is only God who changes the heart! God is the one who calls! God is the one who saves! Prayer helps us see things the way that God sees them.
In addition, our motives and ego can so easily get in the way. So pray for ourselves also. That the Light of Christ might shine through us to them despite our sinfulness!
Just be real with people. Love them. Care for them. Come alongside them. And live Jesus before them.
Love them for who they are. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t assume that they have to become like us to be saved! Sure, we hope that they will become more like Jesus each day. But, that is not a pre-requisite to being saved either! Being saved starts with recognizing that I am not like Jesus! I am a sinner. I need Jesus to change me!
Being real with people also means that we admit our faults and weaknesses. We believe that we are not perfect; so don’t pretend to be.
What to do next!
Invite them to Church or a Church event. Don’t worry if they say no. Just keep looking for ways to integrate them into your community. Allow them to journey to Christ.
Sure, some people have an experience in which they accept Christ. Some of us can name the day and time and place in which it happened. Others cannot. They just know that previously they were not a Christian and now they are. When that change took place, they do not know.
I remember a time when I was sharing the Gospel with someone. We met weekly and just read the Gospel of Matthew together. Sometimes we would discuss what we read. Sometimes we just kept reading. About 8 months later I asked, “why don’t you get baptized?” He was startled. The reality, however, was that sometime during the previous 8 months he had become a Christian. He had gone from just reading and inquiring to believing and desiring. I could see the change. I don’t know when it happened. Neither did he.
Within a month, I had the pleasure of baptizing him!
An important part of loving people and sharing Christ with them is to ask them questions. Find out who they are.
As people talk they will let you know how they are struggling; what they are looking for. You will find that be listening to them you will learn easy entry points to bring Jesus into the conversation and into their lives.
Sometimes they will be closed to the Gospel. That is important to know! Give them time. Sharing the Gospel too forthrightly with such persons will only cause them to repel further. Just love them. Be there for them. Model Christ for them. Perhaps, on occasion you can insert the Gospel ever so gently into a conversation and then let it go. If it is received, perhaps it will be a seed that germinates over time. Later, you can tell them more.
Others may be struggling with something. Perhaps it is a loss that they cannot comprehend. They cannot accept Jesus because it doesn’t make sense how God could have allowed this to happen. By asking questions you will find this out and learn how to bring the Gospel to them personally.
Share your story
This is crucial. You may not think you have a story, but you do. Sharing your story let’s people know that you are real too. You have struggled with growing up in a broken family; or suffering a divorce; or the loss of a loved one. Let them know that you are just another person. You have struggles. Life is not perfect for you either.
Some people have this conception that they have to have it all together before they can become a Christian. The problem is accentuated when Christians pretend that they have it all together. We, for some reason, think we are supposed to let people know how great our life in Christ is. The result is that people are distanced from Christ because they think they will never have it all together!
So, to the Church I exclaim: “be real with people.” Don’t put on a face of something you are not. Sure, Christ has made my life infinitely better. But my life is still full of gaffs and blunders.
In hearing your story, people might come to find that there is hope for them too. If God can save people like us, then He can and will do so for them!
For some reason we Christians think that we not only have to our life perfectly together but that we have to know everything. We don’t know everything. And no one expects that we do!
So, be ready to answer people’s questions. But not with this supposed “I know it all” mentality. In fact, one of the best answers we can give is: “I don’t know.” Now this answer should be immediately followed by, “but let me find out.” Then go and find out and come back soon and let them know what you learned.
Also, in answering people’s questions, acknowledge them as good questions. What might seem as a simple question for you, might be the basis for a real struggle for someone else.
The fact is that I struggle with the problem of evil and suffering too. I don’t know why, or even pretend to understand why, God allows 25,000 people to die each day from starvation.
I do know this though. That God has done and is doing something about it! The beauty of the Gospel is that, though evil and suffering is the result of the mess that we made of this world, God has entered into our mess by sending His Son that we might live. This is it. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why there is so much evil in this world. But, I do get the fact that God has done something about it! My son lives because God’s Son died! There is no greater comfort to a grieving parent than that!
Let the Light of the Gospel Shine Forth in Our Lives as we Love One Another
Finally, we need to do a better job of loving each other! Jesus said that this is how they will know that we are Christians!
I thought I would take on another easy question: ‘What about women in ministry?’ Admittedly, the question is multi-faceted and the issues are complex. (I recognize for some that the issues are not complex: for some the Bible says that women should not be in authority—though many define authority differently, which affirms my point that the issues are complex—and so it is black and white). The complexities include at the most basic level whether or not women can teach in the Church at all (including the teaching of children; youth; or, adults—whether that be women only, or both women and men). The issues also include whether or not women can have authority in the Church and at what level (including authority over children; youth; adults—whether it be women only, or both women and men).
Before we look at the primary biblical text in question (1 Tim 2:12-14), allow me to digress and give a brief background of my own journey with regard to these issues. I came to faith in Christ in a wonderful, but very conservative, church environment. As a result the Bible was read as very black and white (aside from the red letters of course!). The Bible lays it out very concretely—as I was taught—women cannot ‘teach or have authority over a man’ (1 Tim 2:12). Over the years two things began to cause me to wonder if this was not too simple. (Now I have always held a very high view of Scriptural authority, and still do).
First, I had several encounters with women in higher education. On a few occasions I had the privilege of having a female classmate during my post-graduate work. I noticed that she was much brighter and had a keener sense of Scripture than most of the men in the class. Furthermore, I found myself studying various scholarly articles and books that were written by women. I wondered to myself at the oddity of it all. These female scholars are very gifted. They are great writers and communicators. And they appear from their writings to have a deep passion for the Lord. Yet, ironically, what they write and communicate can be used to teach and train leaders and pastors, but at the same time, they themselves are not allowed to speak from a pulpit on a Sunday in many churches. This just didn’t seem to mesh for me.
A second catalytic factor that caused me to delve more deeply into the Scripture was the fact that I have clearly witnessed women in the Church who are quite gifted in a variety of ways. Some of these women are high level executives that are quite gifted at running and managing multi-million dollar corporations. Yet, many of them are suppressed in today’s churches and their voices are not heard simply because of their gender.
Now, I fully understand that this does not have to be this way. That is, women can thrive in environments in which there gifts and passions are utilized, where they are affirmed and not suppressed, and yet they are still restricted for cultural reasons from having full authority in a local church. After all, when we look at the Church of the NT we find that women held prominent roles/positions in the Church and thrived even though they were restricted from having pastoral authority: e.g., Priscilla, Pheobe, Philip’s daughters, among others. Jesus seemingly allowed women as disciples. Furthermore, women were prominent in the Gospel accounts. Etc. Yet, at the same time Paul forbade them from holding the office of ‘pastor over men’ (1 Tim 2:12). This demonstrates that women can simultaneously be used effectively and esteemed in numerous ways in the Church, all the while being withheld from holding high offices in the Church. I get that.
But, we must also acknowledge that we don’t see women at the time of Paul writing commentaries, scholarly articles, being esteemed professors, and even presidents of seminaries! So, the question remains, ‘how can we allow women to do such things in our modern academic environment and then tell that same woman that she cannot teach on Sunday?’ She can teach our emerging pastors in the colleges and seminaries Monday through Friday, but she cannot teach our congregations on Sunday. This is a fundamental difference between our setting and the setting of the NT.
You see, the irony is much deeper. Many young pastors and teachers write their messages based on outlines, lectures, etc., that they had from their time in formal education. So, if the notes that this young pastor used on a given Sunday came from a lecture that a female professor gave to him, that would be okay: as long as he gave the sermon? He can tell everyone what he learned from her, but she can’t deliver the same sermon (even though she is more qualified and perhaps more gifted to do so)?
Now, in order to gain more consistency in these matters, one option would be to eliminate women from positions in higher education. But, these women are highly qualified and quite gifted at what they do. We would be essentially asking them to not utilize gifts that God has given them. And we would be restricting in a manner in which Scripture does not forbid.
But what about Scripture? Fair enough. We still need to contend with the Scriptures. Space will not allow me to delve into all the texts, nor even every nuance of 1 Tim 2. But a good look at the primary text in question, 1 Tim 2:12-14, is necessary. Here we find the command of Paul that: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12).
Now we immediately recognize that this is not an absolute dictum forbidding all teaching activities of women for several reasons. For one, we see women doing just that throughout the NT. Priscilla is teaching Apollos in Acts 18. Philip’s four daughters are prophesying in Acts 21. And in 1 Cor 11:5, Paul stresses that women must have their heads covered when praying and prophesying in Church (note: the act of prophesying entails teaching).
Also, we must observe that the twin prohibitions of ‘teaching’ and ‘having authority’ in 1 Tim 2:12 appear to entail the primary functions of a pastor. Thus, while not absolutely forbidding a woman from teaching in every setting, Paul is forbidding them from the role of a pastor or church leader ‘over men’. This would suggest that a women preaching on a Sunday morning to the congregation may well be permitted even by Paul; for though they are performing a task that a pastor performs they are not exercising his position as pastor and leader of the flock. That is, the text forbids them from two things that together constitute the position/office of what we term ‘pastor’. This does not mean that a woman cannot perform the task of teaching—which is why we see women teaching at various times in the NT. To suggest that women cannot preach on Sunday, but yet they can present the same message to a classroom on Wednesday is quite silly. What is the difference between a woman teaching a message on a Wednesday and her giving the same message on a Sunday morning? She is performing the task but not the office of a pastor. This distinction is quite significant. Paul allowed the former and forbade the latter.
Furthermore, we should also note that Paul seemingly restricts women from having this role of authority (pastor: i.e., ‘teaching and having authority’) not absolutely, but only over ‘a man.’ For many, and I would concur, this means that women are permitted to function and serve as children’s pastors, or, even pastors of women. That this holds true finds support in Paul’s letter to Titus in which he counsels Titus on how to relate to younger and older men and women. Propriety, even in Paul’s day, suggests that women are better suited at addressing and ministering to women.
It is at this juncture that most evangelical churches would actually be in agreement with me. They have no problem with women being in authority over women and children. Some refuse to allow a woman to preach on Sunday, but, as we have shown, that does not appear to be what Paul is forbidding here. At this point, we could stop and most everyone, even the quite conservatives, will be content, though not necessarily in full agreement, with what has been said. Paul seemingly allowed women to teach in various settings and to be in authority over women and children. But, let’s look at the prohibition of women in 1 Tim 2:12-14 to see if there is more.
What we notice is that Paul’s prohibition of women from occupying the office of pastor over men is justified by Paul in 1 Tim 2:13-14. Here Paul gives two reasons for his prohibition. His first justification is that Adam was formed first (2:13). This is a reference to what is called ‘primogeniture’ (basically: the order of birth or creation). Paul is saying that since Adam was first in creation, we are going to establish a rule that man is to be first in the Church. Now this appears very concrete and very conclusive. It remains true today that Adam was formed first—in fact, it will remain true forever. Therefore, Paul’s prohibition appears to be eternally validated. Thus, in order to argue that Paul’s prohibition of women being pastors over men was culturally conditioned (that is, it is not necessarily the result of absolutely binding and eternally fixed factors), one would need to contend that the law of primogeniture is not absolute.
Well, it is not. There are numerous occasions in which the one who was first was not given the privilege forever: Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Ephraim over Manasseh; Moses over Aaron; David is the youngest in his family, etc. Furthermore, primogeniture is culturally bound in that it was necessary to impose in a culture that was intimately tied to land transfers and the allotment of inheritance. This was important in the ancient world. For, it was necessary to pre-determine who was the inheritor of the land and such. In such cultures it was often essential to not split up the farms equally among all surviving heirs as this would have been detrimental to the long term survival of the clan. In such societies, then, it was natural to choose the oldest—since the oldest was more likely mature enough to care for the family; and younger siblings may even have been in need of care themselves. Choosing the oldest as a rule also eliminated/minimized the potential for sibling rivalry. These pragmatic factors made primogeniture a part of the fabric of the biblical world. But, as such, they do not necessarily translate to our contemporary situation. Thus, to say that Paul was saying men can be pastors and women cannot based on an absolute fact that Adam was made first, fails to recognize that it was not based on this absolute, but on a culturally accepted practice of primogeniture. Thus, for Paul, this was a valid reason. But it was a reason that was culturally conditioned. And one that does not necessarily translate into all cultures for all time.
The second reason that Paul states to justify his restriction of women from the office of pastor over men is that Eve was the one who was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). Again it appears that Paul has provided for us a theologically grounded basis for his rule—the fact is that she was deceived first. Paul appears to be setting forth the fact that Eve, and the women of his day, were more susceptible to deception.
This is an important point. But, before we look at the nature of this assertion we must reflect on the fact that for Paul the pastor must keep watch over the flock. In doing so, one of the most central roles of the pastor is to watch over the teaching and beliefs of the flock and to guard them from deception (note: the devil’s name is ‘the deceiver’: this is one of his primary weapons!). Therefore, whether it is a woman, or anyone else for that matter, who are more subject to giving in to false teaching and deception, Paul lays forth an important rule that the pastor must not be one who is more susceptible to deception (I’ll return to this in a moment).
Now, we must ask why it is that Paul deemed that women are more susceptible to deception. For a while, I myself concluded that since Paul stated that women are more susceptible to deception, then it must simply be so. However, more recent studies have revealed (beyond the fact that I was naïve among other things) that there are several causes that make a person more susceptible to deception. Among these factors are such things as age (children are more easily deceived than adults), experience, intelligence, and education (the more educated the less likely to be deceived). Note that gender is not a factor! Thus, Paul was not saying that women by nature are more naturally deceived. Why then did Paul say that women are more easily deceived? Considering all the factors that contribute to a person being subject to deception, the only factor that would have been generally, and perhaps almost universally true of women at the time of Paul, is that they were not privileged to the same levels of education as men. As a result, women were, generally speaking, not qualified to serve as pastors.
But, as access to education is made more available to all, including women, then we may conclude that women may well qualify to serve as pastors over men—and many of them are quite qualified. That is why we can have women as scholars, professors, and university presidents today, yet they essentially did not serve such roles in Paul’s day. Paul wasn’t forbidding a woman who lectured on Wednesday from teaching on Sunday. The educational preparation wasn’t there. Now that it is, it stands to reason that Paul would have been willing to allow women to teach the same message on Sunday that they did on Wednesday and to allow them the authority to lead the entire church.
What does this all mean? First off, even if we take Paul’s prohibition as an absolute restriction that excludes women from the office of pastor over men, I do not see any reason why women cannot function as pastors over women and children, or why a woman cannot teach or preach. But, it also does not appear that Paul has given us a timeless edict. He has laid down a principle that cannot be ignored: namely, that whoever serves as a pastor must be educated and prepared so that they are not easily deceived. This would apply to men and women. Anyone who is not educated well enough is more subject to deception (modern studies have confirmed this to be one of the leading factors for deception among adults), and therefore should not be in the office of pastor in the Church. This corresponds with Paul’s list of qualifications in 1 Tim 3 for pastors: including the fact that they cannot be a ‘new convert’ (1 Tim 3:6) and that they must be ‘able to teach’ (1 Tim 3:2). For those who are new converts will be susceptible to deception as they are likely not educated in the teachings of the Church. And those who cannot teach means that they are not qualified with the knowledge of the Word, which also would make them more susceptible to deception.
Why stress this point? Because some of these very churches who adamantly restrict women from being pastors and teachers in the Church based on 1 Tim 2, have men in these positions who are not qualified based on the fact that they lack the education necessary to protect the flock from the deceptions of the devil. The principle, as Paul has set forth in this passage, is that anyone who is more easily deceived cannot serve as pastors and teachers over the Church. Paul simply eliminated all women because in his day they were, generally speaking, not privileged to the education necessary to qualify them for such positions. But, in chapter 3, as we have noted, when he lists the qualifications for pastors, he notes that men who are not educated (i.e., new converts and not able to teach) are similarly excluded from the office of pastor over men.
In all, women have tremendous gifts and callings from the Lord. These gifts and callings are essential to the full growth and edification of the body! It is time that we all recognize them for who they are and what they can bring to the table!
 Cf Acts 18. Note in 18:18, 26, Rom 16:13, and 2 Tim 4:19 her name precedes that of her husband suggesting strongly that she has a more prominent role. 1 Cor 16:19 is an exception where Aquila appears first, but this only makes one wonder more why Priscilla (or Prisca) is listed first in every other occasion.
 Rom 16:1 appears to call Pheobe a deaconess. Though most translations use ‘servant’ here. The calling out of Pheobe itself suggests someone of note. Grammatical considerations also lend towards her being a deacon.
 Acts 21:18-19: they are called prophetesses. One must remember that a prophet in the NT is more than one who receives oracles from the Lord. But they are often associated with teaching and exhorting. Cp Paul’s contrast of those who speak in tongues vs those who prophesy in Acts 14.
 Luke 10:39 has Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him, which is the posture of a disciple. Luke has seemingly depicted her in the role of a disciple.
 Granted that one may contend that perhaps Priscilla may have performed tasks similar to these.
 Other passages do not forbid women from being pastors. 1 Cor 14:34 is discussing abuses in term of disorderly conduct in the church and not roles and functions of authority and does not need to be discussed here.
 My own translation. The Greek is interesting here because the word order reads: “to teach women (the word ‘women’ is in the case that identifies ‘women’ as the object of the verb) I do not permit, nor to have authority over a man”. This suggests that Paul is stressing the words ‘to teach’ and the word ‘women’.
 Titus 2. Note: Paul gives no provisions for Titus on how he is supposed to counsel younger women. Presumably, because this would have been inappropriate.
 Now I am not suggesting that Paul allowed women to be pastors of women in his day because such is an anachronistic thought. It doesn’t appear that they had such roles then. I am suggesting that if Paul were here today in our contemporary western churches he would have had no problem with women being ‘leaders’ of women. You’ll see why below I refrained from using the designation ‘pastor’ here.
 The Greek of 1 Tim 2:13 begins with gar (for) which often states the reason why something is true. That is, Paul is effectively saying, ‘The reason why women cannot be pastors over men is . . . (v 13) and . . . (v 14).
Jesus is the center of the Apocalypse. Or, perhaps, it may be better stated—Christ is the Apocalypse.
The Book of Revelation opens with the words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).
The phrase is actually ambiguous, both in English and in the original Greek. The phrase can be understood to mean: “the revelation that is about Jesus Christ”; or, “the revelation that is from Jesus Christ.” When it comes to something like this the interpreter’s best option is to read the book and see which one makes the most sense. Is the book of Revelation about Jesus or is it from Jesus?
Even after reading the Book of Revelation, however, one is still unsure which option is best. This leads many to conclude, and probably correctly, that John was intentionally unclear and that he wanted us to understand the book of Revelation as both a revelation from Jesus Christ and one that is about Jesus Christ.
But when we say that Revelation is about Jesus what do we mean? Well, that is quite simple: it is about who He is and what He has done. Okay, but what is it that He has done?
Through the pages of the book of Revelation John highlights Jesus’ person and role in terms of three key features: 1) Jesus is God made manifest; and as such He is worthy of the worship due to God alone; 2) Jesus is the fulfiller of God’s promises in that He has accomplished the mission of God’s people; 3) Jesus, as the fulfiller of God’s mission, is the model for the people of God to emulate.
All three of these are vital and will be explored more deeply in future blogs. But for now, I will focus on one aspect of the third point. It is this third point that explains John’s somewhat surprising opening description of Jesus. For, instead of describing Jesus with all the glorious titles that He uses later in the book, John attributes three apparently mundane titles to Jesus: 1) He is “the faithful witness”—likely indicating that He was faithful unto death— 2) He is the One who has overcome death and is therefore “the firstborn from the dead”; 3) He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
Of all the titles ascribed to Jesus in the book of Revelation, that these three are the first is somewhat astonishing.
The importance of these three titles, however, cannot be underestimated. They serve to highlight John’s message to the churches—as well as to us today. Namely, that, in the same way that Jesus did, so also the people of God must: 1) persevere as faithful witnesses—despite the fact that this may well result in death— 2) knowing that we will also be raised from the dead, 3) and through all this we will reign as the kings of the earth (as C. S. Lewis put it: “we are kings and queens of Narnia!”).
One of the first principles in understanding the book of Revelation is that the book is about Jesus. Knowing this will help us not only understand the book, but also its message for us today. Jesus is “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). And as such He is the model that the people of God are to emulate. If one gets anything from reading the book of Revelation may it be: “Go be faithful witnesses just like Jesus!”
I saw a child this week. He was a cute little guy. Maybe 3 years old.
But I was grieved when I saw him. His mom was about 21. She clearly looked at this cute young child as a hindrance. And I am sure that in many ways he was. This poor child, however, was growing up in an environment in which love was not being modelled to him (now, I hope I am wrong about this child. After all, I only saw him briefly. But, nonetheless, I am sure that I am right in regards to many children like him).
I was also grieved because of where I saw this child. We were at the county jail. He was apparently going to see his dad. Three years old and he was already being exposed to the harshness of life.
Now, I know what you might be thinking—because I used to think this way. You see, I used to blame the parents. “If they wouldn’t have had illicit sex then he wouldn’t have been born into such harsh surroundings.” “If his dad didn’t commit crimes then his mom wouldn’t have to work all those hours to provide for him by herself and then to spend here off time visiting his dad in prison.”
The problem, as I am only beginning to learn, is that this child is growing up in an environment in which all the odds were cast against him. As a result, what are the odds that he will learn to make good choices? What are the odds that he will overcome all this? Unfortunately, the statistics are not good.
So, we can blame the parents, right?
But, what if his parents grew up in an environment just like him? What if they never had love modelled to them? What if they too were raised as a hindrance to their mom and dad’s aspirations? What if their parents couldn’t go to school because they had to work endlessly to provide for their kids?
I am learning that it is easy for me to judge them. I can warn them not to have illicit sex. But I grew up in a home in which I was loved. What if these young girls cannot find love anywhere else, so they turn to sex? That doesn’t make it right. But, this is all they have.
My question, then, is where is the Church? Are we looking for ways to provide love to these families? To support them and help the parents through school? To love such kids and give them hope?
Two questions: What is the “pillar and support of the Truth” according to Scripture? I have asked many biblical scholars this question and I am amazed that they do not know the answer. Many will say, “Jesus” or “love” (after all those answers work to most questions Christians ask).
How about this one: When Jesus returns who is He going to redeem? Tough question and I suspect that many do not have a quick answer.
The answer to both questions is the Church. (see: 1 Tim 3:15 says, “. . . I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”)
Jesus and Paul had a very high view of the Church. Yet too many think they don’t need the Church. They only need Jesus.
Folks, you cannot have Jesus without the Church. The Church (and here I mean the people of God) is the temple of the living God. The Church is where Christ resides. “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20) refers to the Church. After all, Paul calls it the “household of God” (1 Tim 3:15). The Church is where God dwells.
I’ll say it again: you cannot leave the Church and have Jesus. (I am sure that there are plenty of “but what about . . .” at this moment. So, let me briefly respond to the general premise of many of them.)
Sure, if some person were to know Christ and end up on a deserted island, they would still have Jesus even though they weren’t part of a local community. But, that person is still a part of the Church. Their absence from a local community was not essentially their choice. I am referring to people who live in a community where churches are present and they refuse to fellowship with them, or they choose to start their own church by first leaving the Church. Sorry, can’t do it.
Indeed the Church has many problems. Unfortunately, many Christians in their attempt to find a solution are actually contributing to the problem.
The solution cannot be to leave the Church. Here are four brief thoughts on how we can begin to save the Church.
Solution 1: We must have the same high view of the Church that Jesus and the New Testament have. This doesn’t mean that we must advocate for high church or some old-fashioned definition of what a church must be. But, we must aim to preserve and protect the Church.
Granted, this is a much more difficult task than defending our local church, or even our own Christian life. Nonetheless, it is the Church for which Christ died! And it is the Church for which Christ will return!
Solution 2: We must learn to move away from our self-centeredness. Church is not for me. Christ didn’t call you or me for our own sakes alone. We were called for a mission: as 1 Peter 2:9 says: you were chosen “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Solution 3: We must leave our consumerist mentality behind. We are part of a church because that is what it means to be a Christian. The local church, however, is not for me. The local church is the gathering of God’s people in order that we might serve one another in love and doing so proclaim Christ.
Solution 4: We must understand that the unity of the Church is fundamental to the mission of Christ and the New Testament.
So no more of this: “I just don’t get anything out of it.” I understand that this is a real issue on some cases. But, the solution cannot be to leave the Church!
Now, I respect the fact that some local churches are just not cutting it. Maybe you need to find another local community in which you can best serve and be served so that you will be able to fulfill your mission as a proclaimer “of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light”! As you make such a move, my encouragement is that you find a local body that is focused on bringing unity to the Church.
The solution must be in our being a solution. We cannot make the problem worse. Maybe it is our job to make the Church better.
You can't! Period. Not because I said so. Because Jesus said so! it is not your decision to start one. It is Christ’s. It is He who said, “I will build My Church” (Matt 16:18).
Now, perhaps you are called to lead a church. I am just saying that you can't start you own!
“But I prayed about this and God has shown me and others many signs that confirm this calling.” You may very well be called to be a lead pastor, but starting a church independent of the Church cannot be what God is calling you to do.
I respect very much your honest and sincere conviction that this is true. But allow me to say several things.
1) I wonder if you might be confusing your general call to ministry and your giftings as a pastor, with a perceived call to start a specific local church.
I am sure that many others around you have come to you and supported your convictions; including men and women who are mature believers. In addition, things are unfolding around you that confirms that it is the work of God: a building has opened up; resources have become available, people have volunteered to help with ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’, etc.
But realize first that many others have had the same convictions and signs from God, and have failed miserably. Now, I affirm that failure is not necessarily a sign that God did not call a person. God sometimes calls us to things that will “fail” (in such instances “fail” is a matter of perspective). The point is that such persons were convinced that they were going to build the next successful church, or even megachurch, and it never happened.
2) how many of the people around you that are confirming your call are really adequately trained in Scripture, church government, the history of the Church, theology, etc., to provide this level of counsel?
They may, and in fact I am sure they are, godly men and women. But people can only counsel from the resource of knowledge that they have. If they themselves do not have the adequate training necessary to process all that goes into such a decision, then they cannot possibly provide an authoritative response.
(I realize that I am likely upsetting a lot of people here. And I am sorry. That is not my intent. To use an analogy: a corporate executive should not come to a person who has worked their whole life as a nurse, regardless of whether or not she is a mature believer, and seek advice on how to most effectively move one’s company through a merger. This nurse simply does not have the necessary acumen to counsel in such matters. She may be able to counsel the corporate exec in regards to handling her personal conduct and Christian witness. But she cannot counsel in regards to the nature of running a corporation).
Now, does this mean that one cannot seek godly counsel from other Christians? God forbid. Indeed, in the presence of “many counselors” (Prov 15:22) there is wisdom.
I have three simple premises here. First, the Church was founded by and is built by Christ (“I will build My Church”: Matt 16:18): He commissioned His twelve to build His Church. Secondly, the Church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17). Thirdly, the unity of the body is a core desire of Christ (John 17:21).
In light of these, I will contend that one cannot leave the Church and start a church of their own. For, to leave the Church is to leave Christ.
I am referring here to those who independent of any body have gone and started their own church. I understand that such persons believe strongly that they are called to do so. I am not denying that they might even be called to start a church. I am simply saying that the means of doing so cannot be independent of the Church (such persons must simply find a legitimate body to send them).
1) The Church is Christ’s.
That means He rules it. And it means that only He authorizes His agents to lead it. The question, then, is how does Christ appoint others to lead His Church? Does He do so by appealing directly to an individual independent of the Church?; or, does He does so through the Church that He has established? I say it must be the latter.
2) Only those so appointed can lead Christ’s Church.
Scripture indicates that Christ appointed His twelve. Those twelve appointed others. And they others. And so on. If it is Christ’s church, then it is fair enough to say that only Christ can appoint someone to lead it.
In addition, we see that Christ always uses His body to further the Gospel. Hence, it was Ananias who was sent to lay hands on Paul (Acts 9:17); Philip who was called to speak to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40); and Peter was summoned to speak to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48).
Furthermore, we find in Scripture the principle that one must be appointed for ministry by one who has already been authorized for ministry. The means by which one becomes an official leader of a church is by being anointed by a valid authority. Thus, we find Paul encouraging Timothy not to lay hands on people too quickly (1 Tim 5:22).
The principle, then, is that Jesus appoints His twelve; they appoint others; they appoint others; and so on.
To start one’s own church is like an individual who attempts to start a local franchise without permission of the parent franchise. So, also, Christ has established His Church and given them authority to build His Church. An individual or group cannot come along independent of the Church and start a local church.
3) To start a church independent of the Church is to instantly create disunity in the body.
I recognize that the Church has many issues. But for someone to come along and suppose that they have it all figured out and that they are going to do it right is naïve, arrogant, and ultimately divisive. I won’t relay here the numerous times the Scriptures command us to maintain the unity of the Church. Starting another church simply creates more disunity.
This last point often goes unmentioned in such discussions.
In Ephesians 4, Paul refers to the four-fold offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (the construction of this sentence in Greek confirms that the last two are reflective of one office). The purpose of such leaders is for serve the purpose of “building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Unfortunately, any church that creates further disunity in the Church has failed in its primary mission.
What is the solution?
We must find a way to reform the Church that already is!
Bottom line: one cannot leave the Church and start a Church. To leave the Church is to leave Christ. For, the Church is the body of Christ on earth (see post “We have too low a view of the Church.”)
So, what do we say about all those churches who have been started on their own? I would say that they are a group of Christians who are gathering together. They may well be doing great things for the Lord. But, by contributing to the disunity of the Church they have also done much harm.
The fabric upon the which the Bible was penned must be viewed as one garment. The whole Bible coheres and centers around the fact of God’s redemption and restoration of both mankind and the whole of creation.
The book of Revelation is Genesis fulfilled. The entire Bible, in fact, weaves a beautiful story of God’s work in creation and, because of the fall, His subsequent effort to restore His creation.
This is why the Gospel of John begins by quoting Genesis: “In the beginning” (John 1:1). Matthew’s gospel commences with a genealogy (Matt 1:2-17) that clearly serves to identify Jesus with the story of the OT. And why the Gospel of Mark opens with a composite citation (1:2; cf Isa 40:3, Exod 23:20, and Mal 3:1) that clearly intends to identify the coming of John the Baptist as the herald of the coming Christ in terms of the fulfillment of the great promise of the restoration of Israel. And Luke’s opening two chapters contain a plethora of OT citations and allusions.
In each instance, the Gospels are connecting their narratives with the OT story. John, however, takes us one step forward. For, he intends us to not only see Jesus in light of the OT, but also in terms of a new creation. That is, ‘in the beginning’ not only serves to connect the story of Jesus in John with Genesis and the OT, but it is also eschatological—forward looking to the new creation. That is, with the coming of Jesus we have another ‘in the beginning.’
What might this mean for us?
First, it means that in Jesus we have the fulfillment of God's covenant promises (2 Cor 1:20). And we must, therefore, read our Bible's in this light.
Secondly, it means that the 'eschaton' (the end-times) have begun in Jesus. We live in the 'last days'. The 'last days' then are not something to query about as though they are future and distant (or perhaps imminent) and potentially not important. Instead, they are something for us to presently endure.
Finally, the inauguration of the New Creation in Jesus means that our mission as God's people entails the bringing in of the New Creation. We are God's image bearers on earth: and as such we must reign! (of course, reigning in the New Creation is not like the kings of this world (Luke 22:25-30); but entails submission of our very lives to the Kingdom of our Lord (Rev 12:11)).
This year the session (ruling board) at my church has decided that we should focus our attention on “Thy Kingdom Come” (sometimes that King James English just needs to come out). Sounds great. I personally wish that Christ’s Kingdom were here. Now! I want it now! (reminds me of the girl in the new Willie Wonka Movie who bratishly—yes, that is a word: after all, I can make up words if I want because I have a PhD!—says, “but, daddy, I want it now”). That’s the point. We really want the Kingdom and we want it now!
What is God waiting for? Why is He taking so long? I mean it has been two thousand years (well, almost). One of the problems we have with this line of questioning (which many of us are guilty of) is that it begins and ends with a poor understanding of the Kingdom.
The problem is simple. Many of us have been taught that the Kingdom is wholly spiritual. After all, it is the Kingdom of heaven, right? Because of this we have concluded that the spiritual (heaven) is good and the physical (earth) is—well—not as good; or, for some it is bad.
This leads us to a problem. This sort of thinking tells us that only spiritual things really matter. Life itself, however, tells us something different. After all, we need to eat, drink, sleep, work, etc., in order to live.
What many Christians tend to do at this point is to try to live in these two worlds at the same time. One world is the Mon-Sat world. For many, this is the real world. We live, eat, and breathe in this world. The other world is then some sort of spiritual world—the Sunday world. This is the world of religion and spirituality. In this world, we pray and go to church. (Pastors often get befuddled as to how to get their parishioners more involved in the life of the Church: how to get them to pray more; give more; learn more; do more. This conflict will continue, however, as long as we allow ourselves to live as though there really are these two worlds).
The problem here is that this thinking stems from a poor understanding of the Kingdom. Think about it: Is it not true that God is the creator of ALL things (Col 1:16)? Is it not true that through Jesus God is reconciling “to himself ALL things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:20)?
Here’s my point. If God is Lord of all, then the Kingdom of God is not some spiritual thing that is detached from the world. Jesus is Lord Monday through Saturday too! This means that working, being in fellowship with others, resting, eating, and praying are all spiritual acts. After all, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden (Gen 2:15); they had fellowship in the Garden; and, they ate in the Garden. Such acts, then, are part of God’s eternal plan. They are not just things we do in this world until someday we escape it. They are all part of God’s kingdom, which are in need of being redeemed and restored.
What does this have to do with Thy Kingdom Come? Everything. The ECO (which is our denomination) document on the Church says, “Before the foundation of the world, God set a plan of mission to reconcile the world to Himself and chose to use the Church as His instrument of reconciliation. It is incumbent upon all members of the body of Christ to participate in the work of building one another up in Christ and be deployed for His work in the world” (ECO Polity 8).”
Therefore, instead of us sitting back and waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, we have been commanded by God to be the agents through which God brings His kingdom. We must learn to view our jobs from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to view our relationships from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to enjoy our food from a kingdom perspective (a kingdom perspective with regard to food would begin by acknowledging God for His provision and would include our recognition of others who may be in need of food). As we do this, the Kingdom of God comes!
Next, we must begin to look at the world around us and realize that it too is in desperate need of being reconciled to God! For, the Kingdom of God comes when we care for the broken in this world. This includes the broken people who need to see that Christ loves them and wants to redeem and restore them. It also includes the brokenness of the creation. After all, God created mankind to care for His creation (Gen 2:15).
In one sense, we have no other options. We cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” and do nothing. We must do something about the lack of peace in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the children starving in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the brokenness of families in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. And of course, we must do something about the lostness within our neighborhoods and the world.
Thy Kingdom Come is a charge for us to get busy!
Oh. One last thing. We must do all of this with joy in our hearts. After all, we are children of the King and we will get to eat at His table forever!
I wrote a book: "Understanding Eschatology." The subtitle was "Why it Matters!" Most people could seem to care less. I say it is vital, crucial, essential.
The Bible is an incredible and fascinating book. It is far from being merely a list of moral guidelines, or an instruction manual on ‘how to get to heaven in ten easy steps’.
Instead, when read in terms of the overall story of God’s work within creation, it reveals a depth and beauty that transcends comprehension. Unfortunately, for many Christians, the notion of reading and teaching Scripture in terms of the over-arching story of Scripture has been absent.
Instead of understanding the grand narrative and its majestic portrait of God and His redemptive activity, the Bible has unfortunately too often become the repository of ‘rules’ and ‘regulations’. This is not to say that the Bible does not have such an ethical code, but only that in failing to see God’s mission within creation as unveiled in Scripture, we have neglected this vital storyline that runs from Genesis to Revelation (from Garden to Garden!), and, in doing so, we run the grand risk of failing to comprehend our role within the story.
It is this story that we need to explore in more depth. For, a proper understanding of eschatology begins with a complete grasp of the entire story of the Old and New Testaments.
When we place the life and ministry of Jesus into the overarching story of God’s mission, then we may begin to discern the eschatological significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. And it is here that eschatology, mission, and the biblical story meet. That is, understanding Jesus, both His person and His work, eschatologically and in the context of the biblical story correlates directly to a proper understanding of the mission of God’s people.
And it is here that eschatology becomes relevant for the Church today! Our mission as followers of Christ is to carry forward the mission begun by Christ, which itself was an inauguration of the eschaton (the ‘end’). You see, eschatology is not simply a bunch of ramblings about the future and what will happen, but it is intimately tied to the life of the Church today!
This is an easy one. No. Unequivocally. Emphatically. Unquestioningly. Unhesitatingly. No. To be anti-Semitic is to be unchristian.
I am also not anti-Palestinian (many of whom ironically are Semitic); nor am I anti-Jew; nor anti-Muslim; nor anti-US. Nor anti-anything! I suppose one might suggest that I am anti-anti—and therefore, I am anti-something.
But let’s take this a little further. It is commonly asserted that to criticize Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to be anti-Semitic. And the world is rightly cautious of anti-Semitism being only three generations removed from one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the holocaust. Understandable.
But I would assert that if you truly love someone, then you will hold them accountable for their actions. To turn a blind eye toward the ill behavior of anyone is unloving. The author of Hebrews notes: ‘for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (Heb 12:7-11)
To love someone, then, means that you believe that they are a being of value. And as such they need to be held accountable for their actions. The child that is not held accountable for their actions will only continue on the path of their destructive behavior—and this to their own detriment!
Therefore, to call attention to Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to love Israel and the Palestinians (and I would add the US). It is also then an act of love on our part to reach out to those Christians who are blindly supporting Israel and in effect helping to perpetuating this conflict. They need to understand the serious harm that is occurring as a result of such views: harm to both Israel and Palestine, as well as to the people themselves—some of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters.
Therefore, it is, in actually, those who are advocating for the unquestioning support of Israel, and who turn their backs on the injustices perpetrated by the state of Israel, that are acting in an unloving manner towards Israel.
I am somewhat amazed by the apathy of many in the Church towards matters of injustice and in particular the injustices with the Israel/Palestine conflict. Some respond with the supposition that this conflict has been going on for thousands of years (not true—it goes back no longer than a century): so, these Christians inquire, why should we think that we can solve it? Others suggest that we should only be involved in spiritual matters and not politics.
How might we respond?
Wow! Can we really sweep this entire issue under the carpet and assume that God will allow us to remain uninvolved since we are attending to spiritual matters? (ironically many who put forth these sentiments advocate vociferously for various political stances that take a very strong line towards this issue. So, on the one hand, they suggest that we must stay out of politics, and, on the other hand, they radically support a political position that has major irons in the political fire). Allow me to note three points in response.
First, the suggestion that this is a political issue that should not affect the Church, which should be engaged in spiritual matters, is a statement of profound misunderstanding. This conception is reflective of a modernist worldview that has greatly impacted the church’s thinking in many such ways. We have dealt with this in other essays so we will not take the space here to do so. But let it be noted that this is a highly unbiblical, secular worldview that seeks to place into separate realms, in manners that contravene Scripture, the physical and the spiritual (this is the same reasoning used by the secular scientific world that suggests that science and religion are separate spheres that do not overlap. The secular world might be able to reason this way, but the Church cannot).
Secondly, the Bible is very political. The Gospel of Mark begins, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This opening is a highly politicized statement that confronted Rome in every regard. In 9 BC, the word gospel was used to announce the birth of Caesar Augustus: ‘a son of a god’ (Augustus’ adopted father, Julius Caesar, was proclaimed god after his death; making Augustus ‘a son of a god’). Mark instead contends that Jesus’ birth is the Gospel of ‘THE Son of THE God.’ Mark’s opening is a direct assault on the claims of the Roman emperor. And wasn’t Jesus crucified for being a King! To say that His kingdom is not of this world, also fails to understand the nature of His Kingdom; which is one in which all the kingdoms of the world will bow (Dan 2 and Dan 7). We could go on with Moses before the Pharaoh; Daniel before the Kings of Babylon; Paul before Caesar, all of whom confronted the political powers of the day on behalf of the people of God. Shall we now reject Martin Luther King Jr as someone who transcended his spiritual responsibilities? Or what about William Wilberforce? Was not their political engagement the means by which these men, and countless others, demonstrated their witness to the world. That is, they attended to spiritual matters precisely by confronting the political powers.
Martin Luther King said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
Thirdly, this is a Church issue, in which Christians, who are caught on both sides, are suffering greatly—especially as a result of the occupation of Palestine. I have argue in These Brothers of Mine that in the Gospel of Matthew the phrases ‘brothers of mine’ and ‘least of these’ are used always for followers of Jesus—indeed the phrase ‘Least of these’ in Matthew without exception refers to disciples (Matt: 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; 5:19; 11:11) and ‘brothers of mine’ throughout Matthew always indicates followers of Christ (5:22-24, 47; 7:3-5; 12:48-50; 18:15, 21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). From this I believe that we should conclude that Jesus is affirming that whatever we do to Christians we do to Him. And if we do not meet the needs of the Church, then we are not meeting the needs of Christ! It is at this point that I don’t think that Christians have you seen the force of what Jesus is saying. The point is that when Jesus returns, according to Matthew’s account, He will separate the sheep from the goats and the primary factor as to which side we are on is how we treat the body of Christ (this of course does not mean that our treatment of unbelievers is irrelevant; only that our primary responsibility is towards the body of Christ).
This is a fundamental principle in Scripture. For example, in 1 John we see the reiteration throughout the letter that we must love ‘one another’ (1 John 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 23—throughout this section John clearly has the Church in view). This point also corresponds with the message of Revelation. For, in Revelation one of the major themes is that the dragon wages war against God (Rev 12-13; esp 13:6). He does so, not by fighting God, for that would be futile, but by attacking God’s children (Rev 13:6)! And, in Revelation, God’s children are not the race of ethnic Jews, but they are the followers of Jesus. Hence, Rev 12 says that the dragon pursued the “offspring of the woman”, who are then defined as those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
So then we must decide if we are to be involved in what is indeed an issue with political implications. To do so in favor of justice and the Christians who are suffering is to side with Christ. To not do so, or to advocate for the oppressor, is to side with the dragon. We have no choice here!
Furthermore, it is also a Church issue because the Church has been involved in politics! Evangelical Christians and their view that Israel is the chosen people of God whom we must bless at all costs (see my posts ‘Do we bless Israel unquestioningly’ and ‘Loving Israel means to hold them to standards of Justice’), have influenced greatly US foreign policy on this matter. That is, we have been involved in politics by supporting Israel unquestioningly and by affecting US foreign policy in the Middle East. US tax payers have given over $100 billion to the state of Israel. We are largely funding this conflict. The nature of a democracy is such that the ultimate responsibilities for the nation’s actions lie with the people. As a result we are engaged politically and we are supporting the injustices against the Palestinians, some of whom are Christians. Now, we have rightly condemned the Palestinians when they commit crimes against Israel. But why don’t we condemn Israel when they commit atrocities against humanity? Because we are not to be engaged in political matters but only spiritual matters? I am not sure that I would encourage anyone to espouse such a notion.
Therefore, we must stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ and care for them. Period. Always. To not do so is to deny the Gospel. To not stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ is to stand opposed to Jesus. For whatever we do to His followers we do to Him.
To say that we cannot bother ourselves with politics is both naïve and in this instance dangerous.
I was a fundamentalist. A hard-core, convicted fundamentalist. Fill in the blank with whatever cliché you want and it’s likely true. I was a sincere follower of Christ all along. Many fundamentalists are. They are good people.
My problem was simple—well, it was actually very complex but it came down to glaring problem: without realizing it, came to learn that I held to a worldview that had put God in a box. It was a strong box. I held it close to me and I loved this box. I was convinced that we knew everything we needed to know about God. I had a master’s degree in Apologetics to prove it. I felt I could answer any question. My Bible indeed told me so.
If you have never been a fundamentalist this may sound a bit over the top. But I assure you that I really believed that we absolutely had all the answers, or at least knew where to find them. I was truly convinced that the way in which I thought was true. Therefore, all of my conclusions were true. Others who disagreed simply didn’t have the right assumptions. So, naturally their conclusions were false.
Then I went on to pursue a PhD in biblical interpretation. But before I left one of my mentors advised me: “don’t let them make you a liberal.” I always struggled with that. It stayed with me. I thought, really? That’s what I am supposed to worry about? It was as if he was alerting me that my convictions might not be as solid as I had always thought.
As I moved along in my studies my box seemed less agreeable and problems began to surface. My Bible was not acting the way it was supposed to.
The more I studied the more I realized that Jesus, Paul, and Moses thought like people of their time. That might seem like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t for me at the time. It was a revelation. This meant that they didn’t hold to the same modernist assumptions that I held and that were passed on to me in my fundamentalist upbringing. Those “truths” began to come apart within one semester. This troubled me for some time.
I came to realize that my worldview was also a product of my era, and I was placing those expectations on the Bible. I knew what I believed and was convinced that it was true. But suddenly things weren’t fitting too well. Moses didn’t write Genesis to provide us details as to how God created the world. Moses wrote to an Israelite people who had come out of Egyptian slavery having worshipped the gods of Egypt for 400 years. Moses wasn’t answering modern scientific questions. He was answering ancient questions. Yahweh, and not the gods, did it was his answer.
One day, as I stood contemplating these matters, I had an epiphany. It was a real life epiphany. This process had brought me to the clear realization that in my worldview I had been standing outside the box with God and the Bible inside it. But now I was beginning to come to terms with something too obvious to say: God wasn’t in a box. I was! God is the transcendent Creator. I am the finite, created being.
This hit me hard. But it was also unbelievably freeing! I was suddenly free from the fear of making it all fit. Free from the dogma that needed to make everyone else wrong. I realized that I was actually free from having to play the role of God. As a fundamentalist, I had actually made myself God. Now, I could be free to let God be God.
My faith in Christ and trust in the Bible are not weaker, but deeper and richer now that I have given up the reigns. Jesus Christ is Lord and we are not!
A few years ago we conducted a seminar on understanding the ‘end-times’ in Scripture, and why and how it matters for our lives. I opened the seminar by asking, ‘What do you suppose is the most significant question that Jesus asked regarding His return?’ The answer, I believe, is found in Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?"
So, I wish to examine why an understanding of biblical eschatology (the ‘end-times’) is essential in the process of making disciples. You may already see the relationship. But in case you don’t, let’s explore.
First off, we must note that an important aspect of discipleship (which incorporated then what may now be understood as an apprenticeship) takes the form of imitating Christ. This is part of what is entailed in Jesus’ charge: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Mark 8:34). But what does it mean to imitate/follow Him?
Here is where a proper understanding of discipleship must include a proper understanding of our mission. So what is our mission? Let us suggest that we find the root of it in Genesis, where we can summarize as follows: mankind’s’ mission includes ‘ruling over God’s creation’ (Gen 1:28), ‘caring for His creation’ (Gen 2:15-16), and ‘bearing God’s image to the world’ (Gen 1:26-27—though in light of the Fall in Gen 3 our bearing God’s image to the world now includes making Him known to our fellow mankind).
As we continue in Genesis we find that Abraham was called to be the means by which God would redeem mankind and bring about the promised restoration in order that mankind might fulfill God’s purpose (Gen 12:1-3). Now, we know from the NT that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (e.g., Gal 3:13-14; 2 Cor 1:20). We must also note that the commission to Abraham included blessing the nations: ‘. . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 12:3).*
It was this failure to bless the nations that brought the condemnation of the prophets on Israel. And this was also the source of Jesus’ judgment on the leadership of His day. This was, in fact, a central reason for Jesus’ actions of judgment in the Temple (cf Matt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). For, in the midst of His overthrowing the tables and creating a stir in the Temple Jesus cites Isa 56:7: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations’ (Mark 11:17).
Yet, interestingly, when we look at the ministry of Jesus in the four Gospels, we note that He seems to intentionally limit His ministry to Israel. On one occasion, in fact, He states, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 15:24). So, if in Jesus we find the fulfillment of God’s call to Abraham and the promised blessing to the nations, then why is it that He didn’t extend His ministry to the nations? Answer: because that is what He commissioned His disciples—and us—to do! That is, the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) calls the NT people of God to carry forward to all nations the mission that Jesus inaugurated.
Therefore, an understanding of Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT and His ushering in the ‘last days’ is essential for the understanding of our mission and what it means to make disciples of all nations! If we are His disciples, then we will follow Him. Among other things, following Him includes fulfilling the mission of God’s people to bear His image to the world.
So are we being faithful? Will Christ find faith when He returns? The answer is found by asking if we are making disciples in fulfillment of God’s call for His people.