Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Christian and Illegal Immigration

Last month, Charisma Magazine published an article entitled You Can't Be Pro-Life and Anti-Immigrant. I have been wanting to respond to this article for quite a while, but because of personal issues that needed my immediate attention I was unable to formulate a response. With those matters attended to I wish to address my concerns with this article.

First, a little background on my presuppositions. I believe that foreign nationals illegally employed and/or residing in this country is a serious problem for this nation. Illegal immigration has become a onerous burden to the taxpayers at the local, state and federal level. Currently, the Los Angeles Police Department has instituted policy that will require police officers to not impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. This is in direct opposition to the State of California's Vehicle Code. The State of California has also given foreign nationals illegally employed and/or residing in this country an in-state college tuition discount, rather than the appropriate out-of-state tuition. This in and of itself, will cost $13 million or more annually. These are just two examples. I could go on and on citing example after example of how foreign nationals illegally employed and/or residing in this country are detrimental rather than a benefit to this country.

With that said, I want to look at this article and actually think clearly on this topic. The reason is that the author, J. Lee Grady, commits a number of informal logical fallacies in his attempt to justify an amnesty to those foreign nationals who are illegally employed and/or residing in the United States States. First, I believe that Mr. Grady has misrepresented those of us who take issue with illegal immigration as being anti-immigrant. While I will admit that there are a small minority of people in the pro-border security movement that are blatantly anti-immigrant, the movement as a whole is not. I believe that it is reprehensible for a Christian to misrepresent the arguments of an opponent. As an apologist, I have to carefully document and define what a world religion, cult or aberrant Christian sect believes. Why? Because the adherents to these beliefs are people who are made in the image of God, and as such must be treated with dignity and respect. Mr. Grady does not treat those who disagree with him with that dignity and respect.

Second, Mr. Grady begins his article with a pathetic appeal to emotion, as he recounts the proper and legal deportation of a foreign national illegally residing in this country. It is sad that this family was broken up. However, my heart is not broken. The reason is simple. This is how government has been ordained by God to work according to Romans 13:3-4 (ESV).

Mr. Grady then attempts to guilt his readers by pointing out some of the immigrant stories found in the Bible. There is just one problem. None of these stories are anywhere close to what this country is suffering at the hands of foreign nationals illegally employed and/or residing in the United States. Abraham and Sarah  resided in the land of Canaan as temporary residents. The only permanent thing they had in that land was their burial plots. They followed the laws of the land at that time. Ruth was instructed by Naomi on how to act according to Jewish law. Mordecai and Esther, who were disobedient and unbelieving Jews, found favor  in Persia because God is faithful. Cornelius was a "God fearer". This is a segment of Gentiles that worshiped Yahweh, but did not submit to circumcision. Cornelius was living his life in accordance to Jewish law.

The issue with modern illegal immigration is that we have a segment of the population that refuses to comply with the laws of the United States. I don't begrudge any foreign national's desire to better himself and his family. This foreign national, however, does not have a right to enter this country without first following the laws of the government that regulate such entry.

Mr. Grady, continually appeals to emotion, be claiming that families are being "split-up". Are they really? Do not the families of a foreign national illegally employed and/or residing in this country have the same opportunity to leave the country with the deported one. Further, anyone who marries and has children with said foreign national should understand the risks of marrying a person with this immigration status. This is very poor argumentation that is designed to tug on the hearts of people who are not trained to think on matters.

While I agree that Christians should not mistreat others, I do not see how it follows that deporting foreign nationals illegally employed and/or residing in the United States is mistreatment. The law is clear, and said law does not violate any Biblical law that I am aware of. If there is, then I would challenge Mr. Grady to provide said scriptures that affirm his assertion.

Does U.S. immigration policy need to be changed? Yes, it should be made tougher. The only way a person truly appreciates something is when that thing is costly him.

Further, the U.S. should discontinue birthright citizenship. This country is the only country that allows birthright citizenship. Because of this, waves and waves of pregnant foreign nationals stream across the border everyday to give birth to an American citizen, and then apply for and receive tax payer provided money for food and housing. Our immigration policy should not be diminished to allow unskilled labor into this country. Immigrants should be educated and with skills that will allow them to provide for themselves and their families so that they won't become a burden to the taxpayers by going on the dole.

Lastly, the only way to affect change in Mexico and the rest of Central America is to have a Reformed revolution in those countries. Every country that embraced the ideals of the Reformation became prosperous. Why? Because the Reformation taught the people that they were responsible to God for what they do in their lives. That their work, regardless of how menial it was, was work to be done to the honor and glory of God. This is why countries that followed the great Reformers into the Reformation became prosperous. If Mr. Grady wants equal opportunity, then perhaps he should focus on making disciples in these countries and fomenting a Central American Reformation against their Roman Catholicism.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In this post-modern age in which your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth, and it really doesn’t matter as long as you are happy. This world-view has even found its way into the church. Because of this world-view this is a crucial question, a question that affects your eternal destiny. The one place where the truth is to be proclaimed is the one place where there is enormous confusion about the gospel. The church is the one place where one should find the clear preaching of the gospel. Now more than ever, the church is the one place where the preaching of the gospel is minimized, and issues like social justice, human trafficking, and health and prosperity are emphasized.

The church should be the place where the gospel is heard weekly. Sadly, this is not the case. Why is it that the gospel is minimized at best and ignored at worst? I believe that it is because there are pastors who have bought into the idea of American Pragmatism. Pragmatism is the lone American contribution to the world of philosophy. It is a way of determining truth based on whether it works. This is why; when pastors speak to one another, the second question they ask is, “So tell me, how big is your church?” The pastor is fixated on growth. The fixation on numbers is rooted in sin. That sin is pride! Pride, because numbers give them a way to compare themselves with other pastors. Pride, because numbers are a gauge of success. Pride, because a church with many attendees can do more than a church with a small number of members. So because a leader wants people in the pews and money in the offering plates, the leader becomes comfortable with his pride.

When the leader of a particular local church is comfortable in his sin of pride, the gospel is minimized at best, or utterly ignored at worst. The passion of the pastor becomes the focus, rather than the gospel, for that local church. The reason is simple, the gospel is offensive! The gospel says in unequivocal terms that the work of God is the only way to salvation. Humanity, due to their fallen nature, finds this truth repugnant, and therefore rejects the gospel. Because of this fact, and the desire of many pastors to have a church with a large number of attendees, the gospel is minimized or ignored. This should not surprise those of us who are thoughtful and biblically-oriented followers of Christ. The Apostle Paul foretold to his number one student, that there would be a time when people would flock to teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

What the Gospel Is Not

Before we can understand what the gospel is, we must understand what the gospel is not. You may ask, “Why is this guy going negative? Why is he always going after what’s wrong, and not what’s right?” The answer is because so many churches get the gospel wrong. Because they get the gospel wrong they are manufacturing an entire generation of people who will go to hell because they believe in a false gospel that has no power to save! Paul, in his magnum opus on salvation, the book of Romans, states clearly that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:19, ESV). Therefore, we must get the gospel right in order to assure the salvation of those who will hear our preaching.

Further, I do not believe that this nation, or any other western nation, is hardened to the gospel. I believe that the people in these nations are gospel ignorant. They have never been confronted with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result they think that the gospel is one thing when it is something entirely different. Many of these people have embraced a false gospel. They have invested their faith in that false gospel, and are sons of hell twice over because of it (scripture citation needed). This is why it is so important to understand what the gospel is by looking at its current deviations.

The Gospel is not the Plan of Salvation

This is a big one. More often than not, when you ask someone what the gospel is, they give you the “four spiritual laws” or the “Romans Road”. These are excellent tools, and in the case of the “Romans Road” biblical truth. However, they are not the gospel. They are the steps to follow in order to be saved.

The problem with presenting the plan of salvation as the gospel is that it is only half the story. Salvation is not just or justification, but also our sanctification. The gospel affects how we live our lives. The problem is that too many times we ask people if they are saved. We present the plan of salvation, and then we go for the close. The close is having them repeat the sinner’s prayer. Once they do that, we declare them to be saved, when in actuality they are no more saved than dogs.

In this false view God does the initial work of salvation, but it is up to the person to do the sanctification. This is usually done by heaping Law on the “new convert” by telling her to read her bible, to pray, to fast, and to attend a church in order to “stay saved.” I do not wish to diminish these elements of the Christian life, but these are not things to check off in order to “stay saved.” Rather they are appropriate fruits that demonstrate a person is saved. This is why the plan of salvation is not the gospel.

The Gospel is not the Great Commandment

I heard a sermon in which the preacher went through a list of church websites in which these churches listed as their mission, “To love God, and love people.” This is a paraphrase of Jesus’ words as found in Matthew 22:37-39. The problem is that these two summaries are not a summary of the gospel, but are a summary of the Law! The Law, according to Paul, has no power to save.

I love how John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress depicts the Law. In that great work, Christian meets up with Faithful. Faithful tells Christian of his pilgrimage, and how he was deceived into following the road up to Mt. Sinai. There he finds Moses who beats him mercilessly with the Ten Commandments. This is what happens when we follow the Law. It beats us mercilessly because God’s Law is perfect and we are utter failures in keeping the Law 100% of the time in deeds, words and thoughts. The Law cannot save therefore it is not the gospel.

Following these two commandments without an understanding of the gospel will lead to legalistic bondage! It is only the gospel that empowers the believer to be able to obey these two legal summaries.

The Gospel is not the Great Commission

The gospel is not something we do, but it was something that was done. Therefore if we believe that the Great Commission is the gospel, then it becomes Law that we have to do in order to propitiate the angry God. The problem arises when the church views the Great Commission as a call to “disciple the nations.” When that happens the Great Commission becomes law, and binds the believer in another layer of legalism.

Further the gospel is not about instructing others in the moral teachings of Jesus. Again this leads to legalism and bondage. What happens if one is not quite an effective disciple maker? What about the guilt heaped up on a person for failing to be a disciple-maker? As you can see this is Law. Contrast that with the gospel and legalism comes up wanting.

The Gospel is not Your Personal Testimony

This is the view that requires you share “your story” with others. The problem is that the gospel is not our story; it is Jesus’ story only. The problem with this view is that it tells people that Jesus’ story really isn’t powerful to save. It needs my story in order to be complete.

Often I have heard the following statement, “The only gospel that most people will read is your life.” This is a modern spin on the quote attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the word at all times, and if necessary use words.” This statement was heretical when Francis said it, and it is heretical today. The reason is simple. The gospel is to be preached not lived. Why? Because the gospel is something that happened at a certain point in time, not the effect it has had on my life.

I don’t want people to read my life. The reason is simple, my life is not exemplary. I fail miserably in thought, word and deed. It is only through the grace and mercy displayed in the gospel that I can even live a holy life. I want to point people to the life of the One who can truly save, Jesus of Nazareth! His life is the only life worth telling others about. Why? Because only He lived a perfect life, and due to His death on the cross and resurrection three days later every good thing Jesus ever did is applied to my account.

Is your personal testimony even a part of evangelism? Just look at the evangelical messages recorded by Dr. Luke in Acts. How many times did Peter talk about his personal testimony while preaching to the masses? Did Paul reference his personal testimony when preaching to the Areopagus? No, they preached Christ and Him crucified. The only testimony that matters is Jesus’ because only He can save!

The Gospel is Not the Vision

The latest way in which the gospel is misrepresented is by the innovation called “vision”. This idea is found in “seeker sensitive” churches. The idea is that the founder of a particular church is given a “vision” from God that is used to direct the focus and direction of that church. The problem is that more often than not, this “vision” replaces the gospel and the founder replaces the Savior.

The “vision” of the founder is cast out to the church in order to keep the people focused on that “vision”. Anyone who sees an issue with the pastor’s “vision” is considered a problem, and is asked to leave the church. In my case, being a part of a “vision” driven church for much on my Christian life, I was blackballed from being a part of leadership. Note, it was not that I spoke against the “vision” of the pastor, but that I had an idea of ministry that was contrary to the accepted method of ministry. Mainly, that I wanted people to become more Protestant in their understanding of salvation and sanctification as opposed to Roman Catholic. This was an odd thing considering the fact that this church is rooted in Pentecostal theology, but that is for another post.

The Gospel is not Health and Prosperity

This is a huge problem in modern evangelicalism, and was made worse by the acceptance of the Prosperity teacher and heretical Modalist T.D. Jakes by James MacDonald & Mark Driscoll at the recent Elephant Room 2 conference. This false gospel teaches that the mark of a true Christian is a life marked by good health and financial prosperity. The problem is that one must do certain things in order to receive this blessing from God. More often than not the Prosperity false gospel requires a sizable financial donation, whether it be a “seed” or tithe (10% of your gross income), to the particular teacher in order for God to bless you. The problem with this is that this is not gospel. It is law!

Law is something that you do in order to propitiate an angry God. In the case of the Prosperity false gospel, your finances are the sacrifice that plies the blessing from an angry God. Why is He angry? Not because you are a sinner, but because you have sinned in not giving Him his 10% cut. In this false gospel, God is not really a loving Father reconciling His wayward children back to Him. Rather he is more like a Mafia don that demands his 10% cut as protection from the “devourer”. The Prosperity gospel is not the biblical gospel, it is law, and it will lead you to the eternal damnation of your soul just like any other false gospel.

What the Gospel Is

There are two main ideas taught by these false gospels. The first is that, the gospel is something you do, rather than something that was done. Second, that the gospel is something that happens to or in you, rather than something that happened. The gospel is clearly defined by the Apostle Paul:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV)

So based on what the Apostle Paul said here, the gospel are the historical facts that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he was raised three days later. Anything other than this is a false gospel. The preaching of a false gospel is not some minor infraction. Again I quote what the Apostle Paul wrote, this time to the Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
(Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

The gospel is not something that is done to you, or that happens inside of you. It is three events that happened in time and space: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These three events happened for one reason and one reason only: that God would be able to redeem those He elected, from humanity, from the penalty, power and presence of sin. Any pastor that teaches anything other than this as the gospel is leading you down the road to eternal damnation! Even though the pastor who teaches another gospel is under direct condemnation by Paul, the adherent to the false gospel is just as cursed. Again, this is not my opinion, but the very words of the Apostle Paul written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The issue at stake in whether or not you believe the true gospel or a false gospel is your eternal destiny. Believe in a false gospel and you are basing your salvation on whether or not you have fulfilled the law 100%, 100% of the time. Jesus said that it was not enough to merely lead a holy life, but that your very words and thoughts were also subject to just condemnation by God (Matthew 5:21-30).

God does not grade holiness on a curve, either we are perfect or we are not. Everyone, when we sit alone with our thoughts, realizes that we are guilty before a holy God (Romans 1:18-32). Because we are sinners, God is just in condemning us to an eternity separated from Him. C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell chose it.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Where the difference between false gospels and the true gospel becomes crystal clear is in how your sins are paid. False gospels say that it is by your works that your sins are paid. The true gospel says that the work has been done for you; that work was the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). The way to have your sins paid for, according to the true gospel, is by placing your trust in that work. So today, you have heard the true gospel. The truth that you, like me, are a sinner; that you, like me, are under right and just condemnation by a holy God. The only difference between you and I is that I have placed my trust in the work of Jesus on the cross, and as a result my sins are paid for. I invite you to have that same relationship with God. Repent (literally agree with God’s view of your sins) of your sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Am I Truly Pro-Life?

A couple of weeks ago a former high school classmate posted the above picture. I believe that there are some very good points that need to be addressed because I believe that the assertions made in this picture are not only exaggerations, but in some cases out right misrepresentations of those of us who oppose the unjustified killing of unborn human beings, in other words, murder.

Before I address the content of the picture I want to explain why I am pro-life. First and foremost, the Bible teaches that human life has value, not because it is human life, but because humans are the only part of the creation that are made in the image of God. What does the phrase "the image of God" mean? It means that humans have inherent value independent of their utility or function (Genesis 1:27-28; 5:1-3; 9:6). For this reason alone I can stand and oppose the unjustified killing of unborn human beings. This reason, however, is not the only reason why I am opposed to the unjustified murder of unborn human beings. I have four other reasons that are non-Biblical, and I will quickly enumerate below. One word of definition. When I say non-Biblical I mean arguments that do not have their origin in the Bible.

I am borrowing from the arguments of Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason for these points. I believe that these four arguments are some of the strongest non-Biblical arguments against the unjustified killing of unborn human beings in the public square. This argument is called the SLED Test. SLED being an acronym for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency.

In regards to Size, an unborn human being is smaller than a child, who is smaller than a teenager, who is smaller than an adult. Size has no bearing on the value of a human life, which is why persons born with genetic defects that affect their size are guaranteed the same rights as a person without those defects. If size is irrelevant in the world outside the womb, then what makes size relevant in the womb residing in the same outside world?

Often those in favor of the unjustified killing of unborn human beings cite the Level of development of the unborn human being as a justification for killing the unborn human being. The problem with this view is that it makes ability to do things the determiner of value. When a child is born, she is unable to do many of the things a fully mature human can do, but that lack of development does not make her worth something less than a fully mature human, does it? To take this view to its most logical conclusion, the consistent supporter of the unjustified killing of unborn human beings, should also be in favor of killing people with disabilities!

Third, supporters of the unjustified killing of unborn human beings, often claim that by virtue of the baby's location. Often these people will point out that the baby can't even breathe air, as if that means something. The problem is that the baby is "breathing" the amniotic fluid she is surrounded by! Now my question to our opponents is whether or not their lack of ability to live in the environment of an unborn human being should be taken into account.

Lastly, the Level of dependency of the unborn human being is often cited as a reason to justify the killing of an unborn human being. The problem is that there is no human child, who after taking a trip out of the uterus and into the "real" world, that is not utterly dependent on its mother or some other form of caregiver. Dependency is not a legitimate reason to justify killing an unborn human being. It is, in fact, the greatest reason against the unjustified killing of unborn human beings, i.e., murder!

With this background laid out, I now want to look at the arguments from the above picture.

Do I need to be against war to be "pro-life"? Before I answer this, I want to look at the presupposition that under girds this statement. That presupposition is that ALL war is immoral. I agree that all war is horrible and should be resorted to only as a last resort. Not all war, however, is immoral. There are some wars that are moral. These are wars what is called "just wars." I will not go into the criteria for what constitutes a just war here, but should the reader care to pursue this further I link to the Wikipedia entry on "Just War Theory" for you to examine. If there is a war that meets the criteria for a "just war", then I, and other Christians, have no issue supporting the war effort.

Do I need to be against hunger and poverty to truly be pro-life? Jesus said that those who follow Him will always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11). Much of hunger and poverty has as its origin the fallen nature of man. The underlying presupposition of the statement, however, must be examined. The implicit statement being made is that those who are pro-life are not doing anything to curb and/or eliminate hunger and poverty. This statement is also a swipe at Christians, who are by and large against the unjustified murder of unborn human beings, as not doing enough to end poverty and hunger. Is this the case? Absolutely not. Historically, the Christian church has been at the forefront of working to curb and/or end poverty and hunger in the world. Sadly, this statement is just a disparagement of those that wish to protect the most vulnerable of society from unjustified killing.

Do I need to be against homelessness to be pro-life? Honestly, I do not see how this follows. Homelessness is by and large caused by alcohol or drug addiction. This will always be a problem as long as drug abuse is in society. There is a very small portion of homelessness caused by other reasons, but they are not as large a problem as alcoholism and drug addiction. Until we deal with those issues as a society then homelessness will still abound. Interestingly, a Christian founded Alcoholics Anonymous, and based it on Christian principles. The 12-steps has been employed by other organizations to deal with other sorts of addiction. Further, there are Christian groups that do work in the "skid row" areas of large cities to help those that are homeless.

Do I need to be against the planet's degradation to be pro-life? Yes, I do. I was raised in a rural mountain community, and I was able to see the beauty of God's creation daily. I now live in Los Angeles, and while there is no inherent beauty in a large mega-city, I have seen sunrises and sunsets that have taken my breathe away.  I do not want to live in a polluted world any more than the next person. The question is how do we best slow or stop this planet's degradation without negatively impacting human life? It is at this point that we have divergent opinions. That said, my view of this planet is not as the only place that I will live, because when I die that's it, therefore I will do everything in my power to preserve it. Rather, my view of the environment is that of a manager. Humans were given the authority to care, cultivate, and use this planet for its vast resources (Genesis 1:28-31).

Do I need to be against capital punishment to be pro-life? Again we must make a clear distinction. Abortion is the unjustified taking of an innocent human life. Capital punishment is the justified taking of a human who has been found guilty of heinous crime(s) through sober deliberation by a jury of his peers, and implemented by the State as a warning to those who would wish to do the same. A person who is against the unjustified killing of an innocent human being, but is for the justified killing of a guilty human being is not inconsistent in his stance. He is perfectly consistent because the key is the moral innocence or guilt of the person being killed.

Do I need to be for human rights in order to be pro-life? Well, that depends on what your view of what human rights are. For me, I look at The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States as what constitutes rights. Why? Because these are the founding documents of the nation in which I live. These documents establish that there are certain inalienable rights, chief among these rights are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit Happiness." Abortion destroys all three of these rights for an innocent unborn human being! I ask this of the person that is in favor of killing innocent unborn human life: where is your commitment to their rights? Aren't you being a bigger hypocrite, than what you are accusing me of being?

Do I need to be in favor of education and jobs in order to be pro-life? To this I say absolutely. Without jobs people cannot tend to their needs. Without education society becomes illiterate and dependent on government to provide for them. That said, education is a privilege and not a right. Having a job is a privilege and not a right. There is nothing in the United States Constitution that enumerates a right to education or a job. What you are guaranteed is the opportunity, and in the cases in which those opportunities were impeded, then the Constitution has been amended to end that discrimination.

I have written about the presuppositions that are behind these arguments, and they can all be summed up by the last line on the poster. Namely, that those who believe that life has value and should be protected are spending too much time and placing too much emphasis on protecting innocent unborn human beings. All of these points have value, and must be discussed. Yet, if the unjustified killing of innocent human beings is continued who would be left for use to instruct with these ideas?

The ultimate goal of this poster is to silence those that believe abortion is murder. Yet, will the silence of those who wish to protect the most vulnerable in society salve the consciences of those that partake in the unjustified killing of innocent human beings through active or passive means? I think we know what the answer to that question is, don't we?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Did Jesus Pray?

Yesterday, I had the misfortune to watch a sermon on prayer from a self-proclaimed prayer expert. In it he stated that Jesus "needed" to pray because the Holy Spirit would go out from Jesus during His ministry to the people. So Jesus had to pray in order to be "refilled" with the Holy Spirit. There are a number of problems with this statement, and they all reflect on essential Christian doctrines. 

First, and foremost, the teaching muddles the two natures of Jesus. Jesus has two natures, both equal. He was both divine and human. This teaching makes Jesus more human than divine. Jesus, as God, was dependent on nothing in order to accomplish His ministry. He would accomplish God the Father's will in a perfect manner. On the other hand, Jesus, in His human nature needed prayer. All one has to do is read the passionate pleas of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the Father to see just how weak, even perfect, flesh is (Matthew 26).

The dual natures of Jesus is a very fine line to walk. Nudge yourself one way or the other, and you are in heresy. Sadly, I have heard this pastor so many times to know that he has a diminished view of the divinity of Jesus. And, yes, that makes this pastor a heretic. I take no joy in making this judgement. To the contrary I am deeply grieved. This pastor believes in the power of prayer so much that it has become a legalistic aspect of his life. This pastor has made statements such as, "If you pray, you stay. If you fast, you last." Of course, this pastor is Arminian to the point of near Pelagianism. Arminianism is not as much of a problem with me as Pelagianism is. And I hope and pray that this pastor will prayerfully and humbly reconsider his error and repent before he leads the flock God entrusted him with completely astray.

Second, this pastor's teaching makes Jesus life out to be an example for us to follow. The reason why this does not work is because Jesus was perfect, and we are imperfect. Fallen creatures as we are are incapable of following a perfect example perfectly, which is what obedience is. The only thing that makes Jesus prayer life something to follow is the fact that we now have grace when we fail to pray consistently.

I used to beat myself up over my inconsistent prayer life, well, inconsistent when compared to this super-pastor's prayer life. Up early every morning to pray for at least an hour. I had (and still have) a hard time getting up early. I don't function well before the sun comes up. I do function well later in the day, and found that time to be the best time for me to pray. But that is not good enough. In order to be a super Christian, I had to get up at five A.M and pray only then. This is nothing but law. Law that no one can obey.

Having said the above, I need to clarify somethings. First, Jesus' prayer life is an example. It is an example to us, sinful and fallen creatures, of the necessity of prayer. Jesus was a perfect man, and at the same time, the thrice holy God (Isaiah 6:10). As God, Jesus was incapable of sinning. As  a perfect man, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Prayer was a necessity for the human nature of Jesus. As I mentioned above, all one has to do is read the accounts of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in the gospels to understand just how hard the prospect of the crucifixion was on the humanity of Jesus (John 12:27-28).

Third, this pastor's teaching imposes law on the believer without any hope of grace. Your ability to minister to those that are or are not Christians is based on your ability to pray and not on the grace of God. One of this pastors favorite sayings is, "Little prayer, little power." This is were the real problem exists with this pastor. It's not about humble service in the name of Christ by the grace of Christ, but about signs and wonders in the name of Christ by the power of this man's prayer life!

Prayer life and the ability to minister have nothing to do with each other. The believers ability to minister to the the saints or the unsaved is strictly a work of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God. The one thing prayer does to a believer is mold the believer's will to the will of God. Of course, this is not this pastor's view of prayer either. This pastor views prayer as him being the master that rings a bell and God comes running like a Pavlov's dogs. At a funeral I heard this pastor say that prayed to God to raise a person from the dead, but "He [God] didn't obey me." I was shocked to hear that from anyone, but I guess if you are a super apostle, then such audacity seems to be second nature.

Lastly, I want to point out some other reasons why Jesus prayed. He prayed in order to stay in communication with His Father. He prayed so that the disciples would know that the Father sent Jesus as they watched him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-44).

In review, Jesus did not pray because He needed to replenish the supply of the Holy Spirit in His life. Jesus was both God and man. As God, He lacked nothing. As a man, He did face every sort of temptation common to humanity. And as the God-man, Jesus was incapable of sinning. Yet even as the God-man, Jesus felt the frailty of the human condition. Jesus' prayer life shows us how to pray, what to pray for, and how our own wishes take a back seat to the will of God. This is the Biblical view of why Jesus prayed. Anything other than this makes Jesus less than what he truly was.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus: A Means to an End or The End?

Paul wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[a] to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that Jesus is The End of salvation. Sadly, too many pastors of evangelical churches are making Jesus the means and not The End.

How is this done? Well, simply go back and listen to your pastor's last Easter Sunday message. Is the message rooted in the historical fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or was it rooted in the power that raised Jesus from the dead and how it will benefit you by making you a better husband, father, wife, mother, child, employee, employer, etc. etc.

My old church, which was an inner-city Pentecostal church, has a pastor that reveled in the fact that he could not just give the people future hope, but that they needed something now. This is called pragmatism. So that's what he gave them in the form of an illustrated sermon. Off to the side was a paper mache cave with a papermache stone in front of it. During the course of the sermon, the pastor spoke about the dead dreams that people had, and the reasons why those dreams were dead. The sermon ends with the dramatic "resurrection" in which some poor member of the youth group emerges from behind the stone wrapped in toilet paper to the raucous applause of the audience as if something miraculous had just occurred.

Fortunately, that pastor is no longer giving that Easter message. Instead that church has Easter productions with a somewhat improved theology of the resurrection of Jesus, but with the same therapeutic moralism of Jesus' resurrection being an internal event rather than a historical event.

This sort of therapeutic moralistic deism, as coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, can be described as follows:
  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world, and who watches over human life on earth.
  2. This god wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible, and in most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one's self.
  4. This god does not need to be involved in one's life except when this god is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
This form of false Christianity is also seen in other churches. A couple of weeks  ago I saw a video of a preacher, who I knew from an earlier association, preaching about how Jesus came to save gang-bangers from their life of crime and death. The problem still exists, however, that Jesus is means and not an end. In other words, the reason Jesus died on a cross was to save gang-bangers from their lifestyle, not their sin! Again moralistic therapeutic deism raises its head.

As Christians, we must be careful to not simply make Jesus a means to an end. The end being our sobriety, our chastity, our any other moral activity. When Jesus becomes a means then all we have done is make belief in Jesus legalism.

Jesus is not a means to an end. He is The End. He is the one that makes all things possible, not because he is some moral example for us to follow. Do we really think that we that we can model Jesus' perfect life? No, instead we chose to follow Christ's example, knowing that we cannot ever achieve His life on this side of our death, because He lived a life we can't live, and by His death and resurrection every good thing He ever did was credited to our favor. 

Further, the fact that we can even follow anything Jesus did is only by His grace on our lives. Grace is the only thing that separates us, as Christians, from those that are not. Grace is the means by which we get to The End. Grace is everything that encompasses the life of the Christian. Until we, as Christians, understand that nothing we have done, will do now, or will ever do in the future as no impact on our salvation and ongoing sanctification, can we possibly preach the Gospel. Romans chapter eight makes it clear that we as sinners have anything to do with our salvation, past, present and future.

We must be careful to not preach Jesus as mere means to the end of a moral life. No, Jesus must be The End, and grace the means to Him as the end. The only way that we can understand grace is by understanding just how sinful we are. We have to identify our sin as sin, and that sin is the thing that separates us from God. It has to be sin. It can't be dysfunctional behaviors, damaged emotions, mistakes, errors or anything else that diminishes sin. Understanding that we are sinful wretches who are as capable of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, as the Jewish religious leaders (Acts 4:8-12).

In conclusion, our problem is sin. This problem can not be addressed by therapeutic moralistic deism which makes Jesus a mere means to the end of a moral life, but only through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who is The End!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Exchanging the Pastor for the Rancher, the Gospel for the Vision and the Savior for the Founder

I have had this post in the back of my head for almost two years. I held back on posting this because I just wasn't sure I wanted to post another entry on the issues I have with Victory Outreach. So i tucked it away for a time when I would not be labeled a "hater". Recently, however, I discovered Chris Roseborough's Fighting for the Faith podcast, and because of this program I have discovered that the issues that I have with Victory Outreach are not limited to them, but are legion in the the "seeker sensitive" churches throughout the nation. So I want to take some time and look at these so-called "vision driven" churches and their negative impact on the body of Christ in general.

On Fighting for the Faith, Roseborough, plays sermons from pastors...well, he calls them fuhrers...of these seeker sensitive churches. The reason he calls them fuhrers, is not to be shocking, but to describe what these men really are, leaders who beat and fleece the sheep, rather than loving shepherds who care and tend to the flock that God has given him. Let's look at the leadership first.

Ranchers as Opposed to Shepherds

I have heard a number of sermons from these "seeker sensitive" leaders, and it really has stood out in my mind, and caused me to remember a number of statements my old pastor who covets a "megachurch" (a church of 1,000 or more attendees). A number of these leaders seem to hold the members of their churches in disdain. I have heard them speak about how they hate attending functions with church members. They don't take time to do visitation, in-home or hospital. This is where the term "rancher" comes in. You see a rancher is busy overseeing all the business of the ranch. The individual cowboys are the ones that are charged with the everyday care of the flock. The rancher has the big picture, or vision, in mind and is just too busy to tend to the needs of the ordinary members.

Is this the way the church is to be handled according to Scripture? The answer is an unequivocal, "No!" Let's look at how the resurrected Jesus charged the soon-to-be Apostle Peter in John's gospel:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you
love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to
him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Hesaid to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He
said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he
said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything;
you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when
you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are
old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not
want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after
saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 2115-19, English Standard Version)
"Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep." "Feed my sheep." These are commands that require individual, everyday and personal attention. This is the work of a shepherd. No where in Scripture is there an office of "rancher". Why? Because the pastor, the shepherd, is to be involved in the life of sheep under his care. By extension the people are to see the life of the pastor, and be able to speak into his life as well.

Secondly, I do believer that their is a rancher in this analogy. The rancher, however is not the local church pastor, but rather Jesus Himself. The sheep are His, and pastors are the lone shepherd charged with caring for the sheep that belong to Jesus. Jesus bought His sheep with his own precious blood (Acts 20:28). He has given these sheep to men whom He gifted in order to feed and care for them (Ephesians 4:1-16). Sadly, too many pastors are deluding themselves into thinking that they are the ranchers instead of the lowly shepherd.

The Vision Replaces the Gospel

What is also interesting about these "seeker-sensitive" churches is their abandonment of the Gospel for the vision of the rancher. Let me illustrate,Steven Furtick's Elevation Church has 12 points that he calls "The Code" of the church. In it he lists the things that are important to him, and it is even more interesting that his "Code" has no scriptural citations as backing. Second example, Victory Outreach is an inner-city church ministry that is based on "The Vision" that God allegedly gave Sonny Argonzoni, the founder of this Word-Faith/Pentecostal church movement. The vision is based on a narcissistic reading of Isaiah 45:2-3, in which Mr Argonzoni believes applies to him and the people he reaches (drug addicts, prostitutes, gang members and their families). As an aside, and I hate to bring this up, but this passage does not apply to Victory Outreach or any other modern church movement. No, this passage applies to Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor to whom God gave the Babylonian empire.

Further, I do not think that any church needs to steal promises from Old Testament people, especially a ministry that ministers to the bottom end of society. Did not Jesus model this in His ministry on earth? Who did Jesus go after? I do not see any reason why a church would need a "vision" from the Old Testament when there is abundant evidence supporting outreach to the social outcast.

Nowhere in the scriptures are Christians charged to promote subjective "visions", but rather to preach the Gospel! The Great Commission is not about promoting the subjective vision of a founding pastor, but rather to promote the saving work of Jesus Christ on a cross outside the ancient city of Jerusalem and His resurrection three days later!

I believe that there is a vision for the church. It is a vision that its founder had, and that is that all types of people from all over the world will hear the Gospel, repent of their sins, and believe in the work of Jesus Christ.

No Understanding of Law and Gospel

The other thing you see in "vision" driven churches is a lack of differentiating between law and Gospel. They will claim that they are not legalistic. Nearly all of these churches have a slavish devotion to tithing, prayer and fasting. For instance, nearly all "vision" driven churches insist that the member "honor God with their finances". This always entails tithing. Tithing is the practice of giving ten percent of your income to the church. It is also a practice that is NOT required of the Christian (for more on this please read my series on Tithing).

There is a sort of cooperation between the member and God that is taught. If you, the member, does X, Y and Z, then God is obligated to do A, B, and C. This is law. It is teaching that your works do something to move God into your favor. The Bible teaches that God is already on our side, and nothing we can do would ever move God. The leaders (pastors) of these "vision" driven churches simply do not understand that anything you do to please God is law.

I wish to take some time to make something clear. I am not talking about fruit that indicates a changed life, i.e., obedience. A Christian that is truly saved will pray, give and fast, but their motivation will be love for their Savior, not as an act of propitiation. 

No Balance Between Evangelism and Disicipleship

A number of these "vision" driven churches are overly focused on evangelism. Many of them have a slogan such as the one at Elevation Church. It says, "We need your chair." In other words, they need your chair because they are too focused on evangelizing and getting people into the church, rather than making disciples. The pastor of the "vision" driven church is not interested in taking the members of his "ranch" down deep. No, instead he focuses on a pragmatic gospel. A gospel in which the members or the pastor is read into every scripture, rather than expositing the true gospel of Jesus, His cross, and His resurrection!

I can't tell you how many times I heard my old pastor preach about the miracles he supposedly performed 30 years ago. I can't tell you how many times he taught that "damaged emotions" were the causes of sin in the life of the believer. That if we only prayed, fasted and read the bible enough that those activities heal the damaged emotions, and by logical extension attain a sinless life (this was never explicitly taught, but the implication is there).

Sadly, all this does is heap law on the hearer. Grace is nowhere to be found in those messages. This is a problem indicative of the "vision" driven churches that have popped up all over the country. These pastors are not preaching the biblical gospel, but rather "therapeutic moralistic deism". In other words, a sermon consists of a scripture (ripped from its context) and three points to apply to your life to make your life better. Even worse, there is a deism that is taught in these churches. God is far off, until you need him to perform a miracle in your life. In fact, he is so far off, that he won't responded to the prayers Jesus taught in the gospels, but instead we need to pray "audacious" prayers, "sun stand still" prayers, or "circle maker" prayers.

Many of these churches have an unbalanced view of finances. In my old church, the offering was a 30 minute ordeal that entailed a 20 to 25 minute guilt trip from scripture (sometimes in context, but most times ripped out of context) with five to 10 minutes for receiving the offering. There is an overemphasis on tithing, but I have already addressed this above. The ultimate problem, especially in my old church is that while the members were focused on wealth and health, the members are in spiritual poverty and sickness.

Exchanging the Savior for the Founder

Lastly, there is an adulation of the founding pastor that borders on idolatry. Let me give you an example, in my old church you would here this prior to a person giving their testimony, "I want to thank God and Pastor S. (the founder of the movement) for my salvation." Really? The founding pastor was responsible for your salvation? Are we to thank God for the pastor, because if not for him God was somehow helpless to reach the inner-cities of the nation and world. Thanking a pastor for your salvation is like thanking the flotation device instead of the person who threw it to you, as you were drowning!

Because of the overemphasis on the founder, the preaching is skewed towards his personal bias. The members never get a well-rounded diet of spiritual food, but are instead continually forced to eat the pastor's favorite topics, which is usually the "vision" God gave him.

Another reason that this sort of "vision" driven pastor is dangerous is that by claiming that he has a "vision" from God, he is now above correction. Who, in their right mind, is going to correct a man who got a "vision" from God? I believe that one of the reasons for a "vision" driven church is to quash legitimate criticism of the founder or pastor. This vision can be used as a hedge to keep the founder/pastor free from correction that is not based on personality but on scripture. All and all, "visionary" leadership can be a dangerous thing.

The Remedy for "Vision" is the Mission

Jesus, prior to ascension to heaven did not give a "vision", rather he gave a mission. That mission is to go all over the earth and make disciples and to teach these people to obey all the things Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). We are not to focus on one particular type of person, but we are commanded to go to all kinds of people. This was something that the early church in Jerusalem forgot right away. So God had to move them on in their understanding that the gospel was not just for the Jew, but for the Samaritan, and for the Gentiles (good news for us)! In each case, it appears that God had to move circumstances so that this early church would move along to these people groups. Further, the figurative capital of Christianity also changed locations in the early days. Early on, the capital of Christianity was Jerusalem. This was in keeping with Christianity's early influence. However, in Acts 9 we see the center of Christianity moving away from Jerusalem and landing in Damascus.

We are to be on mission, and not on vision. A vision is subjective, the mission is objective and our focus. A vision is a gateway to law and legalism. The mission is the way we rehearse the gospel to ourselves as we preach to those who are not saved. We go not vision cast into our lives, but rather we need to be reminded of what the gospel is all about, namely the forgiveness of sin! We do not need old tired stories of what the pastor did 30 years ago, but to rehearse the works of Jesus and how they were used to preach the gospel in the lives of the people he healed.

If you are a part of a "vision" driven church that has as one of its values, "We need your chair." Then be all means oblige that church, and leave. Find a church that is mission-centered. I church that is focused not only on making converts, but also making disciples. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hundredfold Promise: Mark 10:30

In my time at a Pentecostal church there was an inordinate emphasis on money. Usually it was emphasizing transferring money from the people's wallets to the pastor's. In the process of this transference, many Scriptures were ripped out of context in a weak attempt to pry as much money from the people. Most of these Scriptures were called "promise" Scriptures to those who both paid tithes and gave additional free-will offerings.

One of these "promise" scriptures used at nearly every offering was Mark 10:30 (ESV):
...who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands....
Now I want you to notice the two uses of ellipsis, the three periods (at the front of the quote), and four periods (at the end of the quote). The ellipsis is a literary device used in quoting to show that the author has not made a full quotation, but rather has taken a phrase or sentence from the full quotation. Now there is nothing wrong with the use of ellipsis per se, unless the author is taking the partial quote out of context from the full quotation to make a point that the quoted author never intended. This sort of misquotation is exactly what we have with the use of this verse as a proof text for prosperity teaching.

This verse, when examined in its context has nothing whatsoever to do with financial prosperity! Let's look at the entire context of Mark chapter 10 (ESV) from which this verse is taken:
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and(W) knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have(AD) treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
 23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." 28Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you." 29Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
 As we can see from the full context that surrounds the verse in question, the verse is not talking about financial prosperity, but rather what it is required from a disciple of Jesus. Jesus requires from those that want to follow Him is the abandonment of comfort and security for the sake of following Jesus and believing in the Gospel. Further, the hundredfold promise is in no way a reference to financial prosperity, rather it is referring to a whole new community that would be created with the birth of the church which a new believer would then belong to. The verse refers to a multiplication of relationships-many of which will become stronger than blood relationships (cf. Mark 3:31-35; Acts 2:41-47; 1 Timothy 5:1-2).

Not only is a new family promised, but also "persecutions". This is not an idea that Prosperity teaches want to speak about. They never seem to talk about this aspect of Christianity. Instead the Prosperity teachers teach that only good things will happen to the new believer. Sadly, when bad things begin to happen to the new believer, the new believer does not know how to process these bad things. Instead of knowing that bad things are normative, and may even be part of their character growth, they operate out of a religious fear of God. This fear is the old religious idea that the human needs to please God through his/her life. This thought then brings on an unnecessary guilt that the new believer is not pleasing God, because if she had been these bad things would not be falling on her. Sometimes the guilt gets so great that they believe that God is not happy with them. Some reach levels of despair so deep that they attempt or commit suicide.

The Bible does teach us about finances. It teaches us a balanced view in which we do not believe that wealth is a sin (e.g., Abraham, Job or Solomon). The Bible, however, does condemn the love of money (Luke 16:13; 1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5). Love of money is an unhealthy fixation with money. The love of money indicates that the person who has it is actually living with a temporal perspective rather then an eternal perspective.

Scripture also takes a dim view of those who desire for wealth (1 Timothy 6:9). Paul also noted that the love of money would be a sign of the end times (2 Timothy 3:1-9).

Jesus also warned that a man life is not about what he has (Luke 12:15). Jesus also taught his followers to regard money as a tool for the building of His kingdom. In other words, that priority of the believer is not of this earth, but are instead focused on a heavenly perspective (Matthew 6:19-20; cf. John 6:27).

According to Jesus, the priority of the believer is living for God (Matthew 6:33). When this is done, then God will provide His followers with what they need, not what they want. Further, these gifted necessities, are not to be viewed as ours, but instead are to be offered back to God with an open hand and with the attitude that whatever God wants back, it is His, and given back to Him with a joyful disposition. Our attitude towards finances and material things does not end there. Paul tells us that a Christian should be content in both good times and bad times (Philippians 4:12-13).

In conclusion, Christians must be discerning when it comes to anything that is taught by a pastor or teacher. As a teacher myself, I am not threatened by students that verify what I am teaching with the word of God. No one, not even the Apostle Paul, is above that (Acts 17:11). Therefore, I plead with my readers to search the Scriptures and make sure that the things you are being taught is so.