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.