Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Sandbox, My Rules

Fundamentalist Christian leaders have a habit of taking a separatist stance. Basically, they say something to the effect that the universal church has become corrupt, even apostate, and most likely can not be restored. That being the case, only those brethren meeting in Scriptural simplicity and doctrinal purity can be in their fellowship. Church history tells us there have been many with the same attitude. I am reading The First Seven Ecumenical Councils by Leo D. Davis. Uff da! I have watched politics in church groups, corporations, and governmental offices. Imagine that happening all at once to the Nth degree in the same global organization. Now you have a picture of the patristic world from Constantine's reign through the 8th century.

You have to admire leaders in their zeal and desire for the truth. The difficulty lies in their insistence that anyone else who does not quite understand the creedal formulae or has not yet moved to a completely orthodox position is automatically bound for hell by council decree. Too often the ploy was to exert political pressure on rulers, be they emperor, city bishops, or local civil officials. Yet, through all the posturing, tortures, and executions, the word of God was preached and doctrine firmly established to the orthodox teachings we have today.

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
There is no other explanation.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Picture yourself with a new role, position, responsibility, etc. with your mentor suddenly no longer available to give help for the tasks ahead. What do you do? Where do you turn for help? Solomon had such a situation that is recounted in 1 Kings 3. His father had died, and now he was king of all Israel.
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, "Ask what I shall give you."
So maybe you are asking yourself, "Why doesn't God do this for me? I could use it right now." Let's look at this more. God did not just present himself to Solomon on a whim. First, there was the matter of a promise given to David to establish his son on the throne with a promise to have a father-son relationship and establish his throne (2 Samuel 7). Next, Solomon had a heart for the YHWH's things which he showed by following in his statutes. Last, Solomon demonstrated his wholeheartedness by extravagant worship.

As dedicated as Solomon desired to be, he had faults: he formed marriage alliances like his father; and he worshiped at the high places like the people did, because a permanent place for the ark of the covenant had not been built (3:1-4). In other words, perfection is not required for God to interact in your life. Willingness to obey is.

But back to the initial question: why doesn't God present himself and ask that question? Because he already did more than once. For example:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24)
There is no reason to seek some metaphysical reality or spiritualization of existence. The Lord Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity, has unequivocally guaranteed both an audience and a response.
6 And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?"
Solomon responded by recounting YHWH's goodness to his father as a result of his obedience. He also knows that the only reason for his position is God's faithfulness to the covenant mention above. And here Solomon is feeling completely unqualified, having as it were the capacity of a small child. The task is so enormous and the consequences so great in regards to the people that Solomon asks for the one thing--an understanding mind.

How are you similarly stressed? With what are you wrestling? Each person goes through a period of doubt and seeming incapacitation. You were placed there for a purpose. If God is sovereign (and he is), then you, Christian brother or sister, are experiencing what is designed to work good in you. The questions will certainly arise and the lessons be painful, but make no mistake about the ultimate goal that "for those who love God all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days."
YWHW was pleased with Solomon's choice and gave him the request and more. Again, God gives freely to his children.
15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
After being granted his request, Solomon turned from the high place and worshiped before the ark. This was the place of God's choosing. He was honored by obedience. After bringing petitions before the throne of heaven, the only proper response we have is to follow him more correctly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Guilty by Association

One of the most unfair concepts I encountered when growing up was "guilt by association." I had one friend in particular that was watched by the local authorities. More than once I was followed by the local police to make certain impropriety did not break out. that upset me, because I had done nothing wrong. The problem came because of my friend. His wrongdoing reflected on me. The principle at work here is referred to as the doctrine of community responsibility. The idea goes something like this: what one member of a group does, affects the whole and the individual members of it.

There are examples to be found in Scripture. One comes from Israel's desert wandering. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had sinned in their rebellion of Moses' authority (Numbers 16). They were clearly guilty, and judgment was meted out on them "with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods" (verse 32). That seems unjust. The action is stark, especially when compared to YHWH's later message to Ezekiel in 18:20 that
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
How are these seemingly disparate ideas reconciled? Innocent people suffered the consequences of Korah's sin. The real question is: were they innocent? Jacob Milgrom in his book Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (p. 32) asks the question, "What of the innocents who will suffer along with the sinners?"
The priestly doctrine of collective responsibility yields a corollary. The "good" people who perish with the evildoers are not innocent. For allowing brazen sinners to flourish, they share the blame.
A classic example of this is given in Acts 2:22-24, 36. Peter is preaching to the crowd and says,
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it....Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Whom they crucified? Most likely none in the crowd were there. Though the Sanhedrin instigated the whole thing, yet the people shared in the defilement because the leaders were acting as representative of the whole and therefore needed repentance. And lest the sin of a leader is deemed the only type to affect the whole, remember how Achan coveted goods from Jericho and took them. After the defeat at Ai, YHWH told Joshua
Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. (Joshua 7:11-12)
The entire nation of Israel is considered to have sinned and now bears the brunt of God's judgment for one man's sin.

The church is described as a spiritual house, a body, and a family. These are apropos for application purposes because each metaphor helps us see that when one part of the unit is not functioning as it should, the whole is defective. All are affected. As we go about our daily business before the Lord Jesus Christ in this world, remember that our lives are intertwined with other believers in a way that allows no place for sinful indulgence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Better Than the Next Guy—Not!

How would you convince someone he is a sinner? OK, I confess. It's a trick question. You are unable to convince anyone: that is the job of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). But it got me to thinking of ways to let people know that even the best people are doomed. This led me to Romans 1:29-2:5. The first group Paul mentions are those people who live outside God's word. Notice how they are described:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.
Based on this description of their character, almost anyone can assume he or she is better than these barbarians. One wonders what deeds such debased and savage humans would inflect on others to demonstrate the level of corruption to which they had fallen. Paul tells us:
They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Gossips? Boastful? That cannot be the modus operandi of this loathsome scum, can it? Doesn't that describe most of the world's population? Yes, it does. Even the most refined and religious of the world are this way. That is why Paul goes on:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.
If I am a religious person and look on the savage person to judge him for being and acting that way, I need to understand that I am condemning myself when performing the same small sins. It demonstrates that down deep I am just as corrupt.

What is the solution for the human condition?
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21-25a)