Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Sabbath Part 3

This is the final part of a 3 part series on the Sabbath. Here is part 1 and part 2.

I wrote these posts before this video by Matt Chandler and Geoff Ashley popped up. I agree with them. I would say that there remains a physical component to the Sabbath command (find a day of rest); nevertheless, I have written this post to express what I believe to be the ultimate meaning of Sabbath that is found in Christ.
How should we think about the Sabbath?

The best clue we get into a New Testament understanding of the Sabbath is from Hebrews 3:7-4:10. The Sabbath is about rest. This was displayed outwardly (as were many New Testament truths) in the Law by resting from physical labor. But the point was to merely stop working physically; rather, it was pointing us to rest from our works. That is, the point of the Sabbath is to rest from our self-sufficiency and trust in Christ.

This sentiment is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I was reading this morning in Leviticus 23, which explains the various feasts, and I was awestruck by this statement as I read about the Day of Atonement:

“And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:28)

What a perfect illustration of how the New Testament views the Sabbath. Just as the Day of Atonement was a picture of the perfect sacrifice that Christ would be for us, the Sabbath points us to our need to rest from trying to work for our salvation. There is no work required of us at the cross; only rest.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on the Sabbath Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Click here for the introduction.


How can we think about the Sabbath?

In this post I want to deal with some of the ways that we can deal with the issue of the Sabbath. In terms of action, these actually don’t look very different. However, I hope to shift our focus a bit in helping us understand these things.

Nothing but…

This approach says that only commands that are reintroduced in the New Testament need be observed by Christians. This, of course, leaves 9 of the 10 standing. Can you guess which one is left out?

Everything but…

I guess you could say that this is the opposite. This view is that all Old Testament commands stand unless they are removed by the New Testament. Again, this leaves us with 9 commandments standing out of the 10. CAN YOU GUESS WHICH ONE IS LEFT OUT? (see Col. 2:16, Gal. 4:10)

Church = Sabbath?

Here’s the bottom line. We have been so caught up in moralism, trying to teach kids the rights and wrongs of the Bible, that we missed the point of the Sabbath. It would be nice if the 10 commandments included “Thou shalt go to church” but it doesn’t. So we take the Sabbath, a day of worship and rest, and we turn it into exactly what we do on Sunday. I get my straight command to go to church from Hebrews 10:24-25 (along with the understanding of God’s purpose for the local church and a dash of the 5th commandments for the kids).

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Sabbath Part 1

The first time I can remember intentionally going out with the purpose of sharing my faith with someone was when I was in high school in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I had just learned “The Way of the Master” method of evangelism (law to the proud/grace to the humble), and I was excited that I understood how I could show people their need for the gospel. Furthermore, my mentor/youth pastor, Bobby, and my older brother, Jonathan, were there with me doing the same thing.

When the time came, I seized opportunity and approached someone I didn’t know to talk to him about Christ. He was a lot older than me; probably late 30’s. I asked him some questions so that I could gauge his beliefs. He believed that he was going to heaven; that he was a good person. So I tried to take him through the 10 commandments to show him that he is a sinner. As I moved through them he quickly asked me, “what church do you go to?” I told him. “Oh, so you don’t honor the Sabbath?” he replied. Thinking on my feet, I retorted, “well, we believe that the Sabbath is on Sunday.” “I’m Seventh Day Adventist” he replied, “maybe I should be asking you about the commandments.”

That conversation has stuck in my mind for a while now. Sure, I’ve had my share of theological discussions that left me feeling stupid, but I was supposed to get to be explaining the gospel to this guy. I took comfort in the hope that this man was already saved and moved on. What’s interesting is that I don’t usually think about it when I think of evangelism; it’s actually when I think about the Sabbath.

The Sabbath has a strange place in the heart of many Christians (including myself). It isn’t considered one of the many hot issues of contentious debate like Calvinism, end-times, or spiritual gifts. It seems to me that most people don’t think about the Sabbath at all. Personally, my nature is to say that the scholars and theologians of the world can deal with the issue themselves, but that would leave a hole in the 10 commandments; which are supposed to be a means of showing people their sin in order to bring them to repentance and faith in the gospel.

This 3 part series is intended to help you come to a better understanding of the New Testament teaching on the Sabbath. It’s not meant to be heavy or exhaustive. I will simply talk about some ways that I have observed people thinking about the Sabbath, the different ways that we can biblically deal with the Sabbath, and then my view on what the Sabbath is and how we keep it today.

How do we think about the Sabbath?
Done-Away-Withers

Explanation- Sure the Old Testament teaches the Sabbath. But I eat bacon, wear polyester, and occasionally shave my beard. We don’t live like that do we?

Problems- This sounds fine until you consider the context of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the 4th commandment in what most Christians consider God’s moral Law. Should we stop being monotheists, start making idols, take the Lord’s name in vain, tell our parents to stop telling us what to do, murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet? Then what makes us think that God decided to get rid of just ONE of the ten?

Movers

Explanation- The Sabbath stays the same, but the church has moved it to Sunday (The Lord’s Day).

Problems- Going to church isn’t necessarily the same as honoring the Sabbath. Most people who believe this still do things that would be considered “work” on Sundays (at least occasionally).

Stays-the-Samers

Explanation
- What gives me the right to stop obeying the 10 commandments?

Problem- I will talk about the biblical problems with this view in the next post, but on a practical level these people are saying that the majority of Christians throughout church history have totally missed this.

Stay tuned for part 2.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Monday, May 9, 2011

More Deserving of Hell: Bin Laden, Gandhi, or Me?

Since President Obama’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death there has been an awakening in the discussion of hell which was first ignited because of Rob Bell’s recently released book, Love Wins. In the book, Bell puts forth the idea that God will eternally give the opportunity for people to repent of their sins and turn to Him for salvation. He will not cause (or force) them to do so (as in universalism proper), but will allow them to choose Him freely. This way- in Bell’s understanding- in the end love wins. What’s interesting about this round of discussion (or proclamation) on the subject of hell is that it comes from those who assume hell’s existence because of such wicked men.

In the first chapter of his book, Bell talks about a rather blunt comment someone at his church made because of a quote from Gandhi, the comment suggested that Gandhi is in hell. Naturally, Bell shows disgust at this comment, because what man could really know the state of a man’s soul? No doubt there are many people who would say that the good works of Gandhi give us hope that God’s work moves beyond the technicalities of naming Christ. They would say that there is room for replacing right faith with right action.

On the other hand we have men like Bin Laden, Hitler, and countless others who have done such horrible deeds as to be deserving of eternal punishment, no questions asked. The argument on this side goes: if Hell doesn’t exist, these men are only held accountable for their actions by the mere finite justice systems of man, which in many cases means they got off the hook completely.

What is so sad to me is seeing so many people being deceived by slight of hand when it comes to this subject. Believe in hell or don’t believe in hell, if your reasoning is focused where Satan wants it to be focused, you’re being deceived. The fact is hell does not exist merely to pay for crimes committed against man, and heaven doesn’t exist to reward good works performed to help man. All sin is first and foremost committed against God. We must understand this; not so that we can figure out who’s going where when they die, but so we can better understand the gospel and the grace that has saved us from our state of wickedness which was just as bad as that of Bin Laden.

When Paul writes out his comprehensive dissertation on the gospel in the book of Romans, the issue isn’t how people have treated fellow human beings; it was whether we have worshipped our Creator. Romans 1:18-23 serves as the foundation for Paul’s argument that man is totally depraved, utterly sinful. It is not concerned with how people treat each other, in fact, sins against other people don’t show up until verse 29, and that is treated as the consequence for idolatry. Throughout the first three chapters of Romans Paul speaks of our treason against the infinitely holy God and finally sums it up in 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

This has profound implications on the topic at hand. It means that Bin Laden’s condemnation wasn’t merely in murdering Americans; it is in hating God and rebelling against Him. However, it also means that if Gandhi was trusting in his own righteousness in order to be right with God, he was just as bad off as Bin Laden; he simply did a better job of hiding his sin*. This isn’t to say that I know the state of these men’s souls before they died. It could be that they put their trusting in Christ before they died, however, I am saying that if they weren’t trust in Christ before they died, we know their fate.

*Though almost no one can claim to know less about Gandhi than me, I have read that his life was much more explicitly sinful than we are usually told (this article contains some content that is not suitable for children).

My encouragement to you is to keep things in the right perspective. Yes, we glory in the fact that God is just as will punish the sins of Osama Bin Laden. But we must also remember that it is only by grace that we did not commit such sin, and it is by grace that God would even save a sinner like me.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thoughts on Steve Simon's Speech

By now you have probably seen or heard about Rep. Steve Simon’s speech to Minnesota lawmakers on the subject of homosexuality and, more specifically, “homosexual marriage.” If you haven’t seen or heard the speech, I encourage you to take 3 minutes to watch the clip below.



As you can see, Mr. Simon makes two main arguments: One against those who oppose “homosexual marriage” and one that homosexuality is a gift from God. However, what I find most interesting is the double-mindedness of the two arguments. It fascinates me that someone would suggest that law should not be based on religious debate and then turn around and make a religious argument for the kind of law he endorses.

Now, I understand that Mr. Simon’s second argument was probably directed at those who have been making arguments on the basis of religion. He would probably base his endorsement of law on fairness or equality, but his argument for homosexuality and “homosexual marriage” is still worth examining from a biblical perspective.

In recent times we have seen a shift in the homosexual debate that has been interesting to watch. The argument used to be a pretty standard two-fold argument: 1. Sexual orientation is not a choice; it’s something with which people are born. 2. Arguments against homosexuality from the Bible can only be accepted if those who propose them are also willing to follow the entire Old Testament law by not eating shellfish or wearing polyester. As you could see in the video, Mr. Simon keeps these arguments alive in his speech; however, he also uses what has become a popular line of reasoning that I think we need to examine biblically.

"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?"

What we have seen more recently- especially since Lady Gaga released her recent tragedy of a “gay anthem” entitled “Born This Way”- is the interpretation of the fact that sexual orientation is something people are born with to mean that God approves, and even celebrates, homosexuality; and, therefore, we should celebrate it as well. What they don’t realize is that by speaking in these terms they actually play out a biblical truth that proves them to be wrong in their interpretation of these things.

The first thing I need to point out is that as a Christian, I admit that I have failed in the past to acknowledge the bit of truth in the pro-homosexuality argument, namely, that some people who practice homosexuality were, in some way, born with that inclination. The fact is we are all born sinners; therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us when a person exhibits a pattern of sin that is deeper than simply choosing that lifestyle over holiness. This truth, however, frees us to understand what is wrong with the “born this way” argument.

If we were to single out homosexuality as a sin that could not be part of the sin nature, we might logically conclude that a person being born with that inclination can pursue their desires. However, because homosexuality is something that one might be tempted with “their whole life”, Christ calls them to repentance just as he calls me to repent of my hatred, lust, dishonesty, or any other sin. This hardly means that the continued “creation” of homosexuals is merit for support of homosexuality; rather, it means that we should love them and show them their need for the gospel.

Secondly, homosexuality is treated by the Bible as an inherently different kind of sin. Now this you might expect a Phelps-like line pointing to things God does to our country as judgment of homosexuality. However, that is not first how the Bible talks about this sin. Consider the first chapter of the book of Romans. This is the ground for Paul’s exposition of the gospel. He does not- as so many Christians do these days- single out homosexuality as the ultimate reason for God to judge humanity. Instead idolatry is given that special honor (see Rom. 1:18-23). But if we look at the verses that follow we find that homosexuality is not merely the grounds for God’s judgment, it is God’s judgment on humanity (see Rom. 1:24-27). Now, to be fair, Paul concludes with a list of sins that come from God judging man by giving him a “debased mind” (see Rom. 1:28-31), but it’s clear that the go-to sin that shows how far we have fallen in idolatry is homosexuality. This is because homosexuality is so against God’s created order of things.

Now, I said earlier that Mr. Simon and others who use his argumentation are actually proving my interpretation to be correct. That is because of the way Paul ends the first chapter. He points out that the ultimate display of mankind’s hatred toward God is not necessarily in doing these things (though he has certainly proven that it is bad enough), but it is shown in that people give applause to such action. It is one thing to hate one’s own sin and yet fall into it way too often, it is quite another thing to love sin and debate, celebrate, or even legislate it that others might love it too.

How thankful we must be for a gospel that saves people from every kind of sin. Christ has been so good to us.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Monday, May 2, 2011

Don't Pass the Roles! Part 2

This is a continuation of my post from last week on the importance of distinct roles of men and women on the church. My approach has been to focus more on the role of women in the church because that is where the debate tends to take place. If you haven’t read part 1 I invite you to do so in order to better understand where I’m coming from in this post.

So the question is, “if women are not allowed to do certain things, what are they allowed to do?” Of course, that isn’t how I would want the question framed. Instead, I think it’s important to say what women are called to do, rather than making this about restrictions.

The interesting thing is, when addressing the differences between the roles of men and women; the Bible tends to call women to be visually representatives of the gospel. It seems that there is a lot of focus on women being learners, performers, and teachers; but it all revolves around them being a display of the gospel.

Learners

Obviously, if a woman doesn’t understand God’s call to all Christians, His specific role for her in the home and in the church, and what she is supposed to do, it is unlikely that she will be equipped to do it. Paul, however, tells us that God’s word is meant to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and that is what he charges pastors to preach (2 Tim. 4:1-5). These things were written to a pastor who had been instructed in an earlier letter what men and women should be doing in the church, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness” (1 Tim 2:11). Now by “quietly with all submissiveness” he later explains that he means that she is not to take up authority over a man. It doesn’t mean that they can’t ask questions, make comments, or even pray; it means that part of their role is to be a “professional student” of the word.

As a side note, this makes total sense to me. Most of the best students of the word I have known in my life were women. Have you ever met a woman who knows an ounce of theology? Wow, she’ll sink her roots deep into that Bible and won’t be able to move.

Performers

This is a tough one for me to describe, because by performer I mean two things:

1. One who does what she is called to do in the Christian life. She performs what she learns.
2. One who performs a part in a play, thus displaying the gospel to the world through her godly character.

I get this from several different biblical descriptions.

Her Costume

“…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

These texts appeal to what seems to be that natural love for fashion that most women seem to have. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to look nice outwardly, but what really matters is her conduct. Sister, if someone says to you “you always know exactly what to say to encourage me” you should hear that as the equivalent of “I love those ear rings!”

Her Value

“…husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

You can learn a lot about what someone thinks about you by how they speak of you to others. In this case, we learn a lot about what the Lord thinks about women by how He instructs husbands. The point here isn’t at all to say “be careful she’s fragile” as if to say that women are defined by being physically or emotionally inferior. Peter is describing women according to their value, being like fine china. The role of a woman isn’t to be cheap or durable, rather, she is to be lifted up as a precious gentle vessel.

Her Part

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:22,32).

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2).

“[women ought to behave in a godly manner submissive to their husbands] that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5).

Each of these passages is focused on wives. This is because a woman will find that her ultimate ability to do what God has prepared for her is in marriage. He has created you with the ability to display something about his church and how the gospel operates. That is why being submissive to your husband is so important.

Now, I understand that a single woman might be reading this thinking “so I am not included in this until I get married?” That’s not the point. The reason we find all of these descriptions in the context of marriage is because marriage is meant to display Christ and the church. So it makes sense that God has given men and women certain intrinsic roles that are ultimately played out in marriage. But he also calls men to step up and be leaders in the church and the culture, and likewise women are to be submissive to those in authority over them all the time in order to show something about the church.

So Ladies, the part in your performance is to display the effects of Christ’s love for his church in his people by pursuing sanctification (as every Christian should) and being submissive.

Teachers

Finally, you are called to teach younger (or less mature) Christian ladies to fulfill their role:

[Older women are to] train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5)

See, that learning sure does come in handy. You get to teach it through discipleship of other ladies. In some ways you will consider yourself a “student teacher,” however, as you grow as a performer of these things others will see you as an expert teacher (which is like owning a cute blouse I suppose).

I hope that this is helpful, and that you will truly find this calling to be a wonderful thing. It’s sad that so many will attack your role as “just…” anything, because it is truly a wonderful thing.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Friday, April 29, 2011

Don't Pass the Roles! Part 1

When one looks at Christianity from the outside he can see many debates. The issues in question range from relatively small issues (such as worship style) to very big issues (such as the sufficiency of Scripture). Evolution, predestination, abortion, infant baptism, homosexuality, etc… These are all big issues. Issues which can be understood in light of the gospel with relative ease; however, one issue that I don’t think gets enough attention is the issue of the role of women in the church. Of course, the role of men in the church is equally important, but the controversy always seems to be framed around women.

I want to be careful and try not to be misunderstood on this topic, but I also don’t want to keep you from learning biblical truth. The Bible teaches that God has a specific, high calling for women in the church that differs from the role of men. This goes against our culture, and even the teaching of several denominations. For some of you, believing this may come down to saying “my flesh doesn’t agree with this, but if that is what the Bible teaches I will submit to it” I’ve said that a few times as well, so you’re in good company. Remember, Scripture is supposed to renew your mind, not the other way around (Rom. 12:2).

As I said above, this is really about our roles more than it is merely about the role of women in the church. The reason I am focusing on the woman’s role in the church is because the Egalitarian view opposes the exclusion of women from certain functions in the church, thus belittling God’s high calling for women. This saddens me because I know so many godly women (including my own wife) who are seeking to fulfill their role while being forced to breath the air of feminism.*

I would love to be able to simply spend one post encouraging women to lovingly embrace their calling in the local church, but unfortunately I have to start by showing the flaws in the egalitarian/feminist arguments that seek to make us all exactly the same with the exception of physical differences.

*For men, the issue is the opposite. For example, We are called to the role of Christ-like leadership in our homes while most of us find it much more pleasant either to become chauvinistic or to simply take a back seat and be passive.

Pastoral Ministry

The argument that the office of pastor (or elder) is reserved for men only is pretty clear in Scripture. There are actually several ways you can make this case: there’s the fact that the requirements for a pastor seem to refer to a male**, and the fact that we see no examples of female pastors in Scripture, but I want to focus on Paul’s restriction of women from this biblical office.

**by itself, this case would be weak.




I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim. 12-14)

First, what is Paul saying here? He is forbidding the exercise of authority (including preaching) of women over men. I believe this refers specifically to pastoral authority, however, it could apply to other roles depending on how they function in different churches***.

***it is my belief that women can serve as deacons provided that the “office” of deacon is one of leadership in service, rather than authority.

Here, Paul is specifically talking about how things should be in the church, as he makes clear a little later in the context (3:14-15). Having read the text, we can ask the question “is this a timeless command, or a cultural command from which we can simply find a principle?”
The answer is found in the basis of Paul’s argument. If he were to make the command and then appeal to the culture, we could safely say that this was a command specifically to those in the culture; however, Paul actually makes his appeal outside of his own time and culture. Paul goes back to the original hierarchy by which God spoke to man. God commanded Adam, who then commanded Eve. Eve was then deceived and Adam followed Eve’s deception rather than correcting her with God’s word, thus sinning. Paul isn’t saying that Eve is more prone to sin than Adam; he is saying that there is a God-made authority structure which is the normative way by which He speaks to His people. He gives man the responsibility of preaching His word to His people.

The rebuttal from those who do not believe this text to be a timeless command is to go to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The argument says that if we have a distinct role for women in the church, excluding them from certain offices, we must also have a distinct role for slaves in the church today. As is common with biblical controversy, this argument doesn’t only put the Bible against itself; it puts a specific author, namely Paul, against himself.

So first, what is Paul saying? He is saying that in Christ we all have equal standing. Jews are not privileged over Gentiles, men are not more justified than women, and even slaves find equality with their earthly masters. Complimentarianism (what I am arguing for) doesn’t dispute this. We say that men and women are equal in value and standing before God. We differ, however, in our roles. The context here in Galatians is discussing salvation by grace alone through faith. Paul is demonstrating that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ and not by our own ability to keep the law; and if we all have Christ’s righteousness we are all equal in that sense.

What we can’t do is argue against other biblical positions using this passage. In one sense, the Jews do have some advantages (Rom 9:4), so do masters over their slaves (Titus 2:9). Those relationships didn’t always end, but they did change if the two people in question were both in Christ.

Next week I will give a positive presentation on God’s high calling for women.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen