A CONUNDRUM ON AUTHORITY

From the perspective of the Old Testament, the world was divided into Jew and Gentile. Paul dismantles that distinction in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. His meaning is obviously that in God’s eyes one’s ethnicity (especially that all-important Abrahamic ancestry) means nothing. All souls are equal in His sight.

Later, the world seemed to become divided into two camps again, Catholic and Protestant/Non-Catholic. The conundrum comes about when one considers the views of these two groups. Without trying to oversimplify, Catholics basically see the Catholic Church as the continuing authority with the ability to make determinations on issues and clarify difficulties in understanding. They believe that without continuing “revelation” in the form of an authority on earth, we would never know how to handle issues such as birth control, marriage-divorce-remarriage, etc. Catholics site the seemingly innumerable differences in interpretation among Non-Catholics as reason for the need of continuing authority.

Non-Catholics believe that the only authority is the revealed word of God. All that is needed to understand God’s will for us is in the scriptures. Non-Catholics look at the purported authority and see many inconsistencies to the scriptures. For example, the marriage practices in the Catholic Church do not seem to harmonize with Biblical teaching. Priests are forbidden to marry, yet Peter was married. Paul argued that he had the right to take along a believing wife, 1 Corinthians 9:5. Paul even speaks of those “forbidding to marry”, 1 Timothy 4:3, where he proclaims such as departing from the faith in verse 1 of the same chapter. I have been told that no priest is forced to be unmarried but  that he gives up his right to marry willingly. Such reasoning seems to me to be specious, and could be proved false by a priest who insists on maintaining his right to marry. Presumably, he would be forbidden from being a priest.

Annulments are another sketchy area. My understanding of annulments was the Church-sanctioned dissolution of a marriage, but the practice goes deeper than that to validity of the marriage. It is true that in such a determination there are several factors considered; however, one of those considerations is, according to catholicannulment.us, that civil and Protestant marriages are not valid because they were not performed properly and in the Catholic Church. I am not trying to misrepresent the teaching, but the point here is in direct contradiction to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. There, we see couples who had been pagans. One of the spouses obeys the gospel. What are they to do? Paul tells them to stay together if the non-Christian is willing to live with the Christian. Certainly, these marriages would not have been “in the church”. Catholic doctrine would consider them invalid; Paul says they are binding.

So on one hand, we see disagreements and denominations among non-Catholics. On the other hand, we note that, if the Catholic Church is the authority, it seems to hold many positions contrary to what is taught in scripture. We could say that God’s will has changed since the first century, but to do so would be to place all trust in the authority. I am reminded, here, of the account of the man of God and the old prophet in 1 Kings 13. And celibacy for priests is a relatively modern invention.

What are we to do? This questions is a valid one for anyone seeking truth. Do we place our trust in the scriptures or in a subsequent “authority”? The only thing I know for sure is that human beings are fallible. We can be influenced by our level of intelligence or education, our emotions, our personal experiences, motivations, prejudices, etc. We will make mistakes in understanding. For me, to place my trust in an “authority” that I find suspect means to place my trust in other fallible human beings. If I were to invest in their divine guidance, I would have to suspend any understanding on my own part. I would completely surrender my study to their guidance. Yet, I know the Bereans were considered more noble for testing what Paul taught against the scriptures. Recognizing the Catholic Church as the authority would mean I could no longer follow in the footsteps of the Bereans.

When Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” in Philippians 2:12, he is not saying that each of us can interpret the word in our own individual way. He is, on the other hand, warning us to take our study of the scriptures seriously with an open heart and mind. I choose to put my trust in the word as I understand it to the best of my limited ability rather than in the understanding of other flawed humans whom some may consider the on-going authority. As well, I must be prepared to be persuaded if someone can show me from the scriptures the way of God more accurately.

WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?

The world tosses the term “Christian” around freely. It seems that anyone who believes in Jesus is a Christian. In fact, even those people who merely say that He existed, though they make not the slightest effort to serve Him in any way, are referred to often as Christians. It makes one wonder if there is anyone in danger of the judgment to come.

It does not matter what the world thinks makes a Christian. It does not matter what I think makes a Christian. Since God is the one who gave us His word in this regard, it is only He who can tell us what makes a Christian. We all must agree on this concept, that God determines what He wants of those who would follow Him. It is not up to me to determine the conditions upon which I might be saved, Jeremiah 10:23.

So, what qualifies a person to be called a Christian. Well, anyone can become a Christian. God does not prohibit anyone, but in fact, desires all men to be saved, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9. If God wants all men to be saved, then He either predestined every single person to be saved or He allows anyone who will to become obedient to Him. One may choose to believe that God picked him to be saved or lost before the world began, or one may believe that he may choose to respond to God’s call. The Bible teaches that faith comes by hearing the word, Romans 10:17.

It seems that each of us can respond in faith. To what do we respond? The preaching of the word, Romans 10:14. Many have a problem deciding what happens at this point. Do we merely “ask Jesus into our heart”? Do we simply recite “The Sinner’s Prayer”? Or is there more? God has always requested obedience as a response to what He says. (See “Immersion and Works” on this site). The Bible clearly teaches we must repent of our sins; but though we repent of our sins, we are still in our sins. We cannot be right with God without forgiveness/remission of those sins.

How do we receive remission of sins? Immersion washes away those sins. (See “The Importance of Baptism”). Acts 2:38 and 22:16 show that after baptism, we have the remission of sins and the washing away of sins. It is at that point and only at that point that one can be called a Christian. Think about those three thousand who heard, repented, then were baptized on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. We are told there in Acts 2:41 that those three thousand were added. To what were they added and by whom? They were added, in verse 47, by the Lord to the number of the disciples.

The Bible tells us that a Christian is a particular person. He has heard the gospel and believed it. It convicts him of his sin, and so he repents of that sin. Repentance is the turning away from sin to God. He then shows his obedient faith in the simple act of immersion in water which washes away his sins. It is God who adds Him to the rolls of the faithful. So, as harsh as it may sound: the one who merely acknowledges, the one who believes without effort, the one who has not repented, or the one who has not been baptized/immersed is not a Christian and should not be called such.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BAPTISM

The word we find in our English translations, baptism, was not translated but rather transliterated. In other words, it was brought over into English pretty much as it was in the Greek, just as déjà vu came to us from France. If it had been translated, there would have been no doubt as to its meaning which is to dip or immerse. In reading the scriptures, we should substitute the word immerse for the word baptize. Such would confirm the proper mode of baptism, that being by immersion in water.

So is this immersion in water important? Is it necessary? Many say it is not really important or it is important but not really necessary, which is to say, not really important. There was a time when I would have agreed, but there came a time when I could no longer ignore the many scriptures that speak to the importance, really necessity, of immersion.

Is there really a lot of information in the scriptures about baptism? Study the following with an open heart and prayer and judge for yourself.

Examples of baptism: Mark 1:4 John’s baptism “of repentance for the remission of sins”; Matthew 3:5-6 People of “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan” baptized by John; Luke 3:12 Tax collectors baptized by John; Matthew 3:16 Jesus baptized by John.

John 3:22 Jesus and His disciples baptized others in the land of Judea.

After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection: Acts 2:41 Three thousand “who gladly received (Peter’s) word”; Acts 8:12 Men and women of Samaria; Acts 8:13 Simon the sorcerer; Acts 8:38 The Ethiopian eunuch; Acts 9:18 & 22:16 Saul/Paul; Acts 10:47-8 Cornelius and those of his household who could receive the word; Acts 16:15 Lydia and those of her household who could receive the word; Acts 16:33 The Philippian jailor and his family who could receive the word; Acts 18:8 & 1 Corinthians 1:14 Crispus, Gaius, and many Corinthians; Acts 19:5 Disciples in Ephesus being re-baptized; 1 Corinthians 1:16 The household of Stephanus who could receive the word.

Commands regarding baptism: Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38

What does baptism do for us? Acts 2:38 Remission of sins; Romans 6:3 Baptized into Christ’s death; Galatians 3:27 Put on Christ; Colossians 2:12 Buried with Jesus in baptism; 1 Peter 3:21 Saves us.

Ephesians 4:4-6 tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all”. Clearly, as there is only one God, there is only one baptism. What is that baptism? Why is that one baptism listed here with one God? I would encourage you to consider these scriptures for themselves, and you will see that the one baptism is immersion in water.

NOAH

Along comes Noah. There are so many things wrong with what I am hearing and reading about this movie that I doubt I will ever want to see it, though I shudder to think it will be as bad as the 1999 TV miniseries, Noah’s Ark. One ad line does say that if I liked Gladiator and Braveheart, I will love Noah. That tells me where the emphasis lies. For his part, star Russell Crowe has publicly blasted opposition to the movie as “bordering on absolute stupidity”. He would be content to have the public commentary die down long enough for everyone to go see the movie and make their own judgments while making him richer.

First among the problems is the fact that the producers felt that they needed a disclaimer, “This film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis”. Such words as “inspired by”, “story”, and “true to the essence” do not do much to instill confidence. Why specify that this “story” is a cornerstone of faith for millions? Don’t those millions already know? Or are they speaking to non-believers? And I’m sure glad they let us know that Noah’s “story” can be found in Genesis.

Second, and very unnerving for me, were the recent comments of Crowe. Leaving his personal life aside for the moment, his comments baffled me at first until I read more about the movie. While on a publicity tour in Russia, when he was not leering at the beautiful, Russian women; he said this: ‘The funny thing with people, they consider Noah to be a benevolent figure because he looked after the animals: “Awww, Noah. Noah and the animals”. It’s like, are you kidding me? This is the dude that stood by and watched the entire population of the planet perish. He’s not benevolent. He’s not even nice.’ He’s also said that his depiction of Noah would go against the grain of common belief. His thinking seems in line with a tagline I saw that read, “When the end comes, who (sic) will you save?”, as if Noah decided which individuals would live and which would die.

Third, we have the fact that the director, Darren Aronofsky, an atheist, has called the movie, “the least Biblical film ever made”. How does that square with the subject matter unless, possibly, it reflects the amount of divergence from the true text? After all, he also referred to Noah as the “first environmentalist”. Nothing like inserting today’s politically-correct agenda into a several thousand year old account. One critic stated that “God” is not mentioned anywhere in the movie. Anthony Hopkins, playing Methuselah, does tell Noah what “the creator” says.

From the New York Times come these gems: “Once the waters have covered the earth and the ark is afloat, a clammy fear sets in, for both the audience and the members of Noah’s family: We’re stuck on a boat full of snakes, rats and insects, and Dad’s gone crazy” and “Tubal-Cain (Noah’s nemesis) may be a brute and a deceiver, but his nemesis is, at least potentially, a genocidal lunatic. The way Noah sees it, he has been chosen not to save mankind but to ensure its annihilation”.

It is Crowe’s comments about Noah that got me thinking on this subject. God told Noah “the end of all flesh has come before me”, Genesis 6:13, and not without reason as “the earth was filled with violence” (v11) and “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (v12). Noah, however, “found grace in the eyes of the Lord”, Genesis 6:8. I suppose what I have never really stopped to ponder is how such a statement from God would affect a man, even a man of faith. Was Noah a man who saw his mission as the condemnation of all other men, as Crowe suggests, or was he a compassionate man who felt intense sadness over such a lack of faithfulness that would bring great destruction? If the former, then we can assume he went about his business as if the physical death of all the evil were his mission. If the latter, we can assume that he saw his mission as trying to urge men to repentance, as has been the pattern of God through the ages and even to our day.

It is said that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness”, 2 Peter 2:5. While the debate rages on about how long Noah preached and what he preached (in other words, did he warn of the coming flood?), as a human being, it is hard not to imagine that the weight of what was coming bore heavily on him. It must have been an excruciatingly painful realization that Noah had to live with and then witness when the doors of the ark were closed. I have no doubt that Noah was, indeed, a benevolent, caring person whom God sent to an impudent and hard-hearted (evil) people and who sorrowed, as God does, at the loss of souls.

Since penning these thoughts, I have heard from two Christians whose comments have been in agreement, that the movie is unbiblical, offensive, and evil. So much of the story, they say, is not only made up but completely contrary to the story of God. One even walked out. Such is not a surprise to me and should not be to anyone who paid attention to the press prior to the release. I think it seems clear that Christians should not patronize such a movie. Giving your dollars to Crowe, Aronofsky, and company is not just wasting them but it is giving credence to the further production of such garbage.

 

JESUS AND HOMOSEXUALITY

It is interesting to me that many in the pro-homosexual movement seek to help those of us who are Christians understand God’s true position on the issue. Why do they seem to need the approval of the Bible anyway? Maybe it is just an effort to enlist the support of religious people, or maybe it is because they know that in the infinite scheme of things the lifestyle is wrong.

These people will argue that Jesus said we are to love our neighbor. Right. And He associated with sinners. Right, again. And He never actually said anything about homosexuality. Certainly, if God were so against homosexual relationships, Jesus would have spoken such in the word. Not so fast.

This premise, that since Jesus never openly condemned homosexual relationships they are OK with God, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible. Jesus died without sin, otherwise He could not have been the lamb of God. What does it mean that Jesus was without sin? Jesus was without any sin, including any violation of the old covenant (Mosaic Law) under which He lived and died. In other words, he fully endorsed (even in His silence on the matter) the old covenant’s prohibition on homosexuality. Under the old law, the penalty for homosexuality was, according to Leviticus 20:13, death.

Some may cry, “What about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8?” It is true that Jesus did not condemn her (did not allow the penalty of the law to be carried out), but what did He say to her? “Go and sin no more.” What was the sin? Adultery. Though Jesus may have pardoned her, He also told her to stop committing adultery. If He had been brought a homosexual, what might have happened? Might He have similarly pardoned that person? Surely, but He also would have said, “Go and sin no more”, that is, stop living a homosexual lifestyle.

Jesus lived and died as an Israelite under the Mosaic Law which forbade the practice of homosexuality and gave its penalty as death. In the absence of any clear statement to the contrary, wherein Jesus may have revealed a change in God’s old law, we must assume that there was no change in Jesus’ mind or God’s will. Since He came to do God’s will (and was the word, and was God, John 1) and was obedient to it, we know His teaching was in accord with the law under which He lived.

Here is an argument for God’s silence having meaning. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality because He had nothing new to reveal on the matter, nothing, anyway, that would contravene what God had previously revealed. So the argument that Jesus’ silence on the matter gives approval to it is utterly false and, therefore, dangerous. 

HOMOSEXUALITY

If you are reading this post, you may be thinking, “Here we go again, another Christian beating the issue of homosexuality”. A friend of mine who seems interested in studying the Bible recently said to me that he does not understand why Christians are forcing the discussion of the issue of homosexuality on everyone. That perception seems a curious one to me. Did the issue originate with us? For over two centuries in this country, it was a clearly understood moral principle among the vast majority of citizens that homosexuality was wrong. There was little or no discussion as to whether we should recognize the practice of homosexuality as legitimate.

Around the beginning of the aids epidemic, sympathy arose for the victims of the disease and those who had it, primarily homosexual men. As time went on, homosexuals began to gain supporters for their lifestyle, in direct contradiction to the consequences of that lifestyle. Eventually, it has become fashionable and faddish to be homosexual. Hollywood has advanced the cause. The description was changed to “gay” to soften perceptions of it. Mainstream denominations have caved to pressure, and subsequently, denied God’s will on the matter.

There is no doubt that the discussion has been forced on us. In fact, in the specific, there are probably few Christians who care about a particular person’s sexuality. They say everyone should stay out of their bedrooms, yet the homosexual movement continues to want their own to tell us what they are doing in their bedrooms. When a homosexual “comes out”, it brings rejoicing from an “enlightened” media and supporters. If our society is truly unbiased regarding sexuality, wouldn’t we want everyone who comes of age to “come out” and tell us what their sexual preferences are, homosexual or heterosexual? That thought seems to show how trivial the knowledge really is. I don’t care what you do in your bedroom; but if you tell me and if I know you, I am obligated to tell you that God’s word deems the practice of homosexuality a sin. It would be wonderful if the debate on this issue would go away, but only if it goes away because we have come to the proper conclusion on it. As long as the issue continues to be thrown at Christians, we have no choice but to stand up against sin wherever it may raise its ugly head.

 

 

 

SNAKEHANDLING

Periodically it seems, the news comes that someone has died from snakebite while handling snakes. This time it is Jamie Coots, a Pentacostal preacher from Kentucky, who starred on a show called “Snake Salvation”. He was bitten and died after refusing medical treatment. The reaction to such a thing must run the gamut from thinking such people are crazy to wondering how such a thing could happen to a “man of God”.

Actually, the inquiring mind would have several questions. Are we to be handling snakes today as Christians? Did he show a lack of faith? Did God abandon him?

Let’s think about where this idea of snake handling comes from. In Mark 16:18 we read, “they will take up serpents”. This item is found in the larger context of the exercising of miraculous powers. It also includes the idea of not being harmed by drinking poison. First we must establish several facts. Who is speaking? Jesus? To whom is He speaking? The eleven apostles. Though he is speaking to the apostles, he is speaking about those who would obey the message of the apostles, “those who believe”. Does that include us today?

Let’s leave that for a moment and think about what Jesus is actually saying. Is Jesus saying that as part of belief, followers would “handle” poisonous snakes? Interestingly, we find no command in the Bible for us to handle snakes as part of worship to God or activity in His service. We also find no example of anyone’s doing such a thing. What we do find is an occasion surrounding the activities of Paul in Acts 28. Paul was on his way by ship to Rome and suffered shipwreck. He found himself on the island of Malta where the natives were kind to them and started a fire. The text says, however, that when Paul had gathered some sticks and laid them on the fire “a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand”. In verse 5, though, “he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm”. Here is that of which Jesus spoke. In a situation such as this one where a snake bites a believer, it would not hurt him.

If today I were bitten by a poisonous snake, would I expect the same thing to happen to me that happened to Paul? If yes, then why are those who “handle” snakes today dying from their bites? If no, then why not. Has something changed? The passage in Mark 16 speaks of other miraculous things such as speaking in tongues, casting out demons, healing the sick. Are Christians still able to do those things? Does it not raise the question that if a faithful “preacher” dies from snakebite that maybe we are not able to handle poisonous snakes? And if we are not able to handle poisonous snakes, then we also cannot heal or cast out demons or speak in tongues miraculously. We are either able to do them all or do none of them.

Why would we say that? The answer to this question is longer than space permits here, but suffice to say that the time of such things is over. And it is over, because the reason Jesus specifies in the passage in Mark has been fulfilled. As the apostles went out following the Lord’s command to preach, they were performing signs, miracles, and wonders. Jesus said they were doing so not for worship, not for leading a Christian life, but for the purpose of “confirming the word”, verse 20. (see also John 10:37-8, 14:10-11) What word, one might ask? Exactly. At that time the Bible had not yet been put together. The apostles and subsequent believers were preaching and teaching the word as they went. The writers of the New Testament were writing the Spirit’s words as they went. In order to prove the truth of this message, the ability to perform these signs was given by God/Christ. At the point when the word was finally and completely delivered, it needed no such confirmation. Ask yourself, do we really need the same miraculous confirmation of the word now as those of the first century did who did not have the entirety of God’s word revealed to them? Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Paul clearly says that prophecies, tongue, and (miraculous) knowledge will fade away. Have they faded away, or are they yet to fade away?

IMMERSION (BAPTISM) AND WORKS

     Many people in the religious world hold an erroneous belief about salvation that means that God is different now, in the Christian era, than He was in the Old Testament. How did God treat people in the Old Testament? Let’s take a look at some examples and establish a pattern.

     First, think about Noah. God came to him and said, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth”, Genesis 6:13. Though God had resolved to destroy mankind, Noah, we are told, “found grace in the eyes of the Lord”, Genesis 6:8; and God would save Noah from the coming flood. How? Did God tell Noah that when the time came He would remove Noah and those with him to a safe, spiritual  place until the flood was over? God certainly could have done that, but instead He told Noah to build an ark.

     Second, when God resolved that the immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah warranted their destruction, He sent angels to Lot to tell him of the impending fire and brimstone, Genesis 19:13. Once Lot knew about the judgment, did the angels tell him that God would transport him and his family to a city outside the range of the destruction? God could have done such a thing, but the angels told Lot to flee the city on foot.

     Third, what about the Jews wandering the wilderness after leaving Egypt? They needed food. They were grumbling and complaining that things had been better for them in Egypt. After all, they had plenty of food there. God knew they needed food and would provide for them. Did He merely give them the feeling of fullness? Did He put food into their stomachs? He could have, but He chose instead to tell the people that Manna would rain down from heaven and they would have to go out and gather it, Exodus 16.

     There are many more examples to prove that God expected something from those who believed in Him. In fact, even in the New Testament we see the principle expressed. In Hebrews 11, we read about people who were faithful. In verse 4, we read that Abel offered his sacrifice to God by faith. In verse 17, Abraham offered up Isaac by faith. In verses 24 & 25, Moses chose rather to suffer affliction by faith. What does the idea by faith mean? It means that one’s faith motivated him to act.

     As such, God’s view of faith is different than ours. We believe that merely acknowledging something as true means we have faith, but God goes one step further. He binds that faith to what that faith motivates us to accomplish for Him. Faith is inextricably linked to action in the Bible. Having faith moves us to act, as it did those mentioned previously. If we do not act, we cannot be said to have faith, James 2:18. Would Noah have been found faithful if he had not built the ark? Would Lot have been considered believing if he had merely sat down in Sodom? Would the people have been right in God’s sight if they had gathered no manna even though they believed what God said? Similar is the admonition of Paul in 2Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”.

     Now some will say the works James speaks of are those things we do once we have become Christians, doing the will of the Lord. The moment we have faith, however, is the moment when that faith must begin to act.

     In fact, what do we do to become Christians? Did God say merely to believe? Did He tell us that if we acknowledge His word as truth, His Son as Savior, and His way as ours we are saved? If He did so, then He treated us in a way that He has never treated His people in times past. He allows us to become saved with no action on our part. In like manner as Noah, Lot, and the Jews in the wilderness, are we to be found faithful if we do not respond in obedience to the Lord’s commands in becoming Christians?

      What exactly are those commands? Peter, speaking to a crowd of Jews who had aided in the murder of Jesus and become persuaded of their sin, said to them, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins….”, Acts 2:38. In Acts 2:41, we read, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added”. So we see that faith in the words of Peter’s sermon demanded the hearers take action and be baptized. The act of baptism showed they had repented. To what were they added after their baptism and by whom? Acts 2:47 answers, “And the Lord added to the church (NKJV, or assembly or their number, which constituted the church) daily those who were being saved”.

     Were those people saved at the point of hearing? At the point of believing? Or at the point of taking obedient action in response to their faith and being baptized? The answer is obvious. Our faith demands an active response. The response to your faith in the Gospel is repentance and baptism, just as it was on that Pentecost so long ago. Nowhere does the Bible say that we are saved by faith alone or only. Won’t you allow your faith to be an active, obedient faith and submit to baptism for the remission of your sins today and be added to the church by the Lord?