Archive for December, 2009

Can Australia be turned around?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

By Spencer D Gear

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1974crop.jpg

(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974, courtesy Wikipedia)

“The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. Neither a market economy nor even general abundance constitutes the crowning achievement of human life. If a nation’s spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by industrial development: a tree with a rotten core cannot stand” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

“When there is no God, everything is permitted. Crime becomes inevitable” (Fyodor Dostoyevski).

But the Lord said to [Jeremiah], “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

I suggest that the church that becomes a prophetic voice or the person who speaks for God, will demonstrate some of the following:

1. It will speak out on issues.

On all matters affecting the nation (but particularly those involving injustice, unrighteousness, ungodliness, ethics, and proclamation), the church will have a “voice” not an “echo.” It will be a church that takes the initiative and leads the way.

John Anderson wrote:

“Our day calls for resolute involvement. Our world needs the Church doing what only the Church can do: raising a prophetic voice. The Church must forthrightly ask: ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ It is time for the Church to take risks, new risks, risks that may threaten reputation, status, programs, finances, even life. It is time to confront secularism, and one risk will be doing so. Our society is reaping a damning harvest. The choice in the risk will be between remaining an ‘echo’ or becoming a ‘voice’.”[1]

Taking risks?? Could it be that there are so few prophetic voices today because we have lost that pioneering spirit which experiments? The Church is never an experiment. But we need a church that will be blazing new paths, seeking to speak the message of reconciliation to our own age.

To deal with issues facing the culture, the Church of the Saviour (Washington D.C., USA) formed mission groups which consisted of two or more people who “have been grasped by the same concept of God’s task for them, and who have been grasped by God, which is deeper and more profound than being grasped by a concept.”[2]

It is interesting that it took an American, John Anderson (who ministers in Australia regularly), to remind me that the Australian motto is “Advance Australia.” One of the common traits of the emu and the kangaroo is that neither will back down; they only go forward.

That is the thrust of a prophetic voice–never retreating.

Questions:

a. What issues should the church be speaking out on?

b. What would happen in your city if, say, 20% of the pastors and church members raised impassioned prophetic voices (with warning, pleading and compassion)?

Dare we follow John Anderson’s advice and “instead of just building bigger churches, start confronting and shaking society with a prophetic voice?” (p. 179). Anderson predicts that if the church raises a prophetic voice, there will be a great harvest and great persecution (p. 184).

Charles Colson’s assessment of the problem is:

“For effective evangelism we must penetrate the mainstream of thought in secular culture. Much of our Christianity today is, sadly, entertainment for the faithful. We talk in our own language to like-minded friends, and the world is content to let us put on our own show, as long as we don’t bother anyone.

“We are meant to bother the world–bother it by presenting a message which convicts people of their sin, which offers an alternative to the hollowness and nihilism* of secular life.

“To invade the secular mainstream–on their turf–requires great creativity and boldness. It means aggressively reaching out and battling for the hearts and minds of our neighbors.”[3]

[* Nihilism is an attitude or doctrine that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.]

Truth demands confrontation. To speak out on issues, one must develop:

2. A Christian mind

If we are going to address political and social issues; if Christianity is true; if we are to live with the perspective of eternity in view, then Christianity applies to all of life. We have got to examine the temporal things of this life in the light of God’s eternal values. We dare not restrict our thinking and action to “matters of faith.” If we do, we will be navel-gazing and speaking only to the church club.

If your Christianity is practised on Sunday, when having a quiet time, when sharing your faith, or when doing other ‘religious’ activities, there is no way that you will be a prophetic voice.

I was speaking to a woman recently who is leaving a mainline Protestant denomination and investigating Islam. Why? She said, “Because it is a total way of life to them.”

If your Christianity is to be something more than an ‘extra’ activity, you will need to develop a Christian mind–a biblical way of looking at all of life.

For me, the best ways to do this are:

a. The Word of God must become my daily diet.

b. Daily time spent in prayer to get God’s perspective.

c. Read extensively (provocative Christian and secular books & magazines).

d. Engage in regular discussion with thoughtful Christians on issues impacting our community.

e. Regularly engage in dialogue with people in the secular world, personally, letters to the editor, public presentations, debates, etc.

Out of this environment, I am able to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) in many areas of life.

Harry Blamires states the problem for the person who is not developing a Christian mind:

“As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion–its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal.”[4]

At an evangelical church in my city recently, a visiting preacher said that Christians should not engage in theological debate. It’s a waste of time. Question: Is the existence of God a theological issue? What about Christ’s substitutionary atonement? Did he mean to say that if the liberals are attacking the core of Christianity, we keep quiet and let it happen without even a word of confrontation or correction? To do that would be anti-biblical. The Scripture commands us to “contend for the faith.”

If Australia is to be turned around, I believe the church will need a good percentage of

3. Christian activists

John Whitehead believes

“it will take Christian rebels to stem the tide of the humanistic state–rebels in the sense that they will resist, challenge, or protest all institutions and thought forms that are at variance with the Bible… It is not foreign to Christianity to protest the illegitimate acts of civil government. Total silence by the church is received as an endorsement of all the state does. But it is viewed as an act of treason by God.”[5]

I believe a better term is “Christian radicals.”  “Radical” means “arising from or going to a root or source; fundamental; basic.”[6] Isn’t that what a “salty” Christian is about?

4. The Church must not be a reflection of the values of society.

The more like the world it is, the more marginal the church becomes.

Questions:

a. In what ways is the Australian church adopting society’s secular views and actions?

b. Why could it be that a survey of European attitudes found that “abortion, extramarital affairs, suicide, euthanasia and homosexuality are now private matters, not church business”?[7]

Chuck Colson

(Chuck Colson, BreakPoint, May 6, 2010)

Colson observed that:

“Too often in recent years the church has suffered from the same collapse of character that is so widespread in our culture… If the church today is to be the church, it must diligently protect its spiritual integrity.”[8]

The church needs to be a radical community of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. What an example that would by to a hostile world!

5. It will make a solid stand for biblical revelation

On radio recently, I heard a discussion of the Ten Commandments. The host was maintaining they were no longer relevant. The emphasis was: okay once, but outdated now. We must object to and reject such reasoning because God’s Word is not for some historically pious, irrelevant people. No matter how often it is broken, God’s Word stands forever and people will be judged by how they measure up to it.

I Peter 1:24-25 reads: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands for ever.”

The Christian mind judges abortion, euthanasia, pornography, prostitution, adultery, poverty, the environment, etc., according to God’s infallible standard–the Bible. But the Christian mind also judges the value systems perpetrated by government, media, education, and all other people or organisations impacting our culture.

It used to be that people allowed God’s Word to break them. Now people are wanting to break the Word of God. “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

It will mean being hard when the world wants us to be soft. It may mean being soft when the culture wants hardness. It will mean condemning the homosexual lifestyle and being labelled as bigots, but compassionately leading people out of the lifestyle and ministering to homosexuals and AIDS patients. It will mean respecting the law in a lawless culture.

We must stand for and on the authority of Scripture.

6. One person can make a difference.

It is men and women, under the sovereign hand of God, who write history. People make choices. We never know if a small courageous action, a word spoken in defence of truth, a letter written, or a public statement made might swing the balance and change the world. Hitler? Luther? Wilberforce? Mother Teresa? Napoleon? Individuals who made a difference–for better or for ill.

Edmund Burke pointed out that

“The death of a man at a critical juncture, his disgust, his retreat, his disgrace, have brought innumerable calamities on a whole nation. A common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have changed the face of fortune, and almost of Nature.”[9]

7. Christians standing for truth in all areas of society

How we need Christians who will promote God’s standards of righteousness and justice in parliament, law courts, mass media, education, health–all areas of society. It is critical that prophetic voices be heard in community affairs.

One of the most titanic struggles and compelling examples of a prophetic voice was the work of William Wilberforce in the British Parliament in the 18th century to abolish the slave trade. (An excellent chapter, “For the Good of the Nation,” is in Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, p. 95f.)

It is a myth to say that ‘you cannot legislate morality.’ Morality is legislated all the time, based on some value system. The question is not whether we will legislate morality or not, but whose morality will be legislated.

Fence-sitting and waffling have never been part of godliness. Where is the robust vision of the gospel that affects every area of life today? Franky Schaeffer believes “a gospel preached without the duties of the gospel being taught along with salvation is not the true gospel.”[10]

John Whitehead writes that:

“We as Christians must once again commit ourselves to the whole view of Christianity. We must influence all areas of life including law and politics. We can leave nothing untouched by the Bible. We must begin anew to study all intellectual disciplines and apply the Bible to them. We must prepare to be the warrior we should be…

“Christians literally stagnate in churches that have no external political, legal or moral impact upon the world. Truth cannot be bottled up and be effective.”[11]

8. Churches equipping Christians to live as a minority in a secular culture

We must equip Christians to understand the issues of the day from a distinctly Christian point of view. They must be armed or they will be slaughtered by the secularists. How could we do this? Mission groups? Sunday school and cell group classes with a title like: “Living consistently as a Christian minority in a secular world.” Colson and Klug have study guides on “Transforming Society”, “Political Action”, and “Justice.” Preaching from the pulpit is needed.

Personally, this is where I see many of our Bible and ministry colleges failing. We are not equipping our people to “earnestly contend for the faith.” This means that apologetics (including cultural apologetics) must be an essential part of the Bible college curriculum. Practical issues relating to ethics and counselling should also be high on the agenda.

But we are too busy deciding whether we are Calvinist or Arminian, filled with the Holy Spirit or not, pre-, mid- or post-tribulation, to be engaged in our dying, secular culture.

Any other ideas?

It has been said that the strength of the Whitefield and Wesley revivals of the 18th century was that they did apply the teachings of Scripture to the generation in which they lived.

9. People with a moral vision for society

Providing such a vision does not belong to the government, but to the church. We saw this in Poland where the government over-stepped its authority and the church became an effective means of moral resistance.

John Anderson says that:

“We sow death in the womb and try to reap life in society. We will not accept the proposition that releasing inhumanity in the womb has any effect on releasing inhumanity in society, that there is any connection with the concurrent rise of violence against the unborn and violence against children and women…

“It is said that the seeds of collapse of any society are resident in the very sins they permit.”[12]

The correlation between religious values and public order has been dramatically demonstrated during religious revivals. When men and women profess new life in Christ, they become models of decency for the rest of society.

Secular historians, Will and Ariel Durant made this telling remark:

“We will find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears…

“If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experience of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder.”[13]

Will the church set the moral agenda, or will we leave it to the government, media and public education?

Yes, the church must be the instrument of nurture, evangelisation, service, ministering to the spiritual needs of people, but it must also be the conscience of society, the instrument of moral accountability.

As a moral conscience, Charles Colson believes the church’s role in society is to:

a. Publicly expose the state’s immorality,

b. Refuse to have any part in the state’s immorality,

c. Unjust laws should be disobeyed (Acts 5:29)[14]

Francis Schaeffer adds:[15]

d. At this time in our history, protest is our most viable alternative.

This amounts to asserting the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. To become Christian means that the living Christ rules the whole of life. Everything must change–values, goals, priorities, desires and habits. If our own lordship supersedes Christ’s Lordship, then our Christian conversion must be called into question.

10. People with a commitment to the value of human life

Since one of the surest signs of the decay of a society is the disregard of the elderly, the unborn and the handicapped, the ‘Elijah’ church will have a commitment to the sanctity of human life (human beings made in the image of God). I am convinced that as Christians we must be unapologetically pro-life.

11. Serious about sin

We often talk readily about people’s problems, hassles, demons. But what about sin? How dare we talk about defacto relationships, pre- or extra-marital sex, materialism, greed, gossip, swearing, etc., when God calls it all sin.

Since there is little awareness of sin in our society, people see little need for repentance. This is speeding them towards judgment. God hates sin, and the prophetic voice, a person or church, will name it for what it is.

There are too many easy invitations, “Come to Jesus,” without calling people to repent of their sin, and warning about the cost of following Jesus. God is love, but he is precise about evil and sin. There is no salvation without acknowledgment of sin. There is no salvation without repentance from sin.

See how serious Paul was about sin in Romans 1, Galatians 5 and Ephesians 5. “The world will be precise about sin when the church is.”[16] This is the mission of the prophetic person or church.

12. An action church

Matthew 5:13 makes it clear that a church that is not “salty” is “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” The silent church cannot hide behind the guise of non-involvement. Non-involvement is not neutral. It is a choice. A silent church will sooner or later submit to and be dominated by the secular culture which will not tolerate Christianity.

(photo courtesy The Rutherford Institute, 2016)

John Whitehead stressed:

“The church cannot be timid in the face of crises. One strong local church can demand respect from the entire community. The world is looking for someone or something that will take a stand. Moreover, the bolder the church becomes, the stronger Christians in general become. The church is not to have a spirit of timidity but of power: the power of God, which is at the church’s disposal.[17]

Let me share with you an example from the Teen Challenge campaign against the decriminalisation of marijuana, in which I was involved, in the ACT. This was the churches’ response:

We contacted four denominational headquarters, two of them very large, provided them with information and asked them to make a public statement about the drug situation, but no statement came forth.

At the burial of the suicide victim I buried on the day the ACT decriminalised marijuana, the funeral director asked me a very penetrating question: Isn’t the church supposed to be the moral conscience of the nation?

I believe the church needs to stand up and be counted. This nation will continue to go downhill morally if we are not the “salt of the earth” to stop the rot, and the “light of the world” to direct the way.

The illicit drug problem is ruining our nation. Will you join me in standing against the drug monster, to save our youth, our nation? Or will you sit silently by and let the youth be led astray by the lies from the politicians and media–and the sin of omission by a silent church?

This is a day for determined involvement. Australia needs a church that will do what only the church can do: raise a prophetic voice. The church must speak out. It is time for the church to take risks. Will the church remain an “echo” or become a voice? A relevant church is one that speaks up.

Martin Luther said:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”[18]

The need is desperate. It is imperative that we start confronting and shaking society with a prophetic voice. What would happen in any community if the pastors and people raised impassioned prophetic voices and cried against the injustice and immorality in our society, while at the same time proclaiming hope and salvation in Jesus Christ?

We are aware that the church needs to be educated about drugs, their impact on the individual, the family, the church and society, and how people can be set free in Jesus’ name. I am ready and willing to equip churches in this needy area.

One pastor of a prominent church in Canberra who was contacted for support at the time of the campaign against marijuana said, honestly, “This marijuana legislation has crept up on us and caught us unawares,” yet the Legislative Assembly’s Committee report on marijuana was issued (with lots of local publicity) twelve months before the parliamentary debate.

It’s not just drugs. What about youth suicide? Sexual promiscuity, under the illusion of “safe sex.” Abortion and euthanasia. Pornography and prostitution. Homelessness and unemployment. What about the selfish greed in our society? Christians who are more sold out to materialism than Jesus? Christians who are more committed to television than evangelism and social action!

This generation is filling its God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of counterfeits. How dare we sit idly by!

Will the church be an echo or a voice?

a. We can’t retreat.

The times are too perilous and the church’s message too penetrating to become passive and silent. We must continue to analyse and critique the world around us, particularly the media.

I find it amazing that last week a television journalist contacted me for a comment about the porn and violence coming through Internet. Yet that television network pumps out sex and violence, violence and sex, week in and week out, and doesn’t see the paradox. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.

b. Christians need to pull together in solidarity.

Maybe a Christian teacher is sacked for speaking of God in the classroom. An elder’s services are no longer required because he picketed an abortion clinic and ’embarrassed’ the pastor. We need to pull together.

Franky Schaeffer believes:

“We should make our authorities and Christian leaders acutely aware of the presence of many thousands of orthodox Christians who are ready to march, picket, protest, vote, write letters, agitate, impeach officials, preach, donate their time and money, pray, and take strong and decisive action on behalf of all those whose rights of religious liberty, assembly, speaking, conscience, and practice are threatened.”[19]

c. Expect resistance from the secular society.

Heat will be placed on the ‘Elijah’ church. We must not be embarrassed by this. Stand with them and share in their agony.

Charles Colson challenges Christians to take direct action to turn our culture around:

“Believers today have many ancestral radicals in their family tree. In fact, the kingdom of God is full of them. John Wesley passionately argued that there could be ‘no holiness but social holiness…and to turn Christianity into a solitary religion is to destroy it.’ Wesley was branded a radical for his St. Mary’s speech, an angry, but accurate denunciation of his fellow Oxford faculty members for their weak-kneed faith (he was never invited to speak there again). Later he captured the essence of radical holiness when he wrote: ‘Making an open stand against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness, which overspreads our land as a flood, is one of the noblest ways of confessing Christ in the face of his enemies.”[20]

However, we know that when the secular heat increases, we must fall to our knees in spiritual warfare.

I Corinthians 10:3-5:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Get involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. If 20% of Christians in any city would join the political parties of their choice, they could change the policies around to promote righteousness. Perhaps one of the most powerful tools for the individual or organised group is the vote you cast at election time.

Another idea: The ‘Elijah’ church could find out what the “hot issues” are in the community and post or do a letter-box-drop of a specialised newsletter (dealing with one issue) several times a year.

d. The church needs to wake up NOW!

A great deal can be done if the church becomes the ‘Elijah’ church and wakes up NOW. You and I had better do something pretty radical right now. The time to pray, search the Scriptures, and ACT is NOW.

13. THE HOPE

God reigns through political activities, and citizens of the Kingdom of God need to bring His light to bear on the kingdoms of men. However, the most powerful witnesses I have seen are in the individual, ordinary lives of people who have allowed the Lord to break into their terrible situations and bring reconciliation out of violence–forgiveness is powerful. The “little platoons” can live and speak God’s transcendent values by loving God and loving one’s neighbour.

As we approach the twilight of our culture, is there any hope? I endorse what Charles Colson says:

“If there is any hope, it is to be found in a renewed and repentant people possessed of a moral vision informed by Scripture, respecting of tradition, and committed to the recovery of character. We must be a people of conviction, prepared to offer the world a story filled with courage, duty, commitment, and heroic effort–that will inflame the moral imagination of the West.[21]

Will we succeed? That’s in God’s hands. However, we have a duty to be obedient to the King. He says we are salt and light. Let us be that.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years” (in God in the Dock).

Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is death, life. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.”

John Greenleaf Whittier:

“Now, when our land to ruin’s brink is verging.

In God’s name let us speak while there is time:

Now, when the padlocks for our lips are forging,

Silence is a crime.”

Notes:


[1] John O. Anderson, The Cry of Compassion: The Church’s Needed Voice in Today’s World. Klamath Falls, Oregon: John O. Anderson (PO Box 152, Klamath Falls, OR 97601, USA), 1992, p. 137.

[2] Elizabeth O’Connor, Call to Commitment. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963, p. 49.

[3] Charles Colson with Ron Klug. Transforming Society: A Bible Study. Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1988a, p. 77.

[4] Charles Colson, Against the Night. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990, pp. 165-66.

[5] John W. Whitehead, The Second American Revolution. Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1982, pp. 149, 152.

[6] The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language.

[7] In John Anderson, p. 15.

[8] Charles Colson, 1990, pp. 139-140.

[9] In Colson, 1990, p. 111.

[10] Franky Schaeffer, Bad News For Modern Man: An Agenda for Christian Activism. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984, p. 133.

[11] John Whitehead, The Second American Revolution, pp. 159, 162.

[12] John Anderson, p. 122.

[13] In Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, p. 45.

[14] Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987, pp. 331-330.

[15] Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, p. 108.

[16] John Anderson, p. 119.

[17] John Whitehead, 1982, p. 179.

[18] In Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, “The God Who Is There,” Vol. I. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982, p. 11)

[19] Franky Schaeffer, 1984, p. 136.

[20] In Franky Schaeffer, 1984, p. 105.

[21] Charles Colson, 1990, pp. 181-82.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 September 2016.

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Rot, Repentance & Revival

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

“If we are not governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants” (William Penn).

“Is the Lord saying, ‘The party’s over’?” (John Anderson)

“But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath” (Jeremiah 10:10).

What is the future for Australia? We have seen that the moral, financial and spiritual mess of the nation is easily documented. Is there any destiny for Australia? Or, is the party over?

Does Romans 3:10-18 describe Australia?

A. SIN AND JUDGMENT

Will God continue to ‘wink’ at the sin of Australians? Can we get away with sexual promiscuity, killing the unborn (elderly and handicapped, if we get a chance), crime, violence, drug addiction, massive economic debts, etc.? Will we get away with a humanistic, utilitarian value system: I will do what’s right for me, the end justifies the means.

David Chilton observes:

“In the midst of what many experts believe to be the most savage disease in a millennium [AIDS], God is speaking.

God is speaking to a world that has winked at sin and is paying the price medically, judicially, and economically.

God is speaking to a Church that has tolerated disobedience by preaching a message of accommodation and tolerance.

And God is speaking to Christians who have surrendered to the enemy. As a result of ignorance regarding God’s Holy Word, fear of rejection for taking a stand, or lack of confidence in a Sovereign Creator, many have stood idly by, fruitlessly hoping that things will get better.”[1]

Are Christians just left hoping? Jeremiah 8:7; 10:10 and Obadiah 15 are key verses to understand the mind of God.

“Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements [law, ordinance, judgment] of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7).

“But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath” (Jer. 10:10).

“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return ypon your own head” (Obadiah 15).

What brings on God’s wrath? Read Jeremiah 4:4; 8:9; 10:8, 14-15; Hosea 4:1-3, 6-9; Romans 1:18; 2:5:

  • “because of evil you have done”
  • idolatry
  • “no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land”
  • sin that “breaks all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed”
  • “against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”
  • “your stubbornness and unrepentant heart”

Those who proclaim peace when there is no peace are false prophets who will be brought down with the other sinful people when judgment comes. (See Jeremiah 6:13-15.) There is a clear link between sin and judgment.

To see this link in a contemporary sense, I include this incident that happened to American, David Chilton:

“A few years ago, when I worked with the Institute for Christian Economics, a reporter for a national Christian magazine called. He was polling economists and economic writers around the country, asking us a single question: ‘If you could change one government policy in order to pull us out of our economic problems, what would that change be?

That’s easy,’ I said. ‘Stop killing the babies.’

His journalistic instincts keen, he said: ‘Uh…what?’

‘Stop killing babies,’ I repeated. ‘You know, abortion? In case you’ve missed the story, over 4,000 unborn babies are slaughtered in this country every day. They’re poisoned, chopped in pieces, suctioned, or simply delivered and left to die. Sometimes the doctor strangles or smothers them…’

‘Uh, yeah, I know that.’ He sounded nervous. ‘But I think you misunderstood the question. I was asking what economic policy you would recommend to alleviate the country’s problems.’

‘Yes, I know that. But you misunderstood my answer. I said that if I could change only one thing to solve our economic problems, I would stop abortion. That’s not the only thing wrong, of course. Many other things should be stopped, such as the government’s manipulation of money and credit. Confiscatory taxation should be stopped. Protectionism should be abolished. Fractional reserve banking should be outlawed. We could talk about a lot of things. But you asked for one thing. Life isn’t that simple, but I was willing to play along. So I said baby-killing.’

‘Wait a minute,’ he said, exasperated. ‘What has abortion got to do with our economic problems?’

‘Maybe that’s the real problem,’ I replied. ‘Here you are, a writer for a respected Christian publication, and you don’t get the connection between (a) the legalized murder of one and a half million people every year, and (b) the fact that God is selling us into economic bondage to other nations. It’s called Divine Judgment. And it won’t stop with mere economic judgment. Murder is a capital crime.

The reporter suddenly discovered he had other calls to make.”[2]

There is something fundamental here. God’s law is eternal. His justice works throughout history to fulfil His purposes. Nobody can escape the consequences of God’s absolute and universal law. When a nation breaks His law, it suffers the consequences. Australian culture is under the sentence of judgment. We have failed to outlaw the abominations that are plagues in our culture.

I believe Rousas J. Rushdoony is correct when he says:

“When a people reaches a certain level of moral depravity, punishment ceases to be particular and becomes national. The civil order has lost its ability to act for God, and God then acts against that order. In other words, there is punishment, but the punishment is from God and the people or nation shall fall.”[3]

Don’t miss this connection between personal and national sin, and judgment. The Bible makes it clear in the prophets.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, saw this:

“I looked upon the world around me as being in actual rebellion against God…that He was mocked, and scorned, and hated, as when on earth…I came to realize that…the men and women around me in consequence of their rebellion ‘were in great danger of damnation,’ and that ‘all of their miseries, present and to come, were the results of their rebellion against God.”[4]

Billy Graham acknowledges it:

“The crack in the moral dam is widening, but like the people in Noah’s day before the flood, life goes on as usual with only a few concerned and scarcely anyone alarmed. However, apathy will not deter catastrophe. The people of Noah’s day were not expecting judgment but it came.”[5]

John Anderson examined the Book of Amos’ judgments and found this pattern:

1. This is what the Lord says.

2. For three sins of [the nation] and for four.

3. I will not turn back my wrath.

4. Because [of one sin the nation has committed].

5. I will send fire [and then tells the particular way the judgment would come].

The phrase, “For three sins…and for four…” is a poetic phrase that means “extensive, habitual sin, one sin after another. It is repeated, innumerable, extensive, widely practiced sin [a ‘defining sin’] bringing national guilt–the condition is terminal.” When this continues, “I will not turn back my wrath.” This is a terrifying statement. If we continue to sin, there will be no more mercy. We will face God’s wrath. “For sin, there is one of two things we receive from God: mercy or judgment.”[6]

Question: Do you think Australia is committing a dominant ‘defining sin’ that will bring judgment, if we don’t repent? If so, what is it?

A prophetic voice will speak up and it must proclaim the connection between sin and judgment.

John Anderson says:

“Today as the thundercloud forms, the Church must see the significance of the present situation, see the moral and spiritual aspect of things, and faithfully and fearlessly and compassionately speak up. Its cry of compassion must be filled with the reality of judgment.

In speaking up, the Church should remember that unrepentant society and individuals will delude themselves to the very last and will buoy themselves up with false hopes that they can escape judgment; so the message of the Church needs to speak to the heart and conscience, probing them before God.

…The Church must confront a society wilfully deluded by clever lies while the blood of millions of destroyed unborn cries out for God’s judgment. Convinced of our sin and of God’s righteousness, we must be equally convinced of judgment ‘because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence’.”[7]

Remember what Jesus said about the times of Noah and Lot? (Matt. 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-29)

What, therefore, should the church do?

B. SOUND THE ALARM!

When the nation was rushing toward judgment, Joel the prophet was told by God: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill” (Joel 2:1). Hosea was told: “Put the trumpet to your lips” (Hosea 8:1). Amos said: “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem” (Amos 1:2).

Who wants this task today? It will be a compelling message of the ‘Elijah’ church. Leonard Ravenhill believes “there is a suffocating indifference in the Church to the peril of judgment for the nation’s sin.” He tells of a Presbyterian friend of many years who wrote to him, expressing concern at the country’s condition:

“I’m still thinking that we have just two alternatives in the final analysis-wrath or revival. We can have Christian schools; political action; Christian protests; letters to our [parliamentarians]; food storage; moving to the country; home meetings; bookstores; Christian radio; evangelism; Christian ministries of every conceivable variety; retreats; bigger and better churches; feeding the poor; giving our bodies to be burned; prophecies galore; prognostications; timetables for the future; etc., but unless we have a veritable explosion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ out into the world, the world will explode in on us.”[8]

1. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MORALITY AND BLESSINGS/CURSINGS

The Old Testament prophets saw the clear link between a nation’s morality and God’s blessing or judgment. They knew that if people cheat, lie, commit adultery and fornication, kill and resist the nation’s laws, the country will come under judgment. It is one of God’s infallible laws. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 makes this especially clear.

Today’s world faces the same sort of judgment that Israel faced. The day of judgment is coming for Australia. Our cup of iniquity is almost full. To turn the tide away from judgment, the Lord said: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13).

Is this message too convicting, too hot to handle? Where is the urgency about God’s judgment on sin? We are too busy preaching success, prosperity and endless material blessings. David Wilkerson believes

“there should be a heartrending cry from our pulpits, from every television evangelist, of soon-coming judgment on this nation. We have far surpassed the violence of Noah’s day, and God is going to shorten the days and pour out His wrath…

“The congregation of Zion is spoiled! The day of the Lord is at hand; the land is perplexed; there is desolation and destruction threatening on all sides–yet, the Lord’s people do not take it to heart. The church is in the valley of indecision; the Spirit has gone forth to awaken and stir the sleeping–yet there is no fear of God before their eyes. Approaching judgment? Not until they see the end of their favorite television series. Not until the last dregs of pleasure have been wrung out. Not until the easy life ebbs and withers. Not until all fleshly desires and ambitions have been fulfilled. ‘Do not interrupt us, O God,’ they seem to be saying, ‘for the Lord’s coming or sudden judgment would deny us of all that our hearts are set upon.’

“O ye backslidden people of Zion, will you never return to the Lord with all your hearts and put away the adulteries, the fornications, the pleasure madness?”[9]

Amos brought a message of judgment to the six nations (Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab) that were surrounding Israel and Judah. Where are those nations today? Only one survives. Every nation is accountable to God. All nations will face the eternal, impartial Judge. Love that will not punish sin is not real love.

Judgment is at Australia’s door! Every year we slaughter about 100,000 unborn children. That’s a million people over a 10-year period. I understand that in 1992, Medicare funded its one-millionth abortion. John Anderson calls it as it is:

“But our guilt is multipliedd immeasurably by the callous deceptions that tell our public conscience it is proper and moral to choose such violence. Such bloody injustice is the kind of sin God can use to bare the magnitude of our iniquity and to show why He will no longer hold back His wrath and our society will be judged. In Israel’s case, the nation as such ceased to exist. So did the six neighboring nations. Will ours? Is God impartial?”[10]

The Lord says we are to sound the alarm. We are to warn the people. False prophets (a false ministry) will not warn because they think they know better than God.

Where does judgment begin? Peter could not be clearer:

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:17)

Where is the warning being sounded? We need to work with greater urgency! Where are the churches, pastors, denominations who are warning Australia about cultural and economic collapse because of the nation’s sin? God’s laws cannot be broken, without punishment, forever!

2. WHAT, THEN, IS THE MESSAGE?

a. Warn of the coming judgment.

(1) Show the link between immorality (which is much broader than sexual impurity) and judgment.

(2) Warn about what happens to a nation that ignores or rejects God.

Throughout Anderson’s book he refers to modern people who “live as if God were not there.” This is Australia! Show the connection between godlessness and God’s wrath (Romans 1:18).

(3) Show God’s grief over sin.

At the time of Noah, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). What was God’s response before judgment came? “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Gen. 6:6).

God has deep grief and pain over the rampant sin in the world. The Lord doesn’t bring judgment without warning. Will you participate in this warning, or will you go on living in peace and prosperity oblivious to Australia’s approaching danger?

b. Repent or perish

Every news item that speaks of devastation, disaster, sin and its consequences, should alert people who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It should drive us to our knees in humility and repentance.

Repentance means a complete turn around in everything about our lives and country.

Recently, a Christian friend in my home church was killed in a tragic car accident, less than two weeks before her wedding. It has been a solemn warning to the people in the church to be right with God. Will that country city where the accident happened be called to repentance? Every tragedy like this should remind us, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). It should also cause us to consider the seriousness of eternal things, sin and judgment for sin.

In compassion, we must call people and the nation to repentance for the sin we commit. Repentance must be the focus of our Christian proclamation.

God is holding off judgment to lead people to repentance:

“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Arthur Pink believed that, “Not until we have realized that our rebellion against God was such that nothing but the death of Christ could possibly atone for it, have we truly repented.”[11]

My heart beats with that of John Anderson when he says:

“Repentance of sin must be out public and personal priority. Let the Church lead the way in open, humble and public repentance of our idolatry, our pride, our ignoring God, our immorality, our killing of our unborn, our other violence, and so on. Let the churches get together to repent and cry out to God for spiritual awakening…

The world will be precise about sin when the Church is.”[12]

A good place for the church to understand repentance is by reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3.

This nation is being shaken economically, politically, socially and culturally. We are reaping the sinful choices we have sowed over decades, and judgment will come.

“Do modern Christians really believe this? Not many seem to. They do not confront the whole society with the call of repentance. They do not seem to recognize that our whole civilization is in rebellion against God, from top to bottom.”[13]

Has Australia gone too far? Are we too far into the sewer of degradation to be rescued? Yes! Unless we repent!

David Chilton:

“If we abandon our apostasy, confess our individual and national sins, and seek atonement through the only sufficient covering that God has provided, there is hope (Jeremiah 18:1-10; Ezekiel 33:11-19). But if we love death–if we continue to embrace the contaminating corpse of sin, the rottenness that devours our bodies and souls–there is no salvation.”[14]

“Could God be shaking us about our priorities, and our message–and where and when that message is proclaimed?”[15] Will you be part of the solution by warning that we will repent or perish?

C. INTERCESSION

Ernie Abella, a humble, gentle-spirited man from the Philippines, spoke at a summer camp in the U.S. in 1990. What he said about America can be applied to Australia:

“Your nation will be shaken so that there will be passion in your prayers. The reason there is no passion in your prayers is because your hearts have become fat. You are dying from obesity of the spirit… You are to cry, you are to repent, you are to seek forgiveness of your God because you have had so much, received so much and yet you do not act on what you have heard.”[16]

Intercessory prayer is a critical aspect of spiritual warfare in Australia. Christians and pastors urgently need to place prayer at the centre of God’s agenda today. This intercession will involve some of the following:

  • repentance and confession for personal sin (including what one has not done to be a prophetic voice),
  • repentance on behalf of the country,
  • intercession for those involved in the moral & spiritual struggle in Australia,
  • prayer for God’s answer concerning that “what” of one’s personal involvement in being salt and light today,
  • to seek the Lord for a spiritual awakening in Australia,
  • it is critical that we engage in Mighty Prevailing Prayer (the title of Wesley Duewel’s book).[17]
  • to put on the armour of God (Ephesians 6).

The revivalist of the nineteenth century, Charles Finney, said:

“Unless I had the spirit of prayer, I could not do anything. If I lost the spirit of grace and supplication even for a day or an hour, I found myself unable to preach with power and efficiency, or to win a soul by personal conversation.”[18]

If we will spend time in prayer, several things are certain:

  • You’ll become super-sensitive to your own personal sin and its abhorrence before a holy God,
  • You’ll weep over the grievous sin of Australia,
  • You’ll develop the Lord’s deep passion to proclaim the good news, warn about judgment to come, and call people to repentance.
  • the Lord may give you the burden to pray for revival.

Prayer and spiritual warfare are critical for these times. Will you be a partner in intercession?

D. THIS IS A CALL FOR SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

We so desperately need Christian leaders who know their God, spend time with him (in the Word and in prayer), and observe the Australian culture from God’s perspective–and then become involved.

We need a sense of outrage at what is happening to ‘the lucky country.’ But it must be righteous indignation that leads to positive action. How can we tolerate what is intolerable to God and remain passive and indifferent?

Christian leaders of conviction and vision will be people of action. But it will take perseverance. “To persevere is to succeed.”

E. REVIVAL

If we proclaim God’s message of judgment to our culture, weep in prayer for our nation, issue a cry of compassion for Australia to confess its sin and repent, and preach salvation through Jesus Christ alone, God may open the windows of heaven and pour out Australia’s first spiritual awakening of consequence.

I have a heart-longing for God to send revival, like he did in the days of Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Evan Roberts (Wales) and Duncan Campbell. Do it again, Lord, is my prayer.

Duncan Campbell, the leader of the Hebrides revival in 1949, defined revival simply as “a community saturated with God.” Revival brings the church to its knees and radically changes society.

“Whole books can be written analysing what is wrong with the church today, but there is hardly a need for this. We must simply admit that we are not an eternity-minded people. We live like the world we are supposed to be saving: for the things of time rather than for the things of eternity. Our priorities are world-related rather than heaven-directed; our treasure is on earth. Revival always begins by putting eternity back into the minds of the Christians, and only when the church takes eternity seriously can we expect the world to do so.[19]

Second Chronicles 7:14 is still the answer to national revival: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

WILL YOU PRAY FOR THE LORD TO GIVE YOU A BURDEN FOR REVIVAL?

THE HOPE

1. That this conference will have provoked you to pray and then act as a prophetic voice in your community.

2. You are now aware of the biblical teaching that people cannot continue to live a lifestyle of sin and escape God’s judgment. We must call them to repentance.

3. Will you commit yourself to personal righteousness and pray and work for national righteousness?

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34).

4. There will be men and women who rise up from within the churches who want to hear from God and will spend time with him to hear his voice.

I believe John Anderson is correct when he says that “Western society is now at a crossroads, a watershed moment. The days ahead will be a time of accountability for our choices. Right now we desperately need a word from God.”[20]

Our churches need a deep hunger and thirst for the genuine ministry of the

Holy Spirit. We need a consuming thirst to know God. I am confident some will emerge who will be like the psalmist: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God” (Psalm 42: 1-2).

5. My hope is that men and women of God will recognise the inroads of secularism into society and the church and will refuse to succumb to a dilution of the Word of God for the sake of tolerance and acceptance.

One of the themes of this conference has been the truth of the biblical assessment of what is happening in Australia: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).

Never feel ashamed of standing on the truth of God’s authority. God’s revelation

lasts forever and authoritatively describes people, the diagnosis of the problem, and the final solution for all of society.

6. As you proclaim judgment on this nation, it must be with a broken heart of compassion for lost Australians. This is a special breed of Christian that I am confident God is raising up.

“Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled…’ Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed” (Lamentations 3:39-42, 48).

The sinners of Australia can expect only two things from God: mercy or judgment. The awesome God is one of mercy, grace and limitless compassion. “His hands [are] compassionately opened toward those who are rebelliously pursuing evil and headed toward judgment.”[21] Our nation needs the compassionate who will put their arms around people and cry with them over their sin.

7. John Anderson believes there are four key essentials of churches that God will use. I am confident some of these will emerge in the years to come. They will be believers who are:

  • in unity [but never at the expense of truth],
  • anointed [making God’s truth powerful and interesting. It attracts, edifies, convicts and saves, only through the power of the Spirit. It comes only through prevailing prayer by the messenger],
  • Christ-centred,
  • determined to be a prophetic voice.[22]

8. This is a call for radical Christians. (Remember, radical means “arising from or going to a root or source; fundamental; basic.”)

David Wilkerson says:

“I think God has come to hate the word balance–because what He is seeking now is radical Christianity… What should we be but radical in our service and devotion! God is calling for Holy Ghost radicals who will cast down all idols, come to His holy hill with clean hands and pure hearts, and live detached from this world, having in them an eternal vision. God wants to smash all idols.”[23]

A prophetic voice will speak and demonstrate radical Christianity in all of life. It will be a “cry of compassion” with the warning: repent or perish. It will have the perspective of the tribe of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do” (I Chron. 12:32).

LET US PRAY:

Great King of nations, hear our prayer,

While at Thy feet we fall,

And humbly with united cry

To Thee for mercy call.

The guilt is ours, but grace is Thine;

O turn us not away,

But hear us from Thy lofty throne,

And help us when we pray.

With one consent we meekly bow

Beneath Thy chastening hand,

And pouring forth confession meet,

Mourn with our mourning land.

With pitying eye behold our need,

As thus we lift our prayer;

Correct us with Thy judgments, Lord,

Then let Thy mercy spare.

–John Hampden Gurney (1802-62)–

Reading on revival

Edwards, Brian H. Revival: A people saturated with God. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1990.

Finney, Charles G. Revival Lectures. Broadview, Illinois: Cicero Bible Press.

Finney, Charles G. Charles G. Finney: An Autobiography. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1908.

Hulse, Erroll. Give Him No Rest. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1991.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Revival. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1987.

Ravenhill, Leonard. Revival Praying. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1962.

Ravenhill, Leonard. Why Revival Tarries. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1959.

Thornbury, J.F. God Sent Revival. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1977.

Notes:


[1]David Chilton, Power in the Blood: A Christian Response to AIDS. Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987, back cover.

[2]Chilton, pp. 41-42.

[3]In Chilton, p. 43.

[4]John O. Anderson, The Cry of Compassion: The Church’s Needed Voice in Today’s World. Klamath Falls, Oregon: John O. Anderson (PO Box 152, Klamath Falls, OR 97601, USA), 1992, p. 121.

[5]Ibid., 55.

[6]Ibid., p. 19.

[7]Ibid., pp. 131-32.

[8]Leonard Ravenhill, Revival God’s Way. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1983, p. 80, emphasis added.

[9]David Wilkerson, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. Lindale, Texas: World Challenge, Inc., (PO Box 260, Lindale Texas 75771), 1985, pp. 134, 160.

[10]Anderson, p. 72.

[11]In Anderson, p. 117.

[12]Anderson, p. 118.

[13]Gary North, Backward Christian Soldiers: An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984, p. 44.

[14]Chilton, p. 56.

[15]Anderson, p. 132.

[16]In Anderson, pp. 142-43.

[17]Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press (Zondervan Publishing House), 1990.

[18]In Anderson, p. 147.

[19]Brian H. Edwards, Revival! A people saturated with God. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1990, pp. 44-45.

[20]Anderson, p. 128.

[21]Anderson, p. xiv.

[22]Anderson, pp. 166-172.

[23]Wilkerson, p. 72.

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Whytehouse designs

Who speaks for God in Australia today?

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

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(image courtesy ianmacky.net)

By Spencer D Gear

“If I had my choice, I’d much rather be the mercy shower than the prophetic voice” (Keith Green).

“Making an open stand against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness which overspreads our land as a flood is one of the noblest ways of confessing Christ in the face of His enemies” (John Wesley).

“The prophets threw out and denounced any message that didn’t speak to the true need of society…. Let’s be as bold as the prophets, and raise forcefully a prophetic, compassionate voice to vigorously confront–not accommodate–our dissolute world and careless Christians… We face a sinning society that has wilfully rebelled against God and now is reaping the ravaging harvest of its sin. We must boldly put back into our Gospel message such words as repentance, sin and judgment, and speak with the grief of God” (John Anderson).

The one who speaks for God will have a prophetic voice:

I. WHAT IS A PROPHETIC VOICE?

It does not refer specifically to the gift of prophecy of I Corinthians 12 or Romans 12.

Our nation is going downhill rapidly and is asleep to its peril. A prophetic voice will get in the way of our secular society and confront forcefully the unrighteousness and ungodliness of the nation, state or city and present God’s message so the people of Australia will be confronted with God and His requirements and have the opportunity to come to Him.

Australians have little sense of God or their sin. They need to be cut to the heart over their iniquity. A prophetic voice will be compelling in its manner. We desperately need to hear from such bold voices today. They face the issues with a fair dinkum manner that calls us to account for our sins, warns us that judgment is coming and commands us to repent.

The church is too often more concerned with being ‘nice’ and congenial. But Australia is in dire spiritual danger. The times demand this kind of prophetic voice. Or, to put it another way: We are at a stage in Australia’s history where we need to hear those who speak for God. Remember Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).

However, too often the church is more interested in success, peace, prosperity, church growth and the current doctrinal fad, than in confronting sin.

A prophetic voice will say: You are wasting your time looking to human beings and government for solutions to the rot that is eating into Australia. A change of government will not do it.

When the people heard Peter’s preaching, they were “cut to the heart.” A prophetic voice will stab Australia’s conscience and through it God will bring conviction of sin. As Charles Colson has pointed out so powerfully: “The crisis is not political; it is moral and spiritual. And so is the solution. That’s why Christians are the only ones who can offer viable solutions.”[1]

A prophetic voice will powerfully alarm Australians with these conclusions:

A prophetic voice is a warning voice.

Remember the tragic accident that happened at Hobart a number of years ago when the large ship accidentally slammed into that large arching bridge over the Derwent River? It knocked out several pillars holding up the bridge and a whole section of the bridge plunged into the river.

Cars travelling over the bridge began falling into the river. I understand that one car came to a stop right on the edge of the broken section. The driver leaped out of his car and ran back on the bridge to stop others from plunging into the river. To his horror, as he waved frantically and shouted warnings, the drivers ignored him and sped on to disaster.[2]

This is one of the tasks of a prophetic church. It will warn and confront, but with compassion, love and grief.

II. WHAT WILL MOTIVATE US TO BE PROPHETIC VOICES?

I find it amazing that a secular Australian historian, the late Manning Clark, could see the need so clearly and many Christians are missing it. He said: “What distinguishes this generation from all its predecessors is that no one has anything to say: no one knows the direction of the great river of life.”[3]

However, if you are open to get the Lord’s burden and delivering it, I suggest the following:

A. Read the Prophets

Begin seeing our country, its dilemma and the solution, from God’s point of view, as you read the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah-Malachi. Bathe your reading in prayer, asking the Lord to show you His message for Australia. This will help you get to know God’s heart for a nation that is racing toward judgment.

Jeremiah 10:10 is critical to understand: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.”

Maybe this will cause you to repent towards God for the inexcusable sin you have allowed to prosper in this country by your silence. (e.g. What have you been doing about the mass slaughter of unborn children, the killing of the elderly and distressed by euthanasia? What have you done about pornography in the family market place? What have you done about the avalanche of sex and violence on network television and on videos?)

B. See Australia’s sin from God’s perspective

When Paul visited Athens and looked around the city, he became “greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase reads: “While [Paul] was there, his soul was exasperated beyond endurance at the sight of the city so completely idolatrous.”

Although Athens represented the highest level of culture (sculpture, literature, oratory and philosophy). Whatever Paul may have felt in the way of artistic appreciation, the sense that was foremost in his mind was his “great distress” over the worship of gods. This is not some irritation or sudden temper. It was a settled reaction he had arrived at. He was provoked to anger, grief and indignation, just as God Himself is, over sin and idolatry. It was inward pain and horror. This moved Paul to share the good news of the gospel with the Athenian idolaters.

When this happens for you, you will develop:

1. Moral indignation

We expect sin in a fallen world. But what is not expected is godly people who accept it. Charles Colson says, “If Christ is Lord of all, Christians must recapture their sense of moral outrage.”[4]

Leonard Ravenhill goes even further:

2. “We need a baptism of holy anger”

“To me it is a shocking commentary on a patent Christian feebleness that while in the first century 120 men could move from an upperroom closet and shake Jerusalem, nowadays 120 churches claiming a like experience of the Holy Spirit can be in one of our cities and yet that city at large hardly knows they are there. In our spiritual warfare we churches must be guilty of shooting with dummy bullets.”[5]

I believe Ephesians 4:26-27 often has been misapplied. The NIV reads: “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Kenneth S. Wuest’s expanded translation says: “Be constantly angry with a righteous indignation, and stop sinning. Do not allow the sun to go down upon your irritated, exasperated, embittered anger. And stop giving an occasion for acting [opportunity] to the devil.”[6]

We need a baptism of holy anger against the immorality, injustice and unrighteousness in our country. Anger that will lead to action!

C. Intercessory Prayer

The desire and burden to be a prophetic voice will be gained on your knees and will be followed by action. John Anderson asks:

“If this world is headed into judgment, if we are in the last days, why are not Christians rushing into the streets urging–demanding–repentance and righteousness from us? Why is not intercessory prayer a primary emphasis? Where is our heart after God? Why are Christians in the West as materialistically settled in as the rest of our idolatrous society–something Christ warned us about?”[7]

When you know God and live for Him, you walk to the beat of a different drum. You “discern with a different ear and eye, to show us the true from the false, and the correct way from the incorrect… Society’s most pressing need today is for men and women who know God.”[8] You get to know him by spending time with him.

But be prepared for the consequences. Through the centuries, men and women who have known God and brought His convictions to their world have been killed or ostracised.

My prayer is that in these times of crisis, God will raise up men and women who will be prophetic voices in Australia.

D. Come to a biblical understanding of what it means to”salt” and “light.”

Read Matthew 5:13-16 and Eph. 5:11. We have a commission to:

  • Be the salt of the earth to stop the world from going putrid.
  • Let our light shine by doing good works.

“We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). It is this law of the Kingdom of God that motivates Christians to love and serve their society. This has been the case throughout Church history. It has been the Christians who have started hospitals and schools. They have given welfare assistance and fed the hungry. They have campaigned to end the injustices of slavery, prison degradation, hunger and deprivation. Even though government agencies have taken over the work, it was Christians who gave the initial thrust. Even today, Christians contribute many of the resources for private charities of compassion. How many atheists, for example, do you know who have been active in founding hospitals?

This does not mean that Christians are the only ones who do good works. However, for the Christian it is a matter of obedience to God’s commandments. We do works of mercy, justice and compassion. We have a godly obligation to obey God’s description of what we are: the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”

This “cultural commission” (as Colson calls it) also includes the need:

  • To expose the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11)

“Expose” (elegcho) can be used in several contexts:

  • For the Christian leader in the church, he/she has the task of rebuking church members (I Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15) and of convicting opponents of their error (Titus 1:9, 13).
  • The New English Bible translates Eph. 5:11, “expose,” as “show them up for what they are.” It means to show someone his/her sin and urge the person to repentance. It means more than just exposing an evil, but to show it to be evil and do our best to correct it. It is not merely to reply to an opponent, but to refute him/her. It does not mean just to silence opponents, but to convince them of their error.

This is the consistent and sustained battle of New Testament Christianity against personal sin and sin at all levels of society. It is the Christians’ responsibility to bring to light the true character of a person and his/her conduct.

We may not want to do this, but we have no other option. This is what the light invariably does. Evil deeds, personally, interpersonally, nationally, deserve to be exposed, unmasked, rebuked. That’s the God-given responsibility of the church (Christians) inside and outside the church. Those who live in the light cannot be neutral about the world of darkness.

“Sin must be exposed. One is not being `nice’ to a wicked man by endeavoring to make him feel what a fine fellow he is. The cancerous tumor must be removed, not humored. It is not really an act of love to smooth things over as if the terrible evil committed by those still living in the realm of darkness is not so bad after all.”[9]

To do less than this is to be flagrantly disobedient to God and a contributor to the destruction in our degraded society.

  • This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the world (John 16:8)–exposing sin.

That’s what the cultural commission, of being salt and light, involves. If we are negligent in this area, society will become putrid, go from bad to worse–all because the Church is not doing its job. We evangelical Christians must be inspectors and correctors of evil. To be less is sub-biblical. I believe one of the most prominent reasons why Australia is in the wretched state it is in because the church isn’t being the church. But there is always the tendency of salt losing its saltiness (Matt. 5:13). A prophetic voice is a church that has become tasty again.

Edmund Burke spoke of “little platoons.” These are voluntary groups of citizens (individuals or groups) who perform works of mercy and oppose injustice. These are the salt and light that Jesus said the church was to be. These “platoons” will shape the conscience of Australia. Or, as Charles Colson put it, we are called to be “communities of light.”

There is something fundamental about salt, as a preservative, that must be remembered: As a youngster on the cane farm near Bundaberg, I remember my father curing hams for the family. He would have to rub the salt into the pork–rub it hard and long. It wasn’t enough for him just to put the salt in a dish in the smoke house to cure ham. To preserve meat, salt must be rubbed deeply into the meat.

The parallel is that Christians are not meant just to exist in society. We must penetrate it (be rubbed in). This is compulsory if our needy society is to be stopped from becoming rotten. There are two primary ways this can be done:

“We must not only serve the physical needs of those around us, but articulate Christian values in a responsible way to a secular world…

“The challenge before us, then, is to get back to basics: to be the Body of Christ; to do the gospel; to speak the good news with wisdom and love.”[10]

It is time for Christians to show that Christianity is the Truth of total reality in the open market place. Francis Schaeffer believed, “Most fundamentally, our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.”[11]

Then add the fact that governments are promoting ungodliness. The Scriptures are clear: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

“Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them. Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully”(Proverbs 24:4-5)

“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).

QUESTIONS:

1. If the church is to become a prophetic voice, what do you expect it to do?

2. If you, personally, are to become a prophetic voice in your community, in what actions do you expect to be engaged?

Notes:


[1]Charles Colson, Against the Night. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990, p. 11.

[2]Told in John O. Anderson, The Cry of Compassion: The Church’s Needed Voice in Today’s World. Klamath Falls, Oregon: John O. Anderson (PO Box 152, Klamath Falls, OR 97601, USA), 1992, p. 6.

[3]In ibid., p. xiii.

[4]Colson, Charles. Kingdoms in Conflict. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987, p. 68.

[5]The Refiner’s Fire, Volume II, pp. 67-68.

[6]Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961.

[7]John Anderson, p. 6.

[8]Ibid., p. 90.

[9]William Hendriksen, Ephesians: New Testament Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, p. 233.

[10]Charles Colson with Klug, Ron. Transforming Society: A Bible Study. Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1988a, p. 8.

[11]Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1981, p. 56.

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The church’s role in national decay

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

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By Spencer D Gear

  • “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
  • “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).

At a time when Australia is in moral disarray, who decides what are the `right’ values for government, education, media, etc? Does the church or the state decide? Or, in a free society, do we leave it up to the individual conscience or the 51% vote?

We live in a society that is wanting to throw out absolute, transcendent moral values–what Richard Neuhaus calls “a naked public square.”

1. The Naked Public Square

Secular historian, Will Durant, said:

“The greatest question of our time is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even East versus the West; it is whether men can live without God.” The Durant’s went on to say that “there is no significant example in history before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.” [1]

One of the greatest leaders in the first few centuries of the church, Augustine of Hippo, wrote the book, The City of God, one of the most influential writings in church history, to defend the role of Christianity being essential for preserving society.

If society is to be restored, God’s transcendent truth must be proclaimed, demonstrated and brought to bear on our society. Obviously, non-Christians are incapable of this. Jesus said that this was essential for the church–to be salt and light. Christians are failing Australia if they fail to stand up and be counted for God’s truth in all areas of society.

I am convinced that if pagan Australians understood the Judeo-Christian ethic and its influence in secular society they would seek it. The Kingdom of God has a dynamic influence in culture. It is left to us to be salt and light. Otherwise, it will continue to be a naked public square. Is that the kind of society you want to live in? What will you do about it?

2. Where Is the Church?

Crime and violence skyrocket; sexual promiscuity and venereal disease are rampant; the poor and homeless are marginal; who protects the unborn, the defective and the elderly? Day after day I deal with rebellious youth and disillusioned parents. Where is the church?

Remember what the Durants concluded: “There is no significant example in history before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”

Charles Colson, in Kingdoms in Conflict, wrote:

“If the real benefits of the Judeo-Christian ethic and influence in secular society were understood, it would be anxiously sought out, even by those who repudiate the Christian faith. The influence of the Kingdom of God in the public arena is good for society as a whole.”[2]

But who will proclaim the Kingdom of God so that society understands the Christian ethic?

We are

A. “ASLEEP IN THE LIGHT”

Keith Green’s song is pointed right at the church:

Do you see, do you see,

All the people sinking down?

Don’t you care, don’t you care,

Are you gonna let them drown?

How can you be so numb

Not to care if they come?

You close your eyes

And pretend the job’s done…

The world is sleeping in the dark

That the church just can’t fight

‘Cause it’s asleep in the light.

How can you be so dead

When you’ve been so well fed?[3]

David Wilkerson agrees: “The church is asleep, the congregations are at ease… Its shepherds are mostly slumbering or chasing after their own dreams. Only the sleeping church could have allowed the abominations now poisoning it.”[4]

The moral madness in Australia is worsening. For non-Christians, life goes on as usual with few concerned. Almost nobody is alarmed. Apathy has overcome the culture and the church. But that won’t stop the judgment that is coming.

The people of Noah’s day did not expect the catastrophe, but it came just the same. While we live in relative luxury, gross injustice is being perpetrated with the shedding of innocent blood. But what does a fat society and a sleepy church do? “Give us another drink!” South Australian Christian ethicist, John Fleming calls it “decaffeinated Christianity.” John Smith says we are a “delinquent church.”

For Israel, it took a Lion’s roar through the true prophet, Amos. What will is take to awaken Australia’s Christians, let alone the culture? God has already given Christians His orders:

“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to WAKE UP FROM YOUR SLUMBER, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:11-12).

It is time to wake up!!

John Anderson in his prophetic book, The Cry of Compassion, wrote:

“Spiritual and moral issues are too crucial; the destiny and care of immortal souls too consequential; and the health and direction of society too pivotal, for us to be inaccurate for any reason when delivering God’s message. The lawyer’s mistakes go to jail, the doctor’s mistakes go to the cemetery, but the minister’s mistakes go to hell!”[5]

B. WHAT HAS PUT THE CHURCH TO SLEEP?

Are we going to suffer the same fate as Israel? When Israel forgot God, He “gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them” (Ps. 106:15).

I put it to you that some of these factors have anaesthetised us:

1. We are asleep because we have forsaken our first love and have courted materialism (live for the now).

2. It has put us asleep to spiritual reality as we have pursued pleasure (hedonism).

We would rather dump ourselves in front of the TV tube than be vigorously involved in the public debate to challenge our culture.

3 We have allowed our spiritual vitality to be sapped by accepting that in a pluralistic culture our Christianity becomes a private matter.

Christians have learned to shut their mouths.

4. We have also bought into pragmatism–what is good is what works.

5. Could is even be that we are practising Christianised secularism–living as though material things are more real than spiritual reality? What happens in time is more important than the events of eternity?

Think of your life over the last month! How much time, energy and money have you invested in pleasure and material things? How many times have you created opportunities to witness for Christ? When did you last challenge the ungodly actions of your community? How many in your church do the same thing?

6. Then add compromise.

The late singer-evangelist/prophet, Keith Green, would preach, “No token prayers, no compromise.” His message was for the church to quit compromising, stop listening to the voice of the world, and start living committed lives. He said Christians are too often

“tempted to bow to other`false gods’–to go with the crowd, to not speak out for what is right, to be ashamed of our convictions. So we compromise. We bow to invisible idols of acceptability, fear, pride, lust, greed and secret sin.”[6]

Keith sure had a pointed way of telling it like it is.

7. Have we spent quality time with God to hear His heart for a degenerate world?

John Anderson asks two penetrating questions that we need to consider:

a. Has the Church become secularised, accommodating the world instead of confronting it? Have we been seduced by today’s paganism?

b. Has the message of the Church become an echo instead of a voice?

I believe the church must take considerable responsibility for what is happening in our culture. The cruelty, depravity and apathy continue. The silent church lets it happen. Look what happened in Victoria recently when church leaders stood against Jeff Kennett!

What will it take for God to get the attention of a materialistic, wayward church that has lost its direction? For Israel, Amos 1:2 says, “The LORD roars…and thunders!!” God woke them through the prophet Amos.

We need:

C. THE RADICAL CHURCH

Through 20 centuries of the church, many of Christ’s followers have proclaimed and lived a wishy-washy form of his teachings. Christ’s demands for building a righteous society (Matt. 5:13-16) have been done away with. Too often, we are preaching dull faith that is concerned about what it will do for the person in meeting personal needs and offering personal benefits.

Like the person who said to me recently that he had come to Christ because he needed someone to help him deal with the stress and responsibilities following his father’s death. There was no mention made of sin, repentance and the cost of following Jesus. Too often the gospel is proclaimed as giving self-esteem to the lowly, instead of release for the captives and reconciliation with an angry God.

The central message of Christianity is radical. It cancels out sin and answers our most basic needs to know God, find salvation, find meaning and authority in life.

A person said to me the other day that she is considering Islam because it is a total way of life. That’s the radical nature of the church: Christ is to be the ultimate authority that a person requires. God is to rule every aspect of what He has created. Life, death, relationships and earthly kingdoms are all under His control.

Because of this total authority (Lordship), many non-Christians resent Christianity. We are commanded to “seek first the kingdom of God.” This means we are to seek to be ruled by God alone–voluntarily, of course. This means no employer or Prime Minister can have ultimate control of one’s life. Jesus alone is Lord!

1. The Church must be the Church

In the early years of Christianity, the barbarians were prevented from over-running Europe by the Church being the Church. The Gospel was proclaimed. Monastic communities were characterised by discipline, creativity, community spirit and moral sanity. The Scriptures were preserved, prayers were offer, land was cleared, towns built, crops planted and harvested, whole communities were cared for, education was developed and communities became literate, the underprivileged were sheltered, hospitals were opened–all in the name of Christ and the church.

The church challenged the value systems of the barbarians and the Roman Empire. This is what the church must do today. We must serve as examples of truth, decency and civilisation in a culture that is becoming dark. Although made up of redeemed sinners, what other institution except the church, has the capacity to challenge culture and witness to God’s transcendent standards of absolute justice and righteousness?

As Charles Colson states prophetically: the great paradox is that if the church is to do anything useful for culture and conquer the invaders who are aggressively promoting anti-Christian world views, it must “concentrate on being faithful to its identity in Jesus Christ. The church must be the church. That is its first duty.”[7]

To be this, the church must be committed to faithful proclamation of the gospel, biblical obedience and working for justice and righteousness (faithful to Matthew 25 and the prophetic exhortations of, for example, the Book of Amos).

We must not be motivated by our desire to make an impact on society, but by our desires to obey the Lord and please Him. Australia needs a church that will be a community of care, compassion and character. We have an obligation to proclaim the truth, act as salt and light, and hold Australia morally accountable to God. But it will take radical obedience.

The survival of Australia is dependent on the dynamic reform that will take place through redeemed individuals who will practise pure religion according to James 1:27: “Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Is the church prepared to take up this challenge?

The church will only be the church when it is faithful to its holy God and obediently serves Him.

2. The Church is in need of healing

Labelling Christians can be dangerous and divisive. Too often the church is divided by doctrinal differences. We need to know the difference between breaking fellowship over essentials (e.g. the deity of Christ) and non-essentials. Liberals have been readily identified with social concern, while evangelicals are noted for their evangelism. This is labelling. The biblical mandate is that we should care compassionately about winning people to Christ, but also strive for the righteousness of God’s justice.

We need to be healed from the compromise that has seen the church embrace the world rather than expose its foolishness. Dare I suggest that one of the greatest instruments of seduction is the television set where the on/off switch is not used in a Christ-honouring way. Is David Wilkerson too radical when he says:

“The world is about to burn and its foundations shaken by the almighty hand of God, and Christians sit nonchalantly before their television idol, wasting precious time…sitting before [the] Babylonian idiot box, losing their zeal for God… Satan is succeeding through television in a way not possible by any other kind of demonic invasion… Television is now not innocent, not wholesome, and not worthy of the moral standard of a devoted lover of the Lord Jesus Christ…

God’s name is taken in vain, marriage and fidelity [are] scorned, religion is satirized, and holiness is jeered. Satan’s aim is to get the whole world, including Christians, to laugh at things holy and sacred. Even situation comedies mock morality; and all that is pure, honest, and Christian is ridiculed. How sad that Christians laugh at what should be making us weep. How dare we continue to drink in that which grieves and infuriates the Holy Spirit! Will we not be judged for it?”[8]

The world needs to be confronted by real Christianity. How can this happen if the church is not authentic? I pray that the healing of these divisions will become a priority.

3. The Old Testament Prophets Speak

The Old Testament prophets have been sadly neglected by many Christians. Yet, the writing prophets from Isaiah to Malachi consist of 17 of the Bible’s 66 books. We ignore them at our peril. They are strategic books because God was speaking to Israel, Judah and the nations of the world at crucial times–times like ours.

If Moses, the Israelites’ idolatry and sin, were “examples” for Christians to follow or not to follow (according to I Cor. 10:6, 11), might the prophets also be written for our example?

John Anderson believes

“the reason the prophets spoke as they did was because they knew Almighty God. They knew His Word and heart; they knew His holiness and His love; they hungered and thirsted for righteousness. They knew His voice and became His voice. They were motivated by the heart of God and their voices became cries of compassion to their world. Because they so knew God, they spoke in His Name to rebuke the sin around them, called for justice and righteousness, warned of judgment and pressed for repentance. They stood with God against the sinner’s sin, not the other way around.”[9]

God did not send prophets to tantalise the itching ears of the people with predictions of the future. They were sent to turn people back in repentance. There message was: “the Day of the Lord is coming. Be different, change, get ready.”

One of the prophets with a desperate message for Australia in the 1990s is Jeremiah.

A. JEREMIAH (CHAPTERS 2-6)

 

Here Jeremiah give the steps for Israel as it races towards God’s judgment.

1. Devotion to the Lord (2:1-3)

  • the goodness of God

2. Rejection of the Lord (2:13, 17, 19)

  • strayed (2:5)
  • followed other gods (2:11; 5:7)

3. Sinful actions

  • people defiled the land (2:7)
  • evil deeds have no limit (5:28)
  • pours out her wickedness (6:7)
  • wash, but stain of guilt remains (2:22)
  • rebellion and backsliding (2:20-3:5; 5:6)

4. Religious leaders backslide

  • ignored the Lord (2:8)
  • rebelled against Him (2:8)
  • prophesied lies }
  • ruled by own authority } 5:30-31
  • people loved it }
  • false prophets (2:8, 25)
  • preached peace, deceit (6:14)

A particularly devastating exposure of the motive, method and message of lying prophets is in Jer. 23:9-40. They were “godless” (v. 11), spread ungodliness throughout the land (v. 15), committed and supported wickedness like Sodom (v. 14), spoke “visions/delusions from their own minds” (vv. 16, 25). God did not speak to them (vv. 21-22). Their lying message was, “You will have peace… No harm will come to you” (v. 17). Like Jer. 6:14, they preached peace and deceit. However, the truth was: “the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath… The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart” (vv. 19-20).

Let’s get back to the steps of a nation racing towards judgment:

5. Idolatry (2:5, 25; 3:1)

6. Judgment (4:12f, 18; 5:15; 6:26)

  • consequences of wickedness (2:19)
  • judgment threatened (2:35; 3:5)
  • wrath of God threatened (4:4, 8; 6:11)
  • tell it to the nations (4:16; 6:18-19)

Particularly note Jeremiah 10:10: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; The nations cannot endure his wrath”

 

Now back to the steps toward judgment:

7. Mercy (a plea to return to the Lord)

3:12-13, 22; 4:1-2

  • acknowledge guilt (3:13)

8. Watchmen (6:17) who sound the alarm

(4:5, 19; 6:1, 8)

  • of disaster
  • tell the nations (4:16)
  • warning (11:7-8)

9. Resistance to warning (5:21, 23; 6;10)

  • scoffed at the Lord and warning (5:12-13)

B. HOSEA (CHAPTER 4)

Here are the steps to God’s destruction, directed towards Israel.

1. [Previous devotion to God recorded elsewhere in OT]

2. Departure from the Lord (v. 1)

  • no faithfulness
  • no love
  • no acknowledgment of God in the land
  • destroyed by lack of knowledge (of God’s law)–v.6

3. Depravity in action (v. 2)

  • cursing
  • lying & murder
  • stealing & adultery
  • break all bounds (habit of sin is widespread)
  • bloodshed follows bloodshed [for us it’s abortion, infanticide, euthanasia]

[cf. punishment for sin: 9:7, 9]

4. Religious leaders stumble (vv. 5, 9)

  • “like people, like priests” (v. 9)

5. Idolatry (vv. 10-18)

[cf. 8:4-5, 7; 9:10]

6. Destruction (v. 19)

[cf. ch. 5; 7:13; 10:5-6; 12:2; 13:7-9]

7. Warning of disaster (5:1)

  • sound the alarm (8:1)
  • watchmen (9:8; 11:10; 12:6)

8. Mercy (plea to return to the Lord)

[6:1, 3, 6; 10:12; 11:8; 14:1-2, 4]

  • repentance (11:5)

9. Resistance (7:10, 13; 14:2)

Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, gave the last word from God to Israel. He warned that there would be dreadful days when they were captured by Assyria (see especially 11:1-9 of Hosea). This devastation came in 722 BC “because they refuse[d] to repent” (11:5). This is a dreadful warning to any country that continues in idolatry, gross sinfulness and rejection of the one living, true God.

In commenting on Hosea chapter 4, James Montgomery Boice, asks:

“What happens when a people reject God? What happens when we turn our back on such knowledge? The answer is that we begin a downhill course. God is the source of all good. So if an individual or people will not have God, they will have the opposite in increasing measure.[10]

Is that what we are having in Australia? From Jeremiah and Hosea, a definite pattern develops when a nation forgets and rebels against God. It is a slippery slope towards judgment that is as certain as God is sovereign.

C. THE PATTERN OF DECLINE IN ANY NATION

1. Devotion

2. Departure

3. Decadence

4. Destruction (Judgment)

5. Desire (of God to extend mercy)

6. Disaster Warning

7. Deafness (Resistance)

A similar pattern for non-Christians can be found in:

D. ROMANS 1:18-2:5

1. God’s warning of wrath (v. 18)

We must make it clear that God’s wrath (anger) does not mean that he gets irritable, is bad-tempered, or is unpredictable. God’s anger is an essential quality in his character. It

“describes the controlled and permanent opposition of God’s holy nature to all sin. Such opposition to sin on God’s part is not a whim or a mere decision or occasional mood, but the reaction of his perfect holy nature to sin. Anger, then, is as essential to the nature of God as is love; without anger God would not be God.”[11]

Or, as Godet puts it, God’s wrath is his “moral indignation in all its purity…holy antipathy…without the slightest alloy of personal irritation, or selfish resentment.”[12]

2. God’s revelation of himself (vv. 19-20)

3. People rejected God (v. 21)

4. Sinful thinking and hearts (v. 21)

5. Idolatry (v. 23)

6. Gross sinfulness (vv. 24-25)

7. Judgment through sinful consequences

(vv. 26-32)

8. God’s wrath poured out (2:2-5, esp. v. 5)

In both Jeremiah and Hosea, the religious leaders turned away from God and contributed to the destruction of the nation. Could this be happening in Australia?

What, then, is needed in the church? For a nation heading towards judgment, we need Christians who will “put the trumpet to [their] lips” (Hos. 8:1), give the Lord’s roar (Hos. 11:10) that “you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always” (Hos. 12:6).

Both Jeremiah (6:17) and Hosea (9:8) call such a person

The Watchman

He/she is to sound the alarm that judgment is coming, unless we repent. See also Ezekiel 3. Individuals and the nation are to be warned (Jer. 4:16; 10:10).

The watchman’s job was to sit on the wall of an ancient city and alert the people of the city to any coming danger. From Ezekiel, we understand that if the people heard the warning, but ignored it, they suffered the consequences–the blood would be “on their own head.”

However, if the watchman was asleep and didn’t warn the people of the approaching danger, it was the watchman’s fault if they were harmed, and the blood of the people would be on the watchman’s hands. The watchman would be held accountable.

I believe the application is that certain Christians are watchmen. God wants us to warn people and this country that disaster is coming. If we continue to reject God, indulge in idolatry and depravity, God’s judgment is coming. The issue is not WHETHER but WHEN and HOW.

There are two sides to God’s judgment. Repent or perish! As Gary North puts it:

“The rude awakening is coming. It always does. Men cannot go to sleep at the wheel indefinitely. There will be an accident. Or more accurately, there will be a nasty result. You cannot expect civilization to sleep at the wheel forever, with the engine running at top speed, and not crash. Such crashes are hardly accidents.”[13]

Australia urgently needs a church that will announce the coming crisis.

WE NEED A SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS WHO WILL BE WATCHMEN AND WATCH-WOMEN!

Notes:


[1]In Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987, pp. 225, 229.

[2]Ibid., p. 231.

[3]In Melody Green & David Hazard, No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. Milton Keynes, England: Word Publishing, 1989, p.189.

[4]David Wilkerson, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. Lindale, Texas: World Challenge, Inc., (PO Box 260, Lindale, Texas 75771), 1985, p. 108.

[5]John O. Anderson, The Cry of Compassion: The Church’s Needed Voice in Today’s World. Klamath Falls, Oregon: John O. Anderson (PO Box 152, Klamath Falls, OR 97601, USA), 1992, p. 81, emphasis added.

[6]Green & Hazard, p. 187.

[7]Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 135.

[8]David Wilkerson, Set The Trumpet to They Mouth, pp. 53 60.

[9]Emphasis added, John O. Anderson, The Cry of Compassion, p. xv.

[10]James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Volume 1: Hosea-Jonah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Ministry Resources Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1983, p. 38.

[11]Eryl Davies, Condemned Forever. Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1987. p. 75.

[12]In John Anderson, The Cry of Compassion, p. 100.

[13]Gary North, Backward Christian Soldiers. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984, p. 56.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2015.

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Who Made God?

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Leading Christian apologists Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, in their book Who Made God? And Answers to over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (Zondervan 2003), address that title question the following way…

Who Made God?

“No one did,” write Geisler and Zacharias. “He was not made. He has always existed” (p. 23).

But, wait! Is this credible? If the universe has a beginning (and modern science has concluded that it indeed DID have a beginning), then wouldn’t God need a beginning as well?

According to Geisler and Zacharias, “Only things that had a beginning – like the world – need a maker. God had no beginning, so God did not need to be made” (p. 23)

Sounds a little like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Not so, say the authors. Here is more of their answer:

“Traditionally, most atheists who deny the existence of God believe that the universe was not made; it was just “there” forever. They appeal to the first law of thermodynamics for support: “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed,” they insist. Several things must be observed in response.

“First, this way of stating the first law is not scientific; rather, it is a philosophical assertion. Science is based on observation, and there is no observational evidence that can support the dogmatic “can” and “cannot” implicit in this statement. It should read, “[As far as we have observed,] the amount of actual energy in the universe remains constant.” That is, no one had observed any actual new energy either coming into existence or going out of existence. Once the first law is understood properly, it says nothing about the universe being eternal or having no beginning” (p. 24, emphasis added).

In other words, the first law of thermodynamics does not require a cause or creator for God.

Moreover, if God IS, then He is a supernatural force. And the very definition of “supernatural” means that He stands OUTSIDE of nature. If God is God, then God needs no Creator.

As Zacharias and Geisler explain: “It is absurd to ask ‘Who made God?’ It is a category mistake to ask, ‘Who made the Unmade?’ or ‘Who created the Uncreated?'” (p. 24)

Atheists counter that this is a cop-out or that it’s illogical, but they say this ONLY because they either misunderstand the issue or they are deliberately shifting the boundaries and definitions of the discussion to suit them. If God is God, then God is eternal. That’s the nature of God. If God is eternal, then God needs no creator or cause.

The key is to determine whether the universe is eternal. “If the universe is running down [second law of thermodynamics], it cannot be eternal,” write Zacharias and Geisler (p. 25).  Since it is running down, “the universe had a beginning. And whatever had a beginning must have had a beginner. Therefore, the universe must have had a beginner (God)” (p. 25).

Does this make sense?

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Evangelical vs liberal theology

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

 

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald, “The battle for hearts and souls,” is an example of what is tearing apart the Anglican communion.  I am with the stand of Archbishop Peter Jensen of the Sydney Anglican Diocese.  Some of this tension is seen in the article, “Yesterday’s Men” and “Lambeth diary: Anglicans in turmoil.”  This is what happens when leaders stray from the core doctrines of biblical Christianity.

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Baptism & Salvation: I Peter 3:21

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does baptism save?

It seems as though this issue is clear – people need to be baptised to receive salvation. The Scriptures state that: “Baptism that now saves you” (I Peter 3:21) and Jesus is alleged to have stated, “”Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

This sounds clear enough, doesn’t it? In fact, I was interacting with Jeremy on a theological bulletin board. He stated: “Recent theology cannot make the truth of 1 Peter 3:21 go away — Baptism now saves you. This is a great and precious promise. Christians throughout all ages have found great comfort in that fact that their salvation did not rest on them, but on God who had chosen them through baptism. I do believe in baptismal regeneration and in infant baptism.”[1]

Baptismal regeneration is the theology that states: “Baptism is necessary for salvation.” This view is supported by “Roman Catholic teaching. . . Although there are different nuances in their teaching, such a position is held by many Episcopalians, many Lutherans, and by the Churches of Christ” (Grudem 1999, n10, p. 384).

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach baptism as a necessity for salvation, i.e. baptismal regeneration? Let’s take a read:

I Peter 3:21 states: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[2] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NIV).

The ESV reads: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Mark 16:16 states, as the words of Jesus, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (NIV).

Let me say up front that I Peter 3:21 is a difficult verse to interpret because:

  • It is a challenge to know exactly what Peter is saying in connecting “save” with the waters of Noah’s flood;
  • Elsewhere in the Scripture we know that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone (see below);
  • In other places, the Bible teaches salvation and repentance prior to baptism;
  • Some verses used to support baptismal regeneration have better explanations.

Mark 16:16 does not teach baptismal regeneration

This verse is fairly easily dealt with on two counts:

1. Mark 16:9-20, the long ending of Mark, is not included in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, so I am confident in not including it as part of the canon of Scripture. Mark 16:16 was a teaching that crept into the early church, but it is not original to Mark. See the explanations by Bruce Metzger (1964/1968/1992, pp. 227-228) and Walter W. Wessel (1984, pp. 792-793) in Appendix I.

2. Mark 16:16 states that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” There is nothing in this statement about those who believe and are not baptised. In fact, we know that Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross, who did not have an opportunity to be baptised: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). “It is simply absence of belief, not of baptism, which is correlated with condemnation” (Erickson 1985, p. 1098). Grudem (1999) contends that

it is doubtful whether this verse [Mark 16:16] should be used in support of a theological position at all, since there are many manuscripts that do not have this verse (or Mark 16:9-20), and it seems most likely that this verse was not in the gospel as Mark originally wrote it (n11, p. 384).

We also know that a Christian’s justification by faith, when he/she is declared righteous before God, happens at the point of faith in Christ and not at the time of baptism (see Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:16; 3:24).

We’ll get to 1 Peter 3:21 shortly, but it is important to note that

The Bible teaches belief BEFORE baptism

We see belief or trust in Christ prior to baptism in passages such as the following:

1. Those who were baptised must be able to be discipled and taught to be obedient to Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:19-20).

2. One of the most profound examples is the thief on the cross. In Luke 23:42-43 we read of the thief asking Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response was: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Obviously baptism was not compulsory for a person to enter into heaven.

3. Acts 2:38 gives the apostolic command: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

4. Acts 2:41 affirms that belief precedes baptism: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

5. In Acts 10:47-48, those who were baptised were those who had “received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” This is hardly the language to support baptism for a an infant. It is the language of believers’ baptism.

Old Testament believers were saved without being baptised. Therefore, we should expect that salvation, without baptism, is seen in the New Testament.

Church historian, Earle E. Cairns, stated that for the early church, baptism was “an act of initiation into the Christian church [and] was usually performed at Easter or Pentecost . . . Baptism was normally by immersion; on occasion affusion, or pouring, was practiced. [There was the debate over] infant baptism which Tertullian opposed and Cyprian supported . . .” (Cairns 1954/1981, p. 119).

It was Martin Luther who rediscovered that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17 KJV) or, “The righteous will live by faith” (NIV), which is a quote from Hab. 2:4. This is affirmed by Rom. 4:4-5; Titus 3:5-7 and Acts 16:31. The Scriptures do not support the view that the just shall live by faith and baptism. It could not be stated any cleared in Eph. 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Household baptisms

Sometimes the view is given that “I Corinthians 1: 16; Acts 11: 14, 16: 15, 33, 18: 8; these passages all refer to households being baptized. What an opponent of infant baptism must do is explain how they arrive at the conclusion that there were no infants or young children in these households. If infants were not intended to be baptized they would be excluded in the text, but we have no reason to believe that they are. In short there is nothing to exclude infants from baptism in the Bible.” This was Andy’s view when I interacted with him on the bulletin board.[3]

Let’s examine these examples provided by Andy.

1. “Household” baptism that was used by him to support infant baptism – 1 Cor. 1:16, which reads, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.” If we read that verse alone we could be led to think that this included infants and those who had not believed and these people could be members of households.

However, this is clarified in 1 Cor. 16:15 where we read that “the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” This verse clearly supports the opposite of infant baptism. They were Christian converts when they were baptised. They were not infants who were incapable of believing. They were converts to the Christian faith. Faith precedes baptism.

3. Acts 11:14 reads: “He [Peter] will bring you a message through which you and all

your household will be saved.” This is very clear. The “message” will be brought through which the “household will be saved.” The baptism referred to is not water baptism but the baptism in the Holy Spirit (11:16).

4. Acts 16:15 records what happened with Lydia who was “a worshiper of God” and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (16:14). Chapter 16:15 records, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”

It is clear here that Lydia was a believer (“the Lord opened her heart”) when she was baptised as she affirms, “if you consider me a believer in the Lord.” It is not stated directly here that the “household” believed, but the precedent is set elsewhere in the Scripture that “households” that were baptised had previously believed. This is also consistent with the New Testament principle that faith alone in Christ alone is what brings eternal salvation.

5. In Acts 18:8, we have another example of “household” baptism. This verse states that “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” Again, baptism happens after belief in the Lord is experienced and this applies to believing “households.” Therefore, infant belief is not possible.

First Peter 3:21

This verse states, “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[4] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NIV).

Let me state upfront that this is a most difficult verse to interpret because of the analogy of Scripture which refutes what this verse seems to be saying on the surface, “baptism that now saves you also.” This is especially in light of Colossians 2:12, “. . . having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” The key is “your faith in the power of God” and not through faith in water baptism. That’s what makes interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21 a challenging task.

Remember Andy’s words to me? “Baptism now saves you. This is a great and precious promise” and that Christians through the centuries have been comforted by the “God who had chosen them through baptism. I do believe in baptismal regeneration and in infant baptism.”[5]

What are the issues from this verse that seem, on the surface, to teach that “baptism now saves you”?

1. What is the context?

In vv. 18-19, the context is the death of Christ for sins, the “righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (v. 19), the resurrection (“made alive by the Spirit”, v. 18), and Noah, the ark, and eight people being saved through the flood (v. 20).

It is this flood that is used in some association with baptism.

2. What does it means that “water symbolizes baptism”?

The word translated, “symbolizes,” in the NIV is the Greek, antitypos. “Baptism is an antitype . . . or counterpart of the type” (Blum 1981, p. 242). There is some kind of resemblance between the waters of the flood and baptism What is it? Baptism is a copy, representation or fulfilment of the Old Testament judgment that happened through the great flood.

The text allows for a resemblance between the flood and baptism. That is, as the flood waters cleansed the earth of man’s wickedness, so the water of baptism indicates man’s cleansing from sin. As the flood separated Noah and his family from the wicked world of their day, so baptism separates believers from the evil world of our day. Baptism, then, is the counterpart of the flood (Kistemaker 1987, p. 147).

3. In what sense can baptism be understood as that which “saves you”?

Does baptism bring salvation to the person baptised? In what sense can “save” be used here? We know from both Old and New Testaments that sins can be washed away.

  • · Psalm 51:2, ” Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
  • Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
  • Ananias told the apostle Paul to “get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).
  • Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

How can baptism save?

Baptism is a symbol for cleansing the believer from sin, but Scripture does not teach that baptismal water saves a person. Rather, a believer is saved because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave (Rom. 6:4). Baptism is a symbol of the shed blood of Christ that cleanses the believer from sin” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148).

This becomes clear through the next statement that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” That’s an obvious analogy to reject. But baptism is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

4. How is baptism related to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (NIV)?

There are two ways of understanding, “pledge,” subjective, as in the NIV, or objective, as in the ESV, “as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

As in the NIV, the subjective meaning of “pledge” is that “we look at baptism from our point of view and express ourselves subjectively.” There is a majority of translators who prefer the subjective approach, where “pledge” means “response.” “In short, the believer receives not only the sign of baptism with water; he also responds by ‘keeping a clear conscience’ (see v. 16)” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148). This kind of translation is supported by the KJV, NKJV, RV, ASV, NEB, Phillips, GNB, JB, NAB and NIV. So, baptism is the proper response of somebody who is already related to God through faith.

The objective meaning is that of the believer making an “appeal to God for a good conscience.” By appealing to God to help us, “we see the importance of baptism objectively. Without God’s aid we are unable to make a pledge to serve him” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148). This type of translation is supported by the RSV, NRSV, ESV, MLB, NASB, Moffatt and ISV. In supporting the objective sense, Grudem (1994) interprets “but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” to mean “an inward, spiritual transaction between God and the individual, a transaction symbolized by the outward ceremony of baptism.” Grudem states that

we could paraphrase Peter’s statement by saying, “Baptism now saves you—not the outward physical ceremony of baptism but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents.” In this way, Peter guards against any view of baptism that would attribute automatic saving power to the physical ceremony itself (p. 974).

This seems the most satisfactory kind of explanation of a very difficult passage, to be in line with the scriptural emphasis of salvation through faith alone, trusting in Christ alone.

5. How can baptism that “saves you” be linked to “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”?

This further indicates that the baptism which “saves you” is associated with the “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Thus, it is an analogy of baptism, associating it with eternal salvation through Christ, through the resurrection of Christ. See verses such as 1 Cor. 15:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:3 for affirmations of the link between salvation and the death and resurrection of Christ.

What does Acts 22:16 mean?

The verse, being the words of Ananias, reads, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” This is a more extensive statement than that in Acts 9:16. However, according to Acts 9:17, the “scales fell from his eyes” (the equivalent of belief) before he was baptised (9:18).

So, does baptism “wash your sins away,” thus making belief unnecessary? Is this a verse in support of baptismal regeneration?

While Acts 22:16 refers to Paul’s baptism, the apostle clearly distinguished between the gospel and baptism: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). It is the gospel that “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:17), so baptism cannot have a salvific effect. Paul’s experience from Acts 9:17-18 involved a spiritual experience before baptism, so to “be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16) cannot refer to baptismal regeneration.

Norman Geisler rightly concludes that “baptism then, like confession, is not a condition for eternal life but a manifestation of it. Baptism is a work that flows from the faith that alone brings salvation through the gospel” (2004, p. 498).

Examples from Church History

An example from the early church fathers was Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165), who wrote: “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, … are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated [born-again] in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated” (Schaff, n.d., First Apology, Chapter LXI). The regenerated were baptised.

Professor of Church History & Historical Theology, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, summarised the biblical and historical evidence:

The patristic statements linking infant baptism with the apostles are fragmentary and unconvincing in the earlier stages . . . Examples of believers’ baptism are common in the first centuries, and a continuing, if suppressed, witness has always been borne to this requirement . . . The development of infant baptism seems to be linked with the incursion of pagan notions and practices. Finally, there is evidence of greater evangelistic incisiveness and evangelical purity of doctrine where [believers’ baptism] is recognized to be the baptism of the NT (Bromiley 1984, p. 116).

The facts are: The Bible (including the Apostles) and the Church established in the New Testament practised believers’ baptism. Why the change to paedobaptism?

This is not the place for a comprehensive documentation and assessment of the baptismal practices throughout church history. However, this we can note:

During the fifth century the towering figure of Augustine of Hippo with his powerful reassertion of the doctrine of original guilt settled the issue for a thousand years. Paedobaptism became the norm, and as by then the great expansion of the church among adults had run its course, adult baptism became increasingly rare and almost unknown. With the decline of adult baptism went, too, the decline of the catechumenate, as instruction before baptism was replaced, of necessity, with instruction after baptism. Yet that instruction became increasingly strange to modern ears. For although baptized infants grew up believing that their baptism had brought them forgiveness, eternal life, membership of the church and entry into the family of God, their position in that family became increasingly insecure. In time, a vast system of priests, penances and pilgrimages was needed to preserve their spiritual lives, while even after the intercession of saints, the assistance of Mary, the prayers of the church and the indulgences of the pope, centuries in purgatory still awaited them after death before their souls were cleansed from sin and prepared for heaven” (Bridge & Phypers 1977, pp. 82-83).

Appendix I

1. Bruce Metzger

Bruce Metzger, who has had a long and distinguished career in the discipline of textual criticism, which attempts “to determine the original text of the biblical books” (Erickson 1985, p. 83), states that:

The long ending [of Mark 16:9-20] in an expanded form existed, so Jerome tells us, in Greek copies current in his day, and since the discovery of W earlier this [20th] century we now have the Greek text of this expansion . . .

None of these four endings commends itself as original. The obvious and pervasive apocryphal flavour of the expansion [ie the long ending] . . , as well as the extremely limited basis of evidence supporting it, condemns it as a totally secondary accretion.

The long ending [ie Mark 16:9-20, as in the Textus Receptus and, therefore, translated in the King James Version of the Bible], though present in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary. For example, the presence of seventeen non-Marcan words or words used in a non-Marcan sense; the lack of a smooth juncture between verses 8 and 9 (the subject in vs. 9 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in vs. 9); and the way in which Mary is identified in verse 9 even though she has been mentioned previously (vs. 1) – all these features indicate that the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark which ended abruptly with verse 8 and who wished to provide a more appropriate conclusion. An Armenian manuscript of the Gospels, copied A.D. 989 (see Plate XIVb) contains a brief rubic of two words in the space at the end of the lat line of verse 8 and before the last twelve verses, namely Ariston eritsou (‘of the Presbyter Ariston’). Many have interpreted this as a reference to Ariston, a contemporary of Papias in the early second century and traditionally a disciple of John the Apostle. But the probability that an Armenian rubricator would have access to historically valuable tradition on this point is almost nil, especially if, as has been argued, the rubric was added in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

The internal evidence of the so-called intermediate ending . . . is decidedly against its being genuine. Besides containing a high percentage of non-Marcan words, its rhetorical tone differs totally from the simple style of Mark’s Gospel. The mouth-filling phrase at the close (‘the sacred and imperishable message of eternal salvation’) betrays the hand of a later Greek theologian. [See Appendix II for a translation of this “intermediate ending.”]

Thus we are left with the short ending, witnessed by the earliest Greek, versional, and patristic evidence. Both external and internal considerations lead one to conclude that the original text of the Second Gospel, as known today, closes at xvi. 8″ (Metzger 1964/1968/1992, pp. 227-228).

2. Walter W. Wessel

External and especially internal evidence make it difficult to escape the conclusion that vv. 9-20 [of Mark 16] were originally not a part of the Gospel of Mark.

One further question arises: Did mark actually intend to end his Gospel at 16:8? If he did not, then either (1) the Gospel was never completed, or (2) the last page was lost before it was multiplied by copyists. . .

Thus the best solution seems to be that Mark did write an ending to his Gospel but that it was lost in the early transmission of the text. The endings we now possess represent attempts by the church to supply what was obviously lacking” (Wessel 1984, pp. 792-793).

Appendix II

The intermediate ending is translated by Metzger: “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Metzger stated that this intermediate reading “is present in several uncial manuscripts of the seventy, eighth and ninth centuries . . . as well as in a few minuscule manuscripts . . . and several ancient versions” (1964/1968/1992, p. 226).

References:

Blum, Edwin A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’, in Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 207-254.

Bridge, D. & Phypers, D. 1977, The Water That Divides: The Baptism Debate, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Bromiley, G. W. 1984, ‘Baptism, Believers”, in W. A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.

Cairns, E. E. 1954, 1981, Christianity through the Centuries (rev. enl. ed.), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.

Erickson, Millard J. 1985, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, Norman 2004, Systematic Theology: Sin, Salvation (vol. 3), Bethany House , Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Grudem, Wayne 1994, Systematic Theology: An introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Grudem, Wayne 1999, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Kistemaker, Simon J. 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire.

Metzger, Bruce M. 1964, 1968, 1992, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.

Schaff, P. n.d., The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus‘, Polycarp, ‘Christian Baptism’, Available from: http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/anf01/htm/viii.ii.lxi.htm [17 March 2005].

Wessel, Walter W. 1984, ‘Mark’, in Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 8), Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 601-793.

Notes:


[1] Jeremy Jack’s response to OzSpen, “Christian History Project,” Open Issues, Trinity College of the Bible & Theological Seminary, TDelta forum, 12.51 am, 12 March 2005, at: http://go.compuserve.com/Trinity?MSG=116364 [17 March 2005]. This post is no longer available online.

[2] Or, “response.”

[3] Trinity Seminary’s Tdelta forum, ‘Christian History Project’, (Open Issues), Jeremy Jack’s response to OzSpen, 11.25 am, 11 March 2005, Available from, http://go.compuserve.com/Trinity?MSG=116354 [17 March 2005]. This post is no longer available online.

[4] Or, “response.”

[5] See footnote no. 1 above.

 

Copyright (c) 2009 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the Open Content License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 25 June 2015.

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Immortality of the Soul

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Soul Nest

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

There is only one Person who is truly immortal – God Himself, as stated in 1 Tim. 6:15-16 (ESV), “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion.” Therefore, only God is immortal in the sense that He is the Owner and Originator of human life and he Himself has always existed.

Our immortality of the soul is in a derived sense and applies to all people, believers and unbelievers. Second Timothy 1:10 (ESV) speaks of God’s purpose and grace “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

I have found that many people (eg Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists) who object to the immortality of the soul are those who reject eternal punishment in hell for unbelievers. Let’s check out what the Bible says.

By immortality of the soul, I mean “the belief that human persons, at least in their spiritual dimension, consciously survive death and live on forever” (Geisler 1999:350). Or, for human beings, immortality means “deathlessness” (Hendriksen 1959:46).

C. S. Lewis wrote: “The earliest Christian documents give ascent to the belief that the supernatural or invisible part of man survives the death of the body” (1966:29).

Since the Bible teaches progressive revelation from the Old Testament (OT) to the New Testament (NT), we do not see a full expression of the immortality of the soul in the OT. Here’s a brief statement of what we find:

Old Testament and death

The OT affirms the hope of life after death in bodily terms. The doctrine of OT immortality is seen mostly in view of resurrection. Since human beings were created from the dust (Gen. 2:7), the expectation was that they would return to dust (Eccles. 12:7). However, this latter verse also teaches that “the spirit returns to God who gave it” (ESV). Therefore, the OT teaching does not support soul sleep, extinction or annihilation, but the human spirit going to God at death. We will see what that means for the just and unjust.

In the OT there are passages that support resurrection of people and that the dead would be brought back to life. See Scriptures such as Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 19:25-27, and Ps. 49:14-15. Ps. 49:15 states, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

In Isaiah there is evidence of the resurrection of the dead: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (26:19). In Dan. 12:2, we read, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The language of “the dust of the earth” shows the OT doctrine of the physical resurrection of people after death. “Sleep” is using the language of the phenomenon we see when a person breathes his/her last breath. Soul sleep is not a biblical teaching.

While the Sadducees rejected the teaching on the material resurrection of the dead, the Pharisees supported it (Matt. 22:23, 28). Martha demonstrated her belief in the resurrection of the dead when she said after the death of her brother, Lazarus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24).

Jesus Christ and resurrection

Christ believed that the OT taught resurrection when he refuted the Sadducees. He told them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). Then Jesus quoted Exodus 3:6, 15: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32).

Note especially the closing statement here: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” The dead are living!!

Risen Indeed

(image courtesy ChristArt)

New Testament views on death

The NT teaches immortality after the resurrection, but it also teaches the conscious existence of the soul between death and the resurrection, in what is known as the intermediate state.

Christ’s promise to the thief on the cross was “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV). Stephen, the martyr, prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59 ESV). He did not pray, “Lord Jesus, send me to the grave in which to sleep until the resurrection of the just and unjust.”

Paul’s classic statement of the immortality of the soul is in 2 Cor. 5:8 (ESV), “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Paul as he was contemplating his own death, wrote: “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:23 ESV). There is no hint in Paul’s teaching of going to sleep in the grave before the resurrection of the just. He knew that when he died he would “be with Christ.” How does that compare with this life? It is “far better.”

Some contend that in I Corinthians 15 (ESV) Paul is correcting a false doctrine in Corinth of the immortality of the soul. Nowhere does Paul even hint at this. He wrote this passage to correct a false doctrine: “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Cor. 15:14 ESV).

This passage of I Cor. 15 corrected a Sadducees-kind-of false doctrine, that there is no resurrection of the dead. It is fallacious to say that Paul was correcting a false doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Paul’s punch line is in v. 16: “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Immortality of the soul means that the soul continues in conscious existence after death and will be reunited with the body in the resurrection of all people.

When we go to the book of Revelation, we find an example of the souls of martyred people who are conscious and in heaven: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev. 6:9). But as for the wicked, even the beast and the false prophet who were thrown alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20) were alive 1,000 years later (Rev. 20:10). What will happen to the devil, the beast and the false prophet? “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). There’s no soul sleep here!

In Matt. 17:3 (ESV) we read, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Here Moses and Elijah, who had been dead for hundreds of years, were alive and conversing about Christ’s death on the Mount of Transfiguration. There’s no soul sleep here!

Luke 23:43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” [1]

This section is based on a response to TrustAndObey on Christian Forums:

You ask some very good questions here that need good answers:

  • Let me ask you this, okay? Did Jesus go to paradise that day?
  • What does Scripture tell us?
  • Scripture tells us that Christ did not ascend to the Father the day that He died on the cross.
  • There are significant questions that need to be answered about Luke 23: 43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Questions such as:

1.  Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days. How does this verse harmonise or contradict the meaning of what happened to Jesus at death?

2.  Didn’t Christ ascend to Paradise only after the resurrection?

3.  If this is true, how could he make a promise like this to the dying thief?

I think that you are pointing to these kinds of questions. These are excellent questions.

You wrote:

“You have to remember that the original language was written without any punctuation at all. . . I submit for your consideration that the comma was in the wrong place in Luke 23:43. If the verse read “Verily, verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise” we wouldn’t have a big contradiction. That would still be a promise from Christ Himself, but it wouldn’t give a timeline of when.”

Let’s take a read of major translations of Luke 23:43 to see what Greek scholars from around the world think of your suggested translation (punctuation):

  • And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (ESV)
  • Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NIV)
  • And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (NASB)
  • And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NLT)
  • And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (KJV)
  • And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (NKJV)
  • And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NET Bible)
  • He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (NRSV)
  • And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (RSV)
  • Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (ISV)
  • Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.” (TEV/GNB)
  • He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (NAB)
  • He answered, ‘I tell you this: today you will be with me in Paradise” (NEB)
  • He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (REB)
  • He answered him, ‘In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (NJB)

Of all these major translations, using the best of Greek scholars in the world, not one of them agrees with your suggested translation / punctuation of Luke 23:43 (ESV). But there is one translation that does agree with you: “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” Have a guess which translation this is? It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. From my understanding of NT Greek, the New World Translation is one of the most dishonest translations in the areas in which it translates according to preconceived Watchtower doctrine.

Koine Greek not only did not have any punctuation, but also it didn’t have any spaces between words. It didn’t distinguish between lower case and upper case. Some manuscripts are written in cursive (lower case) and others are uncial (all capitals) writings. In fact, most of the earliest manuscripts were uncial. The word order is nothing like what we have in English as the declensions (of nouns, adjectives) and conjugations (verbals) of words determine their places in the sentence.

Your desire to want to move the comma in Luke 23:43 (ESV) is a common technique by those who don’t want to deal with the immortality of the soul taught in this verse. When Jesus said to the thief, “today you will be with me in Paradise,” he was saying to the thief that after Jesus died on that very day, Jesus’ soul (or spirit) went immediately into the presence of the Father in heaven, even though Jesus’ body was in the grave.

Some want to disagree, claiming that Paradise is different from heaven. However, in both of the other NT uses of Paradise, they clearly mean heaven – as in 2 Cor. 12:4 (ESV), which was the place where Paul was caught up in his revelation of heaven. Also in Rev. 2:7 (ESV) we find that Paradise is the place of the tree of life, which is clearly heaven according to Rev. 22:2, 13 (ESV).

Conclusion

The immortality of the soul for all people is the teaching of orthodox Christianity and has been throughout its existence. Of course there have been a few exceptions, but these have been infinitesimal compared with the millions of orthodox teachers and followers in the history of the church. This led Robert Morey to state correctly: “From the classic Greek philosophers to the present time, the immortality of the soul has been accepted as immediately reasonable and virtually self-evident. . . For nearly two thousand years, with rare exceptions, Christians have generally believed in the immortality of the soul” (Morey 1984:68-69).

Immortality of the soul means that eternal salvation is the experience of the Christian from the moment he/she is committed to Christ as Saviour and Lord. Death means immediate translation into the presence of the Lord in Paradise for believers. For unbelievers, the immortality of the soul means continuous existence in the place of eternal punishment – hell – at the point of death. Denying the immortality of the soul is denial of orthodox biblical teaching.

To the question, “Are human beings immortal?” the answer is, “Yes, in the sense that their existence never ends.”

References

Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

William Hendriksen 1959, The Bible on the Life Hereafter, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

C. S. Lewis 1966, Miracles, Macmillan Co., New York.

Robert A. Morey 1984, Death and the Afterlife, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, TrustAndObey’s comments at: http://www.christianforums.com/t2279341-after-death.html&page=5#post19815123 [Accessed 10 November 2005.]

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2016.

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Why were gospels heretical in the early church?[1]

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Image result for Bart Ehrman photo public domain

(Bart Ehrman, courtesy callingchristians.com)

By Spencer D Gear

Matthew, on Christian Forums, has asked some good questions: “Why were the heretical books considered heretical?”  Below is how I responded to him.

I’ll suggest some responses below but first we need to note that you have been reading Bart Ehrman who has moved from being an evangelical Christian to an agnostic.

Therefore, his book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) [2010. New York, NY: HarperOne] is promoting his agnostic thesis about early Christianity.  Here’s a brief critique of Jesus, Interrupted by Ben Witherington III.  Part of what Witherington writes is:

One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage— “before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up”. By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever! His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters.

I suggest that you also read scholarly books such as:

1.  Richard Bauckham 2006, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

2.  Craig A. Evans 2005, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers

On a more popular level, one of the best books I have read to answer your question is: Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Here, Evans will provide you with a critique of: Questionable texts (chs. 3 & 4): The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, and the Secret Gospel of Mark.

The question of the heretical vs genuine books of early Christianity has become more prominent in recent years because of the sceptical conclusions of the liberal Jesus Seminar since its publication in 1993 of The Five Gospels (Polebridge Press of Macmillan Publishing Company, New York) in which it was claimed that “eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him, according to the Jesus Seminar” (p. 5).  It reached similar conclusions about the activities of Jesus.

Back to your question: “Why were the heretical books considered heretical?”

Let’s use the Gospels as examples.  The simple answer is that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus that were conveyed by oral tradition and written manuscripts until the books became canonical.  If the texts did not agree with the eyewitness reports, they were regarded as heretical  This oral tradition was capable of preserving the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and thus preserving the words and works of Jesus in a reliable form.  However, it was also possible to create a tradition that was contrary to the eyewitness testimony.  We see this in the Gnostic writings.  I suggest a reading of chs. 10 & 11 of Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (details above).  These are titled, “Models of Oral Tradition” and “Transmitting the Jesus Traditions.”

Down through the years, scholars have developed historical and literary criteria for assessing biblical literature, but these criteria are not used on a consistent basis by some sceptical scholars.

These criteria (based on Craig Evans 2007, p. 48ff) are:

Historical coherence, which means that the Gospel writers wrote about things that cohere with what we know about the historical context of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Multiple attestation refers to the sayings and deeds of Jesus that appear in two or more independent sources (e.g. Mark and Q – Q is the sayings’ source assumed to have been used by Matthew & Luke). With multiple attestation, it suggests that the material was circulated in a wide realm at an early date and was not invented by a single writer.  There is a fair amount of material that is supported by multiple attestation.

Embarrassment.  This should not be misunderstood.  It simply means that “material that potentially would have created awkwardness or embarrassment for the early church is not likely something that a Christian invented sometime after Easter.  ‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank.” (Craig Evans, 2007, p. 49).

Dissimilarity (which has involved a lot of discussion by scholars): It tries to exclude sayings and deeds of Jesus that may have originated in Jewish or early Christian circles.  If a saying, say, is not dissimilar to both Jewish & Early Christian contexts, it is called “double dissimilarity”; there is no guarantee that the saying or deed originated with Jesus.  Use of this criterion has been questioned by some scholars.

Semitisms and Palestinian background.  “Sayings and deeds that reflect Hebrew or Aramaic language (Semitisms), or reflect first-century Palestine (geography, topography, customs, commerce) are what we should expect of authentic material” (Evans 2007, pp. 50-51).

Coherence or consistency refers to “material that is consistent with  material judged authentic on the basis of the other criteria may also be regarded as authentic” (Evans 2007, p. 51).

Craig Evans concludes that

Here is where I think many skeptical scholars, especially among the prominent members of the Jesus Seminar, go wrong.  They not only misapply some of the criteria (such as dissimilarity) and ignore or misunderstand others (such as Semitisms and Palestinian background), they tend to assume that sayings and deeds not supported by the criteria must be judged as inauthentic.  This severe, skeptical method leads to limited results, results that can be badly skewed, if the starting points themselves are off-base and wrong-headed.

The portrait of Jesus can be distorted badly through misapplication of the authenticity criteria to the New Testament Gospels.  When the extracanonical Gospels and sources are thrown into the mix and treated as though they were as ancient and as reliable as the canonical Gospels, then the problem of distortion is taken to new levels (2007, p.51).

You might like to look up this article: “Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature,”by Pheme Perkins; Theological Studies, Vol. 69, 2008. It’s available from Questia.

We can conclude that if the early Christian texts did not agree with the eyewitness reports from the apostles and others at the time of Jesus, they were regarded as heretical.

Works Consulted

Evans, C 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the gospels. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Notes:


[1] Posted by Ozspen to Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Why are heretical gospels heretical?”, 23 May 2009, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7369059/#post51756793 [Accessed 23 May 2009].

 

Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

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Whytehouse designs

Are there degrees of punishment in hell?[1]

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

By Spencer D Gear

Hell is Real

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Some people object to the doctrine of hell, saying that it is not something a loving God would do. I do some blogging[2] on the Christian Fellowship Forum and there is a Seventh-Day Adventist, Harold, on that Forum. He wrote to me:

“Malachi states that the dead are ashes…. God states that there will be no tears in Heaven. Can you honestly state that you can stand there and know that some of your loved ones are burning and not shed a tear?  How can you? Is YOUR God that cruel?”[3]

He goes on further to give another emotional response that is not based on the exegesis of the biblical text:

“Eternal punishment  simply means that the results of it are permanent. They last forever.  Stick a piece of paper in a can. Light it. It burns ‘up’.  FOREVER. It is gone. Forever.
“What would the purpose be for God to punish anyone for the sin of one short lifetime?  They have thrown away their chance to be with God, forever. They are lost. They know that. Now. Why put them through something you wouldn’t do to a dog?
Your ‘doctrine’ has driven people to leave the church, some even to the point of suicide.  Is that God’s plan? THINK.”[4]

Others ask the honest question, “How can a God of love make eternal hell the punishment for all unbelievers?” Some have committed horrendous crimes and engaged in disgusting immorality, while others have not done that. Is it fair for God to treat all people in hell the same and give them equal punishment?

This very brief article is an attempt to answer this latter question, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?”

1. Since God is “the righteous Judge” (2 Tim. 4:8), we would expect that sinners would be punished according to the extent of their sin. This is what the Bible affirms.

2. Matthew 10:14-15 states, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (ESV).

So it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who do not welcome and listen to the apostles. This is an amazing statement: it is going to be fairer for those who committed sexual immorality in Sodom & Gomorrah than for those who rejected the gospel. What is this saying about punishment in hell?

3. A similar affirmation of degrees of punishment can be found in Matthew 11:21-24,

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you”  (NIV).

4. Luke 12:47-48 speaks of many blows and few blows: “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (ESV).

The lesson is that where one has greater privileges, there will be greater responsibilities. J. C. Ryle warned: “The saddest road to hell is that which runs under the pulpit, past the Bible and through the midst of warnings and invitations.”[5]

5. When Jesus criticised the religious leaders at his time on earth, he said that “such men will be punished more severely” (NIV, see Mark 12:38-40). This clearly indicates degrees of punishment in hell.

6. John’s vision of the judgment against “Babylon” (Rev. 18:1-7) indicates degree of punishment in proportion to sin committed.

7. Other verses to contemplate include Mark 9:42 and Romans 2:5. John Blanchard writes: “Every day the sinner lives, every selfish penny he makes, every unholy pleasure he enjoys, every ungrateful breath he takes, are storing up God’s anger against him.”[6]

8. We need to remember that:

a. Only God’s kind of justice will be experienced in hell;

b. There will be degrees of punishment, but

c. That is nothing to gloat about because punishment in hell is eternal, no matter what it is like.

A red herring logical fallacy of infinite punishment for a finite sin

Those who claim that hell is an infinite punishment for finite sin, commit a red herring logical fallacy. This article, ‘Is hell an infinite punishment?’ shows the red herring nature of this kind of argumentation.

This article of mine, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?’ also demonstrates the false nature of the infinite punishment vs. finite sin view.

The seriousness of sin against the Almighty God is what sends unbelievers to hell.  Degrees of punishment in hell do not lessen the eternal dimensions of hell and its suffering.  For a more detailed assessment of God’s view of hell, see my article, “Hell & Judgment.”

Notes:

[1] Many of the ideas in this article were suggested by Blanchard (1993:182ff). My article here was a response to a question by Claudette on the TDELTA Forum, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?” This was posted about Thursday, 27 September 2001. This forum is not available to a public audience.  It is restricted to the students of Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh IN (where I was studying at the time).  For further support of degrees of punishment in hell, see Morey (1984:250); Peterson (1995:198-200). See also Peterson’s Index.

[2] I’m ozspen.

[3] Christian Fellowship Forum, Public Affairs, “Climate change worst scientific scandal,” 18 December 2009, #182, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=180&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=119873 (Accessed 25 December 2009).

[4] Harold to ozspen (me), Christian Fellowship Forum, ibid. #190, 20 December 2009, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=180&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=119873 (Accessed 25 December 2009).

[5] In Blanchard (1993:183).

[6] Blanchard (1993:185). This comment is based on what Blanchard considers are the “terrifying words” (p. 185) of Roman 2:5.

 

Works consulted

Blanchard, J 1993. Whatever Happened to Hell? Darlington, Co. Durham, England: Evangelical Press.

Robert A. Morey, R A 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Peterson, R A 1995. Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing,

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 February 2017.

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