Archive for January, 2010

First Peter: Triumph through Trials

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

It is estimated that the apostle Peter wrote this epistle in the the mid A.D. 60s.  He wrote to believers who were discouraged and scattered because of the persecution they were encountering.  Here they are called “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1:1 ESV).  Because they were suffering for their faith, he urged them to look to the example of Christ (3:8ff) and remember that they will be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (5:1).

The following are expositions from I Peter that I have preached in local churches in Australia.  It is a series in progress as I am only a very part-time preacher.

The following are expositions from I Peter that I have preached in local churches in Australia.

 

1 Peter 1

1 Peter 2

1 Peter 3

1 Peter 4

1 Peter 4

vs 1-2
vs 3-5
vs 6-7
vs 8-9
vs 10
vs 10-12
vs 13-16
vs 17
vs 18-19
vs 20-21
vs 22-25
vs 1-3
vs 4-8
vs 9-12

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV).

Copyright (c) 2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 16 March 2013.

Easter: God’s solution to our greatest need (1 Peter 3:18)

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

(mega tsunami, Indonesia 2004, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

1. Introduction

The deadliest tsunami of all time hit the Indian Ocean on 26th December 2004. “In the aftermath of the quake, resultant tsunami waves … killed over 280,000 people in towns and villages along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Over 3 million of survivors have [had] their livelihoods destroyed.”[1]

The death toll in the earthquake in Haiti was expected to be over 100,000 according to the Haitan Prime Minister.[2]

Is our greatest need to end all earthquakes and tidal waves of the enormity of tsunamis?

What about curing all paedophiles, all diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C?

What about stopping war and violence around the world? If we could solve the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, the Sudan, North Korea, would that provide the solution to our greatest need?

What about the tragedy of murder and suicide in our own country? What is the world’s greatest need? What is your greatest need?

I’d like to share a verse from Scripture with you that, if practised, would help to put an end to war, violence and sexual abuse. It helps us to understand why tsunamis, earthquakes and the September 11 2001 disaster happened.

It causes us to reflect on what is wrong with our world and what can be done about it. The verse I am referring to is: 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (NIV).

The title of this message is: “Easter: God’s solution to our greatest need.”

This verse shows us what is wrong with our world and proclaims the solution. Here we see:

  • The greatest problem with our world;
  • The greatest need of individuals and our world.
  • And the solution to the greatest problem;

2. The greatest problem with our world

This verse uses two words that describe our greatest problem, but we don’t want to hear them. I don’t expect that you’ll hear them too often on the radio or TV. Some of you may object with me this morning for even mentioning them. But unless we understand the greatest problem, we will never know the greatest solution. If we don’t understand what is really wrong with our world, we won’t want to seek the best way to solve it.The greatest problem is NOT:

  • Osama Bin Laden[3] and Al-Qaeda[4],
  • the Americans and their Allies in Iraq; OR
  • paedophilia, murder and violence around the world.

These are symptoms of the greatest problem.

Those two words that spell out the greatest problem with our world from this verse are:

a. Sin, and

b. Unrighteousness

We don’t like to be told we are sinners, but if we don’t understand that every human being since the time of Adam and Eve has been born sinners, we won’t understand the solution.

What does it mean that we are sinners? Most of us think that the meaning is simple: We do wrong. That’s only part of the answer. Those of us with a long association with the church can easily rush over this greatest problem in the whole world. Briefly, let’s talk about

A. SIN

In this 1973 book by a secular Jewish psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin, he wrote this:

In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of “sin,” a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone’s mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles . . ? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? . . Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins?[5]

Menninger says that “the sinful act” includes “an implicitly aggressive quality—a ruthlessness, a hurting, a breaking away from God and from the rest of humanity, a partial alienation, or act of rebellion. . . sin has a willful, defiant, or disloyal quality; someone is defiled or offended or hurt.”[6]

These are amazing statements from a secular psychiatrist. Karl Menninger pushed the boundaries of what is wrong with our city, our country, the world – what is wrong with you and me.

Our text agrees that the major problem is “sin.” SIN, with a big “I” in the middle.

Too often we think of “sin” as an act of wrongdoing like telling a lie, stealing, killing somebody, sexually abusing a child. Sin includes wrong actions such as those, BUT its fundamental understanding in the Scriptures is “a state of alienation from God. For the great prophets of Israel, sin is much more than the violation of “[7] something that is forbidden or breaking some external law.

Sin indicates a breaking “of a personal relationship with God, a betrayal of the trust he places in us.”[8] Here are a couple of examples.

Isa. 6:5, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'”

Luke 5:8, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'”

The British evangelist, Michael Green, put it this way:

“What would you think of a doctor who, on discovering you had a tumor buried deep in your body, responded, ‘Take two aspirin and you’ll be just fine.’?

“How about a fireman who responded to the fire alarm by saying, ‘It’ll probably burn itself out soon enough,’ or a policeman who, on arriving at the scene of a robbery, merely shook his head and said, ‘Boys will be boys’!

“In each case the response is inappropriate to the situation. Is your response to sin also inappropriate.”[9]

Our greatest problem is not only that we are alienated from God, but that the sinful acts that come out of this alienation, flow from deep within all of us. Jeremiah put it as straight as you can get: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV)

So, SIN is a state of alienation from God and this comes from deep within all of us.

And this SIN is associated with:

B. UNRIGHTEOUSNESS

What does it mean for all of us to be unrighteous? “Righteous” or “just” is based on the Hebrew word meaning “straight” or “right.” “The corresponding Greek term[10] in Greek society referred to that which is in accordance with law or social norm.”[11] For example, the God of Israel, asks, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).

If righteous means to do what is right and in accordance with the law, what do you think unrighteousness might mean? The opposite: To fail to do what is correct and to do what is against the law.

Here’s the BIGGEST problem: We all are sinners by nature, alienated from God, and we DO what is wrong and against the law – against the law of God, against the law of the land, and even against the law of our own consciences.

Unless we understand the GREATEST problem, we will not grasp the GREATEST solution celebrated at Easter. We will not understand the wickedness in our world if we miss the meaning of these two words: SIN and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.

That great British Baptist preacher of the 19th century, C. H. Spurgeon, often told this story:

“A cruel king called one of his subjects into his presence and asked him his occupation. The man responded, ‘I’m a blacksmith.’ The ruler then ordered him to go and make a chain of a certain length.

“The man obeyed, returning after several months to show it to the monarch. Instead of receiving praise for what he had done, however, he was instructed to make the chain twice as long.

“When that assignment was completed, the blacksmith presented his work to the king, but again was commanded, ‘Go back and double its length.’ This procedure was repeated several times. At last the wicked tyrant directed the man to be bound in the chains of his own making and cast into a fiery furnace.”[12]

We are like that cruel king because sin takes a dreadful toll in our lives. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death. . .” In the verse we are considering in 1 Peter, it says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” Why was it necessary for the righteous one, Christ, to die for the sins of the unrighteous?

  • Since sin means we are alienated from God;
  • Since unrighteousness means that we do wrong and crooked things,
  • that tells us something about our greatest need. This verse from First Peter nails it:

3. Your greatest need . . .

is “to bring you to God.” Wait a minute, you might be saying: “I haven’t the faintest interest in God.” In fact, I’m of the Perry Como vintage and I believe “Love Makes the World God Round,” and my greatest need is LOVE. Or if you’re of the Madonna vintage, “Love [still] Makes the World Go Round.”

Just a moment folks. Who or what makes the world go round? Who is the one “who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:25-26)?

There would be no understanding of “love” without the one whose love endures forever and the one who provides food for every creature, sends rain on the just and the unjust, and who sustains this world – in spite of its sin and unrighteousness.

We think our greatest need is love, human love. Our biggest need is not to deal with war, tsunamis, Sept. 11, cancer, crime, our job and our family.

God says that your greatest need is to be in fellowship with God himself – your greatest need is for somebody “to bring you to God.” The greatest issue is that we are cut off from Almighty God, our Creator and Sustainer.

If this greatest need and greatest problem are NOT solved, then the anger of God will rest on us and our eternity will be miserable.

Please understand what this would mean. If we were in fellowship, companionship, friendship, in love with the Lord of the Universe, we would not want to tear one another apart, violate one another, and do violence in our world. We would want to love as God loves.

You see, no matter whether you have been raised in deepest, darkest Africa or deepest, darkest Bundaberg, you know that God exists. How do I know? God tells us in Rom. 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (TNIV).

Deep down within you and me, our conscience convicts us of the existence of God. But we feel out of step with him. The Bible puts it that we are “alienated from God.” Augustine of Hippo, Northern Africa, was a sexually immoral man who indulged his passions in his youth, fathering an illegitimate child.[13] He eventually obtained a reputation to be called, St. Augustine, and described this alienation in the 4th century in his book, Confessions. In that book he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.[14]

Our greatest need is for somebody who can bring us to God. We are rebels who don’t want anything to do with God but our greatest need is to be in relationship with the Lord God of the universe.

How can that happen? I’m glad you asked. That leads us to what this verse tells us about.

4. The greatest solution to our greatest need

If sin and doing wrong are our problems, we too often think of better security, more police, bigger prisons, tougher penalties, better parenting.

If you don’t understand the greatest problem with our world and reject the greatest need that we have, you won’t be interested in the greatest solution to our personal problems and the world’s problems.

A T Easter, we are directed to the greatest solution and it has nothing to do with police, prisons and security: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

These are the steps to the greatest solution.

  • Christ suffered for sins;
  • Christ, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous;
  • Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead.

A. Step One: Christ suffered for sins once for all; [15]

What’s the deal about Christ’s suffering “once for all”? Understand what happened for the Jews in the OT. If they wanted to be right before God and have their sins forgiven, “God set up a system by which the people of Israel could make atonement for their sins. To atone is to make amends, to set things right.”[16] God’s law was that “the high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year to sprinkle blood [of animals] as an atonement for the sins of the people (Lev. 16:3-34: Heb. 9:7, 25).”[17] To set things right between the Jews and God, blood was sprinkled on the altar only once a year.

When Jesus Christ suffered on the cross, he provided the blood atonement, not once a year, but once for all people for all time, so there is no need to wait for this once a year sacrifice. You can set things right with God any day at any time because “Christ suffered for sins once for all” times. This is wonderful news of freedom from sin and easy access to God.

You might ask: “Why does any blood have to be shed? That sounds gruesome to me.” We need to understand that when it comes to dealing with sin and unrighteousness, we don’t set the rules. God does.

That’s step one from this verse: Christ suffered for sins once for all.

B. Step 2: Christ, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous.

This is God’s justice in action. There are no unfair, unjust sentences with God.

When Peter was preaching to the Jews in the Temple at Jerusalem, according to Acts 3:14, he said, “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” He was speaking of Christ, “the Holy and Righteous One.”

Jesus is “righteous.” He’s without sin. We are unrighteous – with sin deep within us and in the behaviour we do. How is it possible for us, the unrighteous, to enter the presence of the totally righteous and holy God?

This is how God does it. God set in place this wonderful solution to our greatest problem. This is how he says it in 2 Cor. 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin [or a sin offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

So, what’s the effect of this? Simon Kistemaker summarised this beautifully when he wrote:

Jesus’ sacrificial death is to enable us to enter God’s presence. Jesus opens the way to the throne of God, introduces us to the Father, and re-establishes for us an intimate relationship with the Father. By removing sin as the cause of our alienation from God, Jesus provides access to God and makes us acceptable in his sight.[18]

This is what is means to be justified by faith – to be declared righteous before God. For all those who place their total trust in Jesus Christ by faith, they now have a friendly relationship with God, “are acceptable to him and have assurance that he is favorably disposed toward us.”[19]

The third step in this greatest of all solutions is:

C. Step 3: Christ did this by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead.

I Peter 3:18, “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

We must always keep these two actions together: Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection.

The resurrection shows that God was satisfied with Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. This means that God will be satisfied to have you, if you become a believer, in his presence because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that when Christ died on the cross that he continued to live in a new realm. How do we know that? To the repentant thief who was crucified alongside Christ on the cross, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Then Christ was resurrected three days later, transformed into a new “spiritual body” that didn’t have the limitations of his fleshly body.

God said a big YES to Christ’s death as a substitute for our sins by raising him from the dead.

5. Conclusion

Let’s pull this all together, based on 1 Peter 3:18. That verse again, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

a. The greatest problem with our world is not tsunamis, Sept. 11, crime, violence & sexual abuse. Our greatest problem is defined by two words that you probably won’t hear on TV tonight: SIN (a state of alienation from God) and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS (sinful actions that we do).

b. The greatest need of all people is not to solve the teenage rebellion or broken relations, to find peace in the Middle East, Iraq, the Sudan, or in downtown Bundaberg, but that greatest need is to deal with our alienation from God. How can we ever have a relationship with the holy, righteous God of the universe?

c. The greatest solution, that you won’t read in tomorrow’s newspaper, is found in 3 steps that are linked together:

  • First, Christ suffered for sins once for all;
  • Second, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous;
  • Third, Christ did this by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead.

I would be remiss if I did not offer this challenge. This message is wasted if you do not respond.

  • How are you going to deal with the biggest problem you have – your sin and unrighteousness?
  • Since your greatest need is to be in relationship with God and you are alienated from him, what will you do about that today?
  • What’s the point of the greatest solution: Christ suffered for your sins, the righteous for the unrighteous by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead?
  • What’s the meaning of all this if you don’t repent of your sin and trust Christ alone as your Lord and Saviour?
  • How can you do that? The Bible says:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

If you repent and receive Christ by faith, what will happen to you?

  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17 TNIV).
  • Won’t you receive the greatest solution today? If you want to know more, please speak with me after the service.

Chuck Swindoll once said:

If our greatest need had been information,

God would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology,

God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money,

God would have sent us an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure,

God would have sent us an entertainer.

But our greatest need was forgiveness,

So God sent us [the][20] Savior.[21]

Notes:

[1] Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek (ed.), “2004 tsunami disaster: Scholarly and factual analyses,” updated 22 January 2020, Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library, available at: http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/AsiaPages/Tsunami-Analyses.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[2] “Death toll in Haiti expected to be over 100,000 says Prime Minister”, Gather News, 13 January 2010, available at: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977993233&grpId=3659174697244816 [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[3] See “Osama Bin Laden”, Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[4] “Al-Qaeda”, Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Qaeda [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[5] Karl Menninger 1973, Whatever Became of Sin, Bantam Books, New York, p. 15.

[6] Ibid., p. 22.

[7] D. G. Bloesch 1984, ‘Sin’, in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 1012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Michael P. Green (ed.) 1982, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 346.

[10] Dikaios.

[11] D. W. Diehl 1984, ‘Righteous’, in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 952.

[12] ‘Sin’s Deadly Wages’, Our Daily Bread, Saturday, December 28, 1996. Also available as Richard W. De Haan, ‘Sin’s Deadly Wages’, Sermonettes, available at: http://www.nccg.org/Sermonette-16.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[13] Earle E. Cairns 1954, 1981, Christianity through the Centuries (rev. & enl.), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 146.

[14] Confessions of Saint Augustine, 1.1 (I have modernised the language), available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confessions.iv.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[15] Some of the following information is summarised and changed, but based on Pastor John Piper, May 18, 1997, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, “What is Baptism and Does It Save? 1 Peter 3:18-22,”, available at: http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper97/5-18-97.htm [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[16] R. C. Sproul 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, p. 173.

[17] Simon J. Kistemaker 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, p. 139.

[18] Ibid., p. 139.

[19] Thayer, p. 544, cited in Kistemaker, p. 139.

[20] The original said, “a”.

[21] Charles R. Swindoll 1998, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, p. 315.

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

 

It’s a sin to bore God’s people with God’s Word

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Buggy Sermon

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

During the Christmas holidays in Australia[1] is an excellent time to experience second-string preaching from our church pulpits.  This is often the time when the senior pastor goes on holidays and assistant pastors and elders take over the role of preaching on Sunday.  However, this also happens during the year, but on a more limited basis as the senior pastor takes over most of the main pulpit-based preaching activities.

The problem strikes hard during the extended holiday season.  One predicament in listening to these substitutes (for the senior pastor) is that these alternate preachers bore Christians with God’s word.  Howard Hendricks makes a habit of saying, “If you are going to bore people, don’t bore them with the Gospel. Bore them with calculus, bore them with earth science, bore them with world history. But, it is a sin to bore people with the Gospel.”[2]

To be honest, some people go to hear these replacement preachers (who are lovely Christian men and women), but they are bored to tears with what they hear from the pulpit. Their presentations and content need a radical rethink.

1.  This is what some people experience

This can happen especially during holiday periods or at any time during the year.  Generally this does not apply to the senior pastor who is generally a capable preacher, whether an expositor or a topical preacher.

People provide me with examples of pastors / preachers who so bore the people that they begin reading or doing other things while “listening” to the sermon.  I have done this myself on occasions.  That happens is that these so-called preachers deliver sermons that have very little to do with the text they read and people tune out.  They ramble in a some different kinds of fashions: (a) They can be over the top with their enthusiasm, (b) They could be laid back and uninteresting with their delivery, or (c) They can be tellers of jokes and have people in stitches of laughter.

I recently attended an evangelical church that has a high view of Scripture but I came home from church having been bored by the preacher.  He presented enthusiastically but there was little biblical content in his sermon.  Even though this was only a few months ago, I can’t remember the content of the sermon.  It was not memorable!

Why is this happening?  The preacher could preach with enthusiasm but there is no organised content in what he says.  He could shout plenty of “Amens” asking for agreement on what he is preaching, but that can be a gloss for the lack of content.  He can give lots of humour.  These sermons can provide rambling content of enthusiastic delivery or boring complacency – both  without substance from the text.

Many of these “preachers” can have excellent ministries in other areas such as evangelism, counselling, pastoral care, or teaching Sunday School children.  But putting them in the pulpit to preach sermons can be a danger to church health.

Is this happening in the church you attend?

I recall friends telling of a church they visited and heard a preacher deliver an atrocious message.  He did not know how to construct a sermon and to gain one’s attention when delivering it. Their comments were, “We won’t be attending that church when that preacher is on.”

They understand that he has gifts in other areas but they told me that they are of the view that he should not be asked to deliver a sermon as he is an example of another who bores God’s people with his poor delivery, mumbling in his beard when he should be projecting his voice, and doing nothing to grab and keep attention.

While their approaches may be different, these types of preachers suffer from a “disease” that can drive people away from the church.  One can be very enthusiastic but essentially has no biblical content in his or her sermon.  The other may be laid back and does nothing to gain and keep the attention of the people.  A third could be in competition with the comedian.  Organised biblical content is absent from these kinds of presentations.

Do any of you suffer from a similar dilemma in your churches, where people preach who have little idea about how to preach to get your attention and deliver content?

This is incompetent preaching.  When these kinds of preachers are scheduled to preach, some people will absent themselves from the church.

This is not a problem exclusive to an occasional evangelical church.  People tell me of other churches in various cities and towns where, when the pastor is on leave, he prepares a schedule of preachers (elders), many of whom have a similar lack of preaching gift to that discussed above.  Many of these men and women don’t have a clue about homiletics (sermon construction) and bore God’s people with their delivery.  People tell me of elders who read the Scriptures and they are embarrassments with the way they stumble through God’s word when they read it publicly, and thus make it difficult to listen to them

Holiday time is an opportunity to bore God’s people with His Word in some congregations in Australia.

2.  What would happen in a secular profession?

If management took this kind of approach with employees in the power station that generates my electricity at Christmas time, I would have no operating electricity in my house.  Fishermen who acted like this would not make a living.  School teachers could lose their jobs if they were so incompetent as teachers that they were unskilled and bored the kids they teach.

But come to church and a different standard prevails in some churches.  Why is it that people who don’t have the gift of teaching or preaching are let loose with their boring presentations on congregations?  Too often these incompetent preachers are scheduled to preach by senior pastors who may be excellent preachers.

Many counsellors in my network are now checking on the progress of their clients through the use of the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS).  They check on the quality of the counsellor’s sessions with clients through the Session Rating Scale (SRS).  This client-informed practice assesses whether clients are improving (ORS) and whether the therapist is being effective with a given client (SRS).

Something similar should be devised for people in the pew who are listening week in, week out, to preachers.  That should weed out the competent from the incompetent preachers.  It could also measure if sermon listeners are growing in grace, and in knowledge of the Saviour.  Or is that too empirical for the Christian church?

3.  What is the cause of incompetent preaching?

These are my personal observations.

1.  Because somebody is on staff or is an elder, the senior pastor seems to assume that this staff member should be given preference in being the alternate preacher.  Assumptions make for poor decisions in choosing alternate preachers in some churches.  Most of the incompetent preachers about which I write could be lovely people personally.  They are personable or laid back in their personalities.  But they never should be preaching until they improve: (a) their abilities to outline a scriptural passage and, (b) can deliver God’s message with confidence.

2.  “To equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11) is not taken seriously at many churches.  Equipping (training) in preaching should be offered by all churches.

3.  You might ask, “Why do people continue to go to these kinds of churches with incompetent preachers?” In parts of regional Australia, there are not many alternatives.  Choice is a problem in some of these cities and towns.

4.  Many people in the pew have become used to sub-standard preaching.  Few people are prepared to raise practical issues about these lovely brothers in Christ who are not a preacher’s bootlace.  Instead of complaining about the low standard of preaching, they would rather stick it out as a temporary form of “penance” than ruffle feathers in the leadership team.  Those who complain could be regarded as whingers[3] who are negative and what they say possibly will be discounted by those who do not like critiques of evangelical doctrines and presentations.

4.  What does it mean to equip the saints for the work of ministry?

There is a lack of training in these churches according to Ephesians 4:11-16, which reads:

11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV).

These verses teach:

  1. It is Christ who gave these gifts to the church when he ascended (see the context in Eph. 4:7-9).
  2. What are these gifts? Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (v. 11).
  3. Why were these gifts given?  “To equip the saints for the work of ministry” (v. 12).
  4. What would this achieve?
  • Building up the body of Christ (v. 12);
  • Help to attain unity of the faith (v. 13);
  • Increase the believer’s knowledge of Christ (v. 13);
  • Attain maturity and fullness in Christ (v. 13);

6.  The result will be that believers will:

  • Not be tossed about by deceitful doctrine, human cunning & crafty schemes (v.14)

7.  When we are equipped, we will:

  • Speak truth lovingly (v. 15);
  • Grow up in Christ (v. 15);

8.  Then . . .

  • When Christ is the head (v. 15);
  • He holds the body of Christ together (v. 16);
  • How?  By every joint/gift which Christ has provided (v. 16);
  • Working properly (v. 16);
  • The body grows (v. 16);
  • By building itself up in love (v. 16).

A summary outline of these verses could be:

A.  Christ gave these gifts (vv 7-9);

B.  The nature of the gifts (v. 11);

C.  The purpose of the gifts (vv 12-13);

D.  The results for the body of Christ (vv 14-16)

Or,

  1. Christ gave (vv 7-9)
  2. Gifts given (v. 11)
  3. Maturity attained (vv. 12-13)
  4. False doctrine refuted (v. 14)
  5. A healthy body of Christ (vv. 15-16)

An excellent equipping resource for preachers is Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005 2nd edn).

5.  Some help from the Puritans

To address the problem of boredom in the pew from sub-standard preaching, it would be good to consider the approach of the Puritans of 16th & 17th century England and then the Americas, in the calling of preachers.

Andy Ball[4] spoke at the Westminster Conference 2005 on “The Puritans and the divine call of preaching.”  These are the elements of the Puritan call:

a.  The Puritan’s double call to preach

“The Puritans believed in the divine call summoning a man to become a herald of God. There is a general call to repentance to the world, and wouldn’t the same God call personally those who will take his message to the world as his heralds and angels? Of course he would. The puritans give us a twin emphasis of outward signs and an inner sense, the so-called double call. Both were authored by the Lord of glory himself. Charles Bridges calls them two grand combining requisites indispensable for the ministry.

There are trends in the church today which oppose this double call”.[5]

b.  The inner call

“A disturbance in the realm of the Spirit’ is needed, said Martyn Lloyd-Jones. [John] Owen said God first gave men ability, and then they were set apart by church. [Richard] Baxter speaks of the necessity men must have to preach the gospel. Necessity has structured my life and message, he added. In 1753 when he was in his late thirties and soon to die James Durham wrote well on the call to the ministry, “with clearness therein.” The evidences are the gifting of the life, confirmed by examiners, singleness in ourselves to obey the call, and God’s providential leading. The Spirit leads us on by steps. We develop a growing desire to study divinity and have another desire to enter the ministry. Sanctifying efficacy, a constraint to yield to the call and submit to Christ, obeying God, a Word-controlled nature, and a gifting impulse – these are the marks of the divine call. The younger John Milton wrote strongly on how to remove hirelings from the church. His concern was focused on an inward sense of his calling and a strong obligation to preach the gospel free.”[6]

However, there is a reluctance to emphasise the inner call among some in contemporary Reformed church circles.  Andy Ball puts this down to the following modern influence:

“Every element of guidance is considered as coming from without. There is present in reformed circles an overreaction to the charismatic movement, and a fear of the inward work of the Holy Spirit. There is almost a non-Trinitarian attitude and the Holy Spirit is rarely referred to in those who are cautious about a personal call to the ministry.”[7]

No contemporary over-emphasis or aberration should cause Christians to move away from biblical truth.  The Mormon use of extra-biblical revelation should not cause Christians to leave the authoritative Scriptures for extra-canonical writings such as The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter or The Apocrypha.

The extreme of “blab it and grab it theology” in charismatic circles should not influence the final decision as to whether the charismatic gifts are for today.  That should be a biblical determinant. See:

One faulty Ford motor vehicle does not make every Ford vehicle a disaster.  There are plenty of sub-standard items being manufactured but that doesn’t make the item you purchase to be a fraud.  There are some better manufacturers than others and the best makers will be the ones with the most recommendations.

Paul, in addressing the Ephesian elders, taught that “The Holy spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28).  This is the inner call that is also emphasised for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1.  In Ephesus, even though there were elders with the inner call of God, “fierce wolves” of false doctrine would enter that church.  What was the church to do?  “Be alert” (Acts 20:31).  The latter is an external requirement to keep heresy from destroying the church.

By this inner call or sovereign movement by the Holy Spirit in an individual, some of God’s servants become moved upon to preach.  The apostle Paul wrote, “For necessity is laid upon me.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:16; see also Gal. 1:16).  However, we know that this call is not to all people as I Corinthians 12 makes clear: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers? …  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?” (vv. 28-29).  The expected answer to the questions is, “No!”  Teachers/preachers who have not been appointed by God and confirmed by the church, should not be preaching as they don’t have the gifts and calling of God.

This emphasis needs to be renewed in the contemporary church to overcome what I see as a crisis in preaching.

c.  The outer call: recognition by the church

“Candidates must have some ecclesiastical call. Ordinary men must have the call from God, yes, but from the congregation too. Do not leave the choice to the men but approach able gifted men yourselves, says [James] Durham. We should even go so far that church discipline is considered to men who refuse the examination of the church. They should be censured for refusing to enter the ministry. God ordinarily calls through the church and so when it says, ‘Go!’ then we should obey God.”[8]

Puritan, Thomas Manton, wrote: “The inward call is not enough; to preserve order in the church an outward call is necessary. As Peter, Acts 10, was called of God to go to Cornelius, and then besides that, he has a call from Cornelius himself.”[9]

Another Puritan, John Collings, contended that”God’s law has not commanded me to hear everyone that speaketh a good discourse or reads a chapter. he must be specifically authorised to preach, or I am not obliged to hear”.[10]

The Church of Norway believes that”God’s call to the ordained ministry is both an inner call to the individual and an outer call through the testing and confirmation of the church, which is expressed in the ordination.”

The United Methodist Church (USA) considers that the call to ministry involves “recognition of both an inner call and an outer call:

  • The inner call refers to what a person feels, perceives, and believes about God’s activity and invitation in his or her life.
  • The outer call has to do with the work of the church in becoming acquainted with God’s movement in a person’s life and then examining and validating this movement.”

What is the biblical basis of the outer call to ministry?  One example is the sending of Saul and Barnabas by the church.  However, this also involved the inner ministry of the Holy Spirit to the prophets and teachers of the church.  Acts 13:1-3 states:

Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off (NET Bible).

Before being called to minister with Paul and Luke, it is said of Timothy that  “he was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2).

d.  Beware!

After Andy Ball’s presentation, there was a time for comments from the floor of the conference.  This perceptive analysis could point to what is happening with God’s people being bored by preachers in the 21st century church:

“There are a million men and women in Roman and Orthodox and Protestant churches today not called of God to be ministers. We know this because they do not preach God’s message. Yet all of them plead they have an inward sense of divine call to be ministers – the Spirit has led them, they say. Such a sense of call has authority only for that person himself or herself”.[11]

My observation is that the Puritans were teaching something special that should be adapted by the contemporary church.

There is the inner call to teach/preach as the impulse from the Holy Spirit and there is the outward recognition by the church.  This outward call needs to not only have input from the church leaders but also include feedback from the congregation.

e.  Summary from the Puritans

If unsuitable people preach in our pulpits, the work of God and the cause of truth will be negatively affected.  I fear that that is happening when God’s people are being bored by incompetent people who are attempting to preach God’s Word.

Paul to Titus said, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.  Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15 ESV).  Peter wrote:

Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11 NET Bible).

Both inner and outer calls to ministry have biblical precedent.

I commend an article to you by Malcolm Watts, “Called to the Ministry.”

6.  Some questions that need answering

I’m of the view that when I expound a passage of Scripture, I should be addressing some of the scriptural, theological & contemporary controversies that arise from this passage. If we take Ephesians 4:11-16, what could be some of these questions?

  1. How do we define the controversial gifts such as apostles and prophets?  I also need to define evangelist, pastor and teacher biblically.
  2. When did these gifts cease?  There is a theological position called cessationism that raises some interesting issues.
  3. If they are still being given today, who are examples of apostles,  prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers in the contemporary church?
  4. Why do some churches not take seriously the required ministry of equipping the saints for the work of ministry?
  5. What kinds of false/deceitful doctrines are appearing in churches in my country/community today?
  6. Could the existence of false doctrine be associated with a failure to accept the equipping ministry promoted in this passage?

7.  There is no excuse for being an incompetent public speaker

Every person who has a gift of teaching/preaching can be taught to be a more competent public speaker through attendance at public speaking clubs.  When I became a radio announcer for the breakfast shift at 4BU Bundaberg[12] many years ago, the manager recommended that I improve my on-air fluency by attending a local Rostrum Club.

This was one of the most beneficial moves that I ever made.  It has equipped me with public speaking presentation abilities that I would not have learned elsewhere.  There are not as many Rostrum Clubs around regional Queensland today as there used to be in the early 1970s.  However, Toastmasters seems to have taken over some of that role.

I am convinced that every developing, inexperienced or incompetent public preacher/teacher should join a public speaking club.  These would help develop gifts of preaching-teaching OR eliminate those who bore people with poor quality speaking gifts.

Therefore, some of the incompetent preachers that people hear could be improved through joining one of these clubs.  Or, the club would discern whether the speaker is capable or not of being a good or reasonable public speaker/preacher.

We may need to accept the fact that there are some in the pulpits of today’s churches who should not be teachers/preachers.  Attending a public speaking club will not overcome the difficulty of a lack of gift as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (Ephesians 4:11).  Not all Christian people are destined to manifest public preaching/teaching gifts.   They may be better suited in evangelism, pastoral care, social ministry, administration, counselling or some other aspect of church life.

This we know for sure: “For the body [of Christ] does not consist of one member but of many… Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (I Corinthians 12:14, 31 ESV).  Every one has a spiritual gift from God and it is the Christian’s responsibility to find that gift and function in it.  Being an active member of the body of Christ will assist in causing that gift to be recognised and manifested.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (I Corinthians 12:27-28 ESV).

8.  Conclusion

God’s people should not be bored by incompetent preachers and teachers.  This could be eliminated by: (a) Only those with acknowledged gifts of teaching/preaching to be allowed into the pulpits of churches and as teachers in the church, whether at Sunday School, Youth Group or Bible studies; and (b) Those with inadequate public speaking gifts should be encouraged to join a public speaking club before they are allowed to preach and teach in a public setting.

The ministry of equipping God’s people for ministry is clearly taught in Ephesians 4:11-16.  Churches that ignore this passage will suffer the consequences of boredom of some people in the pew, exit of people from the church, and false doctrine entering the church.

Howard Hendricks hit the mark:

“If you are going to bore people, don’t bore them with the Gospel. Bore them with calculus, bore them with earth science, bore them with world history. But, it is a sin to bore people with the Gospel.” [13]

Endnotes:


[1]This is a period from about mid-December until the end of January and generally coincides with school holidays.

[2] This quote is attributed to Howard Hendricks in Lawrence O. Richards & Gary J. Bredfeldt 1998, Creative Bible Teaching (rev. edn.).  Chicago: Moody Publishers. See HERE. (Accessed 20 March 2013).

[3] The Free Online Dictionary defines “whinge” as meaning “to complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner”, available at: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/whinger [Accessed on 9 January 2010].

[4] Andy is from Netley Christian Fellowship, Southampton, UK.

[5] Andy Ball 2005, “Puritans and the divine call of preaching,” The Westminster Conference 2005 (2), The Banner of Truth Trust, available at: http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?957 [Accessed 16 January 2010].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Treasury of Puritan Quotations, provided by lrschrs at Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, “It’s a sin to bore God’s people,” # 56, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?webtag=ws-fellowship&nav=messages&msg=119929.56 [Accessed 16 January 2010].

[10] Ibid.

[11] Andy Ball, op. cit.

[12] See also 4BU.  Bundaberg is a city on the Pacific Ocean coast of South-East Queensland, Australia.

[13] See HERE. (Accessed 20 March 2013).

.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 September 2016.
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An Aussie Way of Death: Euthanasia

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

One Of Four Intensive Care Units (icu) Aboard Comfort. Clip Art
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By Spencer D Gear

John is 65 and has been suffering from cancer for many years. The pain is too much. When he asks his doctor to put him to sleep permanently (kill him!), should the doctor agree? Jane is only a few weeks old. She was born with a severe genetic disability that is incurable. Sometimes she is in severe distress with pain. Her chances of being able to enjoy a normal life are minimal. Should she be allowed to live or should euthanasia be performed on her?

Euthanasia was once legal in the Northern Territory (Australia).[1] In the twenty-first century, there is considerable public support for euthanasia to be legalised across Australia. There is a minority group of medical practitioners, called the Doctors’ Reform Society that is supportive of euthanasia in certain circumstances. It stated:

It remains abundantly clear to anyone who listens that there is a small group of people who are not ignorant of what we have to offer, who are not depressed, who are not being manipulated, but who, very simply, wish to be the arbiters of the time of their own inevitable death. They remain genuinely grateful for what we have to offer, and for the promises offered by recent advances in palliative care. However, despite our best encouragement, they simply do not wish to lie there with their symptoms well controlled until such time as circumstances beyond their own control decide when their life will end. Their business on earth is finished, they are ready to die, at peace with themselves.[2]

Thankfully, Bundaberg[3] doctors, led by a representative of the Bundaberg branch of the Australian Medical Association, have rejected this promotion. They know that this means: “putting patients down.”

Let’s get it clear what euthanasia is. We are sometimes confused by the current debate because it seems that some are talking about disconnecting mechanical life support systems. Others think that we are denying the patients’ rights to say, “This is enough. I want no extraordinary means to be used to keep me alive when all hope of physical life seems to be gone.” We don’t need euthanasia for this. It is the common law right of all Australians to decide which treatments they want to have for themselves.

Euthanasia is “the intentional killing of a person, for compassionate motives, whether the killing is by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by failing to perform an action necessary to maintain life. For euthanasia to occur, there must be an intention to kill.”[4]

To say that it’s voluntary means that the person asks to be killed. Now, euthanasia promoters don’t use the word “kill”, but it is the only accurate word to describe the reality of what happens. Besides, it is the word that our current law uses.

Worst cases are put forth so that it is made to appear that there is a vast amount of suffering for which nothing less than death is good enough. Yet, I am told that those who practise palliative care with the terminally ill encounter few requests for euthanasia by patients. Too often, the distressed relatives who often feel impotent, sense a lack of support, and may be encountering a financial burden, are the ones calling for euthanasia.

I do not reject euthanasia because of the results it is likely to cause. One has written, “We just don’t trust the law-makers to get such a significant law right.”

Luke Gormally, director of London’s Linacre Bio-Ethics Centre, was in Australia. He warned that legalising euthanasia could lead to “killing the disabled and dependent for economic reasons.” He also warned that euthanasia would endorse youth suicide because of the “wholly negative message” it would send to youth.

We know that when we support voluntary euthanasia, it can go beyond the person’s choice. Holland is the most recent example for which we have a clear evidence. That country has permitted voluntary, active euthanasia for some time, and has recently made it legal.

Dutch medical doctor, Dr. Karel Gunning, on his 1992 visit to Australia said: “Holland has indeed become a very dangerous country, as patients may have their lives ended without their request and without knowledge of the authorities. The doctor thus has become a powerful man, able to decide on life or death.”[5]

The New Scientist magazine (20 June 1992) confirmed this alarming situation in an article titled, “The Dutch way of death.”[6] It stated that “doctors and nurses in the Netherlands can practise euthanasia if they stick to certain guidelines. Yet many patients receive lethal injections without giving their consent.”

“In some hospitals, doctors routinely approach patients who are terminally ill, offering to inject them with lethal doses of barbiturates and curare. But Dutch euthanasia has its sinister side, too. Involuntary euthanasia of sick and elderly people is commonplace in the Netherlands, and that when patients do opt for euthanasia, it is frequently out of fear of being a nuisance rather than to avoid unnecessary physical suffering.

“The details are alarming. At least a third of the 5000 or so Dutch patients who each year receive lethal doses of drugs from their doctors do not give their unequivocal consent. About 400 of these patients never even raise the issue of euthanasia with their doctors. Moreover, of those who willingly opt for euthanasia, only about 5 per cent do so solely because of unbearable pain.”

The magazine concludes that “these revelations strike a blow at the two central canons of the worldwide euthanasia lobby: that euthanasia should be used only as a means to end pointless physical suffering, and that the patient alone should make the decision.”

As one Dutch doctor puts it: “Everywhere doctors are terminating lives. The only difference in Holland is that here we talk about it.”

Even though it is clear from this example that it is impossible to control euthanasia, is this the right kind of morality to follow. By looking to the end results, this is a system of ethics called utilitarianism. A big word, but it simply means that a “good” result (for example, relieving pain of a cancer patient) justifies the means (killing the person–euthanasia). This is a dangerous view.

Two examples show us how bad this view of right and wrong can become. In Germany during World War 2, Hitler’s goal was to develop a more perfect race. A pretty good goal? But his way to attain it was evil (killing six million Jews and millions of others). President Richard Nixon’s goal was a noble one, national security. But the criminal activity of Watergate was not justified to reach it.

There are droves of people in Australia who support this view of morality. We are in deep trouble if this nation follows such an ethical system. The end never justifies the means; the means must justify themselves. An act is not automatically good because it has a good goal.

How do we know what is good? We need a fixed standard of good by which to judge right and wrong, rather than a person’s opinion of what is good. This fixed standard for euthanasia needs to be: murder or assisted murder is always wrong. This is the morality of universal standards of the 10 commandments (the Judeo-Christian worldview).

I have taken this lengthy look at why I do not support euthanasia, based on the end justifying the means, because it is a view of right and wrong that could lead to chaos in our lucky country. Those who support euthanasia and some of those who oppose euthanasia both follow this system of morality.

I reject euthanasia because I support the 10 commandments and believe it is always wrong to murder or assist with the murder of anybody. The foundation of Australian society has been built on this view.

I also reject euthanasia because it is an attack on the sovereignty of God. We must answer two fundamental questions: Who are human beings? Whose right is it to terminate human life? Jesus Christ said, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

Human beings are unique and special. God’s view is that we are not higher animals but made “in the image of God.” If human beings are not special, we can do to them what a doctor advocated to me: “We put down dogs, why shouldn’t we offer the elderly in a vegetative state the same?”

Human life is sacred throughout life and in all circumstances, whether one is strong, independent and healthy or weak, dependent and handicapped.

When we reduce human beings to animals, it logically follows that a whole range of horrendous evils could eventuate. God has forbidden that any life be murdered. There is no need for a commandment that says, “You shall not commit euthanasia.” All deliberate, premeditated killing (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homicide–war raises some other issues) is covered by the one commandment, “You shall not murder.”

Another reason for opposing euthanasia is because the Scriptures are clear that “just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NET) the time of dying can be a critical time for people to prepare to meet their Maker. Eternal life and death decisions can be made in the “valley of the shadow of death.” We dare not take this from people.

Death is an unnatural intrusion into human existence, caused by sin. We must reject any secular philosophies that want to see death and dying as a natural transition to either non-existence or a higher stage of existence.

In sickness or in health, from the womb to old age and even through the dying process, life is sacred. In a depraved society that is choosing death and violence, Christians need to be shining lights in a world of darkness. We must choose life for ourselves and others. We must love our neighbours and offer them the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

While I reject “the end justifies the means” view of morality, we do reap what we sow. The clear biblical principle is that there are consequences to our actions. Australia already has innocent blood on its hands through the abortion slaughter. What will we reap if we legislate voluntary, active euthanasia? The harvest of a permissive approach to euthanasia is known from recent history and contemporary experience.

In Australia, “support for voluntary euthanasia is on the increase in Australia, with a new survey showing 85 per cent of the country is in favour of it,” according to The Australian newspaper.[7] Another report stated:

EIGHT out of 10 Australians believe the terminally ill should have a right to choose a medically assisted death, according to a new poll out today. The Newspoll research, conducted in February, found 80 per cent of adults surveyed supported the terminally ill’s right to voluntary euthanasia.

Just 14 per cent were opposed and 6 per cent were undecided. The results have renewed calls for further debate.

“I would call on the Victorian Government to permit passage of a private member’s Bill for voluntary euthanasia through Parliament,” Dying With Dignity Victoria incoming president Neil Francis said.

He said the level of public support was an increase on a 2002 Morgan poll, which put support levels at 73 per cent.[8]

However, public opinion should never dictate what is right or wrong.

Euthanasia puts a death wedge between the doctor and patient. It debases the medical profession and has harmful effects on the doctor-patient relationship.

I believe the superior options are to promote life, offer opportunity for eternal life, and become actively involved in care for the dying, persons who are handicapped, and other sufferers in our society. This care should involve doctors, nurses, clergy, counsellors and others who simply know how to care.

We need to improve the standards of care for dying patients, offering medical relief for severe pain, giving emotional support and careful communication. The hospice movement is to be commended for its compassionate care of the dying. Such facilities with concerned staff are urgently needed.

At a time when there is every reason to offer caring, compassionate palliative care to the terminally ill, those promoting euthanasia want to eliminate the sufferer rather than eliminate the suffering.

Any society that engages in the killing of innocent life will pay a grave price. When we do not respect life before birth, if affects our view of life after birth. If we do not respect the dying, it will affect our attitude towards the living. As the Bible puts it: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord” (Romans 14:7).

Life and death decisions belong to the Almighty God Englishman David Potter, father of a child with handicaps and director of the charity, Christian Concern for the Mentally Handicapped, put it this way: “For euthanasia to receive the support of law, it would make crime respectable and compassion despicable. Our feeble, synthetic way of life would degenerate further into a pit of our own making where values are valueless, love is loveless and life is hopeless.”

Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor imprisoned by the Nazis during World War 2 summed up the need to take action:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”[9]

In this madness at the beginning of the twenty-first century, will you join me in affirming that people are special and human life is worthwhile to human beings and to God? The challenge is to stand up for the young and old, unborn and born, handicapped and fit, and all people of all races.

Endnotes:


[1] “In 1996, the Australian house of Representatives voted to overturn the Northern Territory Euthanasia Legislation. The Senate confirmed this action in 1997. As well, every major Government inquiry around the world in recent years has strongly recommended against legalising euthanasia (Canada 1982, Victoria 1987, Great Britain 1994, New York State 1994)” (Queensland Right to Life, “Euthanasia: What does it really mean?” available at: http://www.qrtl.org.au/Euth%20Meaning.htm[Accessed 2 January 2010]. This link was not functioning on 24 June 2015 and the information could no longer be located online or on Queensland Cherish Life (new name of Right to Life) website.

[2] Dr. Richard Chaney, “Euthanasia and the Duty of Care,” 11 May 2001, Doctors’ Reform Society, available at: http://www.drs.org.au/articles/2001/art12.htm [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[3] Queensland, Australia. This is the city in which I formerly lived.

[4] Pro-Life Victoria. Available at: http://www.prolife.org.au/articles/articles_euthanasia_19.php (Accessed 24 June 2015).

[5] See Dr Gunning’s article, “Why not euthanasia?” available at: http://www.chninternational.com/Gunning%202006.html (Accessed 24 June 2015).

[6] Accessed 2 January 2010.

[7] “85 percent support voluntary euthanasia – poll,” The Australian, 26 October 2009, available at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/per-cent-support-voluntary-euthanasia-poll/story-fn3dxiwe-1225791455181 [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[8] Derek Humphry, Founder of Hemlock Society, Assisted Suicide Blog, “Huge support for euthanasia in Australia,” 4 March 2007, available at: http://assistedsuicide.org/blog/2007/03/04/huge-support-for-euthanasia-in-australia/ [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[9] Cited in The National WWII Museum, available at: http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-teachers/lesson-plans/pdfs/when-they-came-for-me.pdf (Accessed 24 June 2015).

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at date: 9 October 2015.

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Euthanasia: Mercy or Murder?

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Stethoscope 5 Clip Art
clker

By Spencer D Gear

Jenny is only a few weeks old. She was born with a severe genetic disability that is incurable and sometimes causes her severe distress and pain. Rational existence for her to enjoy normal life is expected to be minimal. Should she be allowed to live or should euthanasia be performed on her?[1]

Frank is 65 years old, has cancer and no longer wants to live. Either through witnessed written instructions or witnessed and repeated oral directions, he may request a drug for the purpose of inducing his death, administered or provided to him by a medical practitioner, registered nurse or registered physiotherapist. Such is voluntary, active euthanasia. [This is contained in the “Voluntary and Natural Death Bill 1993”, which has been tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly.]

Euthanasia supporters in Australia are gaining considerable mass media coverage. Between 1946 and 1992, the number of Australians who favoured euthanasia rose from 42% to 73%. There seems to be a ground swell of public support for the active killing of those who are terminally ill and in severe pain. However, I am not convinced those who say “yes” to euthanasia are fully aware of what they are endorsing or of the long-term consequences to a society that introduces such killing into its criminal code.

Worst cases are put forth so that it is made to appear that there is a vast amount of suffering for which nothing less than death is good enough. Yet, those who practise palliative care with the terminally ill encounter few requests for euthanasia by patients. Too often, the distressed relatives who often feel impotent, sense a lack of support, and may be encountering a financial burden, are the ones calling for euthanasia.

In spite of euthanasia being rejected twice by the government of Victoria and once by the government of South Australia, ACT Legislative Assembly independent MLA, Michael Moore, tabled the radical “Voluntary and Natural Death Bill” to introduce voluntary active euthanasia into the Australia’s capital city of Canberra. However, this was the outcome:

The euthanasia question was brought to a head. In September 1996, Kevin Andrews had tabled a bill in the House of Representatives to overturn the Northern Territory’s voluntary euthanasia legislation, which had come into effect on 1 July 1996. The Andrews’ bill also applied to the ACT and Norfolk island. It was widely criticised in the ACT by those in favour of voluntary euthanasia and by those who opposed such,[2]

In a public debate with Mr. Moore, I confronted his secular humanist presuppositions that seem to be driven by an almost utopian desire for autonomy–to be in control of what happens in one’s life. See a copy of my debate, “Voluntary Active Euthanasia: A Compassionate Solution for Those in Pain?”  My submission to “the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on The Rights of the Terminally Ill (Euthanasia Laws Repeal) Bill 2008” is HERE.

WHAT IS EUTHANASIA?

Euthanasia is “the intentional killing of a person, for compassionate motives, whether the killing is by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by failing to perform an action necessary to maintain life.”

“Voluntary active” means that the person asks to be killed. It must be realised however that those who promote euthanasia do not use the word “kill”, but it is the only accurate word to describe the reality of what happens. Besides, it is the word the law uses.

People are sometimes confused by the current debate on the legality of disconnecting mechanical life support systems or the patients’ rights to request that no extraordinary means be used to keep them alive when all hope of physical life seems to be gone. This is often called passive euthanasia, but it is not euthanasia at all. This is the common law right of all Australians to decide which treatments they want to have for themselves.

I do not want to suggest that decisions are easy when it comes to the termination of treatment of the terminally ill. When a disease is at the stage where no known therapy is available and death is imminent, in spite of the means used to date, then any treatment that would maintain “only a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life” may, I think, be discontinued or not instituted.

However, as a committed Christian, I do not believe that euthanasia is a compassionate solution to those in pain, for a number of reasons.

 

IT IS AN ATTACK ON THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

We must answer two fundamental questions: (a) Who are human beings? and (b) Whose right is it to terminate human life?

Human beings are unique and special

God’s view is that human beings are not animals, but unique beings made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26-28). A doctor put it to me recently: We put down dogs, why shouldn’t we offer the elderly in a vegetative state the same?

As God’s image bearers, each of us has the capacity to be personal, rational, volitional, emotional, creative, moral and spiritual. Our responsibility is to reflect God’s character and purposes in all that we do. Human life is sacred throughout life and in all circumstances, whether one is strong, independent and healthy or weak, dependent and handicapped.

When we reduce human beings to animals, it logically follows that a whole range of horrendous evils could eventuate. God has forbidden that any life be murdered. To do so is an attack on God.There is no need for a commandment that says, “You shall not commit euthanasia.” All deliberate, premeditated killing (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homicide–war raises some other issues) is covered by the one commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13, NIV).

Any society that engages in the killing of innocent lifewill pay a grave price. When we do not respect life before birth, if affects our view of life after birth. If we do not respect the dying, it will affect our attitude towards the living. As the Bible puts it: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7-8).

Life and death decisions belong to the Almighty God

Death is an unnatural intrusion into human existence, caused by sin. We must reject any secular philosophies that want to see death and dying as a ‘natural’ transition to either non-existence or a higher stage of existence.

For the unbeliever, death is the prelude to final judgment by God Himself (Heb. 9:27). Since God warns about judgment to come, terminal illness needs to be a time of preparation of the patient spiritually and nothastening physical death by euthanasia.

The philosophy that promotes euthanasia sees people as lords of their own existence. For the Christian, life is a gift from God and the moment of death is God’s prerogative, not a human being’s (Job 14:5; Rev. 1:18).

In sickness or in health, from the womb to old age and even through the dying process, life is sacred. In a depraved society that is choosing death and violence, Christians need to be shining lights in a world of darkness. We must choose life for ourselves and others. We must love our neighbours and offer them the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

WE REAP WHAT WE SOW

The clear biblical principle is that there are consequences to our actions. Australia already has innocent blood on its hands through the abortion slaughter. What will we reap if we legislate voluntary, active euthanasia? The harvest of a permissive approach to euthanasia is known from recent history and contemporary experience.

The German lesson

It was only a short journey from the Germany of 1895 when the book, The Right to Die, was published that advocated voluntary euthanasia. In 1920, The Permission to Destroy Life Not Worth Living, by a lawyer and psychiatrist, opened the floodgates and led to open discussion and legislation to permit euthanasia in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Then came the holocaust under the Nazis during World War 2.

What started out as voluntary euthanasia moved to involuntary euthanasia in a few decades. It was a small step from voluntary, active euthanasia to the Nazi government’s genocide of six million Jews, and an estimated six million others (without the individual’s permission).

Dr. Leo Alexander, a Boston psychiatrist at the Nuremberg trials after World War 2 (in 1946 and 1947) said: “It started with the acceptance of the attitude basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.”[3]

Contemporary Holland

A modern example should rest the case against voluntary, active euthanasia. The deleterious effects are seen in Holland.

The official Dutch Government Remmelink Report of 1991[4] gives conclusive evidence of abuse. The report shows clearly that doctors are killing without the explicit request of the patient. Doctors have violated the ‘strict medical guidelines’ provided by the Dutch courts and about two percent of the euthanasia deaths are without the patient’s permission.

Not just terminal illness

The recent history of the euthanasia movement demonstrates there is no guarantee it will be limited to terminal illness for those in pain. Holland is an example of what will happen when assisted killing enters our hospitals or other medical situations. This is of such concern that a senior citizens’ group has warned that Holland’s liberal euthanasia policy “has many elderly people scared that their lives could be terminated without request”.

The British Medical Journal[5] reported that the Dutch are now considering euthanasia for those with severe dementia. Who will be next? Formerly it was the terminally ill, then the severely handicapped newborn babies, comatose patients, now those with dementia are being considered. The Dutch experience shows there is no way to limit this slide into death.

When asked on ABC radio, Canberra, about an elderly couple suiciding together, Michael Moore MLA, said: “I think it should be covered in [the] act and I think that under certain circumstances, given appropriate counselling and appropriate time to make that kind of decision.”[6]

No civilised society like ours will remain civilised if we endorse this kind or any other kind of killing or assisted suicide.

How can we say where to draw the lines? Chronic illness? Mental illness? Multiple sclerosis? Those crippled with arthritis? Persons who are handicapped? What about some of the people I counsel, such as a 16-year-old who is on drugs, severely depressed and suicidal?

The most recent review of the need for euthanasia in Australia was by the Social Development Committee of the Parliament of Victoria. The report, called, “Options for Dying with Dignity,” in 1988 concluded: “It is neither desirable or (sic) practicable for any legislative action to be taken establishing a right to die.”[7]

Dr Helga Kuhse of Monash University, Melbourne promotes “a quick and painless injection” (to kill) for a Down’s Syndrome infant with an intestinal obstruction.

Treatment of pain

It is a strange paradox that euthanasia is being strongly promoted at a time when the medical profession has made great advances in the treatment of pain.

Retired anaesthetist at Concord Hospital, Sydney, Dr. Brian Pollard, says: “Most cancer pain is well within the competence of any doctor to treat effectively. It is necessary to regard unrelieved pain as a medical emergency to be dealt with as energetically as possible and to address also the emotional turmoil which is usually present.”

At a time when there is every reason to offer caring, compassionate palliative care to the sufferer, the apologists for euthanasia want to eliminate the sufferer rather than eliminate the suffering.

The doctor-patient relationship

Euthanasia puts a death wedge between the doctor and patient. It debases the medical profession and has harmful effects on the doctor-patient relationship.

The standard form of the Hippocratic Oath that is sworn by many medical doctors upon graduation from medical school, dating back to the time of the Greeks, says:

“I will follow that method of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.”[8]

Dr. Mark Hurwitz, president of the ACT Branch of the Australian Medical Association, in personal correspondence, has stated that euthanasia “is not consistent with AMA policy” and that the AMA supports the World Medical Association’s statement (adopted at the 39th World Medical Assembly, Madrid, Spain, October 1987):

“Euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient’s own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical. This does not prevent the physician from respecting the desire of a patient to allow the natural process of death to follow its course in the terminal phase of sickness.”[9]

For death to enter the relationship between patient and doctor will violate one of the most fundamental association’s in Australian society.

THE BETTER ALTERNATIVES

The superior options are to promote life, offer opportunity for eternal life, and become actively involved in compassionate care for the dying, persons who are handicapped, and other sufferers in our society. This care should involve a competent doctor and medical team effectively treating severe pain, emotional support and caring communication from others.

We need to improve the standards of care for dying patients. The hospice movement is to be commended for its compassionate care of the dying. Such facilities with concerned staff are urgently needed. Inter-disciplinary teams are recommended, involving doctors, nurses, clergy, counsellors and caring para-professionals.

NEW ETHICS

Essentially, we have the choice between two types of ethics, humanitarian or utilitarian. The Hippocratic Oath and a Christian world view express a humanitarian ethic, where the care of people is central, regardless of the person’s condition or usefulness.

Euthanasia, in the main, promotes a utilitarian ethic where a person’s quality of life and usefulness are put in the foreground. Where this will lead is stated in the editorial of the journal of the Californian Medical Association (September 1970), “New Ethics for Medicine and Society”, which states that “in the future those people will be eliminated whose quality of life does not meet certain medical criteria, and that next to birth control there will be death control. Society will accept euthanasia, voluntary or compulsory, because the ‘new ethics of relative rather than absolute and equal values will ultimately prevail'”.[10]

At the World Health Summit in Edinburgh recently, Dr Andre Wynen, secretary-general of the World Medical Association, said, “Euthanasia for economic reasons is perhaps the most important challenge the medical profession will have to face before the end of the century. Not in the near future, but now”.[11].

Could it be stated any clearer? When the absolute standards of a loving, gracious, sovereign God are replaced by the puny, shifting opinions of fallible people, we have a recipe for disaster in society–what we have in Australia today. In my debate with Michael Moore, he stated: “I think I’m right.” On another public occasion he asserted, “I am so confident in my own view.” The shifting sands of relativism are not the foundation for a just, loving and merciful social order.

With euthanasia, life loses its dignity. It then endangers the life of every handicapped, aged or incurably ill person.

WHERE DO YOU STAND?

Allowing the patient to die his or her own death, without artificially prolonging the dying process seems to be consistent with the biblical revelation. However, voluntary active euthanasia usurps the place given to God in life and death decisions.

When I buried a person who committed suicide, the funeral director stated to me: “I thought the church was supposed to be the moral conscience of the nation.” The Scriptures put it in terms of being salt and light. Will the church make a stand for the life of God’s image bearers from conception to old age, or will we allow the “the new barbarians who know no higher law than self-interest” (Charles Colson) to lead Australia into the “new dark ages”?

Englishman David Potter, father of a child with handicaps and director of the charity, Christian Concern for the Mentally Handicapped, put it this way: “For euthanasia to receive the support of law, it would make crime respectable and compassion despicable… Our feeble, synthetic way of life would degenerate further into a pit of our own making where values are valueless, love is loveless and life is hopeless.”

Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II summed up the need for action by Australian Christians:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. hen they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”[12]

In this madness at the beginning of the twenty-first century, will you join me in affirming that people are special and human life is worthwhile to human beings and to God? The challenge is to stand up for the young and old, unborn and born, handicapped and fit, and all people of all races.

Endnotes:


[1] Proposed euthanasia legislation for such an infant has already been drafted in the Australian Human Rights Commission Occasional Paper No.10, “Legal and Ethical Aspects of the Management of Newborns with Severe Disabilities”, August 1985, pp. 55-61.

[2] Encyclopedia.com, available at: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-20407306.html [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[3] Cited in, “Jewish Law – Legal Briefs,” available at: http://www.jlaw.com/Briefs/vacco8.html [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[4] See Hermina Dykxhoorn n.d., “Euthanasia in the Netherlands,” available from: http://www.euthanasia.com/netherlands.html [Accessed 6 April 2008].

[5] 22 May 1993, p. 1364.

[6] Matthew Abraham Show, Radio 2CN, Canberra, February 2, 1993, from a transcript of the program.

[7] In Brian Pollard 1989, Euthanasia: Should We Kill the Dying? Little Hills Press Pty. Ltd., Bedford, UK, p. 45.

[8] An older version of the Hippocratic Oath is available at: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:cEMMJ3VBVvAJ:info.library.unsw.edu.au/biomed/pdf/hippocraticoath.pdf+Hippocratic+Oath&hl=en&gl=au&sig=AHIEtbQdJbXeLW0LVt7v6vt9Ns9VXKinJw [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[9] “The World Medical Association resolution on euthanasia”, available at: http://www.wma.net/en/30publications/10policies/e13b/index.html [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[10] The Journal of the Californian Medical Association (September 1970), “New Ethics for Medicine and Society”, quoted in a letter by Dr. K.F. Gunning, Secretary, Dutch Physicians’ League, The Lancet, Vol. 338, October 19, 1991, 1010.

[11] The Canberra Times, August 12, 1993, p. 7.

[12] “Martin Niemoeller quotes,” available at: http://thinkexist.com/quotes/martin_niemoeller/ [Accessed 2 January 2010].

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at date: 9 October 2015.

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What a combination! Easter eggs and crucifixion

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010
Easter Calvary

By Spencer D Gear

Easter is the time for Easter eggs but it has other ingredients that make it an attractive season. Of course, there’s the long weekend, plenty of sport on television and the opportunity for gorging lots of chocolate. Talk about options!

At Easter, according to The Age (13 November 2008) newspaper, “Australians will munch their way through about 200 million Easter eggs. We hold the title of being the highest per capita consumers of chocolate Easter goods in the world”.

In the UK around £200 million pounds is spent on 80 million Easter eggs every year. What about Australia? According to the Brisbane Courier-Mail of 15 March 2011, “Research conducted for the CMA [Confectionery Manufacturers’ Association] has found $230 million is spent annually in Australia and New Zealand on Easter sweets”. The Courier-Mail found that in 2011, Easter egg prices soared by 20%.

But why are there special eggs at Easter? Eggs symbolise new life and fertility. This religious festival comes with little to frighten anyone in this era of religious extremism. Who could ever be offended by a cute chocolate bunny?

But there’s a paradox here. Have you thought how strange it is that Easter eggs are identified with one of the most horrific ways of killing a person? This is the time of remembering the most famous death by crucifixion in history – Jesus Christ.

To be crucified for crime, the victim was lying on the cross on the ground and held down. He was nailed on that cross with crude, rough nails.

Then he was lifted up on the cross and it was dropped into a hole in the ground. He experienced unimaginable thirst and found it difficult to breathe.

Medical doctor, C. Truman Davis MD,[1] explained that as fatigue came to the arms and cramps to the muscles, the victim experienced deep throbbing pain.

There were hours of pain, cramps, and partial suffocation as tissue was torn from the person’s lacerated back as it moved up and down on the rough timber. This trauma impacted the chest and began to compress the heart.

To make it worse, the crowds would mock the victim.

But how does our culture remember Christ’s crucifixion at Easter? With eggs and jewellery. It’s almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing a version of the cross. Generally it’s on a chain around somebody’s neck or as ear rings. This is a far cry from the actual Easter event.

Malcolm Muggeridge,[2] the famous British media personality, soldier-spy and later Christian convert, called this death the most famous one in history. He said that no other death than Christ’s has aroused one-hundredth part of the interest or been remembered with one-hundredth part of the intensity of concern.

We are continuously confronted with troubles. Troubles in war, families and even in our own souls.

Into the midst of this repulsion in our world, at Easter we remember the Jesus of the cross who died for our sins and was resurrected. Why? So that we can have the opportunity to be set free from the guilt of our souls.

At Easter we remember that there can be new life in Christ. Hence the association with eggs!

Louis M. Lepeaux,[3] French philosopher, politician and bitter opponent of Christ at the time of the French Revolution, once started a religion that he hoped would be superior to Christianity. He sought the counsel of the great French diplomat and statesman, Charles Maurice Talleyrand.

Talleyrand’s advice was perceptive: “I recommend that you get yourself crucified and then die, but be sure to rise again on the third day.”

Why should you bother to embrace the Christian message this Easter?

The Christ of the cross changed the agnostic, Malcolm Muggeridge, into an active Christian who published Jesus Rediscovered.[4] Millions of people have made the same life-changing commitment and discovered the joy that Muggeridge found.

This is what we remember at Easter. He is the Jesus who died, was resurrected and changes people’s lives.

Endnotes:


[1] C. Truman Davis MD, “A physician examines the crucifixion,” available from: http://www.thecross-photo.com/Dr_C._Truman_Davis_Analyzes_the_Crucifixion.htm [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[2] Seeing through the eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on faith, available from Google Books [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[3] The story is told in Rt. Rev. John Paterson, Bishop of Auckland, Sunday 14th May, 2006, “150th anniversary of Devonport Parish,” available from: http://www.holytrinity.gen.nz/Pages/sermons/150sesquicelebrate.htm [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[4] Available online at: http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/mugridge/jred/jredcont.htm [Accessed 2 January 2010].

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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Torn between life and death

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Why is it that many of us will do many things to live longer but others want to end life now?

We go on diets to reduce the strain on our hearts and the cholesterol from the fatty foods that we eat.

A recent study in the USA found that if people want to be healthy and live longer, they should consume less red and processed meat.[1]

The research of half a million American middle-aged and elderly people who consumed four ounces of red meat a day (an amount equivalent to a small hamburger), found that there was a 30% higher chance that they would die in the next 10 years.

Most of these would die of heart disease and cancer. The risk was increased through eating sausage, cold meats and other processed meats.

But this desire to try to avoid death, is also seen in some treatments of cancer. In spite of severe side effects of chemotherapy, such as fever, chills & sweats, abnormal bleeding, severe vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea and abdominal pain, patients want to live longer to spend more time with their relatives and friends.

Why is it that we have this love of life and need to prolong the date of death? Could it be connected with our culture’s deep fear of death?

“I want to be with my loved ones who have gone before, but I’m not sure about that,” are among the comments I hear.

For others, life has become a burden and ending life sooner than later sounds like a good release. The euthanasia movement in Australia, Europe and the USA is pushing this line. “To die with dignity” sounds like a reasonable and responsible way of thinking until one sees how euthanasia is happening in countries such as Holland.

The recent series of articles in The Times (UK) demonstrates this continuing push for euthanasia and assisted suicide.[2] The Dutch experience shows that this push will not be limited to the terminally ill. After a three year inquiry, the Dutch Medical Association (as reported in the British Medical Journal) wants more freedom to kill. The report stated that “doctors can help patients who ask for help to die even though they may not be ill but ‘suffering through living.'”[3]

Some experience this ambivalence: Extend life as much as possible but end life if it becomes unbearable.

This is where the Easter message of the resurrected Christ has particular application. We do not have to guess about what happens at death. Here there is an opportunity of knowing why life must end and what lies beyond the grave. The physical resurrection of all human beings after death is firmly grounded in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Jesus Christ himself affirms this. After raising a man from the dead, he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”[4]

He demonstrated the reality of this through his own resurrection from the dead, which was a turning point in human history.

Because of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, there is a solid biblical, theological and historical basis for the belief that the souls of both believers and unbelievers survive death and will be raised again.

There is no reason for the believers in Christ to fear death as they are eternally redeemed. Are those who push for euthanasia certain of the destiny of those for whom they push for “death with dignity”?

Endnotes:


[1] Rob Stein, The Washington Post, 24 March 2009, “Daily red meat raises chances of dying early,” available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/23/AR2009032301626.html [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[2] A. C. Grayling, The Times (UK), 31 March 2009, “Allowing people to arrange their death is a simple act of kindness”, available from: Timesonline at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6005023.ece [Accessed 2 January 2010]. See other euthanasia & assisted suicide stories linked to this article.

[3] Tony Sheldon, British Medical Journal News roundup, Extract, 18 January 2005, “Dutch euthanasia law should apply to patients ‘suffering through living’ report says,” available from: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/330/7482/61 [Accessed 2 January 2010]. Sheldon’s full article may be viewed at: http://www.lists.opn.org/pipermail/right-to-die_lists.opn.org/2005-January/000555.html [2 January 2010]. I was alerted to this information by Weblog: Christianity Today, “Dutch doctors want to kill the healthy,” 13 March 2006, available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/januaryweb-only/51.0.html [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[4] John 11:25-26.

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2016.

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Easter: Fact or fiction?

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

happy Easter bunny

wpclipart

By Spencer D Gear

Australia has horrific levels of domestic violence. Surveys of women attending general medical practice in Australia reveal varying partner abuse rates of 8.0% (1999) and 28% (1996) in a 12-month period.[1] One study of police figures revealed that women are over eight times more likely to be victims than males.[2]

Family breakdown seems to be happening in epidemic proportions. Other personal and social ills are devastating our land – sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction. These are symptoms of what the first Easter events came to help to address.

Do any of these natural and social disasters have anything to do with the Christ of Easter? What’s the purpose of Easter beyond a 4-day holiday?

Today there are some spicy and conflicting statements made about the reality or myth of the Christian story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Did it happen or is this a Christian invention?

There are doubters galore both inside and outside of the church. They range from an agnostic’s letter to The Fraser Coast Chronicle,[3] which stated, “Whether Christ existed is open to conjecture. Was he the son of God? What God?” to John Cornwell in The Weekend Australian Magazine, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?”[4](Easter 2005).

His conclusion was that “however compelling the story, however authentic the feel of the evidence, in the final analysis it comes down to a decision to believe or not to believe.”[5] The “feel” of the evidence is radically different from actual evidence. Having faith in the “feel” sounds a bit out in space to me.

Former Anglican bishop of North Sydney, classical historian, and now visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Dr. Paul Barnett, has examined the evidence carefully over a lifetime of research. He has concluded that “Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, became through death, bodily resurrection and ascension the Christ of faith.”[6]

This led to the spread of Christianity worldwide, he says: “Jesus the Christ, crucified but risen and glorified, is the engine that drove the missionaries who established churches in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, who in providing for the needs of those churches wrote the documents that came to constitute the New Testament.”[7]

Barnett elsewhere shows how the history of early Christianity and secular history intersect, proving that “the history of early Christianity is, indeed, genuinely historical and not ‘mythical’ in character.”[8]

Apparitions of risen Jesus: Crossan

Yet, John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar (now, there’s a group of doubters!), speaks of “the apparitions of the risen Jesus.” An apparition is a phantom, a ghost. Jesus’ resurrected body was not real flesh according to him but “the resurrection is a matter of Christian faith.”[9] So, in Crossan’s view, the resurrection of Christ was really a spiritual resurrection among believers – whatever that means!

What actually happened to the body of Jesus and does it matter? Crossan wrote that “Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals.”[10]

New Testament scholar, Dr. N.T. Wright, disagrees, has debated Crossan, and in 2003 completed an 817-page defence of the authenticity of Christ’s resurrection. He considers that discussion about the resurrection must be seen “as a historical problem.”[11]

Why is there such resistance by both unbelievers and some people in the church to the Easter faith of Christians? Wright believes the underlying cause in the contemporary and ancient world is in what T. F. Torrance regards as “the sheer horror that some people have for the being and action of God himself in space and time.”[12] People are God haters or evaders.

Richard Ostling of Associated Press regards Wright’s work as “the most monumental defense of the Easter heritage in decades. It marches through a clearly organized case that confronts every major doubt about Easter, ancient and modern.”[13]

As for the recent claims in James Cameron’s TV documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” that the bones of Jesus are in the ossuary, the archaeologist who found the tomb said that Cameron’s interpretation was “nonsense.”

Israeli archaeologist, Amos Kloner, who was one of the first to examine the tomb when it was discovered near Jerusalem in 1980, claims that the names on the side of the coffin were common in the first century. He told BBC News, “I don’t accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family. The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film.”[14]

Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that “it makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.”[15]

Why all the fuss? Does it matter? If Christ were mere fiction and the Christians throughout the last 2,000 years have based their faith on such a myth, all Christians had better leave the churches and give up on their faith. They are on a foundation of belief that is no more substantial than belief in Mickey Mouse.

No resurrection, no fuss?

In fact, if Christ’s resurrection did not take place, the apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” They might as well eat, drink and be merry if Christ’s death and resurrection did not happen in real time and history.

But the apostle Paul was confident: “Christ has been raised from the dead.” This was not some ethereal, mystical event. The physical resurrection of Jesus was proven by an empty tomb and Jesus’ appearing to the 12 apostles and over 500 believers at one time.

It is further demonstrated by the explosive spread of Christianity across the first century Roman Empire and then around the world. Today there are about 6 billion people in the world made up of 24,000 different people groups.

Christianity Now and Then

The United States Center for World Mission estimates that there are 800 million people “who have been born again into a relationship with Jesus Christ.” Another 1.37 billion consider themselves Christian because they come from a Christian culture.[16]

In A.D. 100, it was estimated that only one in every 360 people was an active Christian believer. In the year 2000, it was 1 in 9.3. Because of the propagation of a myth? Hardly![17]

It’s not just the presence of Christians around the world that makes a difference in addressing some of the social and welfare needs (see Matthew ch. 25), but the truth that the living Christ changes people. Slave owners such as John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”?) were changed from the inside out. Lawyer, Watergate hatchet-man and criminal, Chuck Colson, has been so revolutionised by the living Christ that he and his team have a world-wide ministry to prisoners.

Imagine what would happen to the epidemic of family violence and drug and alcohol abuse, if the living Jesus were taken seriously all year round by the majority of us!

Louis M. Lepeaux, French politician and bitter opponent of Christ at the time of the French Revolution, once started a religion that he hoped would improve on Christianity. He discussed the dismal situation with his friend, Talleyrand. “There is one plan you might like to try,” said his friend. “Why not be crucified and then rise again on the third day?”[18]

For a challenge to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, see the ““William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debate: Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?””

Endnotes:


[1] Kelsey Hegarty, Elizabeth D Hindmarsh and Marisa T Gille 2000, “Domestic violence in Australia: definition, prevalence and nature of presentation in clinical practice,” Medical Journal of Australia, 173, pp. 363-367, available from: http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/173_07_021000/hegarty/hegarty.html#refbody12[Accessed 31 March 2007]..

[2] Cited in ibid.

[3] John A. Neve 2007, “Search for Salvation”, Letters to the Editor, The Fraser Coast Chronicle, March 28, p. 6.

[4] John Cornwell 2005, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? The Case of the Empty Tomb,” The Weekend Australian Magazine, March 26-27, pp. 24-32.

[5] Ibid., p. 32.

[6] Paul Barnett 1999, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove Illinois, p.41, p. 20.

[7] Ibid., p. 418.

[8] Paul W. Barnett 1997, Jesus and the Logic of History, Apollos, Leicester, England, p. 120.

[9] John Dominic Crossan 1995, Who Killed Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 189.

[10] John Dominic Crossan 1994, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 160.

[11] N. T. Wright 2003, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, p. 14.

[12] Ibid, p. 736.

[13] In Wright, 2003, introduction; also available from Richard N. Ostling, Book Review, Associated Press, Courier Post Online, Saturday, 19 April 2003, at: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/resurrection/wright_resurrection.htm [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[14] “Jesus tomb found, says film-maker,” BBC News, 26 February 2007, available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6397373.stm [Accessed 31 March 2007].

[15] David Horovitz 2007, “Kloner: A Great Story but Nonsense,” The Jerusalem Post, 27 February, Available at: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1171894527185&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[16] Ralph D. Winter, et. al. n.d. (ca. A.D. 2000), “The Amazing Countdown Facts,” United States Center for World Mission, [Accessed 2 January 2010].

[17] Ibid.

[18] Cited in David Holloway 1999, “The Good News at Athens: Acts 27,” a sermon preached at Jesmond Parish Church, 28 March 1999, available at: http://www.church.org.uk/resources/sermondetailpf.asp?serId=341 [Accessed 2 January 2010].

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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Easter and the healthy committing suicide

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

By Spencer D Gear

At Easter seasons, we are faced with a situation where the eternal consequences of death are ignored and the promotion of suicide is glorified. Those of us who have spent years trying to prevent suicide receive a lethal message from this Swiss lawyer.

Here’s the situation. There should be virtually no restrictions on helping people to commit suicide. These are the comments from human rights lawyer, Ludwig Minelli, from the Dignatas Swiss clinic that offers help to people to kill themselves. That is what Minelli told BBC radio in the UK on 2 April 2009. This article stated:

The founder of Swiss right-to-die organisation Dignitas has defended helping Britons, including some psychiatric patients, kill themselves.

Ludwig Minelli told the BBC suicide was a “marvellous possibility” and he wants the assisted suicide law clarified for the healthy partners of dying people.

Former Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said his comments showed the need for a change in UK laws.

More than 100 Britons, mostly terminally ill, have died at Dignitas.

In his first broadcast interview for five years, Mr Minelli told BBC Radio 4’s The Report that failed suicide attempts created problems and heavy costs for the UK’s National Health Service.

He said: “I have a totally different attitude to suicide. I say suicide is a marvellous marvellous possibility given to a human being.”

This controversial comment has come from the organisation that runs a clinic in Switzerland that has assisted almost 900 people to kill themselves, about 100 of them being British. Fortunately, Swiss psychiatrists are not recommending this clinic.

The British newspaper, The Guardian (4 April 2009), reported that Minelli saw assisted suicide as “a very good possibility to escape a situation you can’t alter.” But he went way beyond this recommendation to cold-heartedly suggest that attempted suicide makes good business sense because of its burden on the costs of health care.

“For 50 suicide attempts you have one suicide and the others are failing with heavy costs on the National Health Service,” he told the BBC. “They are terribly hurt afterwards. Sometimes you have to put them in institutions for 50 years, very costly.”

For those of us who have spent many years counselling those who are troubled by the issues of life and the family, Minelli’s kind of comment is like a kick in the guts. This lawyer is advocating that attempted suicide is such a financial burden on the health system that these people should be done away with.

Ultimately, what’s the difference in consequences between the ethics of Minelli and Hitler?

For my exposition on the deleterious consequences of euthanasia, see: “Voluntary Active Euthanasia – a compassionate solution to those in pain?”

Dignatas and the euthanasia advocates in Holland are demonstrating the slippery slope that happens when those who begin with the desire to assist suicide of the terminally ill, ends up advocating much more.

Herbert Hendin MD, Professor of Psychiatry at New York Medical College, and medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stated in 1995: “Over the past two decades, the Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to nonvoluntary and involuntary euthanasia.”[1]

See also Herbert Hendin MD, The Case Against Physician-Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care (Psychiatric Times, February 01, 2004).

At this Easter season we need to consider another dimension. Among the advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia, an important factor seems to be overlooked.

What happens one second after you die? Where will you be? Is death the very end and the body and soul are obliterated? Talk of heaven or hell seems to be missing from this lethal advocacy for assisted suicide.

Worldviews have consequences. Worldviews of death need to be opposed by those who believe in eternal life and eternal punishment. Death does not end it all and Christ’s resurrection demonstrated this: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” (First Corinthians chapter 15).

Endnotes:


[1] “Argument: Euthanasia creates a slippery slope to legal murder,” Available at: http://wiki.idebate.org/en/index.php/Argument:_Euthanasia_creates_a_slippery_slope_to_legal_murder [Accessed 2 January 2010].

 

Copyright (c) 2010 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at date: 9 October 2015.

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Christmas, Torture and Church Growth

Friday, January 1st, 2010

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883) [courtesy Wikipedia]

By Spencer D Gear

To serve Jesus Christ openly in your community today in the Western world may come with flack, resistance and even discrimination in the workplace. But it is not a patch on what is happening worldwide to the Christians who are being tortured, even murdered, for their faith.

Why is it that followers of Messiah, the “Prince of Peace,” attract so much resistance? Jesus gave a clue when he addressed his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Christian peace is based on a relationship with the King of Kings and is not related to external circumstances. Then add the fact that to be a Christian means submission to the Master’s will. This is not a popular notion. Nor is it politically correct.

As we move into a new year, it is right that we reflect on what is happening to persecuted Christians worldwide.

Ma Yuqin is a Chinese woman who was interrogated by the Chinese police but she would not be tortured to confess. “She never broke when she was tortured with beatings and electrical shocks. Even when she was close to death, she refused to disclose the names of members of her congregation or sign a statement renouncing her Christian faith,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in his column in The New York Times.[1]

The physical torture almost killed her but it was the mental anguish that was worse. She could hear the sounds of her son being tortured in the room next door. Both could hear each other’s screams. There were incentives for them to betray their friends and their faith. “It broke my heart to hear my son’s cries,” said Ma, but it did not break her faith in Christ.

Chinese citizens are burned with cigarettes, beaten with clubs, and some lose their lives. Why? They are Christian worshippers of God.

Instead of turning people away from Christianity, the result has been the growth of the church. Tens of millions of Chinese have embraced Christ and the church. It is just as predicted by church leader of the second century, Tertullian, “Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.[2]

The Christian organisation, Open Doors, that ministers to the persecuted, assesses the level of persecution of Christians around the world. Top of the list is North Korea. Keston Institute, a British-based human rights group, says that people found with a Bible in North Korea are “detained, tortured, sent to a re-education camp, or summarily executed.”[3] Number two on the list is Saudi Arabia where arrests, torture, and prison are common. To convert from Islam to another religion in Saudi can bring the death penalty.

Numbers three and four on the list of persecutors are the Marxist countries of Laos and Vietnam. The Keston Institute was watching Russia, Belarus and Uzbekistan with concern.

People today are cynical about zealots who die for their faith. However, these persecuted Christians are not dying to kill the unbelievers, as with suicide bombers, but die in service of “the Prince of Peace,” Jesus Christ. These martyrs die not to slaughter others, but so that others might be saved.

The sufferings of the church in China and the Sudan rival that of those who died under Nero in Rome, in Hitler’s Germany, and in Russia under Stalin. Missions’ strategist, David Barrett, estimates that there have been as many Christian martyrs in the 20th century as in all of the previous 19 centuries combined. This article was more sceptical. It stated:

World Christian Encyclopedia, produced by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside Boston. It declares there have been some 70 million Christian martyrs in history, and more than 45 million in the 20th century. In evangelical circles one often hears the claim that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.[4]

How should we respond? As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who died to save us, we should pray for Ma Yuqin in China and the many others worldwide who are suffering for their faith. The Scriptures exhort us: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

Notes:


[1] “God and China,” 26 November 2002, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/26/opinion/god-and-china.html?pagewanted=1 [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[2] Tertullian, Apologeticus (or Apologeticum) Adversus Gentes Pro Christianis, Chapter 50, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.iv.iii.l.html [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[3]Charles Colson, Breakpoint, 8 November 2002, “Remembering the Mistreated: Prayer for Persecuted Beliebvers,” available at: http://www.thechristiannews.com/breakpoint/bp11-8-02.html [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[4] Jason Myassee, Christian Century 29 July 2008, “How martyrs are made: Stories of the faithful,” available at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_15_125/ai_n27982019/ [Accessed 1 January 2010].

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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