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Archive for the ‘Biblical Teaching’ Category

from Got Questions:

It is a fairly well-established fact that Jesus Christ was publicly executed in Judea in the 1st Century A.D., under Pontius Pilate, by means of crucifixion, at the behest of the Jewish Sanhedrin. The non-Christian historical accounts of Flavius Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Maimonides and even the Jewish Sanhedrin corroborate the early Christian eyewitness accounts of these important historical aspects of the death of Jesus Christ.

As for His resurrection, there are several lines of evidence which make for a compelling case. The late jurisprudential prodigy and international statesman Sir Lionel Luckhoo (of The Guinness Book of World Records fame for his unprecedented 245 consecutive defense murder trial acquittals) epitomized Christian enthusiasm and confidence in the strength of the case for the resurrection when he wrote, “I have spent more than 42 years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world and am still in active practice. I have been fortunate to secure a number of successes in jury trials and I say unequivocally the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

The secular community’s response to the same evidence has been predictably apathetic in accordance with their steadfast commitment to methodological naturalism. For those unfamiliar with the term, methodological naturalism is the human endeavor of explaining everything in terms of natural causes and natural causes only. If an alleged historical event defies natural explanation (e.g., a miraculous resurrection), secular scholars generally treat it with overwhelming skepticism, regardless of the evidence, no matter how favorable and compelling it may be.

In our view, such an unwavering allegiance to natural causes regardless of substantive evidence to the contrary is not conducive to an impartial (and therefore adequate) investigation of the evidence. We agree with Dr. Wernher von Braun and numerous others who still believe that forcing a popular philosophical predisposition upon the evidence hinders objectivity. Or in the words of Dr. von Braun, “To be forced to believe only one conclusion… would violate the very objectivity of science itself.”

Having said that, let us now examine several lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

The First Line of Evidence for Christ’s resurrection

To begin with, we have demonstrably sincere eyewitness testimony. Early Christian apologists cited hundreds of eyewitnesses, some of whom documented their own alleged experiences. Many of these eyewitnesses willfully and resolutely endured prolonged torture and death rather than repudiate their testimony. This fact attests to their sincerity, ruling out deception on their part. According to the historical record (The Book of Acts 4:1-17; Pliny’s Letters to Trajan X, 97, etc) most Christians could end their suffering simply by renouncing the faith. Instead, it seems that most opted to endure the suffering and proclaim Christ’s resurrection unto death.

Granted, while martyrdom is remarkable, it is not necessarily compelling. It does not validate a belief so much as it authenticates a believer (by demonstrating his or her sincerity in a tangible way). What makes the earliest Christian martyrs remarkable is that they knew whether or not what they were professing was true. They either saw Jesus Christ alive-and-well after His death or they did not. This is extraordinary. If it was all just a lie, why would so many perpetuate it given their circumstances? Why would they all knowingly cling to such an unprofitable lie in the face of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death?

While the September 11, 2001, suicide hijackers undoubtedly believed what they professed (as evidenced by their willingness to die for it), they could not and did not know if it was true. They put their faith in traditions passed down to them over many generations. In contrast, the early Christian martyrs were the first generation. Either they saw what they claimed to see, or they did not.

Among the most illustrious of the professed eyewitnesses were the Apostles. They collectively underwent an undeniable change following the alleged post-resurrection appearances of Christ. Immediately following His crucifixion, they hid in fear for their lives. Following the resurrection they took to the streets, boldly proclaiming the resurrection despite intensifying persecution. What accounts for their sudden and dramatic change? It certainly was not financial gain. The Apostles gave up everything they had to preach the resurrection, including their lives.

The Second Line of Evidence for Christ’s resurrection

A second line of evidence concerns the conversion of certain key skeptics, most notably Paul and James. Paul was of his own admission a violent persecutor of the early Church. After what he described as an encounter with the resurrected Christ, Paul underwent an immediate and drastic change from a vicious persecutor of the Church to one of its most prolific and selfless defenders. Like many early Christians, Paul suffered impoverishment, persecution, beatings, imprisonment, and execution for his steadfast commitment to Christ’s resurrection.

James was skeptical, though not as hostile as Paul. A purported post-resurrection encounter with Christ turned him into an inimitable believer, a leader of the Church in Jerusalem. We still have what scholars generally accept to be one of his letters to the early Church. Like Paul, James willingly suffered and died for his testimony, a fact which attests to the sincerity of his belief (see The Book of Acts and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews XX, ix, 1).

The Third and Fourth Lines of Evidence for Christ’s resurrection

A third line and fourth line of evidence concern enemy attestation to the empty tomb and the fact that faith in the resurrection took root in Jerusalem. Jesus was publicly executed and buried in Jerusalem. It would have been impossible for faith in His resurrection to take root in Jerusalem while His body was still in the tomb where the Sanhedrin could exhume it, put it on public display, and thereby expose the hoax. Instead, the Sanhedrin accused the disciples of stealing the body, apparently in an effort to explain its disappearance (and therefore an empty tomb). How do we explain the fact of the empty tomb? Here are the three most common explanations:

First, the disciples stole the body. If this were the case, they would have known the resurrection was a hoax. They would not therefore have been so willing to suffer and die for it. (See the first line of evidence concerning demonstrably sincere eyewitness testimony.) All of the professed eyewitnesses would have known that they hadn’t really seen Christ and were therefore lying. With so many conspirators, surely someone would have confessed, if not to end his own suffering then at least to end the suffering of his friends and family. The first generation of Christians were absolutely brutalized, especially following the conflagration in Rome in A.D. 64 (a fire which Nero allegedly ordered to make room for the expansion of his palace, but which he blamed on the Christians in Rome in an effort to exculpate himself). As the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus recounted in his Annals of Imperial Rome (published just a generation after the fire):

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Annals, XV, 44)

Nero illuminated his garden parties with Christians whom he burnt alive. Surely someone would have confessed the truth under the threat of such terrible pain. The fact is, however, we have no record of any early Christian denouncing the faith to end his suffering. Instead, we have multiple accounts of post-resurrection appearances and hundreds of eyewitnesses willing to suffer and die for it.

If the disciples didn’t steal the body, how else do we explain the empty tomb? Some have suggested that Christ faked His death and later escaped from the tomb. This is patently absurd. According to the eyewitness testimony, Christ was beaten, tortured, lacerated, and stabbed. He suffered internal damage, massive blood loss, asphyxiation, and a spear through His heart. There is no good reason to believe that Jesus Christ (or any other man for that matter) could survive such an ordeal, fake His death, sit in a tomb for three days and nights without medical attention, food or water, remove the massive stone which sealed His tomb, escape undetected (without leaving behind a trail of blood), convince hundreds of eyewitnesses that He was resurrected from the death and in good health, and then disappear without a trace. Such a notion is ridiculous.

The Fifth Line of Evidence for Christ’s resurrection

Finally, a fifth line of evidence concerns a peculiarity of the eyewitness testimony. In all of the major resurrection narratives, women are credited as the first and primary eyewitnesses. This would be an odd invention since in both the ancient Jewish and Roman cultures women were severely disesteemed. Their testimony was regarded as insubstantial and dismissible. Given this fact, it is highly unlikely that any perpetrators of a hoax in 1st Century Judea would elect women to be their primary witnesses. Of all the male disciples who claimed to see Jesus resurrected, if they all were lying and the resurrection was a scam, why did they pick the most ill-perceived, distrusted witnesses they could find?

Dr. William Lane Craig explains, “When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discoverers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Israel. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, ‘Let the words of Law be burned rather than delivered to women’ and ‘blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.’ Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of Law. In light of this, it’s absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women… Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb – Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that – like it or not – they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. This bespeaks the historicity of this tradition rather than its legendary status.” (Dr. William Lane Craig, quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p. 293)

In Summary

These lines of evidence: the demonstrable sincerity of the eyewitnesses (and in the Apostles’ case, compelling, inexplicable change), the conversion and demonstrable sincerity of key antagonists- and skeptics-turned-martyrs, the fact of the empty tomb, enemy attestation to the empty tomb, the fact that all of this took place in Jerusalem where faith in the resurrection began and thrived, the testimony of the women, the significance of such testimony given the historical context; all of these strongly attest to the historicity of the resurrection. We encourage our readers to thoughtfully consider these evidences. What do they suggest to you? Having pondered them ourselves, we resolutely affirm Sir Lionel’s declaration:

“The evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

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from Got Questions:

There is a lot of confusion regarding what Easter Sunday is all about. For some, Easter Sunday is about the Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts. Most people understand that Easter Sunday has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus, but are confused as to how the resurrection is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.

Biblically speaking, there is absolutely no connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday. As a background, please read our article on the origins of Easter. Essentially, what occurred is that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Roman Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, Sunday (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19). Jesus’ resurrection is most worthy of being celebrated (see 1 Corinthians 15). While it is appropriate for Jesus’ resurrection to be celebrated on a Sunday, the day on which Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated should not be referred to as Easter. Easter has nothing to do with Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday.

As a result, many Christians feel strongly that the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection should not be referred to as “Easter Sunday.” Rather, something like “Resurrection Sunday” would be far more appropriate and biblical. For the Christian, it is unthinkable that we would allow the silliness of Easter eggs and the Easter bunny to be the focus of the day instead of Jesus’ resurrection.

By all means, celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Christ’s resurrection is something that should be celebrated every day, not just once a year. At the same time, if we choose to celebrate Easter Sunday, we should not allow the fun and games to distract our attention from what the day should truly be all about—the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that His resurrection demonstrates that we can indeed be promised an eternal home in Heaven by receiving Jesus as our Savior.

To learn more about how Jesus’ death and resurrection provided for our salvation, please read the following article: What does it mean to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?

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from Got Questions:

The conscience is defined as that part of the human psyche that induces mental anguish and feelings of guilt when we violate it and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value systems. The Greek word translated “conscience” in all New Testament references is suneidēsis, meaning “moral awareness” or “moral consciousness.” The conscience reacts when one’s actions, thoughts, and words conform to, or are contrary to, a standard of right and wrong.

There is no Hebrew term in the Old Testament equivalent to suneidēsis in the New Testament. The lack of a Hebrew word for “conscience” may be due to the Jewish worldview, which was communal rather than individual. The Hebrew considered himself as a member of a covenant community that related corporately to God and His laws, rather than as an individual. In other words, the Hebrew was confident in his own position before God if the Hebrew nation as a whole was in good fellowship with Him.

The New Testament concept of conscience is more individual in nature and involves three major truths. First, conscience is a God-given capacity for human beings to exercise self-evaluation. Paul refers several times to his own conscience being “good” or “clear” (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul examined his own words and deeds and found them to be in accordance with his morals and value system, which were, of course, based on God’s standards. His conscience verified the integrity of his heart.

Second, the New Testament portrays the conscience as a witness to something. Paul says the Gentiles have consciences that bear witness to the presence of the law of God written on their hearts, even though they did not have the Mosaic Law (Romans 2:14-15). He also appeals to his own conscience as a witness that he speaks the truth (Romans 9:1) and that he has conducted himself in holiness and sincerity in his dealings with men (2 Corinthians 1:12). He also says that his conscience tells him his actions are apparent to both God and the witness of other men’s consciences (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Third, the conscience is a servant of the individual’s value system. An immature or weak value system produces a weak conscience, while a fully informed value system produces a strong sense of right and wrong. In the Christian life, one’s conscience can be driven by an inadequate understanding of scriptural truths and can produce feelings of guilt and shame disproportionate to the issues at hand. Maturing in the faith strengthens the conscience.

This last function of the conscience is what Paul addresses in his instructions regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. He makes the case that, since idols are not real gods, it makes no difference if food has been sacrificed to them or not. But some in the Corinthian church were weak in their understanding and believed that such gods really existed. These immature believers were horrified at the thought of eating food sacrificed to the gods, because their consciences were informed by erroneous prejudices and superstitious views. Therefore, Paul encourages those more mature in their understanding not to exercise their freedom to eat if it would cause the consciences of their weaker brothers to condemn their actions. The lesson here is that, if our consciences are clear because of mature faith and understanding, we are not to cause those with weaker consciences to stumble by exercising the freedom that comes with a stronger conscience.

Another reference to conscience in the New Testament is to a conscience that is “seared” or rendered insensitive as though it had been cauterized with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Such a conscience is hardened and calloused, no longer feeling anything. A person with a seared conscience no longer listens to its promptings, and he can sin with abandon, delude himself into thinking all is well with his soul, and treat others insensitively and without compassion.

As Christians, we are to keep our consciences clear by obeying God and keeping our relationship with Him in good standing. We do this by the application of His Word, renewing and softening our hearts continually. We consider those whose consciences are weak, treating them with Christian love and compassion.

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“On the biblical side, we often have failed to offer loving relationships and open doors to our homes and hearts, openness so unhindered that we are as strong in loving relationship as we are in the words we wield.”

from The Gospel Coalition:

If this were 1999—the year that I was converted and walked away from the woman and lesbian community I loved—instead of 2016, Jen Hatmaker’s words about the holiness of LGBT relationships would have flooded into my world like a balm of Gilead. How amazing it would have been to have someone as radiant, knowledgeable, humble, kind, and funny as Jen saying out loud what my heart was shouting: Yes, I can have Jesus and my girlfriend. Yes, I can flourish both in my tenured academic discipline (queer theory and English literature and culture) and in my church. My emotional vertigo could find normal once again.

Maybe I wouldn’t need to lose everything to have Jesus. Maybe the gospel wouldn’t ruin me while I waited, waited, waited for the Lord to build me back up after he convicted me of my sin, and I suffered the consequences. Maybe it would go differently for me than it did for Paul, Daniel, David, and Jeremiah. Maybe Jesus could save me without afflicting me. Maybe the Lord would give to me respectable crosses (Matt. 16:24). Manageable thorns (2 Cor. 12:7).

Today, I hear Jen’s words—words meant to encourage, not discourage, to build up, not tear down, to defend the marginalized, not broker unearned power—and a thin trickle of sweat creeps down my back. If I were still in the thick of the battle over the indwelling sin of lesbian desire, Jen’s words would have put a millstone around my neck.

Died to a Life I Loved

To be clear, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. I didn’t swap out a lifestyle. I died to a life I loved. Conversion to Christ made me face the question squarely: did my lesbianism reflect who I am (which is what I believed in 1999), or did my lesbianism distort who I am through the fall of Adam? I learned through conversion that when something feels right and good and real and necessary—but stands against God’s Word—this reveals the particular way Adam’s sin marks my life. Our sin natures deceive us. Sin’s deception isn’t just “out there”; it’s also deep in the caverns of our hearts.

How I feel does not tell me who I am. Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me. He tells me that we are all born as male and female image bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem. Genesis 1:27 tells me that there are ethical consequences and boundaries to being born male and female. When I say this previous sentence on college campuses—even ones that claim to be Christian—the student protestors come out in the dozens. I’m told that declaring the ethical responsibilities of being born male and female is now hate speech.

Calling God’s sexual ethic hate speech does Satan’s bidding. This is Orwellian nonsense or worse. I only know who I really am when the Bible becomes my lens for self-reflection, and when the blood of Christ so powerfully pumps my heart whole that I can deny myself, take up the cross, and follow him.

There is no good will between the cross and the unconverted person. The cross is ruthless. To take up your cross means that you are going to die. As A. W. Tozer has said, to carry a cross means you are walking away, and you are never coming back. The cross symbolizes what it means to die to self. We die so that we can be born again in and through Jesus, by repenting of our sin (even the unchosen ones) and putting our faith in Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. The supernatural power that comes with being born again means that where I once had a single desire—one that says if it feels good, it must be who I really am—I now have twin desires that war within me: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17). And this war doesn’t end until Glory.

Victory over sin means we have Christ’s company in the battle, not that we are lobotomized. My choice sins know my name and address. And the same is true for you.

The Cross Never Makes an Ally with Sin

A few years ago, I was speaking at a large church. An older woman waited until the end of the evening and approached me. She told me that she was 75 years old, that she had been married to a woman for 50 years, and that she and her partner had children and grandchildren. Then she said something chilling. In a hushed voice, she whispered, “I have heard the gospel, and I understand that I may lose everything. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? Why did people I love not tell me that I would one day have to choose like this?” That’s a good question. Why did not one person tell this dear image bearer that she could not have illicit love and gospel peace at the same time? Why didn’t anyone—throughout all of these decades—tell this woman that sin and Christ cannot abide together, for the cross never makes itself an ally with the sin it must crush, because Christ took our sin upon himself and paid the ransom for its dreadful cost?

We have all failed miserably at loving fellow image bearers who identify as part of the LGBT community—fellow image bearers who are deceived by sin and deceived by a hateful world that applies the category mistake of sexual orientation identity like a noose. And we all continue to fail miserably. On the biblical side, we often have failed to offer loving relationships and open doors to our homes and hearts, openness so unhindered that we are as strong in loving relationship as we are in the words we wield. We also have failed to discern the true nature of the Christian doctrine of sin. For when we advocate for laws and policies that bless the relationships that God calls sin, we are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.

May God have mercy on us all.

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“Chick managed to offend Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Freemasons, who found their beliefs discounted, ridiculed or condemned as false — or worse.”

Galatians 5:11:

“Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised–as some say I do–why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.”

“The cross is an offense because it says to the world, “You’re a sinner.” The cross said to the thief who was dying on the other cross, “You’re a sinner. You’d better repent.” And the thief did repent. He confessed his sins. And he said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus turned to him and said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Christ forgave him right there. But, first, the cross condemned his sins and made him confess and acknowledge that he was a sinner (Luke 23:39-43).”

All False religions demand  “works” to merit entry into a Heaven! Even Roman Catholicism an apostate and works based mutilation of Biblical Christianity puts emphasis on “works”

Biblical Christianity on the other hand says that we can do nothing to merit entry into Heaven. We can only be saved through grace! And that grace comes through belief in Jesus Christ, who he was, and what he did at the Cross!

from The Los Angeles Times:

Jack T. Chick, whose cartoon tracts preached fundamentalist Christianity while vilifying secular society, evolution, homosexuality and the beliefs of Catholics and Muslims, has died. He was 92.

Chick died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday evening, according to a Facebook postingMonday by Chick Publications, based in Rancho Cucamonga. It did not provide other details, and a call for comment left after hours was not immediately returned.

The posting promised that the company would continue Chick’s method, vision and purpose.

Chick’s pulpy, lurid cartoons combined traditional evangelism with frankly conspiracy-minded attacks. He and later other illustrators produced several hundred tracts over the decades. Latching onto the issues of the day, the tracts took aim at abortion, occultism, ecumenism and other perceived evils.

They portrayed everything from rock music to Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter as literal traps of the Devil.

One tract, “The Walking Dead,” tapped into the hit zombie TV show but argued: “We’re all like zombies. The spirits inside our souls are dead.”

As with underground comics of the 1960s and 1970s, Chick’s work opposed “the system.” But instead of the military-industrial complex or “The Man,” it was a secular society viewed as debased, demon-inspired and virulently anti-Christian.

One anti-evolution booklet, “Big Daddy?” has a college student exclaiming: “Then we didn’t evolve! The system has been feeding us The Big Lie! We really do have a soul!”

Chick managed to offend Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Freemasons, who found their beliefs discounted, ridiculed or condemned as false — or worse.

“Learn how the papacy helped start Islam, only to have this new daughter rebel against her. You’ll understand the Arab’s place in Bible prophecy. Muslims have been saved by reading this book,” says the blurb for one pamphlet on the Chick Publications order website.

The tracts were criticized for using debunked or one-sided arguments and stereotypical portrayals of blacks, homosexuals, Arabs and others. But they also attracted collectors and fans who cherished them as quirky works of art.

Chick was born in Los Angeles on April 13, 1924. A biography on the company website says he was converted to Christianity by listening to a radio revival program on his honeymoon.

Unable to find a publisher, Chick published his first cartoon revival book in 1961 using $800 he borrowed from a credit union. He founded Chick Publications in 1970.

The tracts were intended to be handed out in bulk and were available cheaply. Chick’s company claimed it had sold about 750 million of them, translated into more than 100 languages.

“His burden has always been to get the Gospel into the hands of millions of lost people around the world,” according to the website.

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from Got Questions:

There are several important differences between Catholics and Protestants. While there have been many attempts in recent years to find common ground between the two groups, the fact is that the differences remain, and they are just as important today as they were at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The following is brief summary of some of the more important differences:

One of the first major differences between Catholicism and Protestantism is the issue of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. Protestants believe that the Bible alone is the source of God’s special revelation to mankind and teaches us all that is necessary for our salvation from sin. Protestants view the Bible as the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. This belief is commonly referred to as “sola scriptura” and is one of the “five solas” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that came out of the Protestant Reformation as summaries of some of the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

While there are many verses in the Bible that establish its authority and its sufficiency for all matters of faith and practice, one of the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:16, where we see that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Catholics reject the doctrine of sola scriptura and do not believe that the Bible alone is sufficient. They believe that both the Bible and sacred Roman Catholic tradition are equally binding upon the Christian. Many Roman Catholics doctrines, such as purgatory, praying to the saints, worship or veneration of Mary, etc., have little or no basis in Scripture but are based solely on Roman Catholic traditions. Essentially, the Roman Catholic Church’s denial of sola scriptura and its insistence that both the Bible and tradition are equal in authority undermine the sufficiency, authority, and completeness of the Bible. The view of Scripture is at the root of many, if not all, of the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

Another disagreement between Catholicism and Protestantism is over the office and authority of the Pope. According to Catholicism the Pope is the “Vicar of Christ” (a vicar is a substitute) and takes the place of Jesus as the visible head of the Church. As such, the Pope has the ability to speak ex cathedra (with authority on matters of faith and practice), making his teachings infallible and binding upon all Christians. On the other hand, Protestants believe that no human being is infallible and that Christ alone is the Head of the Church. Catholics rely on apostolic succession as a way of trying to establish the Pope’s authority. Protestants believe that the church’s authority comes not from apostolic succession but from the Word of God. Spiritual power and authority do not rest in the hands of a mere man but in the very Word of God. While Catholicism teaches that only the Catholic Church can properly interpret the Bible, Protestants believe that the Bible teaches God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all born-again believers, enabling all believers to understand the message of the Bible.

Protestants point to passages such as John 14:16–17: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (See also John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27.)

A third major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism is how one is saved. Another of the five solas of the Reformation is sola fide (“faith alone”), which affirms the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8–10). However, Catholics teach that the Christian must rely on faith plus “meritorious works” in order to be saved. Essential to the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation are the Seven Sacraments, which are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. Protestants believe that, on the basis of faith in Christ alone, believers are justified by God, as all their sins are paid for by Christ on the cross and His righteousness is imputed to them. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that Christ’s righteousness is imparted to the believer by “grace through faith,” but in itself is not sufficient to justify the believer. The believer must supplement the righteousness of Christ imparted to him with meritorious works.

Catholics and Protestants also disagree on what it means to be justified before God. To the Catholic, justification involves being made righteous and holy. He believes that faith in Christ is only the beginning of salvation and that the individual must build upon that with good works because God’s grace of eternal salvation must be merited. This view of justification contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture in passages such as Romans 4:1–12, Titus 3:3–7, and many others. Protestants distinguish between the one-time act of justification (when we are declared righteous by God based on our faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross) and the process of sanctification (the development of righteousness that continues throughout our lives on earth). While Protestants recognize that works are important, they believe they are the result or fruit of salvation but never the means to it. Catholics blend justification and sanctification together into one ongoing process, which leads to confusion about how one is saved.

A fourth major difference between Catholics and Protestants has to do with what happens after death. Both believe that unbelievers will spend eternity in hell, but there are significant differences about what happens to believers. From their church traditions and their reliance on non-canonical books, the Catholics have developed the doctrine of purgatory. Purgatory, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, is a “place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” On the other hand, Protestants believe that because we are justified by faith in Christ alone and that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us—when we die, we will go straight to heaven to be in the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6–10 and Philippians 1:23).

One disturbing aspect about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is the belief that man can and must pay for his own sins. This results in a low view of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s atonement on the cross. Simply put, the Roman Catholic view of salvation implies that Christ’s atonement on the cross was insufficient payment for the sins of those who believe in Him and that even a believer must pay for his own sins, either through acts of penance or time in purgatory. Yet the Bible teaches that it is Christ’s death alone that can satisfy or propitiate God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). Our works of righteousness cannot add to what Christ has already accomplished.

The differences between Catholicism and evangelical Protestants are important and significant. Paul wrote Galatians to combat the Judaizers (Jews who said that Gentile Christians had to obey the Old Testament Law to be saved). Like the Judaizers, Catholics make human works necessary for one to be justified by God, and they end up with a completely different gospel.

It is our prayer that God will open the eyes of those who are putting their faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is our hope that everyone will understand that his “works of righteousness” cannot justify him or sanctify him (Isaiah 64:6). We pray that all will instead put their faith solely in the fact that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24–25). God saves us, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7).

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Christians these days seem to have a problem with the issue of authority.

Various teachers and pastors claim authority over their listeners or congregations. Disciplers or shepherds claim authority over their “sheep.” I have heard dozens of teachings and read dozens of books about who has authority over whom, and the question is still asked, “Yes, but who has authority?” It seems to be a problem.

Authority is not power. Power, the brute ability to force another person against their will, is shared by both the cop and the robber. Yet only the cop has authority: the morally legitimate ability to compel another, backed by force if need be.

For the most part, we transfer this common notion of authority directly into discussions of authority in the church. And if a person has a dictatorial vision of how authority should operate, the same vision takes shape in the church. If a person has a managerial vision of authority, the church ends up being administered as if it were a corporation. The list could go on, but the point is clear: our tendency is to begin with the idea of authority that we feel comfortable with and transfer it into the church.

Yet none of these transfers are adequate, for authority in the church is different from every other authority we know, if what Jesus said makes any difference.

JESUS’ DISTURBING TEACHING on authority for his followers contrasts them with every other society. The kings of the Gentiles, he said, lord it over their subjects, and twist this rule to appear good by calling themselves “benefactors”. They exercise their power, and try (more or less successfully) to make people think that it is for their own good. But it should never be so in the church; rather, the one who leads is a servant and the one who rules is as the youngest (Luke 22:24-27).

Secular authority can and will exercise dominating force to ensure obedience. But leaders in the church are to be genuine servants. As such, their leadership is based solely in truth and trust. Let me expand on this a bit.

Leaders in the church are leaders precisely because they are servants, not in pious rhetoric but in deed. When someone truly lives a life of serving others, meeting their needs, and acting for their good, others begin to trust them. But if they are
doing things for selfish motives or because they love power, you distrust them, even though what they do may appear to be serving you. Leadership in the body is based precisely on the trust that comes from a life of true service.

THE NEW TESTAMENT has things to say about leadership in the church and about spiritual authority. But oddly enough, given the magnitude of our present debates about leadership and spiritual authority, it has very little to say about a link between the two. That is, though the scriptures are concerned about both leadership and spiritual authority, they are strangely silent about leaders having spiritual authority or spiritual authority flowing from leaders. This silence, it turns out, is quite significant.

The New Testament uses two words which correspond to different aspects of what we mean by “authority.” The first, dunamis, is usually (and rightly) translated as “power.” This word is less important for us because though power may be associated with some kinds of authority, it also can exist without authority. A robber with a gun has power but not authority over others.

Even though it will not exactly answer our question, it will still be worthwhile to look at who has dunamis-power-in the New Testament. If you take a walk through a concordance, you will find that the following possess power: God, Jesus, the Spirit, and also angels, demons, principalities and powers. Human beings may be energized by them. The ministry of the gospel, the miracles of the apostles, and the lives of believers are all conditioned on the power of God. Yet, strikingly, the New Testament never recognizes human beings with “power” in their own right, power always comes to people from elsewhere.

Things become even more interesting when we turn to the other Greek word relevant to spiritual authority: exousia. This word is usually translated as “power” or “authority” and is the closest equivalent (in both denotation and connotation) to our English word “authority.” The New Testament’s list of those who have exousia is basically the same as those who have dunamis: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels and demons. But now, the list can also be extended to humans who are not merely energized by other’s authority but have authority themselves.

Thus, kings have authority to rule (Rom. 13:1-2) and Jesus’ disciples have authority over diseases and spirits (e.g., Matt. 10:1). Furthermore, believers are said to have authority over various aspects of their lives: their possessions (Acts 5:4), and eating, drinking, and being married (1Cor. 9:4-5).

What is interesting here is that the New Testament does not know anything about one believer having “authority” over another. We have plenty of authority over things, and even over spirits, but never over other Christians. Given the present debates about spiritual authority and leadership, that should be surprising. Kings have authority over their subjects; Paul had authority from the high priest to persecute the church (Acts 9:14, 26:10-12). But those are from outside the church. In the church, one believer is never spoken of as having exousia over another, regardless of their position or prestige.

With the exception, that is, of 2Cor. 10:8 and 13:10. In these texts Paul speaks of himself having “authority to build up, not tear down”. But this exception is really more a proof of the rule than a problem when you take two things into account.

First, by his own admission, Paul is speaking “as a fool” in this section of his letter, whereas he studiously avoids claiming authority over others when he speaks “soberly.”
Second, the context of the letter is one characterized by persuasion. The profound significance of this will become clear in due course. Paul spills a great deal of ink trying to persuade the Corinthians to listen to him. If he “had authority” over them, in the sense we usually think of it, why did he bother? Why not just give the orders and be done with it? Before we answer that, we should notice that Paul seems to lack authority-in our everyday sense of the word-even when he is “asserting” it. Now this should caution us against thinking of leaders as having authority merely on the basis of two sentences in 2 Corinthians.

NOW LOOK AT things from the other side. Rather than asking who has authority in the New Testament, we should ask its opposite, whom should one obey? The answer here is interesting, too. If you examine the usage of hupakouo, which is the Greek equivalent of “obey,” you will find that we ought to obey God, the Gospel (Rom. 10:16), and the teaching of the apostles (Phi. 2:12, 2Th. 3:14). Children are to obey their parents and servants their masters (Eph 6.1, 5). Are believers to “obey” church leaders? If they are, the New Testament doesn’t say so.

But not so fast-what about the text in Hebrews 13:17 which says “obey your leaders?” This text is interesting, because it gives us an insight into the positive side of the New Testament’s understanding of leadership. Up to now I have emphasized the negative-that they do not have spiritual authority in the usual sense, and believers are not told to obey them. In spite of all this, the New Testament insists that there are recognizable leaders in a local body and that their existence and ministry are important to the health of the body.

What is this clue in Hebrews 13:17. If you examine the verb translated “obey” in this text, you will find it to be a form of the word peitho which means “persuade.” In the form used here (the middle-passive) it means something like “let yourself be persuaded by” or “have confidence in.” Now that’s helpful. Believers are to let themselves be persuaded by their leaders.

Leaders are to be accorded a certain respect which lends their words more weight than they have in and of themselves. And the rest of the church should be biased in favor of listening to what they say. We are to allow ourselves to be persuaded by our
Leaders, not to obey them mindlessly but to enter into discussion with them while being biased toward what they are saying. So now we understand that it was significant that Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians were in a context of persuasion. He was trying to persuade them to let themselves be persuaded by him.

The other verb used in Hebrews 13.17 reinforces this conclusion. When the text goes on to urge people to submit to leaders, it does not use the garden-variety New Testament word for “submit.” The normal word is hupotassomai, which connotes something like placing oneself in an organization under another person.

The word here, however, is different. It is hupeiko, and it occurs only this once in the New Testament. It connotes not a structure to which one submits, but a battle after which one yields. The image (to transfer it out of the military usage) is one of a serious discussion, an interchange after which one party gives way. This meshes nicely with the notion that we are to let ourselves be persuaded by leaders in the church, rather than meekly submit to them as we might to the existing powers and structures of life.

This all makes sense with the criteria for leadership in the pastoral epistles. There, character is the most important thing about leaders-they should be “respect-able”. If they are supposed to be “persuaders”, it makes sense that they ought preeminently to be respect-able, because that is the kind of person whose words we are inclined to take very seriously. The kind of respect-ability outlined there lends credibility to the words of leaders, and hence gives us confidence in opening ourselves to being persuaded by them.

WE NEED TO take our ideas of leadership in the church from the New Testament and not from the world. Thus, we should begin not with a worldly concept of authority, but from the biblical idea of “persuaders” and try to flesh that out in our particular situations.
It is true that the one by whom people are persuaded does receive a kind of respect and authority. Yet this is not the authority-to-be-obeyed kind of authority and the mindless submission which characterizes much spiritual authority today.

We have seen that spiritual authority is based on earned trust in leaders. Yet, in the body it is also based on truth. Leaders in the church ought to love the truth and hate being listened to when they don’t speak it (and since they are not God, they won’t always). Presumably if leaders are wrong in their judgment and yet are seriously concerned to serve, they wouldn’t be happy with someone following them in their error.

Furthermore, truth is essential to the persuasiveness of leaders. But persuasion presupposes dialogue; and dialogue requires that active participation of the whole body. A leader who has the personal charisma to persuade people of something untrue, and does so, is demonic. And terrible, too, is a body of believers who follow mindlessly. To be persuaded of a lie is the worst form of bondage. Leaders in the church are bound to the truth and serve it above all in their service of others. And the body of believers is bound to the responsibility of dialogue toward truth.

The necessity of truth, by the way, is the reason why the New Testament emphasizes obeying the gospel or the apostles’ teaching, rather than leaders. The trust engendered by service is dangerous if it is not coordinated with a common submission to the truth of the gospel. If truth and trust are not together the basis of leadership in the body, the trust which can be created by service is just another, more subtle form of power-the power we call manipulation.

Genuine Christian leadership, then, is based on truth and trust, not on worldly authority. Leaders in the church are called to respect-able lives of service. Such lives engender the trust of others. Yet leaders as well as the rest of the members of the body are in common subjection to the truth which is in Christ.

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