Posts from the ‘Christianity’ Category

No Loose Canons

According to the Reformation principle of “Sola Scriptura”, the Scriptures alone are the rule of faith and life. But Scripture is not just one book. Scripture is a small library of books! So how do we determine which books are in the canon of Scripture? Do we need a church or a man to tell us what should be included? It is my position, and the historical position of the church, that the Holy Spirit reveals what is God-breathed, not any man or organization. In this way, one can say the canon of Scripture is self-authenticating. Do assume otherwise is to place a man or an organization above the Scriptures in authority. 

The best way to put it is the way the Second London Baptist Confession put it in 1689 (my apologies to those who are confession averse).  Section 1, Paragraph 4. “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.” (See 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 5:9)

There are two components to the “Canon of Scripture”, which can be referred to as the “Macro-canon” and the “Micro-canon”. The Macro-canon is the list of exactly which writings were to be regarded as Scripture. Basically, your bible’s table of contents. The Micro-canon is the actual verses that are part of the writings in the Macro-canon. The early church fathers of the first few centuries quoted extensively from the canon, and in fact there are quotes from every book in the New Testament within their writings. This is pretty impressive since they didn’t set out to make sure and quote everything so we would know they approved of it!

While most would agree with the Macro-canon, there are issues with the Micro-canon. Apart from minor textual variations, there are those men and women who advocate for the “Critical Text” that regard parts of the Micro-canon that was accepted as authentic by centuries of Christians as spurious. Not only are there several individual verses, there are entire passages such as the longer ending of Mark and the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The traditional Greek text has these passages included, but they date later than the Alexandrian manuscripts and papyri that omit them. The issue with these Alexandrian texts is that they have survived solely through an accident of climate, as drying air is more conducive so document preservation. Unfortunately, this area was also a hotbed of heretical activity among people like Arius and the Gnostics. And since these portions and were found in trash piles, I find them to be untrustworthy.

But of greater importance is the attack, whether intentional or not, on the self-authentication of the canon. If we accept the critical text over the traditional text, we are de facto admitting that 1.) there are men that have veto power of the Holy Spirit when it comes to authenticating Scripture, or 2.) we really do need an ecclesiastical authority to determine the Macro and Micro canons for us. In either instance, they place either a man or an organization in judgment over Scripture. This is not acceptable.

So does that mean we go “King James Only”? Not necessarily.  What it does mean is that we should use translations of the traditional text over those of the critical text. To their credit, many critical text translations include traditional text readings, albeit in brackets or footnotes. But there are also good translations that use the traditional text that the Holy Spirit has authenticated to believers over the centuries. These would include the King James, 21st Century King James, King James-Easy to Read, the New King James, and the Modern English Version.

Bible software has also made access to multiple versions much more convenient, so you can read different translations side by side. 

But my personal conclusion is this:  If the Scriptures are self-authenticating (and they are), then I should study from translations that use the text that the Holy Spirit has witnessed to over the last 20 centuries over a critical text that depends on human wisdom and academic argument. To do otherwise is to subjugate the determination of the Micro-canon to the academic “experts” instead of the Spirit. No Thanks!

The Top Four Church Activities

What should “doing church” together look like? Many in the modern Christian community have pondered this and tried to pattern themselves after what they see in the New Testament. Unfortunately, with the consumer mindset of many in the West, this model is considered too basic and incapable of attracting new members to your congregation. There is a stark difference between “make disciples” and “attract people to come to church”.   But that is another subject for another time.

In the Old Testament, when giving the Law to Moses, God was very specific about exactly what should be done, what materials were to be used, what order things were to be done in, and how everything passed muster as being an acceptable act of worship. This is something Nadab and Abihu apparently forgot about in their drunken stupor before God literally fired them!

But we have no such list of specific acts and exact instructions for worship in the New Testament Church. What we have instead are principles and categories of worship that can be applied. We now have the Word written on our hearts instead of engraved on tablets of stone.  Still, there are outlines of what the early church did in worship that we can adapt for our use. The first mention of this is the general categories listed in Acts 2:42 laying out what their priorities were. Since they had the Apostles to consult directly, these categories should weigh heavily on our minds when deciding what constitutes New Testament worship.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Many in the past have said there were five acts of worship authorized in the New Testament. But upon close examination, those five things fit easily into the categories of activity in Acts 2:42.  In fact, some of them fit across categories!  Here is what the Apostles made a priority in the new Church in Jerusalem:

  1. The Apostle’s Doctrine
  2. Fellowship
  3. Breaking of Bread
  4. Prayers

When the church today “continues steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine”, they do so by both teaching what it contained and doing what it commanded. The teaching portion can be further divided into internal and external teaching.  Part of the commission given to the Apostles in Matthew 28 was to “make disciples, teaching them”. They were not only to carry the message of salvation to the lost, but to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  Another way this teaching was to occur was in their singing (Colossians 3:16). We would do well to consider carefully what the songs we use in worship are teaching, and ensure it is teaching the Apostles’ Doctrine.

Fellowship has sadly become social activity in many, if not most, churches. It is relegated to a human, not a spiritual, activity. But the New Testament does not support this. Fellowship, or Koinonia in the Greek, was much more than social interaction. It is supposed to be a spiritual activity where we encourage one another and build each other up in the faith. Our shared covenant bond with God and with each other makes fellowship a truly spiritual activity. To relegate fellowship to just social time and make it something we don’t intentionally facilitate is to fail to follow the New Testament pattern. When we realize what fellowship should truly be, the arguments about whether fellowship time should be facilitated by spending money on a fellowship hall or a small kitchen become moot. A love feast, aka pot luck, where all food is held in common and shared is a spiritual act of worship where we please God and edify each other.

Breaking of Bread has two meanings. In many places it definitely refers to sharing the Lord’s Supper. When we participate in this act of worship every week, we not only remind ourselves of the sacrifice on the cross that made our redemption possible, but we also are engaging in another act of fellowship.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the

communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

As part of our practice of spiritual fellowship, we also break bread when we share common meals together. Once again, this is not a social function, but is rather a spiritual time of bonding and unity within the Body of Christ.

Prayers are something that we should be doing in all three of the other categories. We pray for open minds and hearts when we teach the Apostles’ doctrine. We pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of each of our brothers and sisters in Christ during times of fellowship, singing, giving, and discipleship. Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian life, when combined with the Apostles’ doctrine. Otherwise we will not know how to pray in accordance with the will of God.

In seeking to follow after the teaching and practice of the apostolic church, let us always remember the importance and spiritual significance of all four of these categories of church life.

Is Jesus Waiting For Us to Finish?

Let me say this first. I am completely in favor of world missions and taking the Gospel everywhere to everyone.

Having said that, there is a popular teaching circulating that says that until every single ethnic group has heard the Good News of Jesus, the Lord will not return for His Second Coming. Here is the verse that is based on:

Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

What we need to do in order to be faithful to the text and handle it aright, is to see what is meant by The world” in that verse. Is it every ethnic group on the planet? Is it just the known world, or maybe the Roman Empire? We need to determine these things if we are going to determine whether the Lord’s return is eminent or if He is waiting for us to finish the job.

In order to interpret Matthew 24 biblically, we need to realize that this passage, known as the Olivet Discourse, is not about the end of the world at all. The entire discourse is about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Old Covenant Age. The end Jesus was speaking of was the end of the Jewish system.

The word translated “world” in this and other passages means the known world, or the Roman Empire. Let’s start with Luke.

Luke 2:1 (NKJV)

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

While I am sure Caesar would have loved to tax the Chinese and perhaps those living in Australia, this is not what was intended. The world here simply means the Roman Empire. Paul uses world in much the same way.

Romans 1:8 (NKJV)

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Colossians 1:5-6 (NKJV)

because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;

According to Paul, the Word had already gone forth into all of the world. He affirms this in two of his letters.

Romans 10:18 (NKJV)

But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:

“Their sound has gone out to all the earth,

And their words to the ends of the world.”

In fact, according to what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, the prerequisite for the Lord’s return was already met before “the end” which happened in 70 AD!

Colossians 1:23 (NKJV)

if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Love for our Lord still demands that we take the Gospel of the Kingdom to everyone who is lost. The fact that the prerequisite for the Lord’s return has already been met should only add to the urgency with which we do missions work. Jesus could return at any time to gather those who are His elect.

Justification & Peace With God

The concepts of justification and peace with God are intimately tied together. After all, how would someone who is not justified and therefore an enemy of God, have peace with that same God? But how does that justification occur? It occurs by faith, which is our belief and trusting in Christ for our salvation.

Here is the way the Apostle Paul was inspired to describe it in Romans 4:1-8.

“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.

Later in the passage in verses 23-25, Paul summed it up this way:

“Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

With that as the background, Paul was inspired to write the following about the way that is related to justification and peace.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  Romans 5:1-2

In Israel today, there is no peace. Even on days when no warfare takes place, there is not peace. You cannot have true peace if there is the constant threat of war breaking out. This is why our relationship with God can be described as “peace”.  Due to our justification, there is no more possibility of war with God. The wrath that was due for our sins was borne by Jesus on the cross. That’s why he is called “the propitiation for our sins”. 

But many will say that it cannot be by faith alone.  Surely works must be added to it in order to receive salvation. We have to “do something” we can see to receive this salvation. But faith is not something you can see, and neither is the new birth! (John 3:3) Yet what about James 2? Doesn’t James say we are justified by faith AND works? Let’s take a look at what James says.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2:24

But in James, the subject of salvation is not being addressed. James is talking about how faith is proven genuine in the sight of others.  Justification does not always refer to salvation. The context determines the meaning, and in this case salvation is not the subject.  Here is an example of another place in the New Testament where Jesus uses the same word in this way.

Luke 7:34-36 New King James Version (NKJV)

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a [a]winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

In this passage, wisdom is proven genuine in the sight of others by those who are following its principles. No one would say that “wisdom is declared righteous and saved by her children”. That is definitely not what Jesus was trying to say. In the same way, James is saying that others know our faith is genuine because they see it walk out in our actions.

So we have peace with God because we have been justified by faith, and also because we are no longer having sin imputed to us. Like Paul says in Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”  We could never have true peace, which is the absence of the threat of war, if we are one big sin or incorrect doctrine away from losing our salvation.  That’s why it is so blessed that the Lord no longer imputes sin to our account! So if you have trusted in Christ for salvation and done what Paul said later in Romans 10:9-10, you are justified and truly have peace with God!

The View From High Altitude

I love the view from the top of a mountain. It seems the higher one gets on altitude, the more grand the vision becomes. You can even see amazing things when flying at 30,000 feet that you could never see otherwise. But there is also a need for the close up view. There is beauty in the details as well.

Many of us look at the five or six foot view, because that is the view we are used to. As creatures of habit, we can easily forget that there is value in seeing the high altitude, or bigger picture in order to provide context for what we see up close. A classic example of this is to look at one puzzle piece of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. It makes no sense to us unless we have the picture from the box top to provide the context.

There are many applications of this truth. For instance there is value in looking at the overall theme and circumstances of writing of an entire book of the Bible before embarking on a verse by verse, or even a word, study. It helps us keep those details on the context of the entire picture.

One thing that I was raised to do was to view the church in the same way. We get focused on our specific congregation, and sometimes forget about other congregations in our state, our country, or across the globe. We get wrapped up in the “local church” and fail to see “the universal church”. Or we look at Christians who agree with us and fail to consider those in the larger Body of Christ who may look or sound different than we do.

Here is a passage in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about the Body of Christ as different parts of a body. And believe me, we don’t want every organ and tissue doing the exact same thing in our natural bodies. So why do we expect that from other believers?

1 Corinthians 12:12-22 (NET)

For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential,

Often we read this passage and think about the local congregation, and that is a good thing. But think for a moment about the universal church. By that I mean everybody who is truly in Christ, that Christ calls His own, no matter what kind of congregation they belong to. Think of everyone who has faith and believes Jesus is the son of God and that He was raised from the dead to pay the penalty justice demanded for their sin.

When we say other believers are not real Christians because they read the Bible and come to a different conclusion than we do, are we not in effect saying “I do not need you”? Is it pride that says anyone coming to a different conclusion is following the doctrines of men?

There are core essentials that we would find most Bible believing Christians would agree on. Things like the Trinity, Jesus being the Messiah and dying for our sins, and literally being raised from the dead are beyond dispute. But as we move out from those central teachings, our willingness to be dogmatic should gradually fade. We can agree on the essentials and show charity on the nonessentials. Do do otherwise is to practice sectarianism, which is much more destructive than denominationalism.

This is much to think about and meditate on, but it is a subject we must come to grips with, lest we reject those who are part of the Body of Christ.

Imputed Righteousness

Much discussion takes place between Christians regarding the doctrine of imputation. After salvation, does God look at us and only see Jesus? Is imputation just a legal fiction that doesn’t have any effect on our growth in sanctification? These are a few things I would like to explore.

First of all, we cannot get to heaven and be in God’s presence with our own righteousness. Our “filthy rags” (Isaiah 54:6) don’t even come close to getting us into heaven, where no unrighteous thing can dwell. It takes the blood of Jesus, who imputed to us His righteousness when He took upon Himself our sins (without committing them) on the cross to accomplish that.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

But does that mean, as some teach, that when God sees us He only sees Jesus and none of our sins? If that were the case, entire sections of the New Testament would be unnecessary and meaningless! Why would Jesus have given John the letters to the Seven churches of Asia if God didn’t see their sin, or if their sin didn’t matter? Why have Paul rebuke the man in Corinth who was living with his father’s wife if God just sees Jesus when He looks at us? Why even set up church discipline if God doesn’t see a believer’s sin?

No, God still sees our sin, and if we are children of God He disciplines us for them as His children (Hebrews 12:10-11). The righteousness that is imputed to us does not just sit there on paper as a legal decree by a judge, but has a desired effect in our lives! These effects are not the basis of our salvation or the method of keeping us saved, but are the fruit of imputation. Indeed they are one of the purposes of our salvation!

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)

What would make no sense would be for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us and have no effect on our sanctification. This imputed righteousness is the very power of God that enables us to obey His commands. Rather than saying “my sin doesn’t matter because God doesn’t see my sin”, we should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith and truly children of a Father who disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:8; 2 Corinthians 13:5)!

So are believers “the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus”? Yes! Does that mean God doesn’t see our sin? No! It means we are family members who have been empowered by the grace of the imputed righteousness of Christ to grow in holiness and sanctification and persevere until the end.

Imputed righteousness was the basis of our justification. Justification is where the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to us.

“Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:22-25 (NASB)

But growth in sanctification is what happens as we live out that imputed righteousness in our daily lives. We must not conflate the two into one reality. Justification is the point in time of our salvation, which is the basis of imputation which empowers sanctification that will result in glorification. They are all terms that can be defined separately, but are realities that are always found together in the lives of the children of God.

What About Gambling?

What About Gambling?

Although the Bible does not discuss gambling in detail, we can discern from Bible principles that God views gambling as a sin. With so much at stake, we need to look and see what Bible principles would apply to this practice. (Ephesians 5:17 – “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”)

The primary reason Christians should reconsider gambling is that its underlying motivation is greed, which is a sin God hates.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NASB, emphasis mine)

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints… For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:3, 5 NASB)

Gamblers hope to gain money through the losses of others, which is coveting that which belongs to another person.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NASB)

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NASB)

For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans13:9-10 NASB)

Another aspect of gambling that should not be overlooked is that it can arouse a destructive love of money. Many lives, including entire households, have been scarred by gambling addiction. Money that one cannot afford is thrown away in a vain hope for that big win!

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NASB)

Gambling also plays into a form of idolatry because it encourages reliance on luck and superstitions.  Such idolatry is incompatible with exclusive devotion to the One True God.

“But as for you who abandon the Lord and forget about worshiping at my holy mountain, who prepare a feast for the god called ‘Fortune,’ and fill up wine jugs for the god called ‘Destiny’ (Isaiah 65:11 NET)

Finally, gambling teaches the opposite of what the Bible teaches us. The Word tells us the engage in hard work in order to obtain what we need.

“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NIV)

“Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28).

Gambling holds out the promise of “something for nothing” and is a lie and a trap for many. Those who follow after God will follow the biblical admonition to “eat what we earn” instead of taking money lost by others for our own use.

 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you. (1 Thessalonians 3:11 CSB)

Remember, the mouse gets caught in the trap because it doesn’t realize why the cheese is free! Let us use biblical wisdom to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord!

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