Posted in Debate and Argumentation

It’s Just Words, Man…Just Words

“You’re just arguing semantics,” was the reply I received. “That’s what he said to you?” an evangelist friend of mine asked. “Yeah, that’s what he said as if this somehow settled the argument,” I said. “That’s stupid, of course you’re arguing over semantics…that’s the whole point,” came my friends irritated response.[1]

What’s the Problem?

Semantics may not be a word that many are familiar with. But familiarity or not everyone uses semantical argumentation. In debates, dialogues, and various other forms of argument one of the things you will notice is that the debate stems from the varying ways in which individuals or groups understand certain key terms or concepts.

This is the game that is often played in cultural issues and or policies (i.e., politics). Barring consideration over the foundational issues inherent in any position held, language or the way we communicate is loaded with baggage.[2]  This baggage provides a filtering lens in the way we use terms or phrases, based on our interpretation of them via our worldview commitments. In short, the way we use certain words or phrases or concepts through various forms of speech (speaking, writing), and the way we hear them (audio, reading) will be governed by what we considered acceptable within a certain range of meaning.

Underlying Issue Elaborated Upon…

The conversation that I roped you in with above was the result of a real meeting I had with a board of elders in the Nazarene Church. This was during my first pastorate, and it was one of many steps as I journeyed on through the ordination process.[3] If I’m not mistaken this conversation would have taken place sometime in the spring of 2010 before the District Assembly’s meeting. The semantical argument that one of the elders referred to was over the word “vision.” The text pointed to was Prov 29.18 in the KJV:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

The problem was that they didn’t like my response on a questionnaire I had filled out a few weeks before the meeting. They interpreted my response as hostile, but it was anything but. In fact, one of the elders said that my demeanor in the meeting was not the impression he’d gotten from what I’d written. Meaning I seemed rather blunt, to which he took as, I suppose, some form of aggression on my part. However, they thought I was rather cordial in person.

The source of contention in this meeting was that I told them they had wrongly applied the passage in question. They were using it in a way to inquire what my “vision was” that I had received from the Lord for my work in Chesterhill, OH. What dream or aspirations or visionary net was I casting to lead me in future months as I worked in the ministry at that church? Even without a lexicon if one merely reads the verse you will see that parallel provided in this form of Hebrew poetry limits the use of the word “vision” in this context as instruction received from God’s law (Torah). More recent English translations pick this intention up provided by the writer of this particular proverb:

  • “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (ESV).
  • “When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!” (NET)
  • “When there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but as for he who guards instruction, happiness is his” (LEB).[4]

Even the Greek translation of the Tanakh does not allow for the manner in which they were attempting to use the term:

  • “There shall be no interpreter to a sinful nation; but he that observes the law is blessed” (LXX).

Once, I had proved my case the only possible answer was to dismiss me altogether with the statement: “You’re just arguing semantics.” And then, the meeting moved on as if it never happened.

I have heard similar argumentation when people quote Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (ESV). God says people are destroyed when they don’t seek for and embrace knowledge. As if this refers to any and all forms of knowledge.

Again, context helps us identify the meaning of the word “knowledge” even if we do not have a Hebrew dictionary. The second half of the verse shows that the knowledge that the people lack, which is the cause of their being destroyed, is they “have forgotten the law of your God” (Hos 4.6b). The reason is because they had teachers (i.e., priests and prophets) who failed to take God at His Word and give faithful instruction to His people. Which led to “cast[ing] off restraint” as the writer of the proverb above illustrated.

Aid or Hinderance…

Language and our use of it may be either a wonderful aid or a great hinderance to those whom we are speaking to. Fights ensue on theological grounds over the use of words and phrases. This war of words is not limited to what some might view as an ecclesiastical sphere, but takes place in our day-to-day life on a variety of issues. Being a political year, if we take the time to listen and weigh the words of those promoting their ideas, you will notice that the battle is one ideologically waged through the use of words.

Example regarding Politics…

Recently, I was listening (and watching) a conversation that Candace Owens had with fellow black leaders at some event (Clip from Revolt Summit; warning explicit language). Her conservative position was in the minority as could be seen with the panel of people she shared the stage with, as well as the response of the crowd. At one point she was asked what does Trump mean by “Make American Great Again,” “what’s he talking about?!? What era of American history is he referring to?!?”

One group heard the phrase “Make America Great Again,” as possibly referring to the days of segregation, or chattel slavery, or when women didn’t have the right to vote, etc. The other group, represented by Mrs. Owens, meant the values that were once held dear in terms of marriage—specifically fathers in the homes, rather than being negligent—when people worked hard for a living rather than being eager for a handout, when moral values where more in line with those held by our founders and other great leaders of the past; barring of course the atrocities that some fools committed. Though Mrs. Owens was asked the question she was shouted down by members of the panel and the crowd, because they refused to hear her definition of the phrase. It was an argument over semantics.

In Regards to Eternal Punishment…

As I noted in an earlier post in regards to Conditionalism/Annihilationism (See Here) from what I can tell the argument is one over semantics. Since that time, I have read a few articles, books, and some of the early writings of those often labeled “Church fathers” (i.e., the pastors, theologians and scholars of the early church).  I’ve also ordered a couple books on the subject from opposing sides. Until that time, I think that there are a few areas that I might address without having read those books.

What’s to be Expected…

The first has to do with the use of metaphoric language (i.e., symbolic use). The second will deal with the meaning of death in Scripture. The way I have seen it argued from the Conditionalist side is heavily geared towards cessation. If that is in fact the case, then we ought to be able to find biblical support for that position. We shall see. There is a third position that we could look into and that is heavily tied to the emotive human response to the idea of eternal punishment and/or damnation. Let it suffice to say that if both sides are honest NO ONE LIKES the idea of sinners in an eternity of torment/suffering. But the issue at hand has little to do with likes. Whether or not I like something or dislike something has no bearing on whether or not it is truth that should be embraced or rejected. The creature of God is called to submit to the Truth of God regardless of lack of total understanding and emotional bias. I may have a fourth article loosely tied to this in regards to philosophy vs. exegesis, in light of how they relate to one another. But time will tell what I decide on that point.

Until then I pray that you will have a blessed weekend. Worship the Lord while He may be found. Take advantage of today, for tomorrow is promised to none of us. God Bless.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This conversation is paraphrased from the original. The content is accurate, as well as the emotional distaste of my evangelist friend, but I don’t want to act as if this is an exact transcript. Many years have passed since then, and while I don’t believe my memory is slipping I don’t want to overstate my case.

[2] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief, E-book edition (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1998], 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[3] My ordination would not come until the April of 2014. By then I had left the Church of the Nazarene for doctrinal reasons, having submitted my resignation letter to my church and the District Superintendent.

[4] All italics are mine to emphasize the word in question.

Posted in Abortion

Debating Abortion: Why it’s Done and What’s the Appropriate Response?

Why is there a debate on abortion? Have you ever sat back and really chewed on the reasons behind the debate? I was born in the late 70’s, and so as long as I can remember (at least when I started to care about such things) the debate on this issue has been the norm.

Some will say that the issue is about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights.” Some will claim that it is a scientific question of when life begins. Others will attempt to identify the debate on philosophical grounds, specifically in terms of person-hood. But do any of those really get to the heart of the matter? Is there a heart in the matter?

What I find at the same time amusing and disturbing is the reluctance for a great number of people on either side of the debate (Pro-choice; Pro-life) to see it as a religious issue. The general attitude seems to be “that must be avoided at all costs!” There will be those of the unbelieving sect that will sneer at the very audacity of daring to bring religion into the debate. Similarly, those of the believing sect will either tsk, tsk, tsk at the notion, or they will cower in fear of appearing too confrontational to others.

A couple of things might be said to both sides on this particular point…

First, a debate by definition is an argument of opposing sides. The argument is by its nature confrontational. To debate the position of another is to attack that position you are arguing against. In the same breath, you are also defending the position that you hold in a debate against the one who is attacking your position by arguing against it. DEBATES are CONFRONTATIONAL. And so, I wonder what is the root cause of the professed believers in shying away from dealing with the religious nature of the debate?

Secondly, religion by definition is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”[1] Therefore, there is no question that the debate over abortion is religious in nature. All people are religious, although they may differ in the object of their faith-commitment. If you happen to be one that prefers to leave religion out of the discussion, you may not like to hear that, but truth that is psychologically disturbing to the recipient is nonetheless truth.

Why the Debate?

Back to the original question I proposed at the beginning of this post: Why is there a debate on abortion? What is at stake? What is the heart of the issue? The answer is PRIDE.

Prides says, “To everybody else go and die, I am going to do it my way!” Pride is by nature autonomous. Pride recognizes no other authority but self. Pride is the blessed root of selfishness. Pride cares little for the affairs of others, but only that which is precious to itself.

Again, I find it amusing and disturbing that pride is the reason not only for abortion, but the reluctance to see the debate as religiously oriented. Pride is also the reason why so many go to such great lengths at avoiding the debate. As if a strong confrontation of ideas is wrong?

Christian Commitment…

I should add at this point that the Christian is commanded by Christ to be Christlike. Which means “gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” Which looks like speaking the truth in love, but with love of God as the ultimate commitment that cannot be subverted in the slightest. Which means being gentle and firm at the same time; patient and insistent; kind but unabashedly bold for the truth.

The Underlying Issue…

Now I will grant that the reason the one side (Pro-choice) wants it to remain outside the purview of a confrontation is because they do not want to hear opposition. They don’t want to be told they are wrong. They don’t want to be told that there are consequences for choosing to “off” their offspring. They don’t want it to be an issue of right or wrong, because “choice” sounds so much more intelligent and sophisticated. Most of all they don’t want to be told that what they are really doing is sinning. Sinning against the child in the womb, against the father who is also responsible for the child, against the society that feels the effects of their “choice,” but most of all they don’t want to be told they are sinning against a Holy God in heaven that will hold them accountable for their “choice.”

At root, pride is found nestled, deeply embedded in the hearts/minds of those on that side of the fence. Sadly, they are not the only ones. For in an effort to “keep-face” with the world; To not come off as a bigot before the multitudes; To not be hated by those who they may encounter on a daily basis, or break bread with during those special times of the year, Pro-lifer’s will avoid bringing religion—specifically, the Christian faith—into the discussion.

Speaking specifically to those who bear the cross of Christ

For the Christian to effectively address the issue of abortion they must understand that it is a gospel issue. How so?

First and foremost, in recognizing that abortion is not about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights,” or about “scientific evidences,” or “philosophical meanderings.” Abortion is about fallen human beings that in an effort to preserve their way of life and guard the convictions of their own hearts, sacrifice their children on the altar of convenience.  One glaring example of this that comes to mind is that of actress Michelle Williams who thanked her ability to kill a child to promote her career. (Read Here).

Secondly, by defining abortion for what it truly is…MURDER! When we properly define it for what it is, then we are able to rightly identify the class it fits within…SIN! Again, I am often amazed at the way people refuse to define terms. Abortion is the murder of an unborn, but living, child. To call it a fetus does not change this fact, for from the Latin fetus means young one, babe or offspring.

Third and finally, admitting that there is only one solution to sin—the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person who takes the life of their own offspring is in bondage to sin. Who can set them free from that sin? Who can lift them from the muck and mire, pulling out their prideful roots that have embedded their hearts/minds, if not Christ? There is no one else. Christ alone atones for sin. Christ alone gives victory over sin. The work of Christ alone breaks up hardened hearts, giving them a heart of flesh.

Brief Worldview Analysis…

The fact is, if you are trying to change a person’s position which would need to go against their base convictions of reality, you cannot do it. Facts and evidences will not change a person’s heart. That person will stick to their guns. They will hold tight to their presupposition, for to give up that one many others would have to follow.

Which is why you will hear various “buts” to escape the obvious, logical conclusion that the thing growing inside of a woman during her pregnancy is not a thing at all. It is a human being, a person, a little babe that is young and small, but growing onward toward maturity. The issue scientifically is not that its just a lump of cells, a mutation, an alien, or an intruder, but the offspring of a union between a man and a woman.

The issue is not intellectual, scientific, or philosophical but the condition of the human heart. Of course, all of those things have a bearing in the discussion, but a person’s intellect, interpretation of scientific facts, and the philosophical conclusions they draw are driven by the object that holds their faith (i.e., faith-commitment).

A couple possible objections…

“Yes, but if I’m offensive to the person(s) I am speaking to they will shut their ears. They will refuse to listen, and I will lose my opportunity to present the gospel.”

  • If you know anything about the Lord Jesus, you will see that he never subverted from the truth in order to be inoffensive. In fact, a consistent reading of the gospels will show that Jesus was at times very offensive, and He never apologized for it. Better to smack the person that needs smacked in order to wake them up, then to butter them with kisses and let them die. He told the truth graciously, which meant the things I said above, and when people left Him because they were offended, He let them. And, when they got angry at his message, he told them that they would die in their sins (verbally shaking the dust off his sandals, if you get the reference).

“Yes, but the Christian should be more about saving lost souls and preaching the gospel, not getting into debates over cultural mores and/or societal and political habits.”

  • The Great Commission (see Matt 28.18-20) says two things that every Christian should know. First, that we are to preach the gospel of God, who is defined by the Lord as (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), baptizing all people in His Name. Second, that we are to teach all nations (i.e., all peoples) “to obey all that He has commanded.” What do you suppose were the commandments to which He was referring?
  • If you think that New Testament Christian’s Scripture was the New Testament, then you are grossly mistaken. Their Scripture was what we call the Old Testament (Tanakh and/or Torah). The commandments to which Christ referred were His holy law that He gave to Moses long ago. The gospel is about saving people from their sin, but sin is that which we think, speak and do. Therefore, saving people from sin also speaks of justice and righteousness and holiness. Which are the means by which we are instructed to love God and love our neighbor.
  • Thus, the Christian is called to address the societal/political habits of the people by calling them what they are when they stray from God’s holy instruction (sinful behaviors); thereby, pointing them to repentance and a change of heart regarding them. Which in turn does what? Changes the society/political habits of the people because the surrounding culture (i.e., cultus) has had a change of heart.

Forthcoming…

For those unfamiliar with the historic anti-abortion movement, next week I will give you (the reader) some background information and a book recommendation that I believe you will find helpful. If you’d like to hook up with an excellent Christian ministry that is on the front lines of this fight for the lives of unborn babies, then I graciously turn you to End Abortion Now’s website

Have a blessed weekend.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster), 1052, “religion,” s.v., def. 4.

Posted in Communication

A Letter to Fellow Believers

We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God’s; let us, therefore, live and die to him (Rom 14: 8). We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed.[i]

Dear Christian,

If only we would meditate on these truths today, we would find our lives would be tossed less to and fro upon the waves. Every wind of doctrine which blows in from the worldly coast would be easily buffeted[ii] by our steadfastness to Him and cause much less turmoil in our daily lives.

It is only through an acknowledgement of our indebtedness to the Triune God of Scripture, revealed in the perfect image of the Son—Christ Jesus, that we experience true empowerment by the Holy Spirit’s workings in our inner heart.

John Calvin often gets a bad rap for being a legalist, for teaching doctrines that sensitive Christians should stay away from. However, what I have found is that the majority of those who show great disdain for the man and his teaching which is thoroughly saturated in biblical truth, is that they have not read his works. Or if they have read them they have not spent much time mulling over the truths presented in them to test whether or not they are of God or of man.

I am not claiming that Calvin is God, MAY IT NEVER BE! He is a servant of the Lord, like we who profess Jesus are servants of the Lord. But what he has said bears our attention. Go back and reread his words above. Do they not ring true? Do you not see the legitimacy of his claims? Does your inner heart not say to you—if you truly love God—“yes, he is right.” Can you not throw down your allegiances that are built upon biased opinions and test the spirit of the teaching and see whether or not it has some merit?

When I first began in the ministry, I was warned “you dare not read such things from such men.” Why? Oddly enough, I now wonder if such warnings were given to me out of blatant ignorance or willful blindness?

Calvin bases the statement above on the following truth given to us by the apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.1-2).

Note, what Calvin has already said from Paul’s words—our lives are NOT our own. Neither were they ours when we were unbelievers (for God created us); neither are they ours as believers (for Christ recreated us). “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Php 1.21), but only insofar as we treat our lives as His to be treated and dealt with as He sees fit!

How are we to give true spiritual worship? What does that look like? Is it 45 minutes of singing? Is it mere emotional outbursts, what some call “moving’s of the Spirit?” I dare not say that in Christ we experience no such enjoyment. Our hearts are elated in the Spirit’s presence to be sure, but the point of true worship, of true sacrifice, of true love is through obedience to God’s Word. He has revealed to us what is “holy and acceptable,” what is “good…and perfect.” We do not have to guess, for He has equipped us, if only we would stop turning inward towards ourselves, but outwards to our God.

When we are transformed by His Word, we grow in dependency upon Him, and we refuse the confirmation that this world with all its false lies tries to impose upon us. Light shines brightest, when it encroaches upon the darkness not the other way around. Let us then learn to let the light of Scripture infiltrate our minds, bringing into submission our reason and our will for they were given as gifts not to be used in any fashion that we choose, but in the fashion for which God formed them—to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

We, who know the Lord our Savior, have been given the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1Cor 2), so that we can discern life truly, but the caveat is this. It is possible only insofar as we are dependent up His Word. When we fail to do this, we sin. Sin is not just an outward act, but an inward motivation to do that which is contrary to our Creator. Sin is found in our thoughts, our words, and in our deeds. Let us learn then to cast such things aside, so that Christ might be glorified, and we be found faithful in our service.

Cordially yours in Christ…


ENDNOTES:

[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.7.1

[ii] That is to say, rather than being struck by the wind we strike it. We withstand it. We reject it. We are an encroaching wall that breaks the wind apart, rather than being broken by it.  That being said if we are found in error, if we have been seduced by that which is false and have fallen headlong into sin (of any sort), then be thankful my dear friend that we have an advocate beside the Father who, if we are faithful in our repentance, is just as faithful in His forgiveness (cf. 1John 1.9).

Image by Devanath

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

Debate and Argumentation: Part III

This is the third and final installment of Debate and Argumentation (if you’d like to catch up here they are in order:  Debate and Argumentation for the Sake of Unity and LoveDebate and Argumentation: Part II ).

We live in a day and age that avoids all forms of debate like the Black Plague.  And yet, debate, argumentation even heated discussion is necessary and important when the truth is at stake. Our public square will shout you down, attack you personally, and attempt to censure you but that is only because they do not want what they propose as truth to be scrutinized and to be found wanting.  (Sometimes silence is attempted, but only insofar as you do not push the issue).

Back to Acts 15…

Last time, we were discussing Acts 15 and the heated debate that occurred in that day over “circumcision” and the “Law of Moses” (of God). The argument was over Scripture and flowed from two different interpretations of some very important key texts. I won’t rehash that here. If you’re really interested check out Part II linked above.

I do, however, need to address one issue that I left blank in the last post. Circumcision, although a vitally important element of the old covenantal system found its fulfillment in Christ Jesus (cf. Col 2.11-14; 3.11). The spiritual element is still mandatory, but the physical cutting of flesh has been done away with. That portion of ceremonial cleanliness is no longer necessary. Why? Because, the Lamb of God satisfied the purpose of those former shadows. Thus, the slaying of animals on an altar is no longer necessary. The separating of crops, of fabrics, even of various dietary restrictions have been met in the work of the Lord.

(NOTE TO READER: The book of Hebrews provides a wonderful explanation of why these former elements are no longer necessary, but the subject matter is too long to address in this relatively short article).

We are now going to turn our attention to the second major point of contention in Acts 15:5, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (emphasis added). How one responds to this statement will reveal a lot of what they know, what they’ve been told, and what they’ve come to believe (i.e. convictions).

The Law: Physical and Spiritual Elements

There is a general precept found in Scripture at three vital points. That a person should not presume to add or take away from God’s Holy Word. We find this warning twice in Deuteronomy (4.2; 12.32), once in the book of Proverbs (30.6), and once again in the book of Revelation (22.18-19).

Each statement should be considered contextually first. For example, the book of Revelation’s statement on this subject is limited to the writings of that book. That does not mean the principle is invalid or inapplicable outside of that text. However, if that was the only warning, we were given in that regard then we would be stretching the intent of the passage to attempt to apply it elsewhere. Which is why I believe God was adamant about repeating it.

This particular teaching also links itself to false prophets and false teachers (Deut 13.1-5; 18.20-22). Those who desire to speak for God, but deviate from His Word teaching false truths, false Christ’s, false gospels (cf. 2Cor 11.3-4; Gal 1.6-9; compare 1Thess 5.20-21; 1John 4.1). Thus, we read about the Bereans when they heard the gospel they “searched the Scriptures” to see if those things Paul taught were true; they tested his words (Acts 17.11).

The problem with the Law of God is not with the Law, but with our hearts (Rom 7.14; 8.7-8). The Law is described as good and holy (Rom 7.12; Neh 9.13; 1Tim 1.8). We on the other hand are not (Eccl 7.20). Two extremes spring forth from our lack of holiness and goodness. The first is legalism and the second is anti-law.

The Legalists…

These individuals look at God’s Law and find it insufficient in that they see the need to add extra guardrails to deter one from breaking them. This is an overreaction, and it is rooted in the false notion that we have within ourselves, the ability to live holy lives apart from the grace/power of God.  Some good example passages are found in Mark 7:6-13 and Isa 1.2-20.[i]

The Anti-Law Advocates…

These individuals look at God’s Law in an archaic fashion. They assume that grace has freed them from obligation to the Law of God. Often, they misappropriate the second half of Rom 6:14, “…you are not under law but under grace.” Paul is not saying in Rom 6:14 that Christians are free from obeying the law of God, but that we are free of the curse brought about by the law of God. The law of God does not save, it condemns. Sin is aggravated by the law, stirred up in our hearts and immediately seeks to rebel against God’s Holy standard (cf. Rom 7-8.8). Paul tells the Christians in Rome they need not fear for “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace” (Rom 6:14; entire verse).

In other words, you, who are in Christ, have been set free from the bondage that sin once had on you. The chains of sin have been broken, for when you were baptized in Christ you were raised to new life; therefore, sin lost its hold, its power over you. You have been freed from the power of sin, which is grace. That’s what it means to be under grace. That’s exactly what Paul is saying.

To attempt to argue otherwise is vanity. First of all, it pits Paul against Christ Jesus. Second, it twists God’s Word through the addition and subtraction of what He has revealed.

Jesus said very clearly that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt 5.19a). Jesus taught the smallest law is to be upheld (i.e. obeyed), and the person who taught another to not keep it will be called “least.” Before Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He said that they were to teach the nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20a).

Some attempt to be wiser than they ought and say, “Well Jesus was only talking about the things He commanded during His ministry.” Really, where did He say that? Oh, he didn’t, you just assume it. Ah…so you’re in the habit of adding to the Word of God, are you?

There is no debate, Jesus settled it…

The fact of the matter is settled. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5.17-18; emphasis added).  And before the person can argue (as some have done and others do) that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is the end of the law reread his words: “Do not think…I have not.”

Fulfilling of the law is upholding the law, observing the law, obeying the law, living in accordance with the law; which is precisely what the apostle Paul says in the same epistle some run to in order to support their folly. And so, to those individuals we ought to say, “Have you not read[ii]…Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom 3.31).

Returning to Acts 15:5…

So, on the surface the demand of some of the believers from the Pharisee party seem to be legitimate. It is right to teach new believers to obey the Law of God. Not because we are saved by the law, but because we desire to please God. That is where they are wrong, where they have erred from the truth, and it is the reason for the heated discussion in Jerusalem (Acts 15.7a).

To think that our activities save us is to fall into the fallacy of Cain. He brought to the Lord his very best, but his best was a stench in the nostrils of God. God wanted to vomit over Cain’s sacrifice, but Abel’s—his brother—well that was a different situation altogether. What made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable (pleasing) to God? His was offered in faith (Heb 11.4). Which is what precisely? Faith, true faith, is an act of obedience by the one who takes God at His Word and trusts (believes) He has spoken rightly.

James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (italics added).

I realize that some get really confused on the meaning here of James, so please allow me to clarify. Notice James does not say that works save, which would ultimately pit him against God (cf. Rom 3.28). His point, however, is that faith without works (obedience towards God) is dead! Can faith without obedience be said to be genuine faith in God? No, that would be a false faith. Supposed belief without any fruit of righteous obedience to show for it, is the same sort of pseudo-faith that the devil has (James 2.19).

What the Argument was truly over…

This is the opposite of what the “circumcision party” believed. In their mind, the only way someone was saved was by what they did. In short, they were their own justifiers.  It is akin to the argument: “If God commands it, then I must be capable of doing it on my own. My own nature is essentially good, therefore, my works are good and ought to be honored by God: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get‘” (Luke 18.11-12).

What Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were arguing is that not only did God never teach this (it is an incorrect interpretation of the Law), but history (both former and personal) proved that they could not bear the yoke they were attempting to prescribe to others (Acts 15.10). The Holy Spirit saved Cornelius’ household before they had done anything (see Acts 10). Just as God justified Abraham before he had done anything (see Rom 4:1-13).

The Closing Argument…

To put the matter to bed, let me point you to Christ. Did He obey the Law? Yes, on all points. Did His obedience save Him, or was His obedience evidence of having a heart that truly loved the Father? His love of the Father drove Him to obedience in all things: “not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42). His faith was living not dead, therefore, He trusted and acted upon God’s Law-Word. And we who are called by His Name are likewise supposed to walk in the same steps that He has taken (1John 2.3-6; 3.22-24; 5.2-3; 2John 1:6).

This example, serves as a reminder of the benefit of argumentation and debate. We need to wrestle with the Scriptures, and not be afraid of discussing what they mean. Challenging some if needed, loving others when possible, so that we might prove our unity and love to our Lord first and foremost, and then as a necessary result…one another.


ENDNOTES:

[i] In both passages we find those that profess to love God, profess to uphold His Law, rules and statutes, and yet along the way they have added their own personal standards to the practice. They are more concerned with the letter (the outward action), than the Spirit (inward motivation of the heart/mind) of the Law. Such individuals find a way to add further extensions (amendments, if you will) to progress God’s Law in a fashion they find acceptable to the people. They think themselves holy. They believe themselves just, but inside they are white washed sepulchers (tombs).

[ii] The phrase “have you not read” was a favorite of our Lord’s to rebuke and correct his opponents. See: Matt 12.3, 5; 19.4; 21.16; 22.31; Mark 12.20, 26; Luke 6.3.  Sometimes he presents it as a rhetorical question that demands a negative answer as in Luke 10:26.

Posted in Witnessing

Who’s Really in the Dock?

C.S. Lewis on evangelizing:

“…the difficulties which a man must face in trying to present the Christian Faith to modern unbelievers…is too wide a subject for my capacity or even the scope of an article. The difficulties vary as the audience varies. The audience may be of this or that nation, may be children or adults, learned or ignorant.”[i]

Therefore, the first step in sharing the faith is KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE.

C.S. Lewis on the language barrier:

“…the difficulty occasioned by language. In all societies, no doubt, the speech of the vulgar differs from that of the learned…The man who wishes to speak…must learn their language. It is not enough that he should abstain from using what he regards as ‘hard words’. He must discover empirically what words exist in the language of his audience and what they mean in that language…Our problem is often simply one of translation.”[ii]

Therefore, the second step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR LANGUAGE.

C.S. Lewis on the attitude of people:

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”[iii]

Therefore, the third step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR CONDITION.

Offering Clarification…

This final observation by Lewis is an important one. He identifies that one of the key issues when sharing the faith is an underlying attitude prevalent in all people. What is it? They want to be judge. They want the final say of what is true vs. false. They want to the be the arbiter over God; whether He is real, whether He is legitimate, whether He is worthy, whether He has a right to be acknowledged, worshiped, adored, and served.

The idea that God is in the Dock is that before fallen persons God is on the witness stand. He stands trial before humanity, and humanity will determine whether or not He is to be acquitted. The individual sinner wants to be on the Bench. He wants the power of the gavel. He wants the final say in all things holy, loving, righteous, and good. He wants to be the definer of such things.

The finite desires to weigh in on the infinite. And the underlying assumption is not that God is innocent, but guilty. The unbeliever starts with the presupposition that God is wrong, and man is right.

Wrong Assumption…

The only critique that I would offer to Lewis’ thought is that he assumed that this was the condition of “modern man.” We make the same error when we assume that this is just the problem with “post-modern man” in a “post-Christian world.” The only thing post-Christian about this world is that ground we seemingly gained in the past appears to be lost; whereas, ground that we never had before (e.g. communist China or even Iran) is being gained by leaps and bounds. However, we fail to see that because we spend far too much time looking at the end of our noses, wallowing in self-pity. When we should be doing the hard work of breaking up fallow ground (i.e. removing the rocks and weeds that we’ve allowed to grow in our despondency).

A Needed Reminder…

Lewis was wrong that this is a “modern” problem. The entire movement of the Christian faith has been in facing those who would deem themselves worthy of judging God. Have we forgotten our history? Have we forgotten what they did to our Lord?

I’m not speaking of just Jews in the 1st century, but Gentiles (foreigners) in the 1st century as well. Did they not convene in secret? Did they not place themselves in the Bench, while Jesus stood in the Dock? Did not “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed…” (Psa 2.2)?

Actually, we can go farther back in history. We can go back to the beginning (Gen 3), do we not see the same attitude prevalent in Adam? Do we not also find it in his son Cain (cf. Gen 4)?  Are you then surprised that when you present the gospel that you find opposition? Sometimes downright hostility?

Are you so arrogant to assume that you must present evidence, upon evidence, upon evidence in order to allow the sinner to judge their Creator? Are you wiser than the prophets? Are you more knowledgeable than the apostles? Have you not read? Have you not heard?

Isa 40:10 ​Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Isa 40:11 ​He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isa 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Isa 40:13 ​Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?

Isa 40:14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Isa 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.

Isa 40:16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.

Isa 40:17 ​All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Isa 40:18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

Isa 40:19 ​An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.

Isa 40:20 ​He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

Isa 40:21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Isa 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

Isa 40:23 ​who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Isa 40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Before you share your faith, think. No, don’t dwell on your own thoughts; dwell on the Lord’s. Before you share your faith, take time to know your audience, learn their language, but above all understand their hearts. Take care when sharing your faith to first and foremost consider the God who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, who raised you by the Spirit’s power. Realize that before God it is the world that is on trial: the creature, not the Creator. Sinners before the Holy One, and the only hope of our salvation is an acquittal that He alone can offer in the living work of Jesus Christ.


ENDNOTES:

[i] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed., Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 240.

[ii] Ibid., 242, 243. Lewis use of “hard words” is learned speech to uneducated ears. It is akin to a medical doctor giving you a diagnosis when you have not been trained in the use of medical language. The job of the speaker is to aid the listener in understanding the message being communicated to them. The error occurs in communication when you assume that your hearer is trained to pick up on various key terms that have meaning to you, but not necessarily to them. In order to be effective Christian witnesses we need to learn what our hearers understand about reality, how they convey that truth in their day-to-day speech, and then filter our words through that common tongue.

[iii] Ibid., 244.