I have recently been reading some doctrinal material from other denominations, and I've come across a denial that God exercises meticulous (detailed) control over life. These teachers deny that God controls everything; deny fore-ordination; and deny that God is the moving hand behind disasters, such as the Twin Towers attack of 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina.
A Christian belongs in the camp of liberalism like Lot belonged in Sodom -- that is, not at all. However, because we're reactionary beings, we can react against liberalism and fall backward into the errors of secular, worldly conservatism. Also, because Christians often find common-ground with secular conservatives on social issues, we can be dull to the ethical and attitudinal dangers in secular conservatism.
1. Experience, natural human reasoning, and tradition should never override the Scripture.
The Scriptures are God's authority on everything they say, including politics, economics, and the military. Secular conservatism builds its cases on traditions or practical experience, or both. There's nothing wrong with learning from tradition. Sometimes the people of the past had very good reasons for doing what they did. It's arrogant to think we have nothing to learn from the past. The same goes for practicality. Science is better than magical thinking. In many situations we should do what works.
However, these are not the Christian's highest authority for faith and action. God's Word, the Bible, overrules experience and tradition, at all points. What's "practical" might not be moral. What's traditional could be evil, or just plain foolish in the light of Scripture. Man-stealing and human trafficking was the American tradition for centuries, and it was both evil and foolish. We should take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), including our political and economic thoughts. Secular conservatism does not respect the Bible.
2. Money and Military are not more important than Faith and Morality.
Isaiah wrote," Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!" Isaiah 31:1.
Secular conservatives don't have their priorities in the right order. A nation's greatness lies in its faith in the true God, not in its treasury or its armed forces. Wise economic and military policies are needed, but wisdom comes to those who fear the Lord. Proverbs 9:10. Secular conservatism is preoccupied with worldly concerns. It's proper to pay attention to the condition of your herds and flocks (Proverbs 27:23-24), but blessing comes from the Lord to those who fear Him. Many is the rich nation that has gone down in flames because God unleashed His wrath against it.
3. Christian patriotism is good but secular nationalism is not.
Christians should thank God for every good gift, including the gifts He gives them through their nation. Every Christian from every nation can do this. The old patriotic song, "America! America!" credits God for our amber waves of grain and purple mountains' majesty, and it's right that we do so. This is a positive and healthy patriotism.
Extreme liberalism sees the United States as the focus and origin of evil in the world, and this reflects a warped, one-sided mentality. But the U.S. is also a fallen and sinful nation, laden down with sin. We are by no means a Christian nation (the Christian Church around the world is God's nation, 1 Peter 2:9). When Christ said, "Do not have any god before the Lord", that means we don't worship our nation.
To paraphrase the old Gospel song, "This country's not my home, I'm just a 'passin' through." God put us Christians here to bless and salt the U.S., just as He told the Jews to bless Babylon while they lived there. But worldly national pride is just as bad as worldly globalism.
I was listening to Charles Stanley this morning preaching about the spiritual; gift of organization, and want to give a shout-out to Christian ministry administrators. Preachers and teachers get all the attention, but our work would collapse without organizers. I have a theory that churches (and other Christian organizations) rise or fall to their internal level of organizational ability. There are some ministries who couldn't organize a three-car parade, and they suffer for it. Other ministries do a good job up to a point, but if they grow they need to upgrade to a higher skill-level of administrator, or they slip backward. I'm aware of Christian organizations that have talented, good-hearted workers, but they are dragged down by bungling boards. I'm thankful for the hard work that our many deacons and organizing women have done over the years. The gift of administration is the unsung hero of the Great Commission.
Our church does not teach that women should wear head-coverings. On the other hand, we teach that women should not teach the Scripture or exercise ministerial authority over men. The two passages where these teachings come from both mention Adam and Eve. So why we do teach the one and not the other? The answer lies in what one of the passages includes.
1st Timothy 2:12-14 says that women should not teach the Bible to men, or wield authority over them. This is because God created Adam first, and Eve sinned first. Of course, these reasons mean little-to-nothing to a liberal, since they don't believe in a special creation of the human race. But Christ was the Son of God, therefore His opinions about creation and the fall of humanity into sin were true.
The apostle Paul didn't teach these things because he was a misogynist; that's progressive slander. Paul was Christ's apostle, so what he wrote was divinely inspired, and as a result without error. Paul also didn't write it because there were some sort of unspoken cultural problems going on in the church at Ephesus (the city in which Timothy, the recipient of this letter, lived and worked). There is no evidence that Christian women in Ephesus were being especially outspoken, or pushy, or rude. There is no evidence that Paul was thinking about local problems at all. That idea is a fiction, invented by those whose goal is to justify women's ordination.
Paul doesn't forbid women from preaching, just from preaching to men. Gifted Christian women can preach, just not to men. He doesn't say they can't share the word of God anywhere. Priscilla, alongside her husband Aquila, shared about God's word to Apollos. Paul doesn't forbid women from having authority,. They can be elected mayor of the town, or own a business. But they cannot have final authority over the men of the local church. That burden is reserved to qualified men, as we read in 1st Timothy 3. Paul's definition of church authority at the end of chapter 2 runs right into his teaching about elders in chapter 3.
But then turn over to 1st Corinthians 11. Paul combines spiritual truths with cultural principles, and it is this which differs the two passages. Paul says that Christ is the head of every man, meaning every Christian man, and specifically Christian husbands over their Christian wives. (Christian men everywhere are not the heads of my wife). Paul did not mean that men were the source of women (taking the Greek word kephale as "source" rather than "overseer"), since God is not the source of Christ (11:3b) -- and anyone who says God is the source of Christ is a heretic.
First, we remember that there is no teaching of head-covering anywhere prior in Scripture. The Old Testament never teaches this, nor does Christ. Second, the only time the Christian woman needed to cover her head was if she was praying or prophesying in the worship meeting (11:5). If she was not praying or prophesying in the worship meeting, it's implied she didn't need to cover her head. So the application is situational.
Third, Paul says it's disgraceful for women to have short hair. But this idea is also not found anywhere else in Scripture, unless, perhaps, it connects generally to the Old Testament's reinforcing of God-ordained gender distinctives. There is no Biblical evidence that short hair on women was or is absolutely disgraceful to God. Historical evidence suggests that it said certain things to the Roman society of the time, that the woman was morally loose. No Christian woman should ever want to be thought of as morally loose; that would indeed be a disgrace to her.
Paul says angels are watching our conduct (11:10). But angels are timeless beings, and they always watch our conduct. The fact that they watch us doesn't reveal what is right, it means they are watching to see if apply God's Word to our lives no matter what century we live in.
But head-covering cannot be a timeless rule just because it was based on the order of creation, because Paul cites a second theological absolute -- that Christian men and women are inter-dependent in the Lord (11:11-12). This truth has just as much authority as the first truth. If citing a theological truth supposedly demands head-coverings forever, then Christian inter-dependency in the Lord would inversely require no head-coverings forever.
Fourth, Paul cites natural consensus, which is a real thing but not a spiritual authority (11:14-15). It's in the nature of things for people to (usually) admire a woman's long hair. But that is what is customary among human beings. It says nothing about God's will or a rule's timelessness.
I hope you can see how different is 1st Corinthians 11:2-16 from 1st Timothy 2:12-14. The addition of other reasons -- a cultural view of short haircuts among women, the principle of respectability, and natural consensus about female beauty -- defined how a Christian woman applied the timeless truth of Adam and Eve's creation at that time, especially in worship-service behavior. Hopefully you also see that Paul never taught that Christian women needed to wear a head-covering all the time, or even throughout the entire meeting. They only had to wear one if or when they audibly prayed or prophesied.
1st Timothy 2 only states the order of creation and fall, and references nothing about public opinion, standard customs, or conduct symbolized by apparel.
Whether a real Christian can fall away from the Lord is a very hot subject among Christians. One passage that we discuss is Hebrews 6. I can't speak to the whole question in just one short post, but I would like to comment on this passage, which I will break up into quotes below.
"Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to [c]maturity,"
This introduces the writer's goal -- he wants his readers to press on to full spiritual maturity. This shows the writer's shepherd heart. A true shepherd wants Christians to grow and become mature in their faith. In chapter 5, he had criticized the readers for lagging behind in maturity. Their immaturity was shown in their desire for simplistic, basic Bible teaching, plus a lack of discernment about good and evil (see 5:11-14).
"not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment."
The writer (probably Paul and Barnabas, in my opinion) had already thoroughly taught the readers very basic Christian teachings. Like a seventh-grade teacher who doesn't want to go back over the ABCs again, the writer didn't want to lay those basic foundations of faith with this congregation all over again. He wants them to move forward in knowledge and insight.
3 "And this we will do, if God permits."
We who are pastors should never forget that all of our successes in serving other people come with God's help. As the apostle Paul says elsewhere, "Who is adequate for such a thing?" 2 Corinthians 3:5.
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Now, the writer speaks of a a special category of person. This is a person who has been once-for-all enlightened regarding the Gospel. This person has experienced the Holy Spirit. "Taste" means to experience; for example, Christ tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). They have experienced blessings from God's good word (see Psalm 119:103), and the powers of the age to come This latter fact could refer to the ministry of the twelve apostles, who had ministered to the people of this congregation according to 2:3-4.
The writer is describing a non-believer who has experienced the gracious blessings of God and His word, and has fully, clearly understood the Gospel.
6 and then have fallen away,
To "fall away" is used of different types of people. Jesus said that a false convert will always fall away when persecution comes (Matt. 13:20-21). Jesus' disciples also fell away from Him on the night of His betrayal (Matt. 26:31), but, unlike the stony-ground hearer, they all immediately repented and came back.
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance,
Everything the writer describes embodies the renewing , prevenient influence of the Spirit of God on an unbeliever. Where once he was blind, the Spirit made him see that Jesus is the Christ. He experienced the blessed power of the Spirit, drawing him to repentance. It is impossible for him to be renewed by God again to repentance. Saving repentance was the goal, but a goal he never reached. Why is it impossible?
[d]since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Because of the enormity of his sin against Jesus Christ. God shows abundant mercy to the spiritually ignorant, like Paul (1 Timothy 1:13). But when the spiritually-enlightened person still rejects Christ, it is as if they are siding with those who wickedly crucified Christ, which was the greatest sin of all history. It is as if they are driving the nails into His hands and feet all over again.
7 For ground that drinks the rain which often [e]falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close [f]to being cursed, and [g]it ends up being burned.
If an unbeliever responds back to the prevenient mercies of God with faith, which then by its very nature grows the good fruit of godliness, God blesses him or her. But if an unbeliever responds back to the prevenient mercies of God with full, conscious, willful unbelief and sin, he shows himself to be a worthless person (Matthew 25:30). God could curse that person on the spot, and in the end God will cast him into the lake off fire.
The Hebrews 6:4-6 person is a non-Christian who receives many renewing graces from God and then, fully enlightened, spits in Christ's face. This interpretation is further strengthened by the writer's following words, where he says he is convinced of better things of his readers, things that accompany being a saved person (6:9).
Verse 9 shows the group from verses 4-6 is a group different from the readers; and the reason the readers will not act that way is because they were saved people.
It's easy to dismiss spiritual warfare, because of the extreme gullibility about demons in certain Christian groups, fake possessions, and the way some Christians irresponsibly attribute their own immaturity and lack of self-control to demons ("I'm afflicted by an evil spirit of bad temper!").
Antinomianism is a deadly spiritual disease.
The occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday leads me to this short piece of advice to Christians: be careful not to try and claim historical figures as "one of us", if there's evidence they were not.
I feel we evangelicals have a bad habit of trying to claim various historical figures for ourselves. In the 1980s, there was a book titled The Light and the Glory, which as much as said that the U.S. was a new promised land. It painted Christopher Columbus as an anointed servant of Christ. But history tells us that Columbus was either, a nominal Roman Catholic (as nearly all western Europeans were), or a sincerely ardent one. The people he cruelly killed and enslaved probably didn't see him as a servant of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not an evangelical Christian, either; when you read his training and personal beliefs, he was a rigorously moral but mostly-liberal Lutheran of his day. Martin Luther King wasn't an evangelical, and (based on his own written beliefs from his seminary papers) was not a Christian during his years at Crozer Theological Seminary. He was very liberal, theologically, though it's possible he genuinely trusted in Christ later in his adult life, and friends have told me that was the case. I hope that's true.
C.S. Lewis' beliefs were a mixture of the gospel, plus some Anglican Catholicism, plus some Plato thrown in for good measure. In Lewis' case, I expect to see him with the Lord, but I have to weed out certain ideas in his writings. He was no British Puritan. In the same sense I also expect to see George Washington with the Lord, based on his confessions of faith, but Washington, like Lewis, wasn't doctrinally speaking a Puritan either (unlike another founding father, John Witherspoon).
The fact that various religious or religiously-inclined people from history were not evangelicals doesn't mean they were all bad. Many of them were devout, like Cornelius the centurion was devout (Acts 10). I think we should be conservative in the way we think about American historical figures, and not claim more for them than the evidence supports.
The Evangelical Free Church was formed on the principle that the Gospel is bigger than certain doctrinal distinctives. This isn't an easy philosophy to navigate, since one man's secondary can be another man's essential.
On one end of the spectrum, you can have a statement of faith that is so brief, loose, and undefined that it harbors all kinds of liberalism. I've seen that happen with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. On the other end of the spectrum you can have a statement of faith that is so dense and filled with detail that it generates endless fighting. I've seen that happen among doctrine-minded Presbyterians.
One area that the EFCA agreed to set somewhat to the side was Calvinism/Arminianism. In our early days, eternal security became a hot issue. Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Seminary taught it strongly, but there were many in the EFCA who either weren't sure where they stood on it, or thought it was possible for a Christian to completely apostasize.
The EFCA national leaders decided to set that to the side. There are definite drop-off limits to this kind of tolerance -- to some Arminians, we insist that justification is by faith alone, not faith plus a lifetime of faithfulness and Gospel good works. To some Calvinists, we insist that election doesn't narrow God's love down to only the elect, or nullify the mandate for world evangelism.
It's also true that individual preachers, and congregations, will probably have convictions about Calvinism/Arminianism. Some will call themselves Calvinists, some will call themselves Arminians. Some will call themselves "Calminians", some remain undecided, and a few are uninterested by the whole thing. It's likely that entire EFCA congregations will have an over-all "drift" in certain directions (this will be true about a lot of different subjects, I bet).
There are loud people who will claim that Calvinists are all fatalists who don't think that choices make a difference, or that Arminians are all closet humanists who believe in self-salvation. In almost all cases, these are false, distorted cartoon versions of the truth. I have found that people who talk like this barely understand the other side's teachings, or are parroting what some preacher somewhere told them.
Biblically-knowledgeable Calvinists and Arminians agree on all the Christian foundations. James Arminius taught the unbelievers are spiritually dead, and that all positive movement toward God is excited by God's unmerited grace. On that subject, Arminius was far more Scriptural than some Christian people today who call themselves "Arminian."
John Calvin in his commentary taught that Christ propitiated the sins of the world without exception (he also taught particular atonement elsewhere in his writings, so I think he was self-contradictory, but nevertheless his comments on 1st John 2:2 are well-known). John MacArthur, a strong Calvinist, wrote a book a few years back about God's love for the world, a book which was aimed against hyper-Calvinism.
If some militant Calvinist thinks the five points of Calvinism are the exact same thing as Christianity itself, then (a) they're wrong, and (b) they won't like or fit into an Evangelical Free Church. The same goes for militant, hard-line Arminianism. But, if we are solid on the fundamentals, and show each other grace, and pray for each other, we can model Christian unity.
The New Testament tells us four reasons why there are no apostles after the first century.
1. Christ's original apostles were only twelve in number (Matthew 10:1-4). Judas Iscariot lost his place because of his wickedness, but God replaced him with Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). At the end of time, the Lord symbolically says there are still only twelve (Revelation 21:14).
A short time after Pentecost, God chose Paul to be an apostle (Acts 9:1-20). Paul didn't join the Twelve; though he was equal in authority to them (Galatians 1:1). It also appears Barnabas was an apostle, prior to Paul, in light of Barnabas being called by that title in Acts 14:4.
2. The purpose of the apostles was to found the Christian faith, not merely to spread it. The apostles were not just church-planters. The apostles, along with the New Testament prophets, were the foundation of the Christian Church (Ephesians 2:19-20). This is why the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 pictures them as foundation-stones. This function made their role unique.
3. Paul said he was the last of the apostles, because he was the last to see the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). This implies that Paul saw Christ's actual physical body, while on the road to Damascus. Paul had been in ministry for several years when he wrote 1st Corinthians, and yet (according to him) no one had seen the risen Christ after he did. Paul was the last.
4. The position of "apostle" does not pass down from anyone to anyone. The Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession has no Biblical basis behind it. The "rock" upon which Christ builds His church is Peter's confession of faith, not Peter himself. Christ said, "upon this rock", not "upon you." There is no rule that says that "apostle" or "prophet" are continuous positions, when there is positive Biblical evidence that they (unlike evangelist, pastor, and teacher) had time-limiting attributes.
So, the original twelve apostles were a closed set. No more than twelve, and no more than those twelve. God then ordained two more (Paul and Barnabas) during the founding of the Church, in order to found the Church. But the Church has been thoroughly founded; it doesn't need any more founding, and it isn't being continuously founded a little bit every day.
The New Testament ended with the book of Revelation, with a warning not to add anything to it. God may work signs through various preachers over the years, but that doesn't make those preachers apostles; it just means God gave them a spiritual gift. The word apostolos is sometimes used in the New Testament in the generic sense of "messenger", like when someone brought a message or gift to Paul from a church. But we speak here of "apostle" in the specialized sense with which we are familiar.
There are no apostles, because the apostles finished their work. They established the Gospel by their eye-witness, and wrote the New Testament as our rule of faith. Their work is then carried on through the years by evangelists, pastors, and teachers.