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.
This story came up in a recent class: a grieving someone was told at a funeral that their deceased loved one passed away because God willed it so. The cringe factor on this story is high. As Solomon once said, there is a proper time and season for everything. There is a time to have knotty doctrinal discussions about hard subjects, and there is a time to just give someone a hug.
But it's good for us Christians to understand what we're talking about when we say "the will of God." The Scripture uses that phrase in different ways. It's wise not to mash them up.
The Scripture speaks of God's commandments and promises as the "will" of God. For example, 1st Thessalonians 4:3 says, "This is the will of God, your sanctification." It is God's will that unbelievers come to Christ. Romans 12 lists a whole series of God's commandments about many matters. Theologians often call this God's "moral" will. They tell us what we should or could do.
Wisdom is a part of God's moral will. The Bible tells us to be wise (Proverbs 8:33). Biblical wisdom gives us more decision-making leeway. It's never okay to commit adultery. But choosing which college to attend, or what house to buy, or the best strategy to approach a difficult conversation, may allow more options.
We can make a list of pros and cons. There might be more than one acceptable choice. God promises to give us all the wisdom we need for these situations, in James 1:5.
God's "will" can also mean His preferences. Read Ezekiel 18. God's moral will was for Israel to repent. Otherwise God was going to inflict severe judgment on the nation. God draws no pleasure from the death of the wicked. We know from other passages (like the Parable of the Prodigal Son) that He draws great pleasure from repentance. Nevertheless, in spite of His preferences, He will pass judgment. Some theologians in past centuries called this God's will of "disposition."
Lastly, God's "will" can refer to His eternal plan. In Ephesians 1, Paul said that God works all things according to the "counsel of His will" (verse 11). Peter said that Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, did whatever God's hand and plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
Christ's death was no accident. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, and the unbelieving Israelites all played their parts. They did what they did out of their own reasoning. But God and His plan were in control. This is often called God's sovereign will.
The paradox here is that God includes human decisions in His eternal plan that, on the moral level, He condemns. God is morally against kidnapping. But He planned to use Joseph's kidnapping to save Jacob's family from famine (Genesis 50:20).
Or, in reverse, sometimes a person does the right thing, but God proceeds with His own plan. The priest Eli did the right thing to warn his wicked sons. But God hardened their already-rebelling hearts, because God had already decided to kill them (1 Samuel 2:1-25).
This is what I mean by being clear. The fact that God plans includes humanity's sins, and then He uses those sins in mysterious, paradoxical ways to bring about His secret plan, never means He causes or approves of sin.
There are at least two more errors to avoid. One is to say that God has nothing to do with bad things that happen. That's not true, God isn't a helpless by-stander in His own universe. The other error is to mix up God's moral, preferential, and eternal wills into one big lump.
A perfect example of this is the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus got sick and died because God planned for it to happen. Christ could have healed Lazarus from a distance; He chose not to. Christ deliberately waited extra days, so that Lazarus would definitely be dead by the time He got back.
Christ did this, even though He knew the emotional suffering this would causes Mary and Martha. Christ then reminded Martha of His moral will (meaning, His promises of everlasting life to those who trust in Him). Then, in spite of His sovereignty and knowledge, Christ still wept. This showed the disposition of His heart.
Every dimension of God's "wills" -- God's all-powerful sovereignty following through on the plan, spiritual teachings that call for response, and Christ's heart-sentiment -- can be found in this story.
Thank the Lord we're only responsible to know and follow what God has told us in His word, and to live wisely! God will take care of the secret plan by Himself!
Pray for God to turn back the tide of corruption and perversion engulfing the West, and especially the United States. And don't be deceived in thinking it can't happen! Satan wants you to think:
1. That human free-will is so supreme and almighty that there's nothing God can do. This is a lie. God's arm is not short, and humans are not sovereign over anything. God cannot be hemmed-in by His own creations, and He doesn't paint Himself into corners.
2. That the end-times are upon us, so we just have to passively hunker down and wait out the apocalypse. This is false. 2 Thessalonians 2 says that the sign of the end-times is the Beast/man of sin seated in the re-built Holy Place, declaring himself to be God. Most specifically, the end-times begin after the Rapture, which obviously hasn't happened yet.
3. That America's hope rests in a Republican politician. You must be kidding me! Our hope is in the Lord, and in Him only. We shall trust not in kings.
4. That the sexual rebellion against God can't be stopped. God can stop anything. We aren't allowed to use any violence, but God can do whatever He likes. Read Habbakuk -- God smashed the corruption in Israel by physically killing His enemies. In other times in history, God eliminates His enemies through repentance and revival. God has unlimited methods at His command. Pray for God to turn enemies into friends, or to overthrow His enemies.
Christ wants us to know:
They didn't die. Only their body died. John 11:26. The soul of a Christian is infused with God's own life, when he or she trusts in Christ. The Christian soul is made immortal by the life and power of God, and as a result the Christian soul never experiences death.
The Lord takes them instantly to Heaven. They don't go to sleep, or purgatory, or limbo. We read this in 2 Corinthians 5:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In other words, no one in Heaven is sad that they left us. Christ brought them safely home! They're joyful, and all they need to do is wait for us to catch up and join them.
God doesn't take the passing of any of His children lightly. Psalm 116:15: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Christ knows what it felt like to die. He doesn't treat us like a gruff drill-sergeant.
Christ's resurrection is our assurance of our Christian loved one's survival and glory: 1 Corinthians 15 -- 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
We grieve for any suffering they experienced in life, or suffering in the process of leaving us; but the Lord also assures us that all that suffering is swallowed up in the wink of an eye, as soon as they enter glory.
Romans 8:18 -- I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
No one in Heaven is sad, or brooding over the memory of sufferings of their earthly life. There, every tear is wiped from every eye. All memory of mortal suffering disappears, like one little drop of iodine disintegrates when dripped into the Pacific Ocean. Our short time of pain is engulfed by an eternity of future happiness.
So, we do not grieve in the same way that unbelievers grieve, that is, in despair and without hope. Christ's birth brought Him into this dying world, Good Friday took Him out, Easter brought Him back immortal, and that's how He gave us all hope.
I know many fellow Christians who have experienced the loss of loved ones -- loved ones who passed away without confessing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ clearly believed in heaven and hell, so this is a serious matter. The Bible consoles Christians when believing loved ones pass. But does it have anything to say when non-Christian loved ones pass on?
I would encourage Christians who lose a loved one with the fact that we usually don't know what happened between a person and God in the hours, or minutes, or even seconds, before life is done. I'm confident that Heaven has many people in it whom the Lord snatched like a stick out of the fire. The thief on the cross became a saved person in his last moments of life, and the same possibility exists for anyone. Luke 23:43. So, there is always hope of that having happened.
I think it's also important to believe in God's fairness. When Abraham was negotiating with God regarding Sodom's judgment, he said, "Far be it from You to kill the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Abraham knew something about God that is very important. God will not treat any man or woman unfairly. Even though this truth is not like the rejoicing we experience over a soul saved, that confidence in God's integrity is important.
God also deals with people individually. He once said to Ezekiel, "Every soul is Mine" (Ezekiel 18:4). I think this is important because it's in my nature to think of someone as my mother, my father, my sister, or my friend. But to God, that person's most important relationship was to Him. God made them for Himself (Romans 11:36, Colossians 1:16). God, as God, has a special claim on that person which supersedes everyone else.
I think it also matters quite a bit that God finds no enjoyment in passing judgment on anyone. He said this clearly, forcefully, in Ezekiel 18:32. He showed it with tears in Luke 19:41. God is no monster. He judges because He's righteous. God is love, even in His role as Judge.
This truth strongly implies that God doesn't cause anyone to sin. For instance, God says forcefully about the Hebrews, "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35). The Hebrews' sins were entirely their own doing.
God didn't sovereignly, irresistibly cause them to sin, and then play-act that He was appalled. God's relationship to sin is that He ordains it (in the sense that it's part of His over-all plan) but He doesn't cause it (James 1:13-14). In other words, God didn't cause my non-Christian loved one to be unbelieving; God didn't cause my loved one to die in unbelief.
We can't force anyone to repent and believe in Christ, and the passing of a non-Christian loved one reminds us of that. We share in the apostle Paul's unhappiness over the stubbornness of blood kin (see Romans 9:1-3). The Lord wants us to do what we can in this life, even if that's limited to prayer, and then we trust that God, being God, will always do the right thing.
Advent Meditation from 1st Corinthians 13:
Love is patient – God took centuries to prepare the way for the Savior.
Love is kind – God took pity on all of us in our sins and sorrows.
Love is not possessive – Christ did not cling to heaven’s privileges.
Love does not brag – Christ never boasted.
Love isn’t arrogant – Christ came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Love doesn’t act unbecomingly – Christ was born and lived without sin.
Love doesn’t seek its own – Christ sacrificed His glory for us.
Love isn’t provoked – In spite of all the ways the human race provoked God through the centuries, God sent His Son for us anyway.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered – Christ forgave and accepted people from the groups who had killed Him.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – God’s opposition to unrighteousness led Him to save us from it.
Dear Lord, You say You are love, and in Your Son’s birth we see Your love on full display. Your love, born as a man. Lord, we don’t deserve your love, and we can’t earn it, but we gladly receive it. Let this candle remind us of the love-light that You lit that amazing morning.
Here are five signs of a proud heart:
1. A proud Christian will seldom, if ever, admit to actual sin. He might talk about sin in the abstract, "sin" as a doctrine or a concept, but it's often deflected out onto the "world", as if evil is always external to himself. In extreme cases, he might hold to a doctrine of sinless perfection, or claim the sin-nature can be eradicated in this life. Some Christians talk too much about their sins, sometimes to a squirming degree of unwanted detail. But, to the proud person, admitting actual sin is humiliating. Proud people seldom, if ever, admit to needing daily forgiveness. Ecclesiastes 7:20.
2. A proud Christian seldom, if ever, admits to needing help. Self-reliance is taken to an extreme, sometimes a harmful extreme. Even though the Bible tells us to carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), which implies a degree of weakness in all of us, the proud man or woman won't accept help, or even admit needing it. This is because because admitting weakness is embarrassing. It reveals them to be less than what they want to believe about themselves, or want other people to believe about them.
3. A proud Christian wants to control, but at the same time habitually rejects authority. Like arrogant Diotrophes (e John 9-10), he is driven by a desire for the preeminence, but he also rebels whenever authority is applied to him. He wants accountability for others, but never wants it for himself. The proud Christian chafes against not being obeyed.
4. A proud Christian resents other Christians' gifts, positions, or accomplishments. Like Saul becoming jealous of David's victories (1 Samuel 18:8), the proud person sees other Christians' achievements as a personal slight. The other person's victories diminish them, in their own eyes. They feel threatened by people who are better than they are. The reverse of this was John the Baptist, who was content for Jesus Christ's fame to grow as his own fame diminished (John 3:30).
5. Using Saul is a pride-indicator, pride leads to a paranoid perspective. Saul's jealous resentment over David's victories immediately led Saul to convince himself that David was scheming after the throne. There was no evidence that David had that in mind. Saul was "projecting" what he would do were he in David's shoes. This can happen because the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9); the proud heart lies to itself first among all.
Witchcraft, and all related "arts", are absolutely forbidden by God in Scripture.
Divination (the attempt to foretell the future or discover hidden knowledge by occult means), omen-interpretation, fortune-telling, sorcery of any kind, mediums, necromancy -- all was forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10). Techniques often used in these practices are the Ouija board and Tarot cards. All these practices are detestable in God's eyes. It was for all these practices that God sent in the Hebrews to destroy and drive out the Canaanites from Palestine.
The New Testament condemns sorcery as a manifestation of evil (Galatians 5:20). Witchcraft is a sure way of bringing God's fiery wrath down on yourself (2 Chronicles 33:6). There is no such thing as white witchcraft; in God's holy eyes, all witchcraft is black.
Why is God so hostile to witchcraft? It is because witchcraft is all about knowledge and power, divorced from God. It is an attempt to gain supernatural power over the world for one's self or others, apart from God. The diviner seeks to know the future, apart from God. The reader of omens seeks hidden knowledge, apart from God. The witch seeks to exercise power, in defiance of God. The whole enterprise is fueled by lust for worldly things, and unbelief.
God wants us to rely on Him by faith alone in His Word, while witchcraft pretends to offer power apart from reliance on God. God says to deny wealth, power, fame, pleasure, influence, or worldly success in favor of serving Jesus Christ, while witchcraft pretends to show a path to all these things. God says to worship Him alone, while witchcraft always leads into idol-worship. God says we should bow to His supernatural sovereignty, but witchcraft pretends to offer us our own sovereignty by other means.
Another reason God hates witchcraft is because demons are the unseen power behind mediumistic practices (setting aside ordinary fraud for the moment). There are only two spiritual powers in the universe -- God and Satan. God is good always, Satan is evil always. Nature has no hidden paranormal powers waiting to be tapped by ritual -- nature is subject to God. There is no power battery in-between God and Satan, waiting to be tapped. If you aren't going to God, then you're appealing to Satan, even if that isn't your intent.
The spirits of the righteous dead go to heaven, while the spirits of the sinful dead go to hell. This means the spirits contacted through mediumistic practices are evil spirits -- demons. And demons only lie, steal, kill, and destroy. People who engage in divination practices open themselves up to demon possession (example, Acts 16:16). This is why God vowed a death-sentence against anyone in the Jewish nation who engaged in witchcraft (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:31). This was a way of protecting the rest of society from a social cancer.
Some popular depictions of magical things are just silly. "Ghosts" chase Pac-Man through a maze, Dr. Strange jumps through sparking portals -- these are just foolish, an, more importantly, they are impossible to replicate in the real world. More serious are depictions of real things, like seances, or water-witching / dowsing, which (unlike flying carpets or Sabrina making things disappear) are ceremonies that can actually be performed by real people. Casper the Friendly Ghost is one thing, actually showing people a ceremony on how to allegedly contact the dead is another.
(Some people point to the story of Samuel's spirit rising from the underworld, in 1st samuel 28:3-25, as an example of a "positive" appearance of the spirit of the righteous dead. The problem with this attempt to sanitize necromancy is that Samuel's spirit pronounces doom upon Saul (I take the view that it actually was Samuel, since he chastises Saul, his words honors the Lord, and his prophecy of Saul's destruction at the hands of the Philistines came true). This story should be taken as a freak occurrence, and it certainly doesn't endorse divination; rather, it condemns it by condemning Saul to death.)
Have nothing to do with real witchcraft.