Sunday, July 27, 2008

Biblical Balance

I don't really know where everybody is going so quickly- but it is scary how fast we move in an indiscriminant direction. I was driving the other day and some guy passed me going about 80-85 mph. He was young, and had his whole life ahead of him. I suspect that in spite of all that weaving in and out of traffic, he made it to where he was going. But he probably was still late!

I got to thinking that we are sure in a hurry. I have just gotten back from a vacation. So the pace of life, meetings, services, prep time, family time, a date with the wife, a lunch with a parishoner, a gathering with a family in the church, etc. really overwhelmed me. We move fast- at least some of us do. I guess we are trying to accomplish something. And we may even be doing it for the Kingdom of God!But if we don't learn to balance out the extremes of overwork and excessive leisure we will not find ourselves in Biblical Balance.

Biblical balance is the state that we Christians strive for. it is a progressive march and growth toward maturity. It is the striking the perfect chord- a three part harmony with the Lord. This is an idyllic state that we strive for. I keep trying to balance things out. Working a 60 hour week and finding time for myself; reading, studying, and preparing and leaning on the Lord's improptu; hard work and resting in him.

Leisure is important. The ancients called it re-creation because the soul's energy was recreated in that moment. Learning to gather strenth is as important as learning to expend the energy one has. To lean on work without leisure or rest is like commiting to only exhaling. Without intake there is not exhaling. The truth is that rest makes us work harder.

Certainly the author of Hebrews is correct (chpater 4)that there remains a rest for the people of God. We need to work hard to find that rest (smile)!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cessationism; An undefendable tenet

Did the gifts of the Holy Spirit cease after the completion of Holy Scripture? That is the belief of many Christians. D. Matthew Allen is one such pastor. His ardent defense of the doctrine of cessationism is found easily on the web. His points are clear. I will engage them individually to show that the "doctrine of cessationism" is not only undefendable but contradicted by the very Bible that these precious folks pretend to defend.
Mr. Allen develops the the following points as his reasons why the revelatory gifts have ceased.
(1) Jesus is the cornerstone of the church and the foundation upon which the church is laid (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus is also the culmination and completion of God’s revelation to man (Heb. 1:1-2).I suppose that Mr Allen feels that the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit is a threat to the doctrine of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would testify of Christ and his teaching (John 14.26)and that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev 19.10). The purpose of the revelatory gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 clearly is to glorify God by the working of the Holy Spirit (v11). Clearly the Apostle Paul, who privately practiced the revelatory gifts(tongues 1 Cor 14.18), did not see his practice of these gifts as contrary to the work of Christ or any threat to the foundation of the church. And while the revelation of God in Christ is certainly complete in Jesus (as Allen references in Hebrews1.1-2) the author of the Hebrews makes clear that the gospel was attended by signs, wonders, and gifts of Holy Spirit as a confirmation of that great work of Christ (Heb 2.4). I suggest that to set the gifts and the revelation of Jesus over and against each other is foreign to the scriptures and the product of an anti-supernatural bias. Let me be blunt- no where in Scripture are the revelatory gifts contrary to the teaching of Jesus or a threat to the finished work of the cross. The gifts of the Holy Spirit attend the preaching of that glorious truth with personal revelation.

(2) Apostles and prophets were raised up in the 1st century as New Testament witnesses to Christ, ap-pointed by Him to bear authentic witness to his resurrection and redemption of man (Acts 1:2, 8, 21-26; 1 Cor. 9:1, 16; 15:1-4, 8-11; Gal. 1:1, 15-16). Compared to Jesus, apostles were the foundation of the church only in a secon-dary and inferior sense. (Eph. 2:20). To limit the ministry of the NT prophet and apostle to bearing authentic witness is another extra-biblical idea. In fact, Acts 1.8 makes clear that the entire group in the upper room (120 not just the 12 apostles) were to be empowered to bear witness by the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And while Allen may feel less threatened theologically by calling these NT apostles and prophets inferior, it was Jesus himself who promised that they would do GREATER miracles than he did (John 14.11-14). Certainly, these miracles (and the context is miracles!) are more than salvation. Mark 16.20 tells us of the accompanying signs and wonders that "worked with" all who believe (not just apostles) as they preached the Word.

(3) Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus for a unique missionary work (Mark 3:14-15; Acts 1:21-26; Rom. 1:1; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1). As a unique office and gift, apostleship ended in the first century A.D. (Cf. Matt. 19:28; Acts 12:2). This, of course, is a half truth. Miracles were routinely done in the book of acts by people other than the 12 Apostles. Acts 8 tells of the great revival of miracles and wonders done by Philip- a deacon. The next chapter tells of Ananias laying his hands on Saul and a dramatic healing. In Acts 13 prophets and teacher (not apostles) are used to call out the Apostle Paul and Barnabus to their work. This happens by the gift of the Spirit.

Apostles beyond the 12 unique Apostles of the Lamb not only were selected and sent out during the first century (Andronicus and Junias, Barnabas,etc are called apostles) and they continue to this day. Certainly there is nothing in Eph 4.11ff that would lead us to believe that some of those gifts were temporary. They are all gifts to the church to lead the church to maturity " prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Unless Allen is willing to say that the church has achieved the lofty goals set out in Eph 4 he must acknowledge that the terms and purpose of the apostolic gifts continue to this very day. And while there may be some differences between the 12 Apostles of the Lamb and those called out to be apostles today there is much work to be done.

(4) In the 1st century, the gift of prophecy was closely related to the gift of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). The purpose of prophesy in the New Testament was to edify and strengthen the early church (1 Cor. 14:3-4; 14:22).
This assertion seems to link the two giftings together- another assumption from outside the Scripture. These two giftings, while working together on many occassions are never conflated together. They function differently and and not be be confused, as any cursory reading of Eph 4 would lead one.

(5) In essence, then, prophesy served the church as a specific witness to Jesus Christ at a time when it lacked the written revelation of Jesus Christ in the form of the New Testament. As Gaffin has stated, “With this foundational revelation completed, and so too their foundational role as witnesses, the apostles and, along with them, the prophets and other associated revelatory word gifts, pass from the life of the church.” Another half truth that places artificial and unbiblical limits upon the gift of prophecy. In fact, the Apostle Paul urged that all prophetic utterances be judged by those hearing the word of prophecy (1 Cor 14.29). How would those utterances be judged? Because apostolic doctrine was daily preached in the NT church (Acts 2.42-44) and the prophetic utterances would not violate the tenets of said doctrine. Paul knew that prophecy would always be subjective in nature and as such needed to bow before the objective truth of the apostolic teaching. To invert that is circular reasoning and confuses the purpose of the gift with the effect of the gift.

(6) Several Scriptural passages make this point:
a. Jude 3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” The word “faith” re-fers to the body of truths taught by the apostles or the “things believed.” (See also Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:1). It is a reference to the propositional truth of the gospel -- a truth now found only in the written pages of Scripture. The word “entrusted” (paradidonai) is the word used for handing down authorized tradition in Israel. (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thes. 3:6). Moreover, the phrase “once for all” (hapax) indicates that the faith -- the objective content of Chris-tianity -- was entrusted to the saints one time, conclusively. Once this process was completed, there was no further need for additional revelation beyond the apostolic age.

In this final sentence of this point, Allen betrays the weakness of his argument. The revelatory gifts come to minister to the body of Christ. In 1 Cor 12 the church was certainly saved but still needed both the ministry of the gifts and the opportunity to be used in the gifts. The once and for all entrusted faith is not linked to the scriptures- the NT scriptures are not anywhere in view in the writing of Jude. How could they be, they were still being written!? (Jude!) Certainly, the Word preached and received is what is in view for the author of Jude.

b. Jesus promised his disciples that, after His departure, the Holy Spirit would give them “all truth” (Jn 14:26; 16:12-13). 2 Peter 1:21 amplifies the method by which the Holy Spirit would give the apostles truth; Scripture is the result of the Holy Spirit’s carrying the authors along as they wrote. This is an inexcusable interpretation. To say that Peter is commenting on the methodology that John had in mind while recording the words of Jesus?! The Sriptures are inspired and are used as a plumb line with which to judge prophetic words and revelatory ministry gifts. And certainly truth comes in the objective and propositionally authoritative writings of the Apostles, but the very meaning of the words in John 14 and 16 is that the Spirit would bring subjectively to the remembrance of the individual disciples the teachings of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is not just given to the church authorities- it is the Holy Spirit given to all who believe!

c. The apostle John said that anyone who adds to the words of the book of Revelation would be cursed (Rev. 22:18). While his words apply specifically to the revelation given to him as recorded in the last book of the New Testament, inferentially, they equally apply to the canon of Scripture as a whole.

Here again, a leap that even Allen must acknowledge. That the curse of Rev 22.18 is applied to those who prophesy after the close of scriptures canon is ludicris. The canon wasn't fully selected and defined for hundreds of years. The councils worked diligently and fought political pressures et al to preserve holy writ. Are we to think that after the writing of REvelation in 95 AD there was no prophetic ministry that was valid and not under a curse? The Didache, a gathering of teachings regarding church behavior from around 95 AD, clearly teaches otherwise. It acknowledges the itinerate ministries of evangelists and prophets and apostles.

In sum, because prophecy and other “revelatory” gifts have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer neces-sary to provide a witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, they have thereby ceased to exist; it is Scripture that now takes their place as God’s special revelation regarding salvation. It is now the written Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, in short for life, to equip man for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). The view that God directly speaks to man today through the continuation of revelatory gifts seriously undermines this principle.

Clearly, the NT expects the Spirit to be empowering the believers to do ministry. I am a Pentecostal because that expectation is CLEARLY delineated in Scripture. It is not always neat; it is not always without problems or issues. But it is the result of the study of the Word of God. Cessationism cannot be defended. It is certainly not the result of the reading of the Scriptures. And it is definitely frought with bias and based upon personal experience rather than solid exegesis (bible interpretation) . I encourage you to read the NT for yourself. Ask yourself what the expectation of Jesus and the Apostles was for his church. Was it to be an authoritarian circle of dogmatic doctrine keepers or an empowered lot of believers changing their world?YOU be the Judge!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Intercessory Prayer

Looking at the lives of most christians you would define their prayer theology as one that is very passive. By that I mean, that if you were a fly on the wall in most Christian's homes prayer would be an extraordinarily small part of their lives. The theology behind this is insidious. It is a belief that God always gets his way (He doesn't) and that if you don't participate God will find someone else to carry your slack (He won't necessarily). This leaves Christians with an apathetic view of prayer. It is a good and fine thing to do unless... you ahve soemthing else to do.

Scripture, however, defines prayer as very important. It is those who ask who recieve , and those who seek who find, and those who knock who have doors opened. The Greek tenses in these verbs are continual tenses. Ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking, .. in other words pray and don't give up. This is crucial for the christian and imperative for the prayer warrior. Little happens that is not provoked by prayer. Especially, in the life of those who are estranged from God. If you are praying for an lost friend or loved one- you may be the ONLY link between them and God. This would explain the Enemy's intensity in fighting your prayer life. But don't give up under pressure- instead press on to defeat the enemy and bring men and women into deeper intimacy with Jesus.

Alice Smith is the US Prayer Track coordinator of 2000 AD and she writes the following tips for prayer

When the pressure is on to give up, don't! As believers, we are not to live according to our feelings but according to our spiritual position in Christ. Satan is no match for an intercessor living securely in the following positional truths:

1. YOU ARE AN OVERCOMER. There is no defeat for those who have confidence in the Spirit of God to give them overcoming life. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

2. YOU ARE COMPLETE IN CHRIST. There is no lack for those of us who are in Christ (see Col. 2:8-10). But if we view ourselves as lacking, we have defined our experience. Look at yourself from God's point of view, not man's.

3. YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN AUTHORITY. We have been given the keys of the kingdom. Is it any wonder then that Satan attempts to provoke us to apathy, discouragement and depression? He simply can't afford to ignore a believer who is exercising her authority in Christ through prayer (see Matt. 16:19; Luke 10:19).

4. YOU HAVE SPIRITUAL WEAPONS. Christ, the Mighty Warrior, has given us not only defensive armor but also offensive weapons (see Eph. 6:11-17; 2 Cor. 10:4). These weapons are spiritual, not earthly, and they have but one purpose: winning spiritual wars!

Yet even the most powerful gun is harmless until someone pulls the trigger. We must be willing to pray until the target is in sight. Then we must continue to pray until the target is destroyed!

It is time for believers to pray. Perhaps like never before! Step up to the high calling.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Larry Norman

Back in the 70's I heard the Father of Christian Rock sing at a small coffee house in Oaklawn. He passed away this year. Larry Norman was quite a voice for the Jesus Movement! Here is one of my favorite songs by Larry.


i was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and i grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

and when i was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but i know you better now
and i don't fall for all your tricks
and you've lost the one advantage of my youth

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exagerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence
well you try to make my way of life
a little less like jail
if i promise to make tapes and slides
and send them through the mail

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

see him perform it live

Thanks Larry for the blessings.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Coloring in the Lines

We are taught that in kindergarten and preschool. Lines keep the colors in their places. Lines give the picture distinction. Lines help communicate the vision of the artist. Makes sense to me.

So the Proverbs(22.28) say "Do not move the ancient boundary Which your fathers have set."

Rules are lines. The problem I am addressing today is people's inability to follow rules. Is it just rebellion? People seem to see two classes of people -those that need the rules and then the other class of people- the exceptions (themselves). The height of arogance and pride- that your situation is special. You see see it everywhere. The jerk that endangers the entire highway by driving down the emergency lane 100 miles an hour. The guy who always double parks. The one guy who thinks he alone is trustworthy to eat and drink in the facility. The person in the theater who has the "special privilege" to speak aloud to his neighbor. the lists go on and on.

But rules are to keep peopel safe. Rules are to help communicate priorities. Rules are so that everyone is treated the same. If you are a special case- the rest of us apologize to you! But we need some predictability! WE need to know that we can live together, work together, and YES worship together without someone getting hurt. So we have rules.

Then there are the assumptions that there are perfect rules. You know the ones that fit every situation. But of course, there are no such rules. Rules are general principles that help us live together. They really don't fit every situation but we need you - yes, even you- to abide by them so that we can do those things that we do without danger to others.

Now I hate stupid rules. Berwyn has a tax on pets. Can you believe it? What cost does a dog incure to society? That is a stupid rule. It provokes the rebellious side of me. Is God using the crazy rules of our society to test my ability to deal with my rebellion?

I don't have all the answers- I just know that there needs to be a healthy respect for rules. God help me to honor the lines. What do you think?