Sunday, September 25, 2005

Better Than Wild Animals

In 1537, a frenchman named John Calvin penned the following words:

"You cannot find a man anywhere, however uncivilised or wild, who is without some idea of religion. This is because we have all been created to know the majesty of our Creator and, in knowing it, to think more highly of it than anything else... It is commonly agreed that to live without religion is to live in real misery and to be in no way better than wild animals."

Now, we know that the atheist believes that the thing which makes us better than wild animals resides in the meat between our ears, or more generally, in chance and evolution. It was a cosmic roll of the dice that mankind wound up where we are. We surpass all other earthy species in intellect, in the ability to reason and adapt, and the ability to create, but that is it -and we owe it to nothing else than natural selection combined with random chance and genetic mutation. To you I have nothing to say in this small article.

To the rest of us who acknowledge the Creator, who admit to seeing His fingerprint in creation, and who submit to the common seed planted in us that tells us our Maker is real, I submit that John Calvin was right. We are better than other created things, than wild animals, because our Creator has seen to separate us from them in ways other than by our intellect or powers of creativity. There is something more. We are the only creatures that express any form of religion. We are the only creatures created to know God personally and honor Him in ways none of the other creatures can, and the fact that we can always find a man who has some opinion about our Maker testifies to this.

Next, we notice that we have just about as many ideas about God as we do stars in the sky. Calvin wrote, "But there are many differences in the visible form that religion takes." This is obvious, since if there are varied ideas about who God is and what He is like there will likewise be varied expressions of those beliefs through varied forms of outward religion. Many people do not like to talk about God for the simple reason that disputes arise -it is uncomfortable. In many cases it becomes a battle of whose God is right, and we try to convince others of our view.

But at this point we all betray our genesis and diverge from reason. For though we know that God exists, we derive what we know about Him from our own imaginations. And this, of course, happens in varying degrees. There are many who completely fabricate their idea of God from their own powers of reason. There are others who invent and image of Him based upon their experience and what feels right. There are others who claim to have visions and dreams that inform them about God. There are still some who claim to have a holy book that tells them. And still there are others who actually have that which God has given us, and yet they still twist it and shred it so that God can be formed into an image that is more personally palatable or suitable to them.

Some imagine God is an impersonal force, and others say that God is Judge. There are so many different things out there. It is not good enough to say, "I have my opinion and I will rest upon that!" What if we are wrong? What matters, then, is not our opinion. What matters is not what others tell us about God. What matters is fact. What if God is Judge? Then we certainly would like to know this so that we can be sure we are in His favor. What if we already believe God is Judge? Then we certainly would like to know on what basis He will judge. It is foolish to go only that far and then flatter ourselves that God is just like us and judges just like we judge. The point is that we all have ideas about God, what we are willing to believe and not, yet we must seriously ask the question, "Is what I believe about God true?" Is it objectively true?

We may like to think that truth is relative, but reality does not function this way and we know it. "It is all relative!" we may exclaim, but we know deep down that this is illogical and only a cover-up for areas we do not want to investigate. If the traffic-light is red, I may not choose to accept that and plow through at high-speed, but I will learn soon enough that the reality of the red light matters. I can say, "Well, red means stop to you, but I like to think of it differently", but this is ridiculous. We do not live upon such principles, yet we invent them when we are faced with things we do not want to admit -such as that we may be dreadfully wrong and have no foundation for anything we believe. Let us not betray reason at this point, one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of creation. If we are truly better than the animals, and to be better, then let us demonstrate it. It may not matter at all that our idea of God differs significantly from the truth, but it may matter severely. It seems rational, at least, that we should have a firm foundation for what we believe so that we can be sure, as sure as we can be. We may not want to investigage these things, but if we seek to do any justice to the majesty of our place in creation, not to mention adhere to sound reason, then we must investigate them. If we ignore them they will not go away.

This, then, begs the next question. If we are to know God as we are called to as humans, or at least know about Him, how? Again, common sense would tell us that if we had something from God, Himself, that would be better than anything else. I can claim that I know a man because I see something he created and then fill in many details with my imagination, but I am probably more far off than I would like to admit. Having the man tell me about himself would obviously be far better. So it is with God. We can see His handi-work around us, but from this we can deduce little more than that He is powerful and creative. If He has given us something that tells us about Himself, that would do much more for us. Thankfully, He has.

Today we have a book, written words penned through centuries by inspiration of God. We call this the Bible or "Holy Scriptures." It is in human language, conveyed to us so that we can comprehend who God is and what He wants us to know about Himself and ourselves. The Bible testifies to its own divine origin. It says that it is "God-breathed..." (2 Tim 3:16) It comes from God. He "breathed" it out, in a sense -not physically, as if the pages formed from some kind of physical breath, but spiritually, from His Spirit, from His mind, and perfectly according to what He wants us to know.

Yes, there are many men who scoff at the idea of the Bible being God's Word. To them the Bible is foolishness. They will say all kinds of things against it, though few have actually read it. The truth is that they do not want to read it. There are also men who have read some of it, maybe as a child, and will say that the Bible cannot be a foundation for these things any more than anything else. "The Bible," they say, "can be made to say whatever you want." This is nothing but a tactic used to excuse then from giving careful attention to what it says. Those who say such things have probably never earnestly and honestly sought to know what the Scritpures do say. It is easy to agree that men twist the Scriptures to justify all kinds of atrocities or to support doctrines of their own imagination, but that is not the fault of the Scriptures. They are more than clear and sufficient in themselves, and it is the ignorance and evil of men that is to blame. The Scriptures are "profitable for teaching" (again, 2 Tim 3:16). They bring profit because they contain truth. Men will use many objections to excuse themselves, but their intent is simply to justify their neglect of God's Word. If they can come up with enough objections, they imagine, they will have excused themselves from being responsible to know what it says. However, the Bible still stands as what it is: God's written reveleation to mankind. Our errors and wishes do not alter objective truth.

Given this, it is the most foolish thing imaginable to take this book, this written revelation, and cast it into a corner or save it only for times when "spiritual words" are needed or "religious" occasions come up. Let us not be fools and use this book to exalt ourselves in our religion, as if our religion makes us great. Let us not take part of the Bible, the Word of God, but only parts we like, and then fill in the rest. How many men have died foolishly flattered and content with the idea that "God is love", yet knew nothing of Him in truth? More than we can number. Let us humbly take this book and read it, know it, and in so doing, know our God. Let it eradicate every false idea we have and sweep out the imaginations and replace them with God-breathed truth about our Creator. It is not just a matter of relgion, it is what we were created for.

So, reader, you may joke in your care-free manner, slap a friend on the shoulder and say, "I must be a wild animal," but that will not do. When you have a moment of quiet reflection, perhaps when you are laying in bed at night, it will come back to your mind. "How do I know what I think I know about God? How can I be so cavalier and just assume it doesn't matter?" Maybe you will dismiss the thought as quickly as it came and harden your heart to God all the more. Maybe you will have a spark of interest for a moment and then it will flicker and burn itself out. But maybe you will be prompted to investigate and learn things you never knew and even come to know this God who made us.

It is with this we have the greatest responsibility but also the greatest room for shame and failure. If we are truly better than wild animals like this, then we have a responsibility to actually know our God, personally. But on the other hand, I know many, even those who read this, will go uneffected and unchanged. Nothing will change in your practice or in your interest in God. I would be just as much of a fool if I failed to warn you of the foolishness you are entering into or remaining in. For you are not making yourself like a wild animal. You are dropping yourself below them! You are saying, "I am content in my ignorance, my own ideas, and trusting in myself. I am content knowing that I could be very wrong, that I have absolutely no foundation for anything that separates me from the animals, that the consequences may be horrific, but I would rather blindly and foolishly continue to suppress and ignore this fact and go on my merry way." You are saying that not only do you know that you are throwing yourself into the gutter, but that it is pleasing to you to remain there.

I pray this is not you, for the Lord has spoken that there will be a day when He judges the earth in pure, unadulterated righteousness. It will come, as He says, "like a thief in the night" - who knows, perhaps even tonight. It behooves us all to know about this if for no other reason than to be like a wild animal who instinctively runs to escape peril. But we are not merely wild animals. Show yourself to be a human and know your God as you were created to, and show yourself to be a human who is wise by knowing Him in truth. May His Spirit come and breathe life into this valley of dead, dry bones and kindle in us a seriousness and passion to know Him and know how it is that we may ever hope to come before Him.

"The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Suggesting Repentance?

The title might seem odd. Who, after all, suggests repentance? Repentance isn't something suggested so that one will try and see if they like it. It is not something that is spoken of as "maybe needed" in a given situation. That is why this title seems silly. It is like saying to someone with a failing liver, "Might I suggest a liver transplant?" Yet we are often this ridiculously hesitant in talking about sin and the need for repentance.

Hurricane Katrina came and brought absolute devastation and desolation. It is truly a time of sorrow and suffering -one that I admit I am sheltered and unable to truly experience the way many are. The responses to this destruction are as many as the homes destroyed. Many say, "Where was God in this!?" and shake their heads in frustration. The Christian community, of course, flounders on this point and usually says something like, "God is crying right now, too. These things just happen." There you have it. Absolutely no purpose. God just sets the ball in motion and covers His almighty eyes as it careens to and fro, crashing every now and then.

See, when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place, the generic Christian response was not all that different. That time, however, we had evil men behind the scheme that brought about the destruction. It was easy to claim that "God has given us all free will." But still some would ask, "Why did God allow it?" There is still some shred of knowledge of God's sovereignty, even among the unbelievers! The Christian response, at this point, was no different than the response now to Hurricane Katrina. It is like we are ashamed of giving the answer that Scripture points to. We are ashamed of a Mighty God who is just in bringing judgment and who is sovereign over all of us. We fear men more than God.

We like very much to have a God who is like a grandfather. He is way too benevolent and "grand-fatherly" to do things like judge sin or set His judgment against our nation, which is utterly godless. We like God as a gift-bearer, but not as Sovereign King. We like Him to be there to make us feel good on Sunday mornings, but we do not like to entertain the idea that God actually has spoken and does not like what He sees. We like a god who is not God. We like a god who is like someone who sits across the table from us, on our level, and makes deals, transacts with us, and is a "chum" we can kinda call on when we need something. We like to think of God as "really nice", and we want others to like Him too. This is probably also why we like to try to "clear God's name" as Christians, insisting that God surely didn't bring this about. The idea of an utterly Sovereign Creator, One who raises up nations and likewise brings them down, One who holds the winds in His mighty hand, One who hates sin, who is perfectly Holy, set apart, Just, All-powerful, and entirely incensed toward His rebellious creatures who make a mockery of Him and His mighty name.

Of course, then there are the fundamentalists who bitterly reply, "See, that's what you guys get down there in New Orleans." This is evil and godless as well, as a reply. Do they consider for a moment that they also daily provoke the justice and righteousness of God? Jesus replied to this for me, so I will let Him speak:

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

We all fall in the same boat, and the Old Testament bears ample testimony to the simple fact that God punishes nations and peoples collectively. When He brought the Assyrians against Israel, surely believer and unbeliever alike perished. The whole nation suffered, and His judgment was not for no reason.

What is there that the heathen nations (or even Israel during periods of idolatry) have done, as recorded in the Old Testament, that our nation has not done with scores more force, lust, intent, idolatry, and arrogance? We have all manner of debauchery, and what is worse... we are legalizing it! Homosexual relationships (even marriages) are legally protected. The slaying of unborn infants is protected. We want God's name stripped from everything we see. Our televisions spew forth wickedness. We are the richest, most blessed nation probably that has ever existed, and we spit in the face of the One who has given it all to us. How ironic that Katrina struck with such force the place where the "Southern Decadence" festival takes place every year. We make Soddom look like Disneyland.

There is no reason to doubt that God is sending us, all of us (not just New Orleans), a powerful message that we are too blind, too wicked, too bound to our idols and our idolatrous view of God to recognize. Perhaps the Christians in our nation need to stop being ashamed of God and get on their knees. Our most pressing problem is not rebuilding New Orleans, folks. It is that our nation mocks God and sinfully does whatever it wants, presuming upon God's patience or even denying His existence outright. Yet we still imagine that God is somehow on our side. I can't help think of the false prophets in Jeremiah's time who were preaching "peace, peace" where there is no peace. Let's be real, in the last 15 years alone we have done more to bring God's holy, righteous, and entirey just wrath against our nation than in the preceding years of our nation's history. God has demonstrated time and time again that He brings judgment against nations, and we are no different. The heathen and the believer both suffer. That is the way it is. It would do us all well to think twice next time someone asks us our thoughts about "where God was" when the hurricane hit. It would do us all well to go to the Scriptures when answering these things. The fact that no man is innocent in the eyes of God, that God hates sin, and that He brings His judgment to bear temporally against peoples and nations, not just as individuals when we die, might be good things to take a second look at.

This is a time for those who have been given the light and the truth to start shining it and proclaiming it. Stop making excuses for God -He needs no excuses made. I in no way at all wish to minimize anyone's suffering -I know I cannot imagine what it is like. I pray for healing and for help, but I also pray, seriously, for God to have mercy and grant repentance to us all. How many more things need to come against us before we will start to take seriously where our nation has fallen to?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

When Evangelicals Object to Free Justification

It is a sad day when those who bear the name "evangelical" betray the very meaning of that name by objecting, either en toto or in part, to the free justification of sinners by our Holy and gracious God on the sole grounds of the finished work of Jesus Christ. In the past few years, I have been shocked on more than one occassion by the resistance of more than a few friends who come from "evangelical" churches to this doctrine. They will object immediately when I say that God justifies us, counts us righteous, accepts us fully, wholly because of what Christ did. They will say, "But then you can live however you want! What about trying to be holy?"

I realize these friends probably don't mean to be rejecting the core of the Gospel itself. They are repeating things they have heard and are bound to the emphasis and spirit that is spread from our pulpits. This is why many who do believe in the free justification of God prefer to rename "evangelical" to "post-evangelical" -the true "evangelical movement" either passed long ago or has fallen in between the cracks and been swallowed whole. Nonetheless, these friends, who are probably true Christians (though misled and confused on these critical things), need our ministry. And even if they are not truly born of God, then they need the truth proclaimed to them all the more!

So, why does the complete free-ness of justification, of the righteousness God gives to sinners, not mean that we become accepted and then can live just how we did before? There is obviously a clear mention in Scripture that those who do not produce fruit shall not be saved. This was one of the issues during the Protestant Reformation. When Luther claimed "faith alone", many would object and say he was disregarding the need for a holy life. This is why the phrase was coined, "faith alone, but not a faith that is alone." See, there is a difference between the "faith" of the world and true saving faith. True faith, as all the Reformers affirmed, is a gift of God. When we are converted by the Holy Spirit we are rescued from our blindness and rebellion and a seed is planted in the barren soil. God, who placed this seed, also waters it and causes it to grow. and preserves it to the end so that it blooms into a beautiful, sturdy oak for His glory.

Thus, if there is true conversion by the Spirit of God there is also true faith and hence true justification, and if there is true justification there is also true sanctification, God working in us "to will and to do for His good pleasure" and conforming us to the "image of His Son" (Rom 8). The one called is justified, and the one justified is glorified. It seems strange, in our day, to say this which such certainty. How can we say that? How can we guarantee this? We don't. God does. Salvation is wholly and completely God's work -something the Reformers also stressed. So far from living just how we want, if we were converted by the Spirit of God then what we want has changed! It is a supernatural thing. There is no such thing as a man who has faith but does not have a new heart that now loves God, loves righteousness, and truly desires to please and honor Him. They come from the same Source, the same Author. One does not exist without the other.

This is why James, in his epistle, belabors the point that a man can say he has faith, but if there are no good works, no love, then his faith is a sham. It is not real. It is because if there is no fruit then there is no new heart, and if there is no new heart then there was no conversion, and hence no faith, no justification, no salvation, no true relationship with the Lord at all. The person is simply in a blind and self-deceived state, flattering himself with his religion.

The sovereign work of God is paramount. It begins in eternity past when He chose to save, by the kindness of His will, a multitude of men from all of humanity, and it enters time for each individual when God sovereignly changes our hearts, brings us to faith in Christ and His pure and effectual saving merits, sanctifies us by convicting us of sin, leading us to kill it, and walk in holiness, preserves us, and eventually glorifies us. God is there at every point, nurturing, saving, being gracious to those who would, if left to themselves, hate Him forever.

Here are a few possible reasons for the evangelical rejection of free justification by free grace:

1. The Law has been weakened into a self-help manual. It is not just that the Law has been diluted so that we can actually attain it, though that is true, it is that God has been ripped from the center of it. It no longer points to a holy God who is so righteous that we cannot even comprehend it. It is now just a series of instructions and tips for how to live as "good" or "victorious" Christians. It is no longer God-ward in its focus. It no longer brings us to fall on our face because of the splendor of our Mighty, Holy Creator.

2. The Gospel sounds too easy. Since the Law has taken such a hit, then it necessarily follows that the Gospel of free grace makes no sense. It has no basis and seems "wimpy" or makes salvation "too easy". We hear all the time about warning about "cheap grace". This has led many to amend the Gospel and make it more Law-like. No longer is the Gospel a proclamation of amnesty and free grace. It has become more of a set of instructions and things we must do to essentially save ourselves.

3. Christianity is no longer supernatural. We no longer believe in the wonderful, Biblical truths of God's supernatural and sovereign working in saving sinners. Being "born again" is, despite the clear teaching of Scripture, now just a decision of man or a response of God to his decision. It is no longer the sovereign changing of a man's heart from a God-hater to a God-lover. Faith is no longer a gift of God's grace. Now it is our component, our cooperation with God's thwartable, wishful plan of salvation. Sanctification is our working to keep ourselves saved and to "be good" enough to still be a Christian, it is not the sovereign leading of God, in convicting us of sin and working in us a love for righteousness by the Gospel, into more and more true love and service to Himself.

Let us consider these things well and minister to these folks. They may think their brand of Christianity "works" and has all the appearances of godliness, but its heart is defective. Let us re-aquaint them (or even aquaint them for the first time) with the Holy, Righteous, Sovereign God of the Scriptures. Let us show them the full brightness and righteousness of His Law, how horribly we measure to it -because we are actually measuring ourselves to Him, and the beauty and depth of His grace in saving sinners. Let us show them the Gospel in ways they have never seen. There is no hope or freedom in a salvation that depends on our cooperation. We know this. Therefore, let us love them and bring this to them prayerfully, gently, boldly, and truthfully.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Comparing Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses

I know this is a generalization, but I was thinking of a few things, and it struck me how a pseudo-Christian cult such as that of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), with all of its lies, is actually more "Christian" than most Christians in how they approach the world. I am not saying they are believers, but I am saying that there are qualities among the Jehovah's Witnesses that shame us as the Body of Christ.

1. Jehovah's Witnesses are evangelism-minded; Christians are self-minded.

This is not to say the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's from here foreward) are not selfish, fallen creatures like all of us, but when I evaluate my impression of the JW's I see a group that is very motivated to influence the community, to educate, and to spread their message (even if it is heresy). They do this very directly -even though it could be argued that door-to-door ministry is ineffective or an invasion of privacy. Christians, on the other hand, are generally more consumed with finding their "shape" or "purpose" or "keys to success". There is some zeal to evangelize, but it is different. I can't really place my finger on it, but my impression of Christians is not primarily one of local evangelism. We send teens to Mexico and such, but overall I do not see an emphasis on Christians going out to spread the message of the cross. Maybe it's just me -maybe I am just saying this because I see the Christian side from behind the scenes and only see the Jehovah's Witnesses on the surface. This brings me to the next point...

2. Jehovah's Witnesses are educated and discipled in what they believe; Christians are generally not.

I have met numerous people who said the reason they began listening to the Jehovah's Witnesses is because the Jehovah's Witnesses gave them answers. Of course, we know their answers are mostly lies, but still... when someone asks a question, are we really ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15)? Most of us are not. We waffle, spout out ridiculous things that are obviously shallow, flimsly, and not well-thought-out, or we simply avoid situations that might put us on the spot. As for discipleship? Christians tend to forget that discipleship is not just hanging out, having pot-luck dinners, and having youth-group trips. Fellowship is critical, but so is systematic teaching and training. Jehovah's Witnessess, for the most part, come across as being trained -Christians, overall, are not. We have a few people who are trained, mostly because they are our pastors, and a few self-taught people in the congregation, but are there really systematic training mechanisms in place in most of our churches? I don't believe so, and I don't see an emphasis or encouragement for lay people to be trained. It is like we are reverting back to medieval Roman Catholicism where the "priests" have the Word, are trained, but the layity are totally ignorant. Many people say, "I am not an academic person" as an excuse for why studying the Scriptures and doctrines we believe from the Scriptures is not for them. I don't see that with the Jehovah's Witnesses. In my limited knowledge, I see an expectation of Biblical/doctrinal literacy

3. Jehovah's Witnesses come across as unified; Christians can't seem to agree on anything.

I don't mean this just as someone who is a Christian and sees all the squabbling. I mean that the world sees it, and they take note. There are some significant differences in doctrine among various Christian groups, and in many cases that cannot be overlooked, but sometimes it seems we are preoccupied so much with the finer points of doctrine among our greater minds that we neglect having a unified mission to reach the lost. I remember reading a Phil Johnson blog that said something about Calvinists in particular... something like how today we have mostly academics and polemicists rather than evangelists and preachers. So, it is ironic that the visible church of Christ, which contains both His sheep and some goats, acts often as a headless entity, a flock with no Shepherd, while the packs of wolves that surround us are strategic in their attack on and evisceration of their prey.

4. Jehovah's Witnesses generally come across as chaste and self-controlled; Many Christians come across as unconcerned, vain, and un-controlled.

I don't want to spend too much time here. I know this is entirely subjective because there are many, many Christian men and women who do not resemble this at all. But there does seem to be a trend toward being more "free" in regards to those "old-fashioned" virtues such as humility, modesty, chastity, being slow-to-speak, etc. It is much more fashionable to speak freely, to pierce our faces into oblivion, and to look just like everybody else -except for slapping a "Real Men Love Jesus" bumper-sticker on our car. Is that the only way people can tell we belong to the Lord? Sad. It is a "new breed" of Christianity where we show to the world that we can be cool, too. To me it sounds like service to the world and not service to Christ. I know for the Jehovah's Witness the reason behind these qualities is legalism, not loving service to God, but it would not hurt us as Christians to remember that we serve the Lord, He is our King, and everything we do and every way we are reflects upon Him. Let everything we do, as Paul reminds us, be done for the glory of God! I am not saying we need to be perfect or even can be, but if we are His, then we love Him, and if we love Him, then we will want to be faithful ambassadors in every way. We will want to avoid things that, even if they are fine with us, lead others to mock the name of Christ.

I don't know. Maybe I am way off. I think we are starving for the Word, for Christ, and need to stop feeding the sheep fodder and garbage. We need to wake up and stop being so concerned with ourselves and finding success and happiness. It is funny. I generally find that those who have nothing, those who suffer with illness or with death of loved ones, are the most motivated in what matters most. I'm just rambling at this point, but maybe someone will read this and take offense in a good way.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

On Translations

What makes something a good translation verses a bad one? There are many groups who have a pet translation and insist all others are corrupted. This is nothing new, but before we look at individual translations and critique them and judge them as good or bad, we must establish certain criterion for making such judgments. Here are two very basic ones:

1. The translating committee must be looked at carefully. Who are these people? Maybe they have an agenda that is harmful to an honest translation, but before we even get to that we need to investigate their credentials. Are they all scholars in the original Biblical languages? The average person is not skilled in the Biblical languages -this is just a fact. So, we have two options: we can either take the years and years required to adequately learn the Biblical languages for ourselves and then read the Bible in its original languages, or must rely upon these committees of scholars to accurately translate the original languages for us. Are they scholars? Do they know the languages? Do they have good credentials? Is this certain person on the committe a mere 2-year student or a scholar who has been learning and studying the languages in a professional capacity for perhaps decades? Also, are the committee members all scholars? It would be easy for one who seems to be far more advanced than others to steer the committee into erroneous directions, to fit the man's bias or predisposition, if all of the members were not able to objectively see an error looming on the horizon because of lack of training. Also, consider the number of people on the committee. It is not a rule, of course, but most committees number in the tens (I believe 56 men in total for the KJV, for example, broken into six groups), not a mere two, three, or four people. The goal is to have the men on the committee "check" one another, and if there are a larger number it is probably more difficult to force a particular bias into the translation since others, many others, are overseeing what is going on.

2. Evaluate the quality, objectivity, and honesty of the translation itself. Ease of reading is not a good basis for judging a translation to be accurate, and neither is taking someone's word for it. Check out differing translations. When we come to a verse in the translation we are examining that differs from the majority of other translations, especially if it is on an important doctrinal point, it would be wise for us to look also at these other translations and research, ourselves, into the reasoning behind the difference. Why is this translation right, if it is right, and the others wrong? Why do the others all translate it differently? Is there a valid reason that perhaps this translation is missing, overlooking, or even hiding? Men translate our Bibles, and as such, bias and predisposition to certain beliefs can and sometimes do influence the translation. What we want to look out for is a consistent and obvious bias that repeatedly leads the translation in question to avoid a certain conclusion in text after text. No single major Christian doctrine is founded upon just one verse, so a dangerous bias in the translation would be evidenced by a consistent rejection and hiding of the proper translation in various places so as to conceal or avoid a certain doctrinal conclusion.

No translation is perfect, but this does not mean we should not be discerning about which translation we use. Most major translations are just fine, even if there are minor quirks here and there -no major Christian doctrine is effected. But let us think twice and use some valid criterion, perhaps such as the two listed above, to evaluate the translation we are using, especially if it claims to be different and superior to all the rest. Perhaps it is the only translation that truly "got it", but perhaps it is full of misleadings and biases as well.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Christian Message

Here I have decided to write, briefly, what I believe to be the sum of the Christian message. I am somewhat troubled by the way so many of us today portray our message as a plan that must be followed. While there is certainly some truth to this, as salvation does involve the response of man, I find in the pages of Scripture generally a different emphasis. I find that Scripture's emphasis is upon God, upon His Savior, and upon His plan. So, below is an attempt to summarize our message in my own words. If anything, it is a good exercise in trying to convey our grand message in simple, but accurate terms.

The Plan of Salvation

There is only one plan of salvation, and it is a plan that God has conceived, that God works, and that God finishes. God has purposed, in His infinite grace and wisdom, to save individuals, and every one of them shall be saved. They shall be a countless number, more than the stars in the sky. God the Father has chosen, the Son came to redeem, and the Spirit works now to bring these ones into union with the redeeming work of the Son and purify them into a holy people, a royal priesthood, zealous for good deeds.

The Message

The Holy Scriptures, which give us what God has revealed for us to know concerning Himself, concerning man, and concerning the gulf between man and God and what is done about it, comes to us bearing a message that consists principally of two parts.

The first part reveals to us the righteous majesty and holiness of God. It tells us that we, being God's creatures, owe to Him everything in pure holiness and righteousness, and that He requires of us absolute love and obedience to Him and love for fellow man. In so revealing this, this news does in fact shine a holy light upon our wickedness -both as fallen children of Adam, our first parent, and as individuals. It shows us how deplorably we fail, and even more, how terribly our hearts resist God and seek to suppress and pervert His glory for our own selfish ends. It leaves every man without recourse and holds us all accountable to God who will judge all in righteousness and render holy justice. In short, this part of Scripture, which runs throughout the whole of the Holy Writ, informs us that we are truly unrighteous, unable to remedy our situation or make God's favor to us fitting in any way, unable to atone for our sins, unable to make ourselves right with our Maker, and therefore stand justly under God's holy wrath, which He will swiftly execute at the end of the age. For "by works of the Law", that is, by our deeds and attempts at appeasing God by them, "no man shall be justified in His sight", no man shall stand accepted and embraced by God as righteous, "for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." By His Law, His righteous requirements, rather than seeing how we may obtain life we see our sin and how worthy we are of death. (Rom 3:20)

The second part of the Scriptures, which some call the "good news", comes to us in a different manner of light. It lifts up those captive to the desperate plight revealed in the first part. It brings water for the thirsty. It tells us of a Savior, a Savior sent from God as a gift to unlovable, rebel sinners. It makes manifest righteousness (Rom 3:21), a righteousness which we do not have in ourselves but which God requires of us, which we know per the first part of the Scripture, but now gives. It is the righteousness which the Savior of sinners, Jesus Christ, has come into the world and wrought through His sinless life, His sin-atoning death, and His resurrection from the dead. This righteousness which came by and is in Christ Jesus is a free gift, so that everyone who abandons their hope in themselves and believes upon Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, the bringer of righteousness, and King of God's Kingdom, has salvation, pardon, forgiveness, and full acceptance before God from hence forward. (Acts 13:38-39)

And now to you, dear reader, I bring these two parts of Scripture to you and to your conscience -both together, not one without the other. I remind you that now is the day of salvation, for the day when the King returns to close the curtain of history approaches and will come like a thief in the night. Likewise, every one of our days our numbered, and we do not know the day when we shall pass from this life. Therefore, before it is time to enter into His Holy courts and try as you humanly might to give an answer for the litany of charges that hang over you, be reconciled now while there is time. God cannot lie, and His Word tells us that these things are so. When your head hits the pillow at night, consider that God is the Judge who will answer every evil deed, every evil thought, every evil word. Nothing shall remain hidden or passed by.

The righteousness which you and I so deplorably lack is found in Christ Jesus, the Divine Savior, the Son of God, the One who has been appointed Judge of the living and the dead. Give up on your filthy rags of righteousness. They shall never stand -not a single one. Believe on the Lord Jesus, the Bringer of grace and truth, and you shall be saved. There is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12). Everyone who hungers, come and eat of this Bread, for everyone who feeds upon Him shall be saved. (Isaiah 55:1-2, John 6:35-37)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Necessary Thorns

There is so much I don't know, and it is good to know that I don't know. I am blessed because God has given me an appetite for His truth. I am blessed because He has given me an academic mind that is able to take in a great deal of information and recall it quickly. Yet there is also something of a curse behind it. Knowledge puffs up. Knowledge is good, but it does not necessarily lead to wisdom. Often it leads to some sort of self-exaltation and arrogance. I am thankful for the humbling moments in my life when I just have to throw up my hands and say, "Wow. I really have no clue." I am thankful for the humbling moments when I am shamed in my ignorance before someone else.

It is a struggle, too, because my flesh really wants to know the answer and wants to be great. It wickedly puffs you up a little bit more to know that you have an answer not just for yourself but others. You are ratcheting your name up into self-made, flesh-loving, man-pleasing glory. The world loves this kind of thing, but it is ugly. Yet, there is something freeing in admitting I am clueless on so many things. I am glad for it, and I am glad God has been pleased to graciously show me that I am clueless. God, may I never think that I know it all!

See, I am prone to make everything into something about me and a way to exalt myself. There are so many powerful passions within me that like to turn every situation, especially situations that are Christian in nature, into opportunities to display myself as something great before others. They are ugly passions, man-pleasing, haughty, self-exalting, idolatrous desires. They lead to jealousy, envy, strife, bitterness, coldness, hardness. To think that I would be bitter toward a brother for something good the Lord is doing if it cuts in on my own glory! How perverse! Calvin was right in saying that the mind of man is an idol-producing factory. I am so prone to making an idol of myself. I am naturally, or shall I say... fleshly, inclined toward these things. When I am in Bible study, I am quick to speak and slow to listen. When I am helping a hurting soul, I am quick to give advice but slow to be an attentive and calming ear for them. When I am in worship, my flesh is looking forward to rubbing elbows with others to display my knowledge and alleged wisdom so that I may walk away greater in my own mind.

It is not just that I have these passions. Sometimes I look back and see them rearing their ugly head through my words, thought, and actions. They manifest themselves in many ways: perfectionism, arrogance, false humility, envy, and all manner of falsehood. To think that I claim the Great Name of God and can even follow through on these desires, like a pack of wild animals running within, is abominable to say the least. Yet I thank God for them -or more rightly, I thank God for displaying them to me. They are necessary thorns in my flesh, and I am thankful for them. Without them pressing into me and causing pain I can only imagine how much more unrestrained, puffed up, and wicked I would be.

This is something I have written about before. It is all about taking the good gifts you have been given and perverting them into avenues for making your own name great rather than making the name of Christ great. In some ways I wish the shame of my sin in this regard would leave me, but in other ways it is good to be pinched with these thorns. There is a lot to think about.