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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Ministry, Fight on!

Earlier this week I had yet another conversation with a friend in ministry that started with, “I resigned from my ministry position at the church” and ended with me saying, “I’ll be praying for you and your family.”  As I drove home that night my heart was sadden by this two fold loss.  The local church had lost a valuable partner, but also the Church as a whole, meaning all Christians everywhere, had at least for the time being lost another trained worker in the battle against good and evil.  My heart was also sad for my friend that felt this option was the best for his or her family(I don’t want give this person away).

I did not sleep well that night, I was reminded of just how difficult ministry life really can be.  I was reminded that just in the last year I have had multiple friends resign from their staff positions at churches, a few friends get let go because of finances, some let go because of unknown reasons that did not include moral failures.  I was reminded of our struggle that we recently went through, where we saw our church have over 250 people attend My wife and I’s first Sunday there, only to close its doors and give the building back to the bank about 8 months later…….I watched my brother in Christ and Lead Pastor during that time literally be wrecked by what was unfolding before us.

I am not writing this for everyone….I am writing this for the 50 or so people that I am connected with through social media that are in part-time, full-time, or in between ministry positions.  Some of you I am extremely close with and I talk with on a week if not daily basis.  Others I see and talk to at summer camps or the Preaching and Teaching Convention every year(Shout out to Ozark Christian College).  But I do want you to know and I need you to know that all of you are on my heart and my mind consistently.  I know that there are some of you out there, that are literally barely holding on.  I know that there are those of you out there at churches that are flourishing and taking ground for the Kingdom!  Praise God for that!  I am simply writing this to all of you that you might be encouraged, strengthened and challenged to continue the good fight and press on towards the goals and the vision God has laid before you.  I write this so that you know you are not alone, I know ministry can be lonely place even if you are married, I can’t explain this mystery, but I know its true from my own experience and the testimony of others.  So I want to encourage you today with 3 short thoughts and a prayer.  My hope is that through the Holy Spirit’s divine mystery you would receive from this whatever it is your heart needs to hear today.

–> Fight for Community

My heart is sometimes confused and saddened by the lack of community Pastors find themselves in.  We preach and teach often that the Christian life was never and still is not meant to live alone.  There is no such thing as a personal faith or a private  faith in the scriptures.  We all know that scripture is clear that Christians are instructed to live, do life with and fellowship with other Christians.  Yet so often in my experience in ministry Pastors seemingly struggle to do this very well(myself included).  I like most of you that I know serve in a Restoration Movement Church.  It’s the only kind of church I have served at in my 5 years of ministry.

While I love the Restoration Movement and I love the heritage that the original founders stood for and believed in.  I must say that it has been my experience, and after meeting with another group of pastors this week I sensed it was theirs as well, we tend to be on our own little islands.  In my current ministry setting there are at least 7 RM churches within a 20 miles radius and the most we do together as Pastors is share 1 meal together once a month.  Brothers and Sisters fight for community among the other Pastors that you serve alongside in your communities.  I know this is hard! I have lived in that reality for the past 5 years and I have friends that have lived this same experience for even longer.  But if my father in law who is SBC can become best friends with a RM Youth Pastor that he met over 20 years ago and has not lived close to since.  Then I don’t see how we can’t with a some effort become more unified as Pastors.

The tragic reality is that we often preach community and unity to our congregations, but fail immensely in practicing it ourselves.  I know that we won’t agree on every little theological point and I understand that some denominations are down right difficult to work with.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try!  That doesn’t mean that we harbor anger and bitterness towards the other.  We must all get over ourselves!  Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and he died for us so that through his love and the Spirits guidance we could achieve unity.  Just because we disagree with each other in some areas doesn’t mean we get a pass to neglect each other and leave our fellow man out to fend for himself.

Ken Idleman says, “We can not be nonchalant about unity.”  And I would say we can not be nonchalant about community among Pastors!  Brothers and Sisters we must fight for community, we must pray together, study together, and encourage each other more than just when its convenient or there is an opening on our schedule.  We are at war here and so often we leave our brothers and sisters in Christ to fight the battle on their own or we by isolating ourselves eventually end up fighting on our own and I am imploring you to fight for a different way, a better way, and I believe a more biblical way.

[So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner.  But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life-The Apostle Paul]

–> Be who God has called you to be

I am Coulter Conner and I am follower of Christ.  I have a passion for preaching and teaching God’s word as well as uniting in love brothers and sisters in ministry to come along side each other for kingdom work.  I believe in discipleship and deep exploration of the scriptures so that we may know who God is more and more each day.  I am flawed, I am broken, I struggle a lot, I am sometimes depressed……I share these things with you because I want you to know who I am and that I am comfortable with what God has gifted me in and I do work hard at sharpening those skills as well as developing areas where I lack and there are a lot of those areas.

Here is why this is important…..You are not Andy Stanley, unless of course he is reading this, odds on that are very slim.  My point is the same as I heard Eric Epperson communicate a few years ago.  He said stop reading Timothy Keller!  Now he didn’t mean literally stop reading Tim Keller.  Keller has a lot of really good stuff out there, but you are not him and you are not called to be exactly like him.  When all we do is read the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of certain people we can sometimes stifle our ability to be creative and grow in the areas God has specifically gifted us.   We can’t all be the next Craig Groeshel.  Do these men have some great stories and is God using them in big ways? Absolutely!  But we must remember that every ministry is different and what works at some churches just simply will not work at others!  America is a huge country and people are so different every where you go and therefore they require different techniques and strategies in lots of different ways.

Please hear me brothers and sisters, looking up to someone and admiring their qualities that they developed and use to be successful in ministry is not in itself a bad thing, but please remember that what Andy Stanley does or Jon Weece does in their mega churches in big metropolitan areas might not work in western Kansas or northeast Oklahoma.  They are literally two different worlds!  I believe that God has called you to the church you are at for a purpose.  I believe that you should through the study of scripture, prayer, and the affirmation of your community of believers find, develop, and pursue that purpose.  Can we use more leadership training? Yes!  Is it really cool to see their buildings and equipment certainly, but the reality is that if you are in a small church in the middle of no where you are going to have to pray and get creative to fulfill your purpose because odds are what the Andy Stanley’s of the world are doing does not quite equate to your world.  Be the person who God has called you to be!  Search the scriptures, pray for guidance and brainstorm with your elders and those in your immediate community setting to see where God leads you and your church.

[For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.-2 Timothy 1:6-7]

–> Jesus is worthy

[“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”-Revelation 4:11]

A few years ago I heard Nate Bush preach through a passage in 2 Timothy at the P&T and at the heart of his message it was simple continue to fight for the lives of those that don’t know Christ.  Continue to preach the Gospel no matter what because at the end of the Jesus is worthy.  Ministry is really really hard but Jesus is worthy-Nate Bush  

I’m not sure why but for some reason that phrase has always stuck with me.  I have my Bible at home and the other day as I was reading through the book of 2 Timothy which I would recommend doing consistently if you are in Ministry.  I saw that phrase written in the margins-Jesus is worthy- Brothers and Sisters Jesus is worthy of our time, he is worthy of our efforts, and our energy!  Listen, I am not saying we should neglect our health, our families, our spouses or even our own walk with Christ for the sake of ministry.  I know ministry is hard and I know there are stresses in each of our ministry’s that are impossible even for others Pastors to quite understand, but Jesus is worthy.

Remember the gospel, reflect and mediate on God’s love.  Memorize scriptures not so that you can win arguments or debates, but so that you know the God of the creation.  Fear the Lord, so that you might gain more wisdom.  Seek wisdom for it is more precious that silver or gold.  I plead with you to remember that if God called you and set you apart for ministry then he will not forsake or abandon you!  I don’t care if you preach to 1000 people on Sunday morning or 10.  please work hard and serve your congregation faithfully if for nothing else because Jesus is worthy.  Remember the Sabbath and use it for the gift that is! One last thing brothers and sisters fight on! Ministry is really hard but Jesus is worthy so fight on!

[May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.-Romans 15:13]

Father God,
I pray that in the name of your Son you would guide our hearts and Spirit as we seek to do your work  here in the Church.  I pray that you would strengthen our faith and our perseverance everyday so that we might lead our families and our congregations well.  For those brothers and sisters that need comfort I pray you comfort them, for those that need encouragement may your Spirit lift them up.  I pray for those that feel isolated and alone may you bring about them a community full of love.  May your Spirit move in our lives and may we commit to your true Word even when it is not popular, even if it cost us everything.  Thank you for Son Jesus Christ and the blood that purchased our freedom.  May the cost of our salvation and your great love for us always being weighing on our hearts and mediated on in our minds.  Mold and shape us to be more like your Son. 
In Jesus name, 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

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Being Patient in Affliction

Being patient in affliction is not learning to love every season of life that you go through, being patient in affliction is learning to love and trust God despite the difficult season you are going through…….

5 months ago I stood in front of a beautiful woman and made a promise to her that I would be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.-Romans 12:12

She then reciprocated that promise back to me and we pledged to spend the rest of our lives together serving God and serving each other.

We both believed that God had called us to help pastor a church in south Texas.  Prior to our wedding date I had already been living in Texas for the the previous two months preparing where we thought we would serve for a long time. Our first Sunday at the church after our honeymoon we learned that the new church we were serving at was having some really tough financial issues and was going to have to sell the building.

The news about our church’s situation was difficult to process.  The area that we were serving in seemed to be economically stable and other churches in our community seemed to be thriving and growing.  My wife and I were left with a couple of different options.  We could start looking for another ministry to serve in….possibly even go back to our previous church in Oklahoma.  Or we could stay….We prayed and we talked about what we thought was best and also where we both felt the Spirit was leading us.  We ultimately decided to stay and go through this journey with a group of people that we were convinced God had led us to….

Joyful in Hope:  In order to be joyful in hope you must understand where true joy comes from.  The culture we live in is not so much interested in joy as it is momentary happiness and personal gratification.  The problem with this is that happiness and gratification have no roots; they are as fleeting from our lives as the cars that drive past us on our morning commutes to work. Now please here me, I am not saying that being happy in of itself is a bad thing.  The problem is that if our lives are built around this emotion we are sure to be tossed around like a small boat trying to navigate the waters of a sea.  I do not believe that happiness leads to hope only joy can do that.  The Apostle Paul also knew that truth when he penned his letter to the Romans.  Paul knew that the church in Rome was going to to need something deeper, something stronger and more long lasting then happiness if they were to survive the struggles and persecution that was coming their way.  They needed joy….they needed joy that comes from a deep seeded hope that Jesus Christ is Lord our lives and is sovereign over this world. They also needed joy that comes from knowing that we are so loved by Jesus that he was willing to lay down his life for our sake.   God is a God of hope and because that hope seeded and rooted in the creator of the universe and the author and perfecter of our faith I believe this means we can be filled with joy.  Joy that is centered and rooted in the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  If God does nothing else for us in this life we can still have joy because He sent His son to die as payment for our sins.  Be joyful in hope because we serve a God that has paid the price for our eternity, an eternity that will be spent in paradise with Him…..

Patient in Affliction: Eugene Peterson describes faith as being a long obedience in the same direction.  We are all called to obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5), but lets be honest when you are in a difficult season of life living out our obedience to Jesus Christ can be difficult.  When my wife and I decided to stay at the church we knew it was going to be difficult.  We knew that from a worldly perspective it made much more sense to start looking for a new ministry or a new job so that we could secure financial stability for our lives.  From a worldly perspective it made sense to take a severance package and move on from a struggling church.  If we are being honest I still struggle with looking back and questioning if we made the right choice.  Most days I have a clear conscience about the choice we made, but I would be dishonest if I said that doubt and regret do not come back to haunt me every now and then……

Being patient in affliction is not learning to love every season of life that you go through, being patient in affliction is learning to love and trust God despite the difficult season you are going through.  Look I am not saying this is or will ever be easy.  But I do believe it does get easier….Despite what some “religious” people have said and continue to say.  God does not give you everything you want in life and that’s a good thing!  God also does not give you everything your deserve and that also is a good thing!  God is more concerned with our holiness than He is our happiness. We live in a fallen world, a world that is corrupted, perverted and consumed by sin. Sin fractures and destroys everything that stands in its way.  We all have and will continue to go through difficult seasons. Most of you who read this most likely have or will go through something far more difficult than the season I am right now, I am not so nearsighted that I am oblivious to perspective. However I am convinced that now matter the difficulty or severity of your situation developing a deep love for God that is rooted in a deep trust of his goodness will always be a pattern of overcoming any and all difficult seasons.  Jesus warned his disciples about this very thing (John 16:33) and the writers of the NT give the same warnings and precautions.  Life is difficult! However scripture also tells us that there will be a day when evil is defeated and death is no more (Revelation 21).  I encourage you to be patient in affliction, keep the faith and fight the good fight because difficult seasons will pass and when you look back upon that time my hope is that you see how God was faithful but also how He used it to shape and grow you to be more like His Son.

Faithful in Prayer: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”-James 5:16b

I will not try to explain the ins and outs of how and why God answer’s prayer.  The will of God is a mystery that is not able for our minds to comprehend.  I know this though prayer works, now it may not work how we want or even expect it to, but if we believe the Bible to be the Word of God and to be true then we must believe that prayer works.  We must also keep in mind that we can do things and live in certain ways that hinder our prayers.  (1 Peter 3:7, James 4:3) Because of this we must continually look inward to evaluate our motives and the condition of our heart.  With that being said I urge you to be consistent in your prayer, I urge you to prayer for the burdens that God has placed on your heart.  I encourage to pray for wisdom, discernment, and strength.  Pray even when you don’t feel like it. Pray when its hard.  Pray when its easy.  Pray when its convenient and pray when it is not convenient.  God wants you to pray.  I am not promising that all your prayers will get answered and your dreams will come true.  I am promising you though that being faithful in prayer matters to God.  I am also convinced that being faithful in prayer will help you to be more patient in affliction, and more joyful in our great hope.

This season of life that My wife and I find ourselves in is difficult.  The church that we believed God had led us too has closed.  In my prayers I find myself asking God why would you bring us here for this?  Why would you have my wife quite a really good job in Oklahoma and why would you have me leave a solid and growing youth ministry.  We moved 500 miles away from family and friends just to lose our jobs only 4 months after being married.  What is there to learn from all of this?   I’ll be honest I am not sure there is an answer to that question……I have arrived at 2 conclusions though.  1-I know that God is good even when the world is not.  2-I know God is sovereign and has a plan for our lives.  So I will continue to the best of my ability to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer and I want to both challenge and encourage you to do the same.

Love God. Learn Greek. A Call For Pastors and Teachers to Learn the Original Languages

Cards On the Table

Let’s get something straight from the beginning, I am at a disadvantage in writing this piece. Why, you might ask? Well for starters I am a Ph.D. student working in the Greek NT so lots of people will write this off as being a soapbox or trying to sound all high and mighty. And if it does come across that way then I apologize because that is not my intention at all! I simply want to bring to the forefront a great need and instill within others a passion for knowing Christ and teaching others about him and I believe the best way to make this happen is by becoming familiar with the original languages. I also want those who read this to know that while I am working on a Ph.D. now I haven’t always been a great student. In fact, I dropped out 18 credits or 1 semester short of earning a History degree through Missouri Valley College (a foolish choice both financially and practically) after which I took two years off before returning to Bible College in which I basically had to start over; not completely but almost.

I also want you to know that learning other languages doesn’t come easy or natural to me. I took my first two Greek classes right in the middle of our son Caleb being born and to be honest I hated them because they were hard and I didn’t sleep much so I drudged through them to just check them off. This is not a plea from an ivory tower NT Scholar. This is a plea from a small church Pastor who’s love for Christ and his Word has become stronger as I have grown in my knowledge of the original languages, especially Greek.

A Tool For Those Who Teach

The only people I have heard say that Greek is not important are those who do not themselves know Greek (the exception being another Greek NT student who told me this one time…which was most peculiar because he was spending lots of hours and money studying something that wasn’t that “important”). This is strange but not uncommon. I love to play golf and have played almost all my life. I have taken lessons from club pros and professional instructors to help out my game. Now imagine if someone came up to me who had never swung a club in their life and told me that taking lessons to learn golf is unnecessary and not needed. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? In fact, this was me about 4 years ago. When I started graduate school in 2017 I was at the very least overly confident and looking back now…I was probably just another arrogant knucklehead. I didn’t think Greek or Hebrew were needed because translations are usually very accurate and Bible software tools are becoming more advanced more and more each year.  I can say for certain I was wrong, but in my defense, I didn’t know what I didn’t know? Right?

My goal in writing this is for you the reader to better understand and to communicate more clearly God’s Word. This should always be the goal of those who teach the Scriptures. We should always desire to present the clearest, most exact, and persuasive account of God’s saving message possible! With all that being said, I do want to make it clear that I am not saying that those who don’t know Greek can’t in any way know or teach the NT. It would be unfair and untrue to claim that the only way to be a good teacher or preacher is to know Greek.

Lost in Translation

I want to share with you an example of what working in the original languages can offer to the student of the Scriptures and those that desire to teach.

1 Peter 1:13:

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (CSB)

Διὸ [ἀναζωσάμενοι] τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν, [νήφοντες] τελείως, ἐλπίσατε ἐπὶ τὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

Now I first want to say that the CSB translates this verse very well. However, as I was studying verses 13-16 this week for my sermon I was reminded that in Greek this verse only has one verb (bolded word above) while in English it carries with it the sense of having 2 and sometimes in other translations 3 (the two words []). Why is this important? Peter’s sentence appears in English to be instructing us to do 3 things: 1. Make our minds ready for action (literally in Greek he says to gird up the loins of your mind; more on that later); 2. Be sober-minded; 3. Set our hope completely on the grace to be revealed.

Make no mistake Peter is saying those things. However, there is a strong case to be made from a grammatical standpoint that Peter’s main focus is for Christians to set their hope fully on the grace that is to come and then he explains how to do so with the following participial phrases, “binding up the loins of your mind” and “being sober-minded.”

In other words, Peter gives us the instruction or imperative (the mood of command which ἐλπίσατε is in) and then he gives a further explanation of how we can do that; by preparing our minds for action [the phrase “to gird up the loins” is a Semitic idiom that describes the act of tucking up a long robe into a belt, allowing the legs to move more freely. The modern equivalent might be “to roll up your sleeves and get to work.”] Peter’s point is that one set’s their hope on future grace or salvation, not by wishful thinking or blind optimism, but by having a mental resolve or conviction to live in such a way that our hope is seen to ultimately be in God and not in the things of this world. Karen Jobes explains it this way, “The Christian hope is a reality to be recognized and acted upon now.”

The second participial phrase, being sober-minded, explains even further what it means to prepare your mind for action. While this Greek word normally renders itself to be sober from alcohol, Peter is clearly using it here to exhort his readers then and us now to have a sober mind in regards to all of life. Christians would do well to avoid any form of mental or spiritual intoxication that would confuse the reality in which Christ is revealed as Lord and Savior. We set our hope completely on the grace that is to come by being mentally prepared for all of life’s situations, by thinking deeply about what Christ has done for us and by not being distracted or disoriented by the ways of the world. Peter instructs us to able to think fully and act appropriately on the basis of our true identity in Christ, despite whatever challenges and trials we might experience from this life or our culture.

Conclusion

There are many more passages of the NT that when fully unpacked in their original language and structure bring great joy and clarity to the Christian life, but we are out of time! My plea is this: if you regularly teach or preach the Scriptures look into learning the basics of Biblical Greek. There are classes online that you can take (both paid and free), there are programs you join and go through with others, books that can be read that will help you learn on your etc…

If you are in ministry learning Greek will do at least 4 things for you: 1. It will help you understand the Scriptures more clearly so that you may teach them more faithfully; 2. It will save you time in the long run when it comes to difficult interpretations; 3. It will give you more confidence as you grow in your skills to preach and teach God’s Word with boldness and confidence; 4. It will sweeten and stir your personal devotion and Bible reading time so that your affections for Christ and all he is for us continue to grow.
(This is by far the most important!)

24 Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.

-Jude 24 & 25

 

Men and Women in the Church: Equal in Worth and Value; Distinct in Design and Function

I want to begin with the end in mind. So, with that being said I want to warn you that for our modern western context I am going to offer a view that is quite unpopular in secular culture and is becoming, unfortunately, more and more unpopular among evangelical Christians. (Yes, I know this is a broad and quite often unhelpful term-but it is what we have so we must go with it until an upgrade is established)

My thesis is simple: Men and Women are equal in value and in worth but were created by a perfect creator (The God of the Christians Scriptures), in the beginning, before the fall, with distinction in design and function. Therefore, because God is perfect and created us with equal beauty but unique differences in design I believe it is most appropriate to honor him by men and women living and flourishing within this God-given framework. To put it another way, God is most glorified in his redeemed creation when they magnify his perfect design by fulfilling their unique purposes.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem offer two very helpful, though not exhaustive, definitions on what it means to be a biblical man or women, I offer them to you now:

Biblical Masculinity: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. (emphasis mine)

Biblical Femininity: At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships. (emphasis mine)

Why is this important? This is probably the question you are asking yourself if you have made it this far. I think it highly likely I lost quite a few of you when I claimed that “men and women are different.” And another great deal when I mention the name “John Piper.” This issue is of critical importance when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture and the application of it in the life of the believer and the framework of the local church.

When it comes to Scripture, we all have presuppositions and lenses in which we if we are not critically careful can and will allow us to come away with invalid interpretations as to the texts meaning. Like many things in life, while all interpretations may be heard they are not all created equal. As Christians, we are people of the book as John Stott reminds us and we would do well to honor our calling and our God and Savior Jesus Christ by interpreting that book and applying it to our lives in Christ-exalting and God-honoring ways.

Understanding the differences between men and women in the local church is vital for the life and health of the body. While the biblical view of men and women in the Church has been under assault since the early 70’s it seems that this barrage has been increasing steadily over the years. For this reason and because of my recent research and writing tasks for my academic work this topic has been on my mind in a big way.

Men and Women in the Church

If someone was to ask me whether women may serve in ministry. My answer would always be, “Absolutely! All believers are called upon to serve and minister to one another.”

But I would answer quite differently if the question were posed in a different frame:
“Are there any ministry roles in which women may not serve?” I would argue that the New Testament plainly teaches that women should not serve as pastors (which the New Testament also calls overseers or elders). [I pause here to recognize that the term “pastor” in America is used more fluidly than in the NT] It is clear in the New Testament that the terms pastor, overseer, and elder refer to the same office (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1-2), and for the remainder of this post I will use the terms “elder” to designate this office.

Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

The fundamental text which establishes that women should not serve as elders is
1 Timothy 2:11-15. (A text that I have researched more than any other text in the entire NT over the last 3 months) We read in verse 12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” In this passage, Paul excludes women from engaging in two activities that characterize the elders’ ministry: teaching and exercising authority. (For an in-depth study and survey of research on αὐθεντέω “exercise authority” see Al Wolters exhaustive essay) We see this in the qualifications for the office, among other places: elders must have the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Tit. 1:9; cf. Acts 20:17-34) and to lead the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17). Women are prohibited from teaching men and from exercising authority over them, and therefore it follows that they must not serve as elders. Again this seems fairly straightforward if you believe that men and women are equal in value and worth but different in design and function.

Does this apply to us today?

An appropriate question that should be asked: is the command that women must not teach men or exercise authority over them intended to apply to us today? Many today contend that Paul prohibited women from serving as elders because women in Paul’s day were uneducated and therefore they lacked the ability to teach men well. To this, I would point them to the convincing work of S.M. Baugh A Foreign World who has thoroughly refuted these assumptions.  It is also argued that women were responsible for the false teaching that was troubling the congregation to which Paul wrote in 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3). According to this reading, Paul would support women serving as pastors after they are properly educated and if they teach sound doctrine. Again painstaking scholarship has been done to refute such claims. See Andreas Kostenberger, D.A. Carson, and Thomas Schreiner’s helpful work.

Paul’s Teaching and Theology Grounded in Creation, Not Culture 

These attempts to relativize Paul’s teaching and application must be by found wanting and judged to be unsuccessful. Paul could have easily written, “I don’t want women to teach or exercise authority over men because they are uneducated,” or, “I don’t want women to teach or exercise authority over men because they are spreading false teaching.” Yet we must look at the actual reason Paul gives for his command in verse 12. Paul’s reason for the command follows in the next verse: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v. 13). Paul says nothing about lack of education or about women spreading false teaching. Rather, he appeals to the created order, to God’s good and perfect design when he formed human beings. It is vital to see that the reference to creation indicates that the command for women not to teach or exercise authority over men is a transcultural message, a command that is binding on the church at all times and in all places. In giving this command, Paul does not appeal to a fallen creation-the consequences that pertain to human life as a result of sin. Rather, he grounds the command in the wholly good creation that existed before sin entered into the world. The fundamental reason that women should not serve as elders is communicated here, and so the argument from creation cannot be dismissed as culturally limited.

Again, the New Testament contains many similar appeals to the created order as the reasoning for NT commands—sexual ethics, marriage, food etc…Paul specifically grounds his prohibition of women teaching and exercising authority in the order of creation, namely, that Adam was made first and then Eve (Gen. 2:4-25). The narrative in Genesis is carefully constructed, and Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, helps us see the significance of Eve being created after Adam. Critics occasionally object that the argument fails to persuade since animals were created before human beings, but this misses Paul’s point like a boat in the desert misses the sea. Only human beings are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and therefore Paul communicates the significance of God creating man prior to the woman, namely, that the man is responsible to lead.

Paul gives a second reason why women should not teach or exercise authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:14: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Paul’s point here is almost assuredly not that women are more prone to be deceived than men, because elsewhere we see that he commends women as teachers of women and children (Titus 2:3; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15), which he would not recommend if women by nature were inclined to be deceived. It is more preferable that Paul is thinking again of the creation account, for the serpent subverted the created order by deceiving Eve rather than Adam (thereby subverting male headship), even though there is evidence that Adam was with Eve when the temptation occurred (Gen. 3:6). Verse 14 does not teach that women were uneducated, for deceit is a moral deficiency, not an intellectual one, whereas lack of education is can be improved upon with instruction.

Eve’s deception should not be attributed to intellectual weakness, but instead was due to her rebellion-her desire to be independent of God. In addition, the reference to deceit here does not indicate that the women of Ephesus played a primary role in spreading false teaching, for the false teachers named in 1 Timothy are men! In fact, if the women were banned from teaching because they were advocates of the false teaching, we have the strange and rather peculiar situation where all the Christian women in Ephesus were deceived by the false teaching. Rather, Paul’s point is that Satan’s temptation of Eve instead of Adam subverted male leadership, for he deceived and tempted the woman even though Adam was present with Eve when the temptation occurred. Indeed, even though Eve was deceived first by the serpent, the primary responsibility for sin fell on Adam’s shoulders. This is evident in Genesis 3, for the Lord speaks to Adam first about the sin of the first couple, and this is confirmed by Romans 5:12-19 where the sinfulness of the human race is traced to Adam and not Eve.

In summary, 1 Timothy 2:12 excludes women from teaching or exercising authority over men in the gathered assembly for worship. This does not mean that women can’t still prophesy, exhort, pray, and sing. Teaching is not an all-encompassing term! I have been guilty of thinking this way, but the NT is clear women are not excluded from all public speaking in the gathered assembly just that of the primary bible teaching. I like Andrew Wilsons definition of teaching: The definition, defense, and preservation of Christian doctrine. This command is grounded in the order of creation and is confirmed by the reversal of roles that occurred at the fall. It is not a culturally or contextually limited command that no longer applies to churches today. We would do well as lovers of God, his word and his people to follow his prescriptions handed down to through the Apostle Paul. When we do this I believe my opening position is solidified: God is most glorified in his redeemed creation when they magnify his perfect design by fulfilling their complementing roles and unique purposes. 

*To my egalitarian and feminist friends may I just say that I love you. I adamantly disagree with your views of men and women as revealed in Scripture, but nonetheless wish to continuing hearing from you and growing together in our pursuit of truth and knowledge of Christ.

*If you would like to engage further and desire to see my in-depth research please feel free to email me and I will get you a copy of my paper.

blessings,

Coulter

 

Do Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons Understand Jesus Correctly? How John 1:1 Truly Shapes Our View of Christ

We have all been there….. Knock, knock…You answer the door to find a young man or woman standing at our house wanting to tell you about the true God of the Bible. This person is often either a Jehovah Witness or a Mormon. In my experience, many Christians assume that these two groups of people are Christians and believe in the same God that we do. This is false. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons do not believe in the God of the Christian Scriptures. I will demonstrate briefly why and how we can through basic grammar and a little Greek memory work show to them their errors and our selves be confident that we believe in the true God and orthodox view of Christ.

The most offensive belief to Christianity that both false religions hold is their view of Christ.

Jehovah Witnesses believe that Jesus was created by Jehovah as the archangel Michael before the physical world existed, and is a lesser, though mighty, god.

Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother. They then go on to say that Jesus then progressed to deity in the spirit world.

I use the word offensive on purpose because both these views take away from the glory, beauty, and character of Christ who as Christians is to be the treasure of our lives and these views diminish the honor and glory that is due to his name.

There are many places in the Scriptures that one can turn in order to combat these heretical views, but the knock out blow to both of their false and misguided views is found in the Gospel of John.

The Beauty of Language

The nominative case in Greek is the case that the subject is in. When the subject takes an equative verb like “is” (a verb that equates the subject with something else), then another noun also appears in the nominative case—the predicate nominative. In the sentence, “Arinee is my wife,” (Arinee) is the subject and (wife) is the predicate nominative. Stay with me this will all be worth it!

In English, we normally use word order to determine the function of a word. So the subject and predicate nominative are distinguished by word order (subject comes first—unless you speak like Yoda). This is not the case in Greek. In Greek, it is the case ending, not the word order[1], that indicates the function of a word. Since word order in Greek is quite flexible and is used for emphasis rather than for strict grammatical function, other means are used to distinguish subject from predicate nominative. As Daniel Wallace observes, “if one of the two nouns has the definite article, it is the subject.”

As I have mentioned, word order is called upon especially for the sake of emphasis. Generally speaking, when a word is thrown to the front of the clause it is done so for emphatic reasons. When a predicate nominative is thrown in front of the verb, by virtue of word order it takes on emphasis. The clarity of this understanding is critically important for our understanding of Christ and his relation to God as we will now look at in John 1:1.

Most English translations typically have, “and the Word was God.” But in Greek, the word order has been reversed.

It reads καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος—and God was the Word.

We know that “the Word” is the subject because it has the definite article (ὁ), and we translate it accordingly: “and the Word was God.”

Daniel Wallace offers the following observation:

Two questions, both of theological import, should come to mind: (1) why was θεὸς thrown forward? And (2) why does it lack the article?

In brief[1] its emphatic position stresses essence or quality: “What God was, the Word was” is how one translation brings out the force. Its lack of definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of God (the Father). That is to say , the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has: lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact!

John 1:1 is in fact, one of the most beautifully crafted theological statements we can observe in the entire NT. This one verse puts to rest any notion that Jesus is not God in essence and it also gives us a clear picture of Jesus and God the Father’s relationship. Jesus Christ is God and has all the attributes that the Father has, but he is not the first person of the Trinity. All this is clearly affirmed in καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

John 1:1

[In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God]

This one verse dispels the two most offensive views held by these false religions that we discussed above.  Its richness is even more clear when you look at the Greek. However, even here we can see that since the beginning the “Word” (Jesus) existed and this “Word” was with God-meaning it was not created from him-but was always with him! And finally, we see that John believed and wrote that in fact, the Word was very God in essence. Christ was never generated or birthed in eternity past for he was there from the beginning with God.

In conclusion, I want to be clear you don’t have to be a Greek Scholar to use this basic function of grammar. I am not a Greek scholar! This theological rich verse is very practical and critically important. For it shapes, in a big way, our distinction from the heretical views found in Jehovah Witness and Mormon teaching. Martin Luther used this same verse to combat false teaching as well. Luther said, “ The lack of an article is against Sabellianism: the word order is against Arianism.” The same could be said about the challenges we face today when interacting with JW’s and Mormon teaching that is misleading so many people now.

[1] This verse is dealt with in more detail by Wallace, GGBB, pages 266-269.

[1] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek: 2009, pg. 29.

Baptism and Circumcision: A Needed Clarification

The Need to Clarify

My reason for writing this short blog is to give clarification to a few meanings of Scripture and its impact on our way we think about salvation and justification. Since the beginning of 2019 we have been working through Paul’s letter to the Romans and this last week we looked chapter 4 verses 9-12. After reviewing my notes and speaking with a few people and hearing conversations during fellowship time I felt it necessary to clarify a few things that I did not have time to address during my sermon which as usual was too long anyway.

Romans 4:9-12

Is this blessing only for the circumcised, then? Or is it also for the uncircumcised? For we say, Faith was credited to Abraham for righteousness.10 In what way then was it credited—while he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? It was not while he was circumcised, but uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith,h while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also. 12 And he became the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith our father Abraham had while he was still uncircumcised.

Context

The week before we saw that Paul viewed justification by faith alone as the standard view held by the early church. In Romans 3:28 the Apostle Paul uses Greek word λογιζόμεθα (its only use in all of Paul’s writings) this is the first person plural form of the Greek Word logizomai (to conclude; to credit) The importance of its use here is that it suggests an appeal by Paul to a common understanding among all Christian communities. λογιζόμεθα γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπονFor we conclude that a person is justified by faith. As we can see here even early on in the church the doctrine of justification by faith alone was already being nailed down. Therefore, the Reformers were not inventing a new understanding of justification rather they were retrieving from the text a classic truth that had been there all along…

With that in mind, we looked at this weeks text on Sunday morning trying our best to extract from the text what is clearly and plainly there and apply it consistently to our lives both in thought and action. Paul appealing to the same argument He used in chapter 3 & 4 reminds his audience that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Why? Paul answers so that he might be the father of all who believe. This is very important for how we understand salvation and justification in the NT because Paul’s argument is that it is by faith and faith alone that all people, both OT and NT, are made right with God. Therefore, it was not circumcision that saved Abraham, but his faith in a promise that God revealed to him. His circumcision was a seal of that promise that he had by faith.

To Be Clear

I love the Restoration Movement, but it has its faults and its warts just like every other group of churches that I have studied, but I love it and have served in its churches for the last seven years. One of the glaring weaknesses that I have found to be true in our midst is a view of baptism that is dangerous. Many (I am not over generalizing) hold to a dogmatic view of baptism that some have even rightly understood as baptismal regeneration—meaning the literal act of baptism is what saves a person. Many in our movement have misunderstood the call to repent and be baptized (a most appropriate response of sinners) as not simply a response to the Gospel but the actually means to salvation. This is exactly the sort of thinking that Paul is polemizing against in the book of Galatians. Except he is combating the churches in Galatia that added circumcision to the Gospel, but the logic flows the same.

So let me be clear. Baptism is a huge deal! I was not clear about that on Sunday and for that, I apologize brothers and sisters. I am not advocating for the understanding that baptism is simply an outward expression of an inward reality. Baptism is that of course, but it is not merely that only. Baptism is a gift given to the church, that is the people of God, as a promise of God to us that when we identify with Christ in death—buried with him in the waters—we surely will be identified with him in final salvation symbolized by our being raised out of the water. This also a reason why we must correct against errors that say baptismal modes are optional. Obviously extreme circumstances are one thing, but the Greek word baptizo always means immersion in the NT, either by water or Spirit. I have written a full article on this in the past if you are interested you can find it here:

https://coulterconner.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/baptism-why-its-kind-of-a-big-deal/

Thinking Consistently is Important

In the end, I think it is important that we reject two wrong understandings of baptism. As Christians, we must reject the view that says a person is saved by baptism. We must tease out and correct all the implications of this error. The question is often wrongly posed, “What if a person believes and expresses authentic faith and on their way to be baptized dies of a heart attack?” First, to ask that question is just plain silly because we don’t build positions or trains of thought based on worst case scenarios. That is not how theology or life works. Second, if a person answers well, of course, that person will go to hell…well  then my friend you might want to revisit your understanding of justification, salvation, and the finished work of the cross. Because if a sincere person expresses authentic faith and genuine belief in the saving work of Christ and dies before being baptized and goes to hell then I have no clue what the NT means…

We must also, however, reject the view that says baptism is not important.  For there is a vast cavern, a Grand Canyon of sorts, between baptism literally saving a person and it being a meaningless event and a correct view stays clear of both extremes. We do this for a couple of reasons the first is based on Scripture. The second is on early church history and practice, for they were the most near to the early teachings of the NT. Scripture makes it clear that the most natural response to hearing the Gospel is to believe the Gospel is true, confess Christ as Lord, repent of your sins, and be baptized. This was the practice of the early church and it is the witness of the book of Acts. To say that baptism is meaningless is to completely misunderstand this gift of God. Why? Because the God of the universe doesn’t give us, his beloved, meaningless gifts. As Alistair Begg puts it, “To call yourself a Christian and not have experienced the waters of baptism is to be a walking contradiction.” The early Church did not know of an unbaptized Christian, however, they also rightly understood that only faith in Christ saves a man or woman.

We must be consistent in all of our theology of the Bible, especially the NT and especially when it comes to soteriology (the study of salvation). The fulfilment of redemptive history is emphasized with Christ being the exalted Lord. There is certainly virtue in reading each of the NT letters individually, and even with that, separating the Apostle Paul’s so that they are read-only in and of themselves. However, I find this practice to be often unsatisfying because the Scriptures communicate one grand narrative. God’s saving promises have been bought and paid for by Christ. Therefore, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Baptism is a picture of what it means to truly die to oneself and be clothed in new life. It is an anchor to which we can tie our decisive expression of faith in Christ and the new life found in his name, but it is not what saves us…Christ is…and it is not meaningless…for God doesn’t give his beloved meaningless gifts.

Some Simple Ways to Love Your Gay Neighbor

First Things First:

Before I get into the core of this post, I first wish to communicate what I hope to accomplish and what this is and isn’t. This is not an argument on my position of Christian sexual ethics. The Christian Scriptures are clear that God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be expressed between one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage—marriage being designed to last forever.  If you disagree with this that is okay I hope you will still read on because I think you will still find the things I am advocating to be helpful. If you are unsure or confused as to why I have come to these biblical and theological convictions feel free to email me at conner_20@live.com.

My reasoning for writing this is trifold in nature. The primary reason I am writing this is because of the Holy Spirit’s nudging. I know for those of you who are not Christians this will sound completely unreasonable and for that I am sorry but it is simply the truth. A few days ago I saw a sermon clip from a man masquerading as Christian pastor preaching to his people and warning them not to see the new Elton John movie because it was full of “fags.” Personally, I won’t be seeing this new movie, but I can assure it is only because I do not find the life or music of Elton John compelling enough to spend $20 on a movie ticket. My choice to not see this movie has zero to do with who Elton John chooses as a sexual partner.

This pastor broke my heart in a few different ways. My heart broke for the people that were forced to hear this moronic message and the hatred that came from his mouth. My heart also broke for this man because he has been duped into believing that he is a Christian and a pastor at that!
*(For context this man is a well-known wolf in sheep’s clothing and so I feel completely justified in my assessment)

The secondary reason for my desire to write this is simply because I am a Pastor and I long for and desire to see people in my church grow in maturity and love for Christ and I believe this will aid in that process. I also long for my people to know and love those who are lost and perishing in hopes that they might through the power of the Gospel lead them to eternal life in Christ Jesus.

The final reason for my writing of this is merely an appeal to friends, family, and neighbors of mine that are gay. It is my aim, once again, not win you over to being straight, but to believing in and following Christ. I simply want you to see with your eyes and understand in your heart that Jesus Christ is the most beautiful reality that the universe has to offer and the joy and peace that comes from treasuring him above all things is endless. I trust in his Word and Spirit to do the rest. I hope to show you in my words and in my life that I do not hate gay people and that you are not my enemy or the enemy of any true Christian.

How Can We Love Our Gay Neighbors?

I need to begin by giving definition to a couple of words that will prove to be vital in the conversation moving forward. I first want to explain that by a neighbor I mean anyone in which we come into contact with on a semi to regular basis. This might include your literal neighbor next door or it could be a coworker that lives on the other side of town or even still a high school friend or family member that lives clear across the country. I also want to clarify as to what I mean when I use the word love. I do not ascribe to or agree with the current understanding of our culture’s view of love. Therefore, what I mean when I use the word love is simply this: to act and do towards a person that which expresses the glory of God and is most beneficial for their ultimate good. I hope to further clarify and explain this concept as we move forward.

Express Radical Hospitality

The NT is clear in its explanation of what Christian hospitality is to look like and who it is to be extended towards. Even in a survey reading of the NT, one must come away with the conclusion that Christians are to be hospitable and gracious people, yes even to those that disagree with our worldview and convictions. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christians are to φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες-pursue hospitality. I include these Greek words because of their significance. The first word here φιλοξενίαν could literally be translated as stranger lover and carries with it the understanding that the Christian man or woman is to love and welcome with generosity those that are foreign to them. [Paul uses the same root word for is the qualification for Elder in the local church] The second word here that Paul uses is a verb διώκοντες this word carries with it an intensity that I feel is lost in the English word pursue. This same word in a different context can even be translated to persecute. It means to strive after or chase something with the intent to catch it!

So I appeal to you brothers and sisters in Christ do not treat those that are gay in your life or your family like they have the plague from 13th century Europe. Instead practice and pursue true Christian hospitality. Invite them over for a meal and make sure they know that they are welcomed in your home because you love and treasure Christ more than being comfortable. Help them to see that you desire to have your entire life affected by your faith in Christ-yes even the areas that don’t come naturally.
*(For a fuller explanation of this I recommend checking out Rosaria Butterfield’s work: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert; The Gospel Comes with a House Key)

Speak into False Narratives

I’ll be the first to admit that the word narrative gets somewhat overused in our day and age, but I couldn’t think of a better term at this time. So what do I mean exactly by this statement? I mean that as a Christian I want to speak with gentle love and firm conviction against two foundational lies in America at this current time. The first is that in America the narrative is pushed and bashed over people’s heads that if you don’t accept and affirm all that a person does or desires then you must hate that person. This is a completely moronic worldview to subscribe to and yet we find that millions in America do just that. This type of thinking is problematic on so many levels, but it is especially dangerous when it comes to how Christians interact with the gay community. So in our conversations with our gay neighbors, we must make it clear that we don’t hate them even though we disagree with their choice of sexual expression. Let them know that you have plenty of friends who make choices every day that you disagree with and yet you can still love them and be friends. From personal experience, I would just share that I have many family members and friends from high school whom I love dearly, but have serious concerns with their drinking of alcohol in high quantities. The Scriptures make it clear that getting drunk is dangerous and sinful. Therefore I am heartbroken and concerned when anyone I love gets drunk because it robs God of his glory and it is not the most beneficial activity for their life. Disagreeing with a person’s actions or choices in life doesn’t mean you hate them or wish to see bad happen to them. This is a false narrative and Christians would do well to push back against it on a regular basis.

The second false narrative that we must gently push back against is that who you have sex with is at the core who you are. Again this narrative or line of thinking is problematic on various levels. But just from an example in my own life I would say that yes I have sex with my wife, but that is not at the core of who I am. At my core, I am a Christian. Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross and quickened to life by the hearing of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. My deepest and fullest sense of identity is in Christ. When we have conversations with our gay neighbors, they need to know this! This cannot be left to chance or simply assumed. Share with them where your true sense of identity is found and challenge them, in the spirit of grace, to truly consider how much sense it makes for humans to find their deepest sense of identity in who they have sex with.

Remember; You Are Winning them to Christ

The Apostle Paul reminds his son in the faith, Timothy, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst (1 Tim. 1:15). We are not trying to help people become straight. We are pleading with them to love and treasure Christ above all things. Hell will be filled with billions of straight people that hated Christ! We must keep this in mind. The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality its holiness. Jesus doesn’t say therefore be straight because God is straight. He says, “Be holy as I am holy.” So it is our jobs as Christians living among many neighbors that are lost to live our lives by faith and not by sight. It is our duty to display the glory of Christ and demonstrate the love of God in all that we do. If befriending a gay neighbor makes you uncomfortable that’s okay! Do it anyway! Befriend them, love them, and show them a life full of grace and truth for the glory of Christ and the good of their life! Share with them the grace of Christ for all who believe his Gospel and then go and live it out by the power of the Spirit.

Speak Consistently About Christian Sexual Ethics

I will try and make this as brief as possible, but this is an area that I would love to write a book on someday after completing my Ph.D. I see it as that important. One of the valid complaints I hear often from the gay community is that Christians for years have isolated same-sex activity as being worse than all other sins. This is in part a very fair critique in my experience and study. It is for this reason that when I am tasked with speaking on or writing about same-sex activity and its incompatibility with the Christian life that I never speak only to that particular sin alone. God and the Christian Scriptures have one sexual ethic and anything outside that design is sinful. So when we speak or give a response to our disagreement with same-sex sexual activity I have found it wise and helpful to explain that I am also against premarital heterosexual sex, pornography, adultery, no-fault divorce and anything else you can think of that does not submit to God’s beautiful design for human sexual intimacy. Yes, it is true that sexual sin is more dangerous than any other sin besides perhaps idolatry, but sexual sin includes more than just same-sex activity and we as Christians must be consistent in our witness to that reality.

Final Regards: 

I hope and pray that this will prove helpful to those Christians who struggle with how to live among and interact with gay neighbors. The Lord, in his grace, is still refining me and showing me how to be filled with grace and truth like Christ. It is my desire and my prayer that Christians everywhere would not see their gay neighbors as an enemy but as a person created in the image of the Triune God-with dignity and worth-while also pursuing them relentlessly with the Gospel of Christ for the glory of God and the good of their life.

 

The Atonement: What Did Christ Accomplish?

Before one reads this piece it needs to be understood that if you disagree with me that is okay. I encourage you to pray for a spirit of humility and pray also for me that if I am indeed wrong that God would, through his Word and by his Spirit, correct my error. Understanding the atonement is a monumental task and should not be seen as merely a preference in opinion, but a journey throughout all of Scripture for the truth. I believe with all my heart there is one true understanding of atonement and as Christians, we should work relentlessly and in all humility to discover it. Below are some of my thoughts along my journey and I hope they are helpful in yours.

What is the Atonement? 

The Atonement is the work of God in Christ on the cross in which he completed the work of his perfectly righteous life, purchased the debt of our sin, satisfied his just and holy wrath against us, and secured for us all the benefits of salvation.  Why was all of this necessary is a question that is appropriate to ask from anyone, especially, the believing mind. John Piper offers a helpful answer when he states, “The death of Christ was necessary because God would not show a just regard for his glory if he swept sins under the rug with no recompense.” In other words, it would be unjust to acquit sinners as though their sin was insignificant; when in fact sin is an insult against the worth of God’s infinite glory and his holy character. Christ on the cross bears the curse, which was a result of our sin so that we can be justified and the righteousness of God may be upheld. This is the meaning of Romans 3:25-26:

God presented him [Christ] as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. 

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology offers 4 very helpful observations when understanding the Atonement. As Grudem suggests Christ suffered in 4 distinct ways:

(1) Physical Pain and Death: We must understand that death by crucifixion was one of the most horrible forms of execution ever devised by man. Many readers of the Gospels in the ancient world would have witnessed crucifixions and thus would have had a painfully vivid mental picture upon reading or hearing the simple words “And they crucified him” (Mark 15:24)

(2) The Pain of Bearing Sin: Grudem notes, “More awful than the pain of physical suffering that Jesus endured was the psychological pain of bearing the guilt for sin…in obedience to the Father, and out of love for us, Jesus took on himself all the sins of those who would someday be saved.”

(3) Abandonment: The intense physical pain of being crucified and the guilt of taking on himself the absolute evil of our sins were only inflamed by the fact that Jesus faced this pain alone. His disciples were scattered and more importantly, Jesus was finally cut off from the joyful fellowship with his heavenly Father that had been the unfailing source of his internal strength and delight throughout his life.

(4) Bearing the Wrath of God: More difficult than these three previous aspects of Jesus’ intense pain was the agony of bearing the wrath of God upon himself. Grudem explains, “As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father, the mighty creator, the Lord of the universe, poured out on Jesus the fury of his wrath: Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world.”

As you can see understanding the Atonement is not only important for our minds but is also a concept that should, if done so correctly, strengthen our faith in and love Christ. In understanding the Atonement correctly we will be all the more willing to offer God the worship, praise, and glory he is rightly owed and the more obedient we should become to his Word.

What Did Christ Truly Accomplish?

Here in this question is where true Bible-believing, Christ-loving, born-again Christians disagree. The real question behind all other questions is: Did Christ’s death actually save sinners or did it make them merely savable? We will spend the rest of our brief time unpacking this question.

It needs to be understood that everyone limits the Atonement. Either you limit the intent of the Atonement or you limit the effect of the Atonement. Regardless we all limit the Atonement to some degree.

Limited in Effect:

If you find yourself in this camp then you most likely hold to the Arminian view of the Atonement. This view holds that Christ when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person. And teaches That Christ’s death does not in itself secure beyond a doubt the salvation of any one man or woman. This view holds that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, but did not in itself secure salvation for anyone.

Some brief things to consider for those that hold to this view either knowingly or unknowingly are if you say that he died for every human being in the same way, then you have to define the nature of the Atonement very differently than you would if you believed that Christ, in some particular way, died for those who actually believe. Again to believe in this view one is forced to wrestle with Christ’s death actually accomplishing definite reality-the salvation of sinners. This view accepts that Christ’s death only made all men savable so that something else would have to be the decisive factor in saving them, namely their choice. The logical ending to this view must be that the death of Christ did not actually remove the sentence of death from anyone, therefore, there is no guarantee for a new life for anyone. Rather it only created possibilities of salvation which could be actualized by people who provide the decisive cause, namely their faith.

I believe it is fair to conclude that this view of Atonement limits the power and effectiveness of the Atonement so that they can say that it was accomplished even for those who die in unbelief and are condemned. This view says that Christ died for all men in the same way, and must limit the Atonement to a possibility or opportunity for salvation if fallen humans can escape from their rebellion and secure faith by effectual means not provided by the cross. This is why I have called this view limited effect. I personally find this view to be wanting. For if this view is taken to its logical conclusion one must wrestle with the fact that God planned and provided salvation for the world without knowing if people would actually be saved. I cannot accept that conclusion.

Limited in Intent:

The Definite View of Atonement is often held by Christians that hold to Reformed convictions. This view teaches that Christ died exclusively for those chosen by the Father and, thus actually secured the salvation of all those for whom He died and all those whom the Lord would call. Such a definite redemption stands in contrast to the Arminian view, which, as noted earlier, holds that Christ did not actually save anyone in particular by His Death, but merely made salvation possible for everyone.  The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon poses this question in considering the opposing view, “If Christ died for everybody, why, then, are not all men saved?”

Definite Atonement does not look to limit the power and effectiveness of the Atonement. This view believes that in the cross, God had in view the actual, effective redemption of his children from all that would destroy them, including their own unbelief. This view affirms that when Christ died he did so for his bride, he did not simply create a possibility or an opportunity for salvation but really purchased and eternally secured for them all that is necessary to get them saved, including the grace of new creation and the gift of faith. John Piper offers a helpful explanation:

We do not deny that Christ died to save all in some sense. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:10 that in Christ God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” What we deny is that the death of Christ is for all men in the same sense. God sent Christ to save all in some sense. And he sent Christ to save those who believe in a more particular sense.  God’s intention is different for each. This is a natural way to read 1 Timothy 4:10.

Those that hold to this view must be careful in their approach of communication. For “all men” the death of Christ is the foundation of the free offer of the Gospel. This is the meaning of John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” When the Gospel is preached, Christ is offered to all without discrimination, and the offer is absolutely authentic for all. What is offered is Christ, and anyone, absolutely anyone, who receives and treasures Christ receives all that he bought for his bride, the Church. It must be remembered that the Gospel does not offer a possibility of salvation…it is the possibility and power of salvation (Romans 1:16).

It is of my conviction that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God accomplished all that he sought to accomplish. Christ, is in his death, secured the forgiveness of sin, and the future hope of final salvation for all those who would believe-for all those whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). The Apostle Paul says, “This is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15) I believe Christ’s death accomplished its intended goal, the salvation of sinners.  It seems most consistent to me to understand that we are loved specifically in the atonement, not just generally. Our future is secured in full by the precious blood of Christ.

What If The Bible is True?

If you have been a Christian for very long, then odds are you have experienced at some point in your life thoughts of doubt as to the truthfulness or trustworthiness of the Christian Scriptures. My journey to becoming a Christian was galvanized by some rather intense historical and critical study of the New Testament. I am not suggesting that this is needed or even helpful for all Christians, however, there are indeed some basic and foundational facts and truths that we can know. In my experience, these truths will be both helpful and fruitful in both our faithfulness to Christ and in our witness to a dying world. This is the heart and hope behind my purpose in writing. I pray that the eyes of those who read this would be enlighted and that their mind illuminated to the truth and beauty of God through Jesus Christ which is most completely revealed through the NT, which is true and trustworthy in all of its ways.

If false, Christianity is of no importance. If true, it’s of infinite importance. The only thing it can’t be is moderately important.
-C.S. Lewis

The Christian Scriptures are a fascinating literary achievement regardless of whether or not you believe them to be divinely inspired…btw they are! The Bible is not merely a book, it is a library of books, 66 in fact, 39 books belong in the OT and 27 in the NT. The Bible was written over the span of more than a thousand years, by more than forty authors, on what many scholars believe to be 3 different continents. The authors of Scripture came from a variety of backgrounds: including a farmer (Amos), priests (Jeremiah and Ezekiel), a statesman (Daniel), fishermen (Peter and John), prophets (Isaiah and Micah), a physician (Luke), and a former tax collector (Matthew). [Wegner, The Journey from Text to Translation] Despite the miles between locations and years between dates and education between its authors the Bible has a remarkably coherent and beautiful story. The intrinsic unity of the two Testaments is reflected in the maxim of Augustine, a church leader from the 4th century, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is manifest in the New.”

The Old Testament looks forward to Christ and his work, explaining why we need his perfect sacrifice. The New Testament, then, reveals Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and the one who heals the broken relationship between God and humanity.-Wegner

How Do We Know We Have The Original Words Of The Orginal Authors? 

It is true that we do not presently possess any of the actual manuscripts that the biblical authors produced (the very parchments they wrote on). Because this is true we are left with only copies of the originals, but does that mean that we can’t know what the original authors actually wrote or communicated? It is of my conviction and that of many others that this answer is no. In fact, through rigorous and meticulous study we can indeed know what the original authors said. This question leads us into a field called “textual criticism,” which refers to the branch of biblical scholarship designed to specialize in studying the ancient manuscripts of the Bible to discern how similar the original manuscripts are to the Greek and Hebrew texts we use today. So one question we must wrestle with is precisely this; does it matter if the Bible is true, if we don’t have access to the originals? John Piper offers a helpful illustration:

Suppose I wrote you a letter (the old-fashioned way, on real paper) with careful instructions about how to get to my house for an important meeting. And suppose I asked you to share this information with others who need to come to the meeting. So (imagine yourself living in the 90s!) you scan the letter into a computer twice on two different days. Then you send out the scanned letter in two batches of emails to those who should come.
But, unfortunately, in one version of the scanned letter, the scanner had misread the original letter and had converted my address on “Fanny Street” to Parry Street.” In the other version of the scanned letter, the address was correct. “Fanny Street” came through accurately. Then suppose that the orginal letter was lost.
The people receiving the emails discover that their instructions for how to get to my house do not agree; so they come to you and ask which is correct. But you say that you have lost the original. Does anyone say: “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter whether the original was correct or not; we’ll just guess”?
No, some research is done-the text critcism mentioned above. For example, a computer genius in the group suggests that you do some tests with the scanner. Remarkably, you discover that in dozens of tries the scanner never converts a P to an F but often converts an F to a P. And it never converts “rr” to “nn” but often converts “nn” to “rr.” So you conclude that the original letter almost certainly read, “Fanny Street,” which got converted to “Parry Street,” not the other way around. And so you all get to the important meeting. [John Piper, A Peculiar Glory]

In recent decades, one of the most intentional attacks on Christianity has come in this field of textual criticism. Some scholars, most notably Bart Ehrman, have argued that the Bible, as we have it, does not give a sure foundation for historic Christian belief. Serious and responsible books from the likes of Timothy Paul Jones, Paul Wegner, Michael Kruger, and Daniel Wallace, have been written to answer these arguments, and thus the debate goes on. However, I must state and confirm with a high degree of certainty that if you do even the modest of work in reading these scholars, I am quite sure your faith will be strengthened. As Christians, I believe it is wise to hold in respect a joy for God’s ability to raise up scholarly Christians to interact with opponents of Christian faith. But it is quite wrong to assume that all believers need to follow those debates in order to have and maintain a saving faith in Scripture.

The New Testament: A Wealth of Riches

It is important for those that read this to know that my goal is not to prove to the authenticity of the NT to the skeptic. Rather, it is my sincere hope and prayer that I would give the already believing Christian a firmer foundation in the authority and truthfulness of Scripture so that they might fall deeper in love with and pledge greater allegiance to the Word of God and as a result, the Triune God of Scripture.

The first printed Greek New Testament was published in 1516 by Erasmus. Before that, all copying was by hand. We owe our Bible to the meticulous love and attention given by countless monks and scholars of the first 1500 years of Christian History. The challenge of getting back to the original manuscripts that the biblical authors wrote is the challenge of working with those hand-copied documents. So a question we might ask is which manuscripts and how many do we still have?

The following statistics are taken from the Institut fur Neutestamentlciche Textforschung, Munster, Germany. *Since these printings, there has been a new discovery regarding the book of Mark, but the findings are still being processed and I could not find the clear results at the time of writing this.

  • 322 Uncial texts (all capital letters)
  • 2,907 minuscule texts (all small letters)
  • 2,445 lectionary portions (text portions contained in church readings)
  • 127 papyri (manuscripts written on papyrus)
  • 5,801-Total

It is a true wonder that in our day many of these manuscripts are able to be accessed online at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. In order to gain a proper perspective on the astonishing number of manuscript fragments we have, it might help to compare the number of our fragments with other surviving historical documents. Daniel Wallace, evangelical Christianity’s premier textual critic, described the situation, in 2012, like this:

New Testament scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data the classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with. The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies. We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the New Testament than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Not only this, but the extant manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote. For the New Testament, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies.

Compare to:

  • Caesars’ Gallic Wars (composed between 58 and 50 BC): There are about ten manuscripts available and the oldest is nine hundred years after the event.
  • Parts of the Roman History of Livy (composed between 59 BC and AD 17): These are preserved in about twenty manuscripts only one of which, containing only fragments, is as old as the 4th century.
  • The Histories and Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus (composed around AD 100): These are preserved, in partial, only in two manuscripts, one from the 9th century and one from the 11th.
  • The History of Thucydides (who lived 460-400 BC): This is known to us from only eight manuscripts, the earliest we have found belongs to AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps from the beginning of the Christian era. [John Piper, A Peculiar Glory]

What is most fascinating to me is that historians are almost in full agreement as to the usefulness and history of these important writers and their work. F.F. Bruce explains, “No Classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals” [F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?]

Christians can and should have a high degree of confidence and certainty in the truthfulness of Scripture for many reasons, but I believe one must include the embarrassment of riches that are available to us in our current day. By way of God’s providence our most sacred and holy book, the Bible, which we believe is, theopnuestos (God-Breathed), is historically superior to any other document of antiquity. And, if even the most critical of historians are being honest, it is not even close.

*This is part one of a two-part series so look for part 2 next week!

Resources:

  • Bruce, F.F.; The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable
  • Kruger, Michael J.; Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament 
  • Piper, John; A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness
  • Wegner, Paul D.; The Journey From Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible 

Pray For Your Pastor

Once while visiting the continent, Charles Spurgeon was asked about the secret of his ministry. After a moment’s pause Spurgeon said, “My people pray for me.” The Seminary in which I am doing my Th.M and Ph.D. studies through is home of the Spurgeon library and while on my last visit to campus I had the joy of touring the Spurgeon Library which is home to over 6,000 of Spurgeon’s original books, his first pulpit, and his original home office desk. For a lover of all things Spurgeon, like myself, this experience was honestly a bit overwhelming. Spurgeon was a larger than life kind of figure in Church history. When you read about his life you come under a sense of astonishment and partial disbelief of all that this man was able to accomplish in a relatively short life of just 57 years. But one of the things that that has stood out to me most and influenced me to a high degree are the struggles the Spurgeon encountered along the way of a vastly fruitful and effective ministry.

Everyone faces adversity, to face trials in this life is on some level what it means to be human, along the same avenue of thinking, breathing, and eating. We must all find ways to persevere through oppressing moments that life has a way of throwing at us. We must all get up and move through the routines of making breakfast and washing clothes and going to work and paying bills. We must, the best we can, in general, keep life going when our hearts are breaking. John Piper observes:

[It’s different with pastors-not totally different but different. The heart is the instrument of our vocation. Charles Spurgeon said, “Ours is more than mental work-it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul.” When a pastor’s heart is breaking, therefore, he must labor with a broken instrument. Preaching is the pastor’s main work, and preaching is heart work, not just mental work. The question becomes, then, not just how you keep living when the marriage is blank or when the finances don’t reach or when the pews are bare and friends forsake you, but How do you keep preaching?]

When the heart is burdened and your spirit overwhelmed, its one thing to survive adversity; it is something entirely different to continue preaching Sunday after Sunday, month after month. Spurgeon said to the students of his Pastors’ College: “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor…Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate.” So the question that routinely lies before the pastor is not, “How do you live through criticism and distrust and accusation and abandonment?”-but, “How do you preach through it? How do you do hear work when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?”

One of the many reasons I love history is that it often paves the way forward for my life and ministry by reminding me that I am not alone in what I am facing nor am I the first to face it as a pastor, a husband, a soon to be dad,  a brother, a friend etc…Oh, how fortunate we are that we are not the first to face these things! I am often astonished at the power of God in the lives of his saints and, most in particular, for the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, who, for 38 years at the New Park Street Chapel and the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, modeled how to preach through tremendous adversity and hardship.

A Life of Suffering

Charles Spurgeon knew unbelievable physical suffering. He suffered from gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s disease. His first attack of gout came in 1869, at the age of 35. It became progressively worse, so that “approximately one-third of the last 22 years of his ministry was spent out of the Tabernacle pulpit, either suffering, or convalescing, or taking precautions against the return of illness.” In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “Lucian says, ‘I thought a cobra had bitten me and filled my veins with poison; but it was worse-it was gout.’ That was written from experience, I know.” For more than half of his ministry, Spurgeon dealt with ever-increasing recurrent pain in his joints that cut him down from the pulpit and from his labors again and again.

As if the physical sufferings in Spurgeon’s life were not enough to deter his faithfulness and commitment to the ministry he also had recurrent battles with depression. It is not particularly easy to imagine the utmost competent, eloquent, brilliant, full-of-energy Spurgeon weeping like a baby for no reason that he could think of. In 1858, at age 24, it happened for the first time. He said, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Spurgeon saw his depression as his “worst feature.” “Despondency,” he said, “is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

Spurgeon was a man that suffered through physical pain, mental anguish and coarse ridicule from his contemporaries.  His fellow ministers from the right and left criticized him relentlessly. Joseph Parker a particularly liberal-leaning minister once wrote:

“Mr. Spurgeon was absolutely destitute of intellectual benevolence. If men saw as he did they were orthodox; if they saw things in some other way they were heterodox, pestilent and unfit to lead the minds of students or inquirers. Mr. Spurgeon’s was a superlative egotism; not the shilly-shallying, timid, half-disguised egotism that cuts off its own head, but the full-grown, over-powering, sublime egotism that takes the chief seat as if by right. The only colors which Mr. Spurgeon recognized were black and white.”

In spite of all these sufferings and persecutions, Spurgeon endured faithfully to the end and was able to preach mightily until his last sermon at the Tabernacle on June 7th 1891. The question I often wrestle with and that which Piper asks is, How did he preserve and preach through all this adversity?

The answer is simple and yet powerful in its twofold measure-by the grace of God Spurgeon endure all things for the sake of all those that God would call to himself through the preaching and ministry of Spurgeon. We find a similar attitude in the life of the Apostle Paul who reminds young Timothy to endure all things and remember that God’s Word (the gospel) is not bound and that through Jesus Christ salvation is offered to those who would believe (2 Tim. 2:8-10).  The second reason it seems to me that Spurgeon was able to endure so much in his life and yet maintain a powerful witness and ministry circles back to his humble answer to the person who asked the question. Why is your ministry so successful? “My people pray for me.”

Pray For Your Pastor

If you are a Christian and a member of or at least attends a local church on a regular basis than I implore you to pray for your Pastor and the Elders of your local church. Your Pastor wrestles with his given text each week, prays with sick church members, deals with homeless people, handout addicts, the stress of home life, the death of church members, a love and burden for the lost, feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy, etc….He then on Sunday morning stands before a crowd of people and expounds a text from the very Word of God and the moment he is finished he is faced with the somber reality that while many may have enjoyed the message or been impacted by it, that there are some who hated the very words he spoke, there are some that will leave the church walls still lost in their sin and dead in their trespasses. He leaves for home after church tired, from the morning that probably started at 5 am,  all the while replaying in his mind what he could have said different or better.  And then when his alarm goes off early Monday morning he goes at this daunting task all over again.

As a Pastor and Preacher of God’s Holy Word, I resonate so much with Spurgeon’s life. I often wonder how one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity could wrestle with the overwhelming feelings of ineffectiveness as he did, but then I study and read and write a sermon all week long only to wonder moments before I preach if this is worth anything at all and could God really use this to glorify himself, save the lost and edify the saved? The answer is, of course, yes he can and he most assuredly does more often than not. Even when we interpret passages wrong, even when our theological connectives lack proper logic, even when an analogy breaks down faster than we like. God can, and does use the preaching of flawed men in the local church to do great things. After all, Spurgeon himself was converted by the preaching a Methodist lay-preacher when he was about 15 years old and he didn’t even know the man’s name…

Brothers and Sisters in Christ as a Pastor myself I implore you to pray for the Pastor of your local church. They struggle more than you can imagine or understand. Pray for your Pastor’s family for they have sacrificed much on his behalf so that he may fulfill God’s call on his life. Pray for your Pastor and remind him often that you are…Ministry is incredibly hard but Jesus is worthy! And we Pastors need to be reminded of that time and time again and they need your prayers! If Charles Spurgeon, The Prince of Preachers, needed the prayers of his people then surely, the rest of us do too…the rest of us do too.

blessings,

 

Do We Choose or Are We Chosen?

Introduction

Are humans free to choose the life they desire to live here on earth or where they will spend eternity? This is a question that has plagued human thought for centuries and has only turned up in intensity over the last 500 years or so. It is not my intention to explain all of the mysteries and rabbit trails that come along with this field of study and topic of conversations (I will do this in my dissertation, and you are welcome to read that in 4 years). I desire, only, to lay a foundation of thought and invite others into an ongoing dialogue with those who wrestle with this question as often as I find myself doing.

It’s Complicated

It is often thought that humanity either possess a total and completely free-will, and thus have the ability to fulfill all decisive acts in their life or that we are merely robots being manipulated by a power hungry and violent deity. This outlook is flawed in nature and lacks the proper understanding of the Creator-creation relationship dynamic. J.I. Packer, the great  20th  century English Theologian, argues that the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is an antinomy—the appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 1961).

One of the reasons that I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. is to work out for myself this very mystery or “apparent” antinomy. I like so many that have come before me wrestle with the facts presented in the Scriptures—God is all-powerful and completely sovereignty over all things and humans are responsible for the actions that they choose to live out. One, among many,  of the reasons this conversation is murky and often confusing, is that the definitions of terms by those on both sides are often misunderstood and misrepresented. For that reason, I want to briefly explain what I mean when I use a few definitions.

Free-Will:

[proper]– he ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. (or stated differently, the ability to make a conscious choice free of influence or desired outcome)

[minor]decisive acts of self-determination in acts of faith and obedience (Luther & Piper)

Autonomy: the right or condition of self-government or (in Kantian moral philosophy) the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires.

Desire: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen

Affection:  gentle feelings of fondness or liking or the act or process of affecting or being affected

God’s Sovereignty: God’s Sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free (Tozer)

I understand if you disagree with my definitions and this is okay, but we must have definitions and understanding of terms if we are going to explore and properly probe a study together.

Seeking to Understand

A.W. Tozer in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, makes an astute observation when he states,

“To grasp the idea of unqualified freedom requires a vigorous effort of the mind. We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been in a world where no absolute freedom exists. Here each natural object is dependent upon many other objects, and that dependence limits its freedom.

Wordsworth at the beginning of his “Prelude” rejoiced that he had escaped the city where he had long been pent up and was “now free, free as a bird to settle where I will.” But to be free as a bird is not to be free at all. The naturalist knows that the supposedly free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage made of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions, varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and the strangest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small plot of land and air assigned it by birdland comity. The freest birds is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free (Tozer, 108, 109).”

Another voice that I wish to bring into the conversation is that of perhaps the most brilliant mind to have ever been born on American soil, Johnathan Edwards. It is often thought or assumed that the two-fold presentation in Scripture that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility sounds like to most hearers, a contradiction. But it didn’t sound like one to Edwards after he thought about it long enough. Piper observes, “I think anyone who is going to dogmatically assert that humans can’t understand this “antinomy” must first show that Johnathan Edwards has not understood it.”

The Edwardian view of God’s moral government over mankind—his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls, warnings, expostulations, promises, threatening, rewards, and punishments, is not inconsistent with determining disposal of all events, of every kind, throughout the universe, in his providence: either by positive efficiency, or permission” (Edwards, Freedom of the Will).

One of the unique and debated observations that Edwards makes is when he argues for the thing which determines what the will chooses is not the will itself but rather motives which come from outside the will. More precisely, “it is that motive, which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the will” (Edwards, 9). I agree with Edwards that our will ultimately does in volition, that which we desire most and appears most alluring. This does not however mean that we don’t make little or subtle choices against our apparent will, but that those momentary declines point to that which we desire most. For Edwards motive, affection, and desire appear to be interchangeable terms, at least to a large degree.

He defines motive as so: “By motive, I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly” (Edwards, 9). I take him to mean by strongest motive, that which appears most inviting or appealing. Edwards goes on to say, “the will always is as the greatest apparent good is (Edwards, 10),” in which this case good means pleasing or desirable.

Bondage and Enslavement of the Will

While I recognize that many who read this will disagree, I think it wise to tease out or follow along the pattern of Edwards thinking, not because of Edwards genius, but because the NT has a great deal to say about this issue. (If) the determination of our will does not lie in the will itself but is determined by the strongest motive or desires or affections as we perceive them, then we must recognize as the NT does that our will is not totally free. Free-Will and the ability to choose or make a choice are not the same conditions as is often thought. In my choice to marry my wife, I was not free of her influence. Her actions, beauty, character, and love for Christ had a massive impact on my longing to marry her…my will was not free, but compelled by a variety of factors to choose her.

The apostle Paul says that all men are either slaves to righteous or to sin (Rom. 6:16-23), or as Jesus put it, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). We are all enslaved or bound to do what we esteem or see as most desirable in any given moment of decision. We are enslaved to do what we want to do most. We are unable to do anything other than that which appeals most to our deepest desires provided we are not physically hindered. Edwards describes this reality with the terms moral necessity and moral inability on the one hand and natural necessity and natural inability on the other. I will do my best with the help of Piper to explain these in the briefest yet clear way.

Moral necessity is the necessity that exists between the strongest motive and the act of volition which it elicits (Edwards, 24). As a result, all choices are morally necessary since they are all determined by the strongest motive. They are necessary for that, given the existence of the motive, the existence of the choice is certain and unavoidable. Moral inability, accordingly, is the inability we all have to choose contrary to what we perceive to be the strongest motive [Piper describing Edwards]. So, as it is we are morally unable to act contrary to what in any given moment we want most to do. If we lack the inclination to study, we are morally unable to study.

Natural necessity is “such necessity as men are under through the force of natural causes” (Edwards, 24). Events are naturally necessary when they are constrained not by moral cause by physical ones. “My sitting in this chair would be necessary with a “natural necessity” if I were chained here. Natural inability is my inability to do a thing even though I will it. If I am chained to this chair my strongest motive might be to stand up (say, if the room is on fire) but I would be unable” (Piper).

From Confusion to Clarity

Please let me be clear. I am not offering up all of the answers, nor do I pretend to be an authoritative voice on such weighty issues. However, Edward’s thoughts are important to consider. The distinction between moral inability and natural inability are vital in Edward’s solution to the often so-called antinomy between God’s sovereign providence of all things and man’s accountability. A potential solution is suggested by Piper on the foundation of Edward’s thoughts, “Moral ability is not a prerequisite to accountability. Natural ability is.” “All inability that excuses may be resolved into one thing; namely, want of natural capacity or strength; either the capacity of understanding or external strength” (Edwards, 150).

It seems that moral inability to do a good thing does not excuse our failure to do it. Though apart from Christ, we love darkness rather than light and therefore can’t (because of moral inability) come to the light, nevertheless we are responsible for not coming, that is, we can be justly punished for not coming. This pattern of thinking conforms with almost all universal human judgment, for the stronger a man’s desire is to do evil the more unable he is to do good and yet the more wicked he is judged to be by men. If society really believed that moral inability excused a man from guilt, then a man’s wickedness would decrease in proportion to the intensity of his love of evil. However, this runs contrary to the moral sensibilities of almost all cultures.

Therefore, moral inability and moral necessity on the one hand and human accountability on the other are not an antinomy. Their unity or agreement is not contrary to reason or to the common moral experience of mankind. As a result, in order to see how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility perfectly cohere, one need only realize that the way God works in the world is not by imposing natural necessity on men and then holding them accountable for what they can’t do even though they will do it [Piper]. Rather it seems to this author, that God orchestrates all things (Eph. 1:11) so that in accordance with moral necessity all men make only those choices ordained by God from all eternity.

One last take away that we I shall leave you with is a very thoughtful observation made by Piper in light of all of the confusion. Piper concludes, “Always keep in mind that everything God does toward men—his commanding, his calling, his warning, his promising, his weeping over Jerusalem—everything is his means of creating situations which function as motives to elicit the acts of will which he has ordained to come to pass. In this way He ultimately determines all acts of volition (though not all in the same way) and yet holds man accountable only for those acts which they want most.”  An impressive modern statement of this principle of divine retribution is provided by C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (1940), pp. 115f.: the lost, he says, “enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”  I believe any seeking that we do of God is a credit to God the Father for drawing us to him by God the Spirit through Christ the Son, as a result, any objection is merely God simply allowing us to do what our natural flesh desires to do most.

 

Dear Christians, Our Hope Is Not in America…and That Is Okay…

My purpose, aim, and hope in writing this is not to offend my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is rather, my honest and sincere, hope to remind those that love and cherish Jesus Christ our Lord that our ultimate hope is in Him, who holds all things together. Our hope as Christians is in him who has created all things and by his will they exist and have their being (Rev. 4:11).

To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only Go, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.-Timothy 1:17

The United States of America has been, for roughly the last 60 years, one of the, if not the most powerful and greatest nations in the world. There are many appropriate reasons to be proud  of being an American, but if you take an honest look at history there are many areas in which America and its people have failed in tragic ways. I am not here to argue for or against America’s history. I simply, with clarity and honesty, want to bring light to  the idolatry of America in the lives of many who claim to follow Christ. Please make no mistake, I love this country that I live in and I am grateful and thankful that I was born and raised here. I am beyond thankful for the men and women who have served this country and for all of the sacrifices that come along with that duty.

America Is Changing

Many people, via social media and in person, often say things like, “America sure isn’t what it used to be.” or “Times have sure changed since we when we were kids.” This is all true. America is rapidly changing and I think that is okay for many reasons. Some of the changes I don’t particularity care for because my world view and convictions are that these changes are not for the greater good of society and people. I also don’t like the idea that because of my religious beliefs and convictions people will say hurtful and disgusting things about me and my family (example Mike Pence and his Family). There are many things that I don’t look forward to, as this country that I grew up in, spirals out of control. A day is coming when, more than likely, Christians will not only be hated in America, but will be persecuted through the laws and systems in place. Many cases of this have already happened throughout the country. While not every state, it seems, will pass laws against Christians we shouldn’t be surprised when it does happen.

We Should Not Be Surprised

 If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.-John 15:18,19

We should not be surprised that the mainstream culture of America hates Christianity. And yet we are that very thing, surprised. Why? I think it stems from two primary reasons. The first reason I believe Christians are usually as shocked as they are by the culture’s attitude towards Christianity is because for so long Christians played with a home field advantage. I mean by this that for decades Christian morals were seen as a good fabric for society regardless if you actually believed in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Contrary to popular belief America has never been a “Christian Nation.” While the majority of people in America still identify as Christian, it doesn’t take genius long to figure that if 70 percent of the nation were true bible-believing, blood-bought, born-again Christians it would be quite literally impossible for our nation to commit the genocide of abortion that it has over the last 40 plus years.

The second reason I believe we are so surprised is that we have forgotten the supernatural reality of salvation. In America, we have often equated being a Christian with being a good person and vice versa. C.S. Lewis points this out decades earlier in his Magnum Opus titled Mere Christianity. Lewis reminds us, “In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment for the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served. We must stick to the original, obvious meaning.” If even half the people that claimed to be a “Christian” were actually followers of Christ there is little doubt in my mind that our country and perhaps even world would look dramatically different. Being a Christian is not the result of growing up in the Church, it is not the result of going to Church faithfully on Sunday mornings, it is not the result of simply saying a prayer, or even being baptized. To be a true believer is to respond in faithful obedience to the clarion call of the Gospel and thus be supernaturally reborn. It is to see with clear eyes the infinite worth, unending beauty, and radiant glory of Christ.

3 Things to Remember

The source and destination of our ultimate hope is Christ

We have hope, peace, joy, and love because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, the defeat of sin and death. Our hope as Christians is found ultimately in Christ and the glory we will receive as we spend eternity with him. We must fight every day to not view our lives and all that they entail with american or western lenses, but rather through biblical ones. The ultimate purpose of our lives is not a good education, a nice house with a large backyard, a good job, or a nice stock portfolio. While all of those things are not sinful when placed in their proper perspectives they become incredible dangerous to our spiritual lives when we elevate them above glorifying God. John Piper says it this way, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” We were bought by the blood of Christ so that his name might be made great among the nations and so that we might find our ultimate joy and hope in him alone.

The End of America Does Not Mean The End of The Church 

If tomorrow America ceases to be a country Christ’s Church will still be firmly established in this world. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Christians on Earth live outside the boarders of The United States of America. I don’t want to bore you with endless numbers and statistics, because we all know stats and charts can be manipulated to say whatever we want at times, but do some good hard research and you will find the very same truths I’m sharing with you. Christ is creator and ruler of all things and it would be both illogical and offensive to insist that he needs America to be flourishing in order his Church to grow numerically or glorify him passionately. I personally hope and pray that America continues to be a nation for as long as possible. I want my soon to be son to grow up in this country and experience the freedom here, but I also firmly believe that this is only possible if it is in conformity to God’s will. Therefore, I think it is unbiblical and harmful to associate the success or lifespan of America with the fruitful ministry of Christ’s Church.

Our Ultimate Allegiance is To Christ 

Jon Weece says, “Our responsibilities as Christians outweigh our rights as Americans.” This is a brilliant observation and teaching that many of us, myself included, can be quick to forget. The Apostle Paul makes it clear in the NT that we should obey the laws of the government that God has providentially put in place (so as such laws do not violate our covenant with God) and that we should as long as it is up to us, live at peace with all men. Keep in mind Rome was and would also prove to treat the early Christians much worse that America has up to this point. Paul writes these words in the NT so that Christians would keep in mind that we aim to glorify Christ and share the Gospel with a dying world. The power of our Christian witness is not found in our ability to rebel, fight back, or start a revolution…no time and time again the Apostles Paul and Peter both remind us that when we endure suffering (of all kinds) for the sake of Christ our faith makes God look great! That is it properly displays his infinite worth and beauty and our satisfaction in him above all things. This faith shines bright among those who are perishing so that they might ask us for the reason of hope that is in us. We are Christians first and foremost or we are not Christians at all….Please let that sink in…

Brothers and Sisters, continue in the faith, stand firm in the truth of the Gospel, and as dying men and women may we point others to the Savior who lives and reigns forever…

 

with you in serving Him,