The Kingdom vs. Empire, PT. 1

Look.  We have to discuss the Kingdom vs Empire.

I am part of the 9/11 Generation.  I can remember where I was when it all went down – I was in Freshman English with Mrs. Fairchild at Parkersburg High School.  I watched, with the world, as two towers full of people crashed to the ground.

The following days/weeks/months were a blur of patriotism and nationalistic fervor as we prepared to go to war.  This war was a “new kind” we were told…and it would be televised on the 24/7 news networks.  I learned who people like Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, and Tom Brokaw were.  I was certainly entertained.

I had no qualms with America going off to war; that’s what we do, right?  America went all over the world “Making the world safe and protecting democracy.”  At any rate, America was the back-to-back world war champions.  It was what I grew up inundated with “American exceptionalism” and military pride that fomented over generations.

I had also grown up being taught that war, America, and  Christianity were completely compatible. At the time I didn’t believe in Christianity, so that part was irrelevant. For almost 11 years I watched the War on Terror live on TV from my couch…never giving it a second thought.

But then as I was preparing a sermon several years ago, I read some of the words of Jesus in Matthew and I was absolutely taken back.  I had read Scripture through the lens of Western-American Christianity and forgotten that Jesus of Nazareth preached a radically different message than what I previously thought.

This first-century wandering preacher that we divide time by became the incarnation of Isaiah’s ancient prophetic title, “Prince of Peace” and taught a radically different way to be human in a crazy, violence loving world.  He taught that the Kingdom of God was (and is) a place first and foremost, of peace.

He taught that while this Kingdom exists in this world, it is completely incompatible with the current systems in place.  Why?  Because it is a kingdom of peace, and He is the Prince of Peace.

I believe we have made a grave mistake.  We believe the Gospel accounts of Jesus and the traditional doctrines of Orthodox Christianity…but we have ripped Jesus out of context to “tame” Him and his ideas to fit our likes and contexts.  That, however, is a very dangerous maneuver.  Why?  Because we cannot divorce Jesus from His ideas and teachings and still claim to follow Him.  This is especially true in Jesus’ political ideology.  Brian Zhand says,

“The problem is this:  when we separate Jesus from his ideas for an alternate social structure, we inevitably succumb to the temptation to harness Jesus to our ideas – thus conferring upon our human political ideas a assumed divine endorsement.” (A Farewell to Mars, Ch. 1)

In doing this, we literally find ourselves dancing in step with the powers and principalities of darkness that govern the systems of the “world” in a contrary fashion to God.  This is a system set up and built upon violence, hate, war, fighting, and murder.  The travesty of this is that when we participate in this we reduce Jesus to a get-out-of-hell-free card who endorses our own ideas on how to run the world.  “This feeds into a nationalized view of the Gospel and leads to a state-owned Jesus.” As a result, since around the 4th Century Jesus became Roman Jesus, then Byzantine Jesus, then European Jesus, then German Jesus, and now American Jesus.

Because of this, we have conscripted Jesus to fit our national agendas and I believe the church MUST reject this now more than ever.  We must understand Jesus, not as a nationalistic proponent of politics of the world, but we must re-understand, re-learn about the Jesus, the Prince of Peace who triumphs over idolatrous nationalism and stands directly against the ancient practices of violence and war.

The Power of the Atom

Brian Zhand has some startling conclusions on this:

“Okay.  Let’s step back and take a look at where we stand as a people and a planet.  It’s easy to imagine that the world doesn’t really change – that it simply marches around the maypole of violence, trampling victims into the mud the same as it ever has.  But as true as that may be, something has changed. We are postsomething.  If nothing else we are post-1945 when the enlightenment dream of attainable utopia went up in smoke – literal smoke!  From the chimneys of Auschwitz to the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.  After 1945, we lost our blind faith in the inevitability of human progress. A threshold was crossed, and something important changed when humanity gained possession of what previously only God possessed:  the capacity for complete annihilation.  In yielding to the temptation to harness the fundamental physics of the universe for the purpose of creating city-destroying bombs, have we again heard the serpent whisper, ‘You will be like God’?”

Oppenheimer, the father of the Atomic Bomb, upon witnessing it’s first successful test in the New Mexico desert quoted Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita and said, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” It was that day that humanity became gained the literal ability to be “destroyers of the world.”

Here’s my point:  in this Post-Holocaust, Post-Atomic civilization if we begin to believe that Jesus’ thoughts and teaching on peace are irrelevant in the age of genocide and nuclear armament, then we are guilty of inventing a false, unbiblical, untrue Jesus…and that leads to a completely irrelevant nationalistically-tainted Christianity.

Clash of Kingdoms

Here’s where this gets real.  Jesus has a conversation before his crucifixion with the Roman Governor  Pilate.  Here’s the exchange as John records it:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him,“Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38, ESV) 

See, in this we miss two things:  First, according to verse 36, Jesus Kingdom is NOT of this world.  That’s where He explains that if it were, an army of followers would rise up and defend Him…but that’s not the way of Jesus.  Second, Jesus’ teaching and life were so radically opposed to the Roman ideas that I’ll bet He was killed (from a purely political standpoint, but we know there was a spiritual reason that was primary) because He said that Caesar wasn’t lord, but He was.

It wasn’t the man who upset Rome, but the man’s ideas.  Pilate understood how powerful this idea was…and Rome knew the power of ideas.  Ideas that force change gradually are called progress, but ideas that cause rapid, pattern-shifting, culture moving change create something quite differing:  Revolution.

The powers that be hated that.  That is precisely what Pilate and the Jews hated about Jesus – the ideas he had were revolutionary and changed the power structure that favored them.  That still happens today, by the way.

So what has happened over the past 2,000 years that has caused those of us who confess that “Jesus is Lord” have created a religion that separates Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for the sins of mankind, from the ideas of the same Jesus who just by existing threatened the structure of human civilization?

Jesus ultimately knew that Christianity would triumph…but not in the way we wish – not by force or violence.  It would triumph because of peace and love.  It would triumph not by the might of nations or the bombs of civilization, but in the selfless acts of love that cherish life, regard its sanctity and rally to protect it.

We cannot embrace a Jesus who endorses nations to war.  We cannot embrace a Jesus who wears an American Flag t-shirt. We cannot embrace empire…and we must repent and embrace the Kingdom of God.  We cannot, as a church, any longer afford to ignore the ideas of Jesus – the cost will be more than we can bear.

The Kingdom vs. Empire.  It is eternally important.

Blessings as we ponder this together. If this resonates with you, share it with those you love!

Scott

But…Baptism Isn’t Necessary?, PT. 1

In my last post I walked through my understanding of baptism and its role in salvation.  I believe water baptism (immersion, not sprinkling) is where you are born again (Rom. 6:1-4) and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). I don’t believe there is a shred of biblical evidence for the “Sinner’s Prayer” and that it isn’t a Scriptural concept.

The direction I want to go now, is to take various Scriptures used to refute my assertion, and work through them.  Again, I’m not trying to pass judgment.  I’m simply reading the Bible and taking my cues from there. We’ll stick with the Book of Acts for a bit as we unpack why some normal rebuttals to water baptism being essential to the life of a Christian don’t stand up to scrutiny. I’m using John MacArthur’s article, not to attack him, but because he puts out a lot of Scriptures to make his point.  You can find the article here.

Looking at Acts, a common argument to say baptism doesn’t matter too much in the way of salvation is to connect it with the sermons presented. If it were necessary, the argument goes, then wouldn’t it be stressed in every sermon in the book? Sure, we can look at Acts 2 and see Peter telling the crowd gathered at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And then, we hit Acts 3.

The Sermon at Solomon’s Portico

For brevity’s sake, I won’t paste the entire sermon here, but you can read it here.  The argument is, that at the end of this sermon, Peter gives a different take on responding to the Gospel. It seems that Peter makes no link between baptism and salvation. He only includes repentance. Here’s the text:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19, NIV)

In the context of the passage, Peter is preaching in response to the reaction he receives after healing a man through Jesus’ name in front of the Temple.  He gives a recap of his sermon recorded in Acts 2, but it’s more pointed and scathing to the Israelites.  His message, and this is my paraphrasing: “You killed Jesus.  In fact, you let a murderer walk free, so you could pull it off! However, because you were ignorant, God will forgive you”

That’s when Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” I can understand how this seems to trump the baptism thing.  Yet, if I’m being true to the text, I can’t stop at that conclusion.  Peter gives a much longer message in Acts 2, but it’s almost identical to his point in Acts 3.  Around verse 19, then, when Peter says “repent” without including baptism, isn’t it odd that in Acts 2, repentance is tied, at least in the salvific process, with water baptism? Would Peter contradict himself?  Would his teaching be inconsistent?  No.  It can’t.  Why does it seem he does in Acts 3?

Context, Please!

Context shows that Acts 3:19 is not the end of Peter’s message. The sermon goes on through the end of the chapter. I don’t think verse 19 has anything to do with leaving out baptism or advocating for it.  I believe, that as most early sermons in Acts show us, the Apostles are refuting the people of God (The Jews) for their willful disobedience. He’s not talking only about their crucifying Jesus.  He’s recapping their whole history from Abraham to present.  He’s telling them to repent as a people because they should have known better.  In fact, they should be the first to recognize who Jesus was. Stephen does the same thing later.  The point here isn’t Peter giving an “invitation” or “altar call” as we’d call it.  He’s rebuking them.  I think he’s working on getting to the point that he comes to in Acts 2, but there’s a problem.  The sermon, if you’ll call it that, gets interrupted.

As always, when reading the Bible, you must read what comes before it and what comes after.  Also, how does it fit into the whole narrative of Scripture? Cherry-picking verses makes for a sloppy bible study.  In Acts 4, we see the sermon stopped.  The text says,

“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.  They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them, in jail until the next day. (Acts 4:1-3, NIV)

Peter doesn’t get to finish the sermon. However, the Holy Spirit apparently does:

“But many who heard the message believed, so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4, NIV)

Notice the language here.  Does it remind you of something?  It should.  Acts 24:41:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41, NIV)

If we’re being honest to the text, we see the link here, and it is connected to baptism. Also, the fact that Peter didn’t finish the sermon is critical.  He and John are thrown in jail after being forcefully interrupted. Let’s think a minute on this.  Can Scripture contradict itself? If it does, it cannot be the word of God.  Sure, people point to supposed contradictions as they try to scrutinize the Bible, but those Scriptures are easily rectified.  The same is true.  Scripture is axiomatic–it explains itself and references itself–it is perfect.  Why then, would Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, make such a pointed call to action in Acts 2, reaffirm it years later in his epistles, but here in the middle, suddenly just throw it out?  He wouldn’t.

Using this as a rebuttal to prove that you don’t have to be baptized is dishonest. Remember, the Bible wasn’t written with chapters, verses, and subheadings.  While handy for reference it often leads us to stop at certain points and ignore context. We can’t do that.  I’m not asking anyone to agree with me.  I am hoping that this spurs you on to study the Bible more and draw closer to God.  Next week, we’ll look at the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10.

Be blessed,
Scott

Can We Stop Using the Sinner’s Prayer Now?

On any average Sunday in just about every congregation that’s meeting, after the sermon concludes, you’ll hear a plea to come to Jesus and give Him your life. Some call it an altar call, my congregation calls it an invitation. Whatever the term, it’s a time where the preacher (usually) gives people an opportunity to accept the Gospel and follow Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with that.

Like most congregations on Sunday morning, you might be asked to walk forward, or sit with your head bowed and repeat a prayer, or maybe a member of the Pastoral Care team will walk you through this thing that has come to be known as “The Sinner’s Prayer.”

The Sinner’s Prayer

It goes like this:

“If you’re ready to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior, say this prayer: ‘Father, I know that I have lived my life in sin, but I am ready to turn my life around and turn to you. I believe in Jesus Christ as your Son, who died on the cross to save me and was raised to life again. I invite Jesus into my heart right now to become my Lord and savior for the rest of my life and for all eternity. Thank you so much for your grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.'”

Reading through that as an orthodox Christian, I can’t see a lot wrong. It’s a good prayer. I am a sinner. I need Jesus. I can’t be saved any other way but through Jesus Christ. I believe all the statements here.

On any given Sunday in most Evangelical Churches in America, people may go forward, or sit in the pew and raise their hands. They repeat this prayer and are assured they are now part of the Body of Christ – the Church. They are told they are now saved and a Christian and therein lies the problem.

This prayer itself isn’t found in the Scriptures. The principle of salvation occurring at the moment a prayer is said by a person, is never found in the New Testament. Ever. The existence of this idea cannot be drawn from any source in the New Testament.

Where did the Sinner’s Prayer come from, then?

I’m not a historian by any means. However, a quick search of church history reveals that the Sinner’s Prayer is unique to America. It began in Puritan circles in the 17th Century and became commonplace in the Great Awakening revival period in the late 1700s-the 1850s. It was cemented as a mainstay through the ministry of Billy Graham in the 1950s and 60s.

If we are going to be intellectually and biblically honest, we cannot say that this practice has been with the church at any other time in her history. However, it became more expedient for ministers to have people say a prayer during these massive revival services because they physically couldn’t meet each person one-on-one to help them.

I realize I’m stepping into a firestorm here. However, well-respected ministers in the American Evangelical churches have begin to speak out against the sinner’s prayer.

The question remains: Can we stop using the sinner’s prayer now?

Back in 2012, David Platt received scathing criticism from a comment he made during an address to the Southern Baptist Convention. He remarked,

“Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrases ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ or ‘invite Christ into your life?'”

I understand that Platt later voted on the SBC’s motion to keep using the sinner’s prayer. However, in his follow-up interviews, it seems he wasn’t too thrilled about it.

Francis Chan, in his video companion to Crazy Love says, “After reading just the Bible, would you come to the conclusion that to become a Christian that you would just pray a prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart…is that really what you would find in here [the Bible]?”

Therein lies the difficult question. Is the sinner’s prayer, and its use in conversion found in the New Testament?

If we just take the Scriptures – no commentary or opinions – if we take it and read it in all of its glory, what do we find? Instead of praying a prayer and accepting Jesus into your heart, here’s what you’ll find:

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:38-41, NIV)

Just reading that, what’s the answer to the question, “What do we do?” Peter says, my paraphrase, “Repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus. Every person. Your sins will be forgiven, and you’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

We could stop there, taking that as an isolated text. I’d be all for that if it didn’t come up over and over again in the book of Acts. Again, just reading Scripture, here are places to turn to see Peter’s instructions via the Holy Spirit confirmed:

– Acts 2:1-47 The conversion at Pentecost
– Acts 8:9-13 Simon the Sorcerer
– Acts 8:26-40 The Treasurer of Candice (Ethiopian Eunuch)
– Acts 9:1-19 Saul the Persecutor
– Acts 10: 1-48 Cornelius and his family
– Acts 16:11-16 The Purple Dealer (Lydia)
– Acts 16:16-34 Philippi’s Prison Guard
– Acts 18:7-8 Crispus and the Corinthians
– Acts 19:1-7 A Dozen from Ephesus
– Acts 22:2-16 Paul Revisits His Conversion

Again, just reading the text, there isn’t anyone who is born again in Christ by praying a prayer. It’s repentance and baptism in water.

Let’s look at Acts 22 where Paul is giving his testimony before King Agrippa. He tells them about His encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus that Luke records in Acts 9. He is blinded, and then asks God, “What should I do, Lord?” He’s led into the city and waits. Acts 9:9 tells us Paul sat in blindness for three days. He didn’t eat or drink. God sends a man named Ananias to him, he prays, Paul can see again.
Luke records the event:

“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:18, NIV)

Paul confirms it from his perspective in Acts 22:

“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. ” “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:12-16, NIV)

Why did Peter command the people on Pentecost to be baptized? Why did Ananias instruct Paul? What about all the other accounts? To wash away their sins.

Let’s just say these are isolated occurrence in Acts. Then maybe we could do some hermeneutical gymnastics to move past this. The problem is, however, it isn’t. Some will refute, “But what about Romans 10:9? That contradicts you, Scott.” Here’s the verse:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom. 10:9, NIV)

The three keys to bible study are context, context, context. Paul is writing this in what we know as Romans 10. Yet, reading the book, we know that Romans 6 precedes that. If we look at the entire context of Romans, we come to chapter 6 to read this:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his [water baptism], we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ [How? Context dictates being baptized], we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14, NIV, emphasis mine)

This passage shows two things. The first is our part in baptism. The second is what God sees that we do not when a person is baptized, and why it matters. Paul makes the case that just like Jesus, our spiritual death and burial leads to a resurrection into a new life. This all begins when we are ‘crucified’ and ‘buried’. That’s why Paul alludes to death 16 times in 14 verses! Paul says we are ready to be buried in baptism as soon as we ‘die to ourselves’ You cannot be resurrected until you have been buried and you cannot be buried until you are dead.

This is Paul’s challenge: We must be willing to surrender ourselves. We must die. We must be raised to new life. Paul’s case tells us that happens when we are baptized. You can’t be raised to life if you don’t die. You can’t be buried if you’re not dead. Paul confirms this in his letter to the Colossians:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:9-12, NIV)

And in Galatians 3:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28, NIV)

In Judaism, circumcision was the marker of being “in covenant” or being part of “God’s people.” If you were not circumcised, you weren’t a partaker in God’s promises. So, in the Colossians passage, Paul shows us that circumcision has been replaced with baptism. That is what puts you “in Christ.” Are there any references to “praying Jesus into your heart in these passages?” Unfortunately, no.

Let’s go over to an older, wiser Apostle Peter. He preaches the first sermon. We read the “invitation” or “altar call” where he tells the people asking, “How can we be saved?” to “repent and be baptized, all of you” (Acts 2:36-38). Does Peter, many years later, stay consistent in his message? Again, just reading the Scriptures, here is what Peter writes:

…to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Pet. 3:20-22, NIV)

Peter brings up Noah’s Ark. It was how eight people were saved from the flood. It was through water that they were “saved.” Peter continues the illustration by telling us that the correlation there is fulfilled in water baptism. The water of Noah’s day, the global flood, was a foreshadowing of water baptism.

So, what does Peter tell the Church? How is a person saved? He says, “…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…” (vs. 21:a). But let us be fair here. Just like the ‘sinner’s prayer,’ baptism, too, can become a mere superstitious ritual. If we believe that water has any magical powers over us, Peter debunks that. He writes that it isn’t the water, or even taking a bath to remove your stank (probably a reference to Jewish ceremonial washings). Instead, baptism isn’t hydro powered. No! It’s resurrection powered! It is being joined to Christ through his resurrection that gives it power (c.f. Romans 6, Acts 2, and Col. 2, etc.).

I hope I don’t come off arrogant. That’s not who I am. I’m not sitting in judgment of anyone. My job as a teacher of God’s word is to simply present it. I have no doubt that many who’ve gone before us had sincere hearts and great devotion to Christ. However I must present the Scriptures, and you have to come to your own conclusion.

Let me leave you with the job description of the church in Matthew and Mark. Jesus says:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NIV)

Mark records Jesus saying this:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16, NIV)

You might object saying, “Grace is what saves us!” I agree. So does scripture. However, how you get to receive that grace is why baptism matters. You may also say, “You’re making baptism a work. Salvation isn’t based on works.” I agree. Yet, if baptism is a work, it is a work for the one baptizing, not the one being baptized. You are simply submitting to follow after Jesus.

What if what you’ve always believed isn’t believable after all? What if baptism is the original “sinner’s prayer?” If that’s true, then we’ve got to help each other make this a reality. We have to help each other correct this false teaching. We can’t be honest and say that it’s okay to keep using the sinner’s prayer. We cannot be faithful to the text or to Christ if we teach that.

Can we stop using the sinner’s prayer now?

God and Militarism

Keuninck (Coninck) Kerstiaen de – Fire of Troy

We’ve seen a lot as we’ve moved from Eden and Shalom.  The perfection and harmony of Creation were immutably flawless – at least until our ancestors decided they’d make better gods. The great thing is this:  God cannot be stopped.  We seem to be stuck in a tractor beam that pulls us towards violence as a civilization. How do we connect God and Militarism?

In the narrative of Scripture, God paves the way for Messiah immediately after the Fall (c.f. Gen. 3:16). What I hope you’ve seen is the incredible love of God. He loves us, warts and all.  He can take the messes we’ve made and redeem them.  From the smoldering ashes of Eden, God began walking us back to Shalom. Even today, as we continue to wade through a never-ending sea of war, God is working to move us back to Him. Jesus showed us the way.

God is clear with His people, both in the Old Testament, and its continuing story in the New Testament, that He values two things above anything else.  What are they?

  1. Love and Trust Him Alone
  2. Love your neighbor

Jesus says that the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im) are summarized in those two commands. Through the Law of Moses God begins to set an ideal ethic. Through Jesus, He models it and completes the teaching.

There are lots of things we could point to in the Old Covenant that God wasn’t a fan of.  In the sweeping narrative of Scripture, however, God takes people where they are and moves them towards where they ought to be.

Israel, then, is put into a system that improves, morally, the norms of the cultures around them. If we look at Israel’s use of force and violence in comparison with the nations around them, we see that they had a ridiculous policy of warfare. Perhaps the most striking way that God moves them away from the ethos of surrounding cultures, is how God views militarism.

Even when God allows for the use of war, God has a different approach.  Israel might have used force, but it was, as Sprinkle notes, “blunt and short” compared to the neighboring countries.  In fact, most of the time the sword was kept in storage.

Militarism Defined

Militarism is a belief that a government or group should maintain a strong military and be prepared to aggressively use it to promote/protect national interests.  The surrounding nations in Israel’s time believed in militarism. 

Their economic systems reflected it in their policies. High taxation was the norm.  That was the cost of being the best.  They believed that homeland security was achieved through a strong military.  The military was charged with protecting the king or ruler of those nations. Outside attacks were repelled, and inside revolts crushed, and the existence of a monarchical, or king-centered society depended on the strength of the nation’s army. Having a king meant having a warrior who wielded the sword with absolute military control.

Israel’s Strange Military Doctrine

Israel is different.  God is their king who owns everything (Lev. 25:23), and He is their army.  God does not need protecting or defending of His land – He does it Himself.  Later in Israel’s history, the nation is condemned for wanting a king who will “fight its battles” like the other countries had (1 Sam. 8:20).

God even sets in place a divergent economic policy that guarantees Israel cannot support a professional army. God wires a different perspective into the economy of Israel.  No taxes could be collected in support of a military – and instead, God commands it all be given to the poor (c.f. Deut. 14:29). When Israel does get a king, God does not allow him to have the means to support an army (c.f. Deut. 17:14-20). It’s fascinating that Israel’s economy is set up in a manner that makes it impossible to support a standing army without violating the whole system itself.

Truthfully, to say Israel had an army would be an overstatement.  The Minutemen of the American Revolution would be a more apt counterpart than a developed military. It was a group of people who came together, without a lot of skills and weapons, to show off God’s power and sufficiency.

Why, then, does God want to drive the Canaanites out?  I think it was God being critical of the system.  Canaan was held together by a militaristic king who fights for (or against) the people. The nations surrounding Israel trust in their king and his army to be their protector, but Israel is commanded to have faith in God.  All other forms of “homeland security” – professional militaries, superior firepower, and alliances with other countries – are considered idolatry by God (see Ezek. 16:26-29; 23:6-7, 12; 14-15).

The question for us to ponder is this:  What does Israel’s warfare policy have to teach us today? 

In the next several posts we’ll dissect this further and look at how it contextually connects to the ministry of Jesus, and to us as well! As always, I welcome your thoughts!

God bless,

Scott

7 Ways to Truly Live in the Dash

7 Ways to truly live in the dash
http://losingforthesakeofchrist.blogspot.com/2015/04/living-for-end-and-not-for-dash.html

A brief break in the series I’m doing, for another thought. 7 ways to truly live in the dash.

A few months ago, as I had finished a particularly difficult funeral i noticed something that I hadn’t really paid much attention to.  On every grave marker there is a birth year and a death year, but in between the dates is a dash.  I know, its obvious, right, but don’t miss the dash.  The dash in between birth and death is where life happened.  In the dash is everything we as human beings will ever experience on this earth. In the dash is where everything good, bad, or mundane goes down. The dash is worth all the marbles.  So here’s 7 ways to truly live in the dash:

1) Don’t Waste Time on “Stuff”

Life is way too short to be consumed by your ego, your stuff, or your status.  Here’s the thing – death is the great equalizer…it levels the playing field. Last time I checked the mortality rate of human beings was still at 100%.  Solomon writes by the Holy Spirit:

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.” ( Ecc. 9:3, NIV)

Why sit waste this amazing moment you have on yourself. At the end of it all it won’t matter how many times you were published, what letters come behind your name, how much bling you had, or how stacked your portfolio was.  At the end of the day, without purpose, it’s all meaningless.  At the end of it all, a life lived apart from God is meaningless.  So don’t waste time on stuff.

2) Learn to Accept Criticism

This one is hard.  No on likes to be told their wrong.  However, criticism, when constructive, can literally change your life. Proverbs 27:6 says,

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

Ask three questions when you feel you’re being criticized, “Where is the truth in this? Is there any truth in this?  How can I adjust my life for the better as a result of this?

Remember, not everyone is out to get you.  Sometimes, believe it or not, people are actually trying to help you avoid mistakes they’ve made and traps they might have fallen into.  Always be ready to grow through constructive criticism.

3) Love Unconditionally

OK, we all like to say we love everybody but here’s the kicker – we usually love people who love us first or in return.  True love is a verb, not a noun.  It’s action oriented.  It refuses to sit on the sidelines and watch.  It’s active, it’s real, it’s present, and it shows up.  Want a challenge in love?  Try what Jesus said:

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36, NIV)

That’s love.  It’s not some hippy, mushy, Nicolas Sparks garbage.  Love shows up even when you don’t feel like it.  Love is given to those who don’t deserve it.  Love is bestowed upon the haters.  Love your enemies.  No qualifiers. No strings attached.  Just love.

4) Get Rid of the Ego

Like I said above, at the end of it all, you’re not going to care what you had, what you accumulated, how many times you had sex, or that you can memorize “Pi.”  Life is too short to waste it on yourself.  Confidence is fine, but remember, pride and arrogance is obnoxious and nobody likes a narcissist. Whatever you do, check your ego at the door and realize that life is bigger than you’ll ever be.  If you waste it on yourself, then you’ve already received your reward. The world will continue to spin after you die.  It’s not about you.

5) Pass the Torch

Each one of us accumulated a certain amount of knowledge through experiences, hurts, and triumphs.  That’s all well and good, but if you don’t pass it on to the next generation, it didn’t really do a lot of good, did it?  Find someone to invest yourself in.  Mentor them.  Share your experiences.  Help them create new ones minus your mistakes! What an incredible thing it is to pour out your life into someone else.  Pass the torch.  You can’t take it with you and you’ll be forced to pass it any way.  Bow out gracefully when your influence and vigor fade, but always play the background by investing in someone else.

6)  Live Life on Purpose

God created you in His image.  You’re unique and have a special place over any other species or thing in all of the universe. God created you to glorify Him with your life.  Don’t waste it, because one day you will give an account for every word you’ve uttered, and every action you’ve taken (Matthew 12:35-37).  Get to Jesus, whatever that takes, get to Jesus.  He’s the only one who has ever gotten out of the cemetery alive.  That’s your purpose and until you find it in Him, you’re going to wander around always looking for that “thing” or that next big “high” or achievement.  At the end of it all, when you build your life on what you’ve done…the whole house of cards will collapse and you’ll realize you had nothing.  Live for the reason your were created.

7) Speak Life

Words are the most powerful weapon ever engineered.  They can build up or tear down. They create or destroy. They give life or bring death.  Use your words for good.  Stand up for those who can’t stand up from themselves. Be a voice for the voiceless.  Speak life to the dying.  Speak hope to the forgotten.  Use your words for good, not evil.  Bless, don’t curse.

There are my 7 ways to truly live in the dash. I’m sure there are many, many more ways.  What would you add?

In Christ,

Scott

Killing Peace?

In the Patriarchs of Israel, we see God’s plan to bring Shalom taking shape. They pursue peace. However, humans continue in their campaign of killing peace in the Old Testament.  Two texts peppered in the stories of the Patriarchs that give us problems. Genesis chapters nine and fourteen. I, and others, have used these two texts as a blank check of violence. Let’s dig a bit, shall we?

Genesis 9:5-6

Proponents use Genesis 9:5-6 in an attempt at killing peace. It says:

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God
has God made mankind.” – Genesis 5:5-6, NIV

Is this a proverb or a command?

Reading through the text seems to give God’s people carte blanche the use of violence.  This text is cited by many as God’s institution of capital punishment. It certainly seems that way. However, let’s take a different angle here.  This verse isn’t focused on the death penalty.  Instead, the text elevates the value of life and condemns murder with death.

There are some textual problems.  Is God making this a general principle or an absolute command?  If it is an absolute command, then we’re forced to say that God is inconsistent.  He doesn’t punish Cain, Moses, or David when they commit murder – at least not with the death penalty. Let’s ask two questions:

  1. Does this text authorize (divinely) the death penalty?

-Or-

  1. Does the text say God punishes instead of man?

Does this text institute the death penalty?

The Hebrew isn’t as clear as many will imply.  Luther wrote, “This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God.” Luther connects the text to Romans 13, as many others do.  We’ll discuss that text in another post.

While I certainly understand the conclusion Luther comes to, there is a giant hole. God warns his people to not set themselves under an earthly kingship/government (c.f. 1 Sam. 8). That is Luther’s “temporal powers.” At this point, at least, we see that God is the power, and no temporal power is exercised over the Hebrews. Luther’s conclusion is an attempt of killing peace.

Don’t skip over Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”  – Genesis 9:6, NIV

The point of God’s statement is His overwhelming condemnation for murder. Why? Because Humans are the only beings in Creation made in God’s image and likeness. He forbids image-bearer murdering image-bearer.

I would allow these questions to caution us against using Genesis 9:5-6 as a proof-text to show that God wants every society and government for all time to institute the death penalty.

Preston Sprinkle rightly concludes, “In any case, know that God will later institute the death penalty in the Law of Moses, so Genesis 9:6 probably anticipates the law.  But let us not ignore the plain meaning in this verse: God fiercely condemns murder, because all people are made in His image.”

Genesis 14:14-15

Perhaps you see my case as busted, but let’s look at another text in Genesis 14. My exceedingly summary is this: some kings kidnap Lot. Abraham goes to get him back.

The text says:

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit…” – Genesis 14:14, NIV

Verse 15 tells us “During the night” Abraham attacks. I’d imagine that violence was used, but the text doesn’t necessarily say that.  However, what I don’t want you to miss is that Genesis 14 doesn’t say God commanded, nor sanctioned Abraham to do this. The text simply informs us what happened and doesn’t comment on whether Abraham was right or wrong in his action.

Ancient literature often tells what happens in a person’s life but doesn’t voice whether it was morally acceptable or not. The Old Testament isn’t exempt from this narrative-style history. Scripture comments on many individuals and their behavior, but it doesn’t urge us to copy their actions.

Returning to whether Genesis 9:5-6 and 14:14-15 are prescribed commands or described events, or what I’ll call in later posts the “ideal” and the “real.” Abraham attacked the kings to spring Lot out of captivity (the real) but that doesn’t infer we should do the same (the ideal).

I would conclude that these two texts do not clearly ratify violence, nor do they celebrate it.  Just because a narrative element in Scripture reports on it, doesn’t mean it’s binding it as a command on every human for all time.  Humanity is not applauded for killing peace. In fact, we are strongly condemned to kill another image-bearer.

Next time we’ll look to more than just a couple verses.  We’re going to look at several facets of the Law of Moses. We’re going to wrestle with some often-cited texts to see what God has to say about it all.  Will God sanction divine violence?  Will we see him killing peace?  See you next time!

In Christ,

Scott

Shalom in the Beginning

recruiting-myths

I love the Bible. I believe it is the authoritative word of God. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grappled with it. I took a course in Bible college that concentrated on the texts of Joshua and Judges. As a new Christian, and a former skeptic, I found these books hard to stomach. How could Jesus, who stood for peace, enemy-love, and sacrifice, be the same God in the Old Testament? The massacre seemed constant, and I struggled to make sense of it.

I no longer battle with those views, but, I think it would be unwise to believe no one else does. I know many folks personally, even Bible-believing Christians, who still do.

I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. When speaking to people of various faiths (or without faith), the second biggest hurdle to Christianity, is the violence in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous quote is Richard Dawkins, when he writes that the God of the Bible is,

jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It’s also quite an allegation. While certainly not a fan of Dawkins’ conclusions, to reject it as unreasonable would be an injustice to both logic and common sense.

How do we prepare to discuss this issue? Is God really as Dawkins and others in their own ways have rendered Him? If He is, how do we reconcile that to Jesus and the New Testament teachings? Teachings like turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and praying for your persecutors? Saying trite things like, “God can do whatever He wants,” or “He’s God. Don’t’ worry about it,” will not suffice. So, we go to the Beginning.

The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) begins with a loaded statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV). In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a Creative God who creates. He creates fish and spiders, the sun and the moon, day and night, plants and trees, galaxies and aardvarks. He speaks, and it happens. On the sixth day, after created everything else we know, God creates people. The text says,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:26-27, NIV).

He forms us in His “image and likeness,” meaning we are a reverberation, an etching of His eternal self. It sets us apart from everything else in all of creation. We also see the Master comment on His finished masterpiece, “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31a, NIV). He’s pleased. Everything is perfect. All is as it should be. The world is perfect.

The underlying concept of Creation that is necessary to understanding story of God in the BIble from this point on is the word Shalom. This Hebrew term is charged with meaning. It includes the absence of conflict and death, and implies wholeness, fullness, joy, peace, and completeness. Simply put – perfect.

Shalom is paramount to understanding the Bible for two reasons. First, it displays the nature of God. He’s creative, loving, and kind. He provides, helps, and guides. He dwells with Adam and Eve, not apart from them. He is very good. Second, we learn God’s initial purpose for humankind and creation – peace. Not violence, war, hate, racism, sexism, infanticide, and whatever else Dawkins’ or other’s claim.

The foundation of the full Bible rests upon God’s Shalom. As we’ll see, the rest of the Old Testament moves towards that intention. The entirety of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward, is God moving to renew HIs very good creation. In the next post, we’ll see at how things went south, and what God begins to do to bring things back on course.

For now, just know, that the Very Good God has not abandoned His very good creation.

In Christ,
Scott

American Christianity’s Real Problem

Go to your browser and type in “American Christianity’s problem”—I’ll wait. Did you find anything that agreed? I didn’t either. I saw a lot of posts, including a YouTube video pic of John Piper appearing to “dab” from the pulpit.

Things like, too old-fashioned or irrelevant. Fake. Hypocrites. LGBTQ hostile. Hate. Racist. Sexist. The Patriarchy. Yes, those are all problems. We all are learning. Though all these things are absolutely deserving of our attention, there is a more glaring problem we’re not seeing. The American church has a violence problem.

Before I begin, you need to know that I have grown up with violence. I play video games, fire guns, have watched Fight Club, and love The Walking Dead. Yet, as I read the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, I cannot escape being confronted with the most uncomfortable truth: The Bible teaches nonviolence.

I didn’t arrive at this position by choice. If anything, I’ve fought ferociously. I have prayed to come to different conclusions. I have prayed that God would let me ignore it. Yet, God, as He does, has continually turned over the tables in my heart to show me His truth. I wasn’t raised a Quaker. I wasn’t raised by hippies from the Vietnam Era. Truthfully, every part of my upbringing was pretty normal, and it goes against everything I’m going to be writing about.

Like all boys, I grew up with toy soldiers, tanks, NERF guns, paintball, air soft, and slingshots. Mortal Combat was the game of choice for my friends and I.

My grandfathers served proudly in World War 2. My favorite movies of all time are Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. My first news-related memory was Wolf Blitzer announcing the commencement of Operation Desert Storm. I wrote an essay in High School that awarded me a scholarship on my reaction to September 11, 2001. In it, while talking about unity and love, I also spoke kindly about “getting rid” of all terrorists. I was the typical American boy.

I was baptized into Christ at nineteen. At that point, I couldn’t conceive how someone could be a Christian, read the Scriptures, and think that violence and war, and all that goes with them, aren’t compatible with Scripture. You’d have to be biblically ignorant or anti-patriotic to believe that! So I carried on for a year or two until I seriously began to study the Sermon on the Mount in Bible college.

It was there that I was haunted by the idea that Scripture was incompatible with violence and bloodshed. Try as I might to quiet this though, even attributing it to Satan on many occasions, it kept hounding me. So I kept praying, studying Scripture, and researching.

As it stands, today, I do not believe the Bible endorses the use of violence. Not for the church. Not for individuals. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I know a lot of folks who don’t. That’s okay. I’m not asking you to agree. I’m asking you to open your Bible and follow the Spirit’s leading on the subject.

Understand this: I am not–I REPEAT–am not referring to anyone who serves in the military. These discussions somehow always end up there as some kind of trump card. That’s not where this is going. While subjects like militarism, nationalism, and violence are going to come up, my focus is on Scripture. It must be. Our guide must be Scripture. Scripture is our authority. I have no qualms there. To follow the Messiah, we follow His word.

I believe American Christianity’s real problem is violence. I believe a good portion of the American church has been conscripted (knowingly and unknowingly) by the idea that violence, war, and bloodshed are godly virtues. The idea that somehow God is pleased with His people behaving in such manners appears nowhere in Scripture.

Every problem listed on Google related to looming problems in American Christianity hinge on our beliefs on violence. That may seem like a stretch, but if you stick with me, you’ll understand my thoughts. You might not agree with me. That’s ok. Hopefully you will see why I think the way I do. In my next post we’ll begin Bereshit–in the Beginning.

May you be blessed,

Scott