Monday, November 21, 2016

Reconciliation

by Tony Thomas

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

The Presidential election of 2016 has caused a great deal of division in the Body of Christ. The old wounds of racism have been reopened due to troubling statements made by the Republican candidate during the campaign. As a result, many African-American Christians are very concerned and even frightened because over 80% of white evangelicals reportedly voted for the President-elect. Even some respected Christian leaders sided with a candidate who used troubling code-words and “dog whistles”, thus emboldening those with a racist agenda. Since the election, racist incidents are on the increase and the situation seems unlikely to improve in the coming months. This is a tense time in our nation and a time of great trepidation and uncertainty. Should Christians be concerned?



Dark Shadows from the Past

If you study history, you will find that many in the Christian church were on the side of slavery during the Civil War. To their shame, some even exhibited overtly racist attitudes during this period and the reconstruction that followed.

Consider the words of the brilliant Presbyterian theologian, R. L. Dabney, whose theological works are well-respected and studied to this day:

“It is well known, that, as a general rule, [Negroes] are a graceless, vagabondish set, and contribute very little to the support of the State by which they are protected. They are not citizens, never can become citizens, and wherever found in large numbers they are an expense and a source of trouble…” [1]

“The black race is an alien one on our soil; and nothing except his amalgamation with ours, or his subordination to ours, can prevent the rise of that instinctive antipathy of race, which, history shows, always arises between opposite races in proximity…” [1]

“When the generation of freed-negroes, which works feebly, has passed away, can the white people of Southside Virginia endure the pilfering of a body of negroes more numerous than themselves, who will work not at all? And when the white people are at last driven to the end of all patience by intolerable annoyances, and the blacks are determined to live and not to work, collision cannot but ensue. What shall we do with that generation of negroes “educated” to be above work? I see no other prospect, humanly speaking, except the beginning of a war of races, which will bring back the provost marshal, and the government of the bayonet, and will, indeed, make us eager to welcome them…“ [2]


It is difficult, though not unimaginable, to believe that such words came from the pen of a man with such a deep knowledge of theology and the Bible. As some have said, somewhat apologetically, ”He was a man of his time“. But, is history repeating itself? Are there deep-seated racist attitudes still harbored by white evangelicals that produced this current crisis? I certainly hope not.

What was really troubling was the lack of repudiation of the blatant racism, misogyny and xenophobia during the Republican campaign. As many on the left were screaming wildly in protest, there was a deafening silence from much of the evangelical right. At the same time, the opposing party received scathing rebuke.

And while it is true that most white evangelicals voted for a platform and not for a man, and were primarily concerned with issues such as the right to life for the unborn and future Supreme Court appointments, this brings little comfort to those who are feeling oppressed.


The Way Forward

We simply cannot tolerate division within the church.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, 1:10 (ESV):

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

The true church of Christ is composed of people of all races, languages and ethnic backgrounds. We will all stand together before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-10). They are our true brothers and sisters. Because of this, the church should be at the forefront of promoting racial reconciliation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, I see far more of this from liberal Christians, who deny much of the Bible and its doctrines, than I do from the evangelical church.

Christians must first be reconciled to one another before they can reconcile others to Christ. We cannot allow politics or social issues to destroy our unity in Jesus Christ! The devil has used them to divide us for far too long!

The Greek word for reconciliation is “katallage“ and it means “the exchange of hostility for a friendly relationship“ [3]. As Paul wrote in the passage cited at the beginning of this article, God has given us all the ministry of reconciliation.  First, there must be reconciliation to God, among ourselves, and then of the world to Christ. We are all to be bridge builders.

Next, we need to realize that because of these divisions and our loyal alignment with political parties, the evangelical church is losing its moral authority, its Gospel witness and its prophetic voice. Satan told Jesus that he could give Him all of the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down and worship him. Is the true Church now bowing down to politicians and this evil world system to avoid persecution and scorn? Are we increasing the barriers between ourselves and a dying world?

Finally, we need to understand that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against evil forces of darkness as it says in Ephesians 6. The so-called "Christian Right" has always demonized and marginalized their opponents. This is wrong! We must see them as people made in the image of God for whom Christ died. They are not our enemies. They are our mission field.


[1] From:"A Defence of Virginia", R. L. Dabney.
[2]  From: "The Negro and the Common School", R. L. Dabney.
[3] BDAG: Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Christianity, Politics and Government - Part 2

by Tony Thomas

The election of 2016 is one of the most tumultuous of all time. Tempers are red hot. Polarization is the norm. Even heated debates are going on between Christians as to which candidate deserves our vote. However, no matter who wins the upcoming election, Christians have the duty and responsibility to both honor and submit to the authority of our new President.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)


The Apostle Peter provided a similar message:

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

These scriptures give Christians zero “wiggle room”. All authorities that exist have been instituted by God as His servants to punish evildoers and to maintain order. If you resist them, you will incur judgment. We are to fear God and honor our leaders. It is that simple. The only exception is, if the authorities force you to do something that is contrary to God’s Word, you have the right (and the obligation) to disobey them and suffer the consequences. (Acts 4:18-21)

Paul wrote the book of Romans circa 56-57 and Nero was on the throne. Nero was one of the most diabolical Caesars who ever lived and he blamed the Christians for burning Rome and came up with terrible punishments for them. The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote:

“...Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

You will notice that Paul demanded Christians to honor and to submit to the authority of an evil and sadistic emperor. We are to do the same, no matter how evil the leader is or how much we may dislike him or her. If we do otherwise, we will bring reproach upon Christ and His church. For Jesus told us to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44-45).

I sincerely believe a time of trial and testing is imminent for all followers of Christ. Yet, we must continue to realize that God is on the throne and He alone is Lord of all.
And we should remember Paul’s words from Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Christianity, Politics and Government - Part 1

by Tony Thomas

Politics and religion are like oil and water. The simply do not mix.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the emotionally-charged Presidential election of 2016. This election has created incredible polarization between Christians. The two candidates are not only polar opposites in terms of their policies, they are hugely unpopular and hated by members of the opposing party.

While most Christians have aligned with one side or the other, some have decided to vote for neither major candidate for biblical reasons or their unwillingness to compromise. How should Christians think and respond to this election?



What Does the Bible Say?
  1. The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who establishes rulers and removes them. (Daniel 2:19-21) 
  2. Christians are not supposed to be conformed to this world, but are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2)
  3. We are to realize that our true citizenship is not on the earth. It is in heaven. And we await the return of our King, Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
  4. Satan is the god of the world and he has blinded the hearts of those who do not know Christ. However, God is ultimately in control. (2 Corinthians 4:4, Job 1:6-12)
  5. We are not to put our faith in political leaders. (Psalm 146:3)
  6. We are not to love the things of the world, otherwise the love of God is not in us. (1 John 2:15)
Monergism or Synergism?

While many claim that they must vote for one of the candidates to “save the nation”, this is a naive view. This is synergistic thinking. This is the view that we, in some way, have to “help God” in ruling this world. The truth is God does not need our help. The monergistic view realizes that God is sovereign and in control:

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Psalm 96:10 (ESV)

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. Psalm 93:1–2 (ESV)

What About the Candidates?

How should a Christian pick a candidate to vote for? What should we look for in a leader?

John MacArthur recently did series on Grace to You called “Who is God’s Candidate?”. In the final sermon in this series, he says:

“What kind of leader does God bless? A leader with character, with biblical convictions. A leader who is virtuous; a leader who is virtuous and careful with power, who is a strong advocate for all that honors God, who submits himself to God’s commands and is a worshiper of the true God. There is no – listen – no other way to distinguish a good leader from a bad leader. God’s standards are the only authoritative criteria. A leader without virtue, a leader without character, is like a surgeon who is contaminated; the patient will die.” [1]

If neither candidate measures up, we have no obligation to vote for either one. In the words of Professor Darrell Bock:

“My faith is a third way. Its soul does not belong to either party by default. When it seeks to reflect that faith, my vote may conclude that neither candidate represents the world I hope to see where neighbors love one another. That choice is made while recognizing God holds us all accountable for our choices with a multi-layered standard unlike the world. The choice not to vote for a tornado nor a hurricane reflects a preservation of values about what the church is to be far more important than a four or eight year choice. It is a conscious act intended to speak in the face of injustice coming at us from all sides. There are no musts in this election when it comes to the candidates we have.” [2]

To that, I say: Amen!

________________________________________________________



Friday, October 7, 2016

Losing Faith

by Tony Thomas

I recently subscribed to Bart Ehrman's blog: "The History and Literature of Early Christianity". It is certainly not for the faint of heart and not recommended if you are new to the Christian faith or not a serious student of the Bible. Still, it has some interesting and thought-provoking content that I find both interesting and informative. And, although he charges $25 a year for access, all of the funds go to charity and support agencies like CARE and Doctors Without Borders to ease the suffering of others. That is certainly a worthy pursuit.

Bart was once a professing evangelical Christian who was trained at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. He decided to go to Princeton to study with the great textual scholar, Bruce Metzger, and that is where his faith was undermined through exposure to higher criticism and theology influenced by Schleiermacher, the Tubingen school and modernism.

First to go was Bart's belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. While at Princeton, he found a discrepancy in Mark and that produced a domino effect. Little by little and doctrine by doctrine, his faith in Christ was stripped away. By his own admission, he spent many years as a thoroughly liberal Christian who embraced some of the Bible's moral teachings and little else. 

 To Ehrman, Jesus was a human rabbi and good moral teacher but not the Son of God. Finally, as a result of thinking about the existence of evil and suffering in the world, Bart determined that he could no longer believe in the Christian God. He became an agnostic. He now believes that there is no Creator of the universe, that we are nothing more than an accident and when we die, that's it! We just cease to exist. Poof!

As most of you know, besides many scholarly books, Bart turned his attention to writing mass market books that deny the historicity of the Bible and of Christ. Even though he is essentially recycling old modernistic ideas, many readers have been swayed by his top-selling books that include: "Misquoting Jesus", "Jesus Interrupted", "God's Problem" and "Forged". Most people (even Christians) do not know how to respond to his hypotheses which are totally based on microscopic historical analysis of the texts. Although he makes theological assertions, he denies that he is doing anything but history. As an agnostic, he denies the supernatural and his modernistic presuppositions dictate his conclusions.

I have watched numerous presentations and debates featuring Bart and his ideas. I have also read some of his books. He is a likeable guy and a brilliant scholar. He has a dry sense of humor and I have memorized most of his jokes. Although he claims that he is happier as an agnostic and no longer wakes up in a cold sweat at night thinking he has made a terrible mistake, I wonder. How can a man who has spent decades reading, studying and even memorizing whole books of the Bible walk away from the faith and feel no remorse?

I compare Bart's story to that of Charles Templeton. If you watched Lee Strobel's movie, "The Case for Faith", you will remember that he was an associate of Billy Graham and a fellow evangelist. He went with Graham to Europe to preach and was instrumental in founding "Youth for Christ". He, too, went to Princeton, lost his faith and became an agnostic for the same reasons as Bart. He wrote a book called "Farewell to God - My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith" and some of his thoughts are featured in the movie. When interviewed by Strobel, he spoke quite emotionally about how he missed Jesus and how he adored Him. By contrast, Bart is pretty unemotional about his loss of faith in Christ.

I pray that the living God will rekindle Bart's faith through the power of His Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The King James Only Movement

by Tony Thomas

You may have heard about the King James Only Movement.

 Many of its proponents believe that the King James Version is the only preserved Word of God and all other versions have been influenced by Alexandrian gnostics who tried to remove doctrines like the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and hell from the text.

There are numerous videos on You Tube from KJVO proponents. Most notable are the ones from Chick Publications and produced by David W. Daniels, a seminarian with an MDiv from Fuller.

I have watched many of these and they are full of circular arguments. They assume that the KJV is God's only preserved Word but give no proof. 

They say that words have been added/removed/changed, but only compared to the KJV, not to any underlying Greek/Hebrew text. Erasamus collated a dozen or less Greek manuscripts to produce the TR (and he translated the end of Revelation into Greek from Latin). What about the other 5,000+? Most of these disagree with the Textus Receptus (the underlying text of the KJV) in some form or another.

The KJV was not some unique translation. It is largely based on the Tyndale translation, the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was the favorite of the Puritans/Pilgrims, not the KJV. King James dictated that it be translated to conform to the doctrines of the Anglican church and to remove the Puritan influences.

And finally, none of the KJVO folks I have seen use the supposedly "pure" 1611 text. They use one of the revisions by Blayney, Oxford or Cambridge. It is fine to love and enjoy the KJV version. But maligning Christians that choose to use other versions or the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts is uncalled for and demonstrates that many in the KJVO movement are seriously deceived.

There is no legitimate scholarship in the movement and it is purely based on faith and not evidence. No evidence of some Alexandrian conspiracy to mangle God's Words. If the Alexandrians that produced some of the older manuscripts were truly Gnostics and wanted to eliminate doctrines like the Deity of Christ from the Bible, they did a poor job!

The KJVO movement exhibits many characteristics of a cult. It worships and idolizes a single translation: the KJV. While the KJV was a great translation for its time (and is a literary masterpiece), it is no longer the best translation given the changes in the English language since the 17th century and the tremendous advances in the study of ancient manuscripts, many of which were found after 1611.

For an excellent critique of the KJVO movement, read "The King James Only Controversy" by James White.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Read and Study the Bible!

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."  (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

So many people want to argue about what the Bible says, but how many people actually read it and study it?  

The Bible is a rich book.  It was written over a period of 1600 years by 40 human authors and it contains one central message: The only way to salvation is through the Messiah, the anointed One  -- Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Instead of reading it and studying it for themselves, so many people are content to have it interpreted by others.   They receive its message through the filter of their denomination and their culture.  Some receive a severely distorted message through a religious cult.  Others even receive the warped interpretations of opponents of the Christian faith.

The Bible was not written to be filtered.  While we can learn from what others have discovered by reading it and studying it, that is no replacement for reading it and studying it ourselves.

Read the Bible.  Study the Bible.  Let its words cleanse your soul.  

Then, you can proclaim these words of the Psalmist:

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  (Psalm 119:105 ESV)



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Planting Seeds


“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)


I have always believed in planting seeds. Giving away Bibles and great Christian books. Engaging people with truth.

A few years ago, out of the blue, I got a call from an acquaintance that I had not heard from in over 30 years. She called to thank me for giving her a Bible . It turns out she accepted Christ, married a Christian man and had two wonderful Christian children.

We never know the eternal significance of the seeds we plant.

Be faithful and plant seeds. Someone else will water them. And God will make them grow.