“Shoot Christians Say, Part 2 -” “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

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“The B-I-B-L-E.  Yes that’s the Book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God.

The B-I-B-L-E”

That little song, learned and sung around snacks of Kool-Aid and Animal Crackers, flannel graph Bible stories in the Sunday School of my childhood, formed the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.  

It’s dangerous to mess with someone’s foundation. 
It’s uncomfortable.  Scary. Risky.

But that’s what I did with last Sunday’s phrase in our “Shoot Christians Say” series.  Here it is:  

“God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” 

The teaching, for some, was tantamount to messing with motherhood, the flag and apple-pie. 

A bit unsettling.  

Think it through with me:  “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Except it doesn’t.   Settle it, that is.  If it settled it, why do we debate it?  If it settled it, how do we explain books like Zondervan Counterpoint Series – “indispensable for understanding different views on Christianity’s vital issues” (Zondervan’s description of the series)?  

If “that settles it” why are there “different views” not just on side issues, but on “vital issues?”  

We want to be settled.  We want to be sure.  Being settled is a basic need. The two largest Christian groups have addressed the need to be settled.

Protestants, the folks that protested the Catholic Church developed the infallibility of Scripture.  

Catholics developed the infallibility of the Pope.  

“Infallibility”- the inability to be wrong.

Both the Bible and the Pope speak for God – depending on if you are Catholic or Protestant.  

And what is spoken is infallible. That is settling. 

 Both positions come from a need for security, for something strong on which to stand.  These positions give us that, “I’m secure with ‘the Bible tells me so, ‘“ or “I’m secure with ‘the Pope tells me so.’”  Standing on this foundation, I don’t have to think, wrestle, or try to figure things out.  I just go with what is said.  

This position meets our need for security, but does it meet our need for truth?  Maybe not.

The Pope “said it” but got it wrong about the sun orbiting the earth.  Ask Galileo.  The church admitted it was wrong 359 years later.

The Bible “said it” but got it wrong about slavery.  

 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5).

 “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them” (Titus 2:9).

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate,  but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:9). 

The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination into which I was born, raised and educated, admitted in 1995 that it got it wrong, apologizing for its support for slavery and segregation.

The Bible did not “settle it” when it came to slavery.  In fact, what the Bible says about slavery is unsettling.  

Jesus did not operate on the basis of  the “God said it, that settles it…” position.

Do you remember all of those, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” verses?
Compare and contrast the following:

Deuteronomy 6:13 and Matthew 5:33-37

Deuteronomy 19:21 and Matthew 5:38-39

Numbers 15:32-36 and John 5:8-10

If  it were “settled” why did Jesus challenge and change it?

The apostles didn’t stick “God said it, that settles it” on the rump of their horse or the bumper of their chariot.  Acts 15 tells us that the apostles debated how the Bible applied to their lives and situation.  When they set aside circumcision as a requirement for following Jesus they reinterpreted the Bible for their times, recognizing that some of what “God said” was not God’s will for all time, all places, all people.

Even those today who say the phrase, don’t practice the phrase.  How many of you give other church-goers a “holy kiss” each Sunday?   You don’t? Why not?  Paul commanded it 4 times in his letters.  Try it next Sunday and see how it goes. 
“God said it”  but with that command, and others, it’s not settled.  How many other things did “God say” aren’t settled?  “Welcome interpretation.  Come on in and let’s get to know each other better.”

This post is already too long, kind of like my teaching last Sunday – 35 minutes! So, I’ll cut to the chase ( a phrase used in the movie world by directors to get past the boring dialogue and to the excitement of a chase scene).

I don’t call the Bible the Word of God.  I call Jesus the Word of God.  So does John.  A “word” is an expression of an idea.  It is my understanding that Jesus is the “exact expression” of God. 

Not the Bible.  Check out Hebrews 1:1-3 and note the phrase “exact expression.”  Does that mean that the Bible (Hebrews 1:1) is inexact?

Maybe the problem is not the Bible.  Maybe the problem is how we use the Bible – what we expect out of the Bible.  Again, let’s take our cue from Jesus.  Seems to me like a good idea.

John 5:39. No one knew the Bible better than the Pharisees.  They knew it up and down, in and out, forward and backward.  Yet they missed God in the flesh who was standing right in front of them.  

Is it possible to be so busy following the Bible that we miss Jesus?  The Bible is a sign that points to Jesus – to his life, to his way, to his values.  

Why do we settle with the sign instead of going on to the destination?  

I’ve written too much.   If you’ve stayed with me, you’ve read too much.  Let’s both stop. 

Let’s spend some time looking at Jesus. Appreciating him. Following him and his way.  

 

What a Relief!

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Yesterday (Sunday November 9) was “National Chaos Never Dies Day” – where do they come up with this stuff – but I digress.

“Chaos,” according to the first entry of a Google search means: “disorder, disarray, confusion.”

So, if school is stressful, work is wacky, home is hectic, November 9 is your day.

A day to let it out, admit it, face it.

I’m teaching a series now in which we are facing, admitting the fact that one thing that causes us to experience chaos is – here it is – reading the Bible.

It takes a lot of guts just to admit that doesn’t it?   But it’s true. How could we not experience some chaos when we read this from Exodus 21:20-21

If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished.   But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.

Who can honestly read that and not think, “What the …?!

“Oh, that must just be a record of what some guy said…” Sorry.  According to the Bible, it wasn’t just a guy. It was God.

Chaos. Confusion.

Here’s another. We’re justifiably horrified and disgusted with the genocidal attitudes and actions that we see from extremist Islamist. Like these words from a member of Isis. God willing, this generation will fight infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies, God willing. The right doctrine has been implanted in these children. All of them love to fight for the sake of building the Islamic State and for the sake of God.”

Yep, Isis wants to wipe us out – all in the name of God.   “For the sake of God” “God willing.” We instinctively know that’s wrong. We know such a view and vision does not accurately reflect God. But then we read this:

They (Joshua’s army) completely destroyed everything in it (Jericho) with their swords – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

“Well, that must have been Joshua acting as a rogue commander!” Then we see this:

So the Lord was with Joshua and his reputation spread throughout the land. Joshua 6:27

Hmmm.  So God was with Joshua through all of that?  Really?

According to Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua was faithfully following the command given by God through Moses which said, “In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing.”

 

Chaos. Confusion. If it’s wrong for Isis to do that now was it right for Joshua and the Israelites to do that then.

How do we clear up the confusion? How do we find some calm in the chaos?

I got some help from one of my seminary professors – Yes, I remember a few things from my education.  He said, “If you thought God told you to do something, you would do it. Now, the question is, ‘What is Jesus telling us?'”

He answered his own question by quoting Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbors but hate your enemies, but I say,  Love your Enemies.”

Wow. RADICAL!   Is Jesus saying what it sounds like he’s saying?  Is he re-framing or even overturning Scripture?  Things like that can put you on a cross.

Hermeneutical principle here?

Jesus takes precedence over Moses and according to Hebrews 1:1-3, every other “revelation”: Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. Now in the final days, he has spoken to us through his Son…The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.

 

That is like a dose of Alka-Seltzer: “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh what a relief it is.”

I feel immediate relief – Jesus is the hermeneutical lens through which we interpret Scripture. He is the standard by which every other word is measured. We’ll unpack that a bit more in the days to come.

Free From the Law, O Happy Condition

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I’ve heard some questions, and some protests, about my position that Christians are not under the law:

“If we don’t have to obey the law of Moses, what’s to keep us from sinning?”
“Isn’t anything sin anymore?”

Behind these questions lies a fear that the grace message is an invitation to sin.  We’ve seen that fear before:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1),  the Roman Christians ask in response to Paul’s grace message in Romans 5.

Paul’s answer?  “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).

Then, Paul speaks to the Law issue, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:14-15)

Two things seem real clear:
We are not “under the law.”  I really don’t know how we miss that.  How can Paul be more plain?
Being out from under the law does not give us a license to sin.

I’ve got a couple of questions of my own:

Why does a Christ-follower choose to live by the Law instead of the Spirit? I don’t get people who don’t like chocolate and I don’t get Christians who live by the Law.

“Law following” Christians claim to want to live like Jesus.   I believe they really do. But following the Law won‘t get us there.
“through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) – The law brings death, not life.

“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)  There’s no fruit on the Law-tree.

“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” Galatians 5:4-5)  If we choose to live a “righteous” life by following the Law then we cut ourselves off from the resources provided by God – His grace. Paul gives us a choice: Grace or Law?  We can’t have it both ways.

Paul asks my next question. It’s a tough one:  “O,  foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you?  For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.  Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.  How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?  Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain was it?” (Galatians 5:1-4

Paul doesn’t hold back.  He doesn’t sound happy.  He uses some harsh language: “Foolish” literally – a “non-thinker.”  “Cast an evil spell” -under the spell of false teachers.   He sounds frustrated and angry that people are buying what the Judaizers are selling – the teaching that Christ-followers have to follow the Law.  Maybe he’s mad at the sellers as well.  He calls them “dogs” in Philippians 3:2.

“Let’s think this through, “ Paul seems to say.  “If we aren’t saved by obeying the Law then we don’t live the Christian life by obeying the Law.”  There’s a new sheriff in town.  His name is the Holy Spirit and His law is love.

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” James 2:8

“…for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” Galatians 1:6

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  Romans 8:2

Back in my childhood in every Baptist church to which I belonged, we sang songs by Philip P. Bliss: “Wonderful Words of Life”  “Jesus Loves Even Me” and this one:

Free from the law, O happy condition
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.

Now we are free, there’s no condemnation,
Jesus provides a perfect salvation.
“Come unto Me,” O hear His sweet call,
Come, and He saves us once for all.

Paul got it.  Philip Bliss got it.  I want to live the rest of my life getting it.

Jesus Fought the Law and the Law Lost

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Headlines like the one above really irritate some people.  “How dare they pick and choose?!”  But be honest.  We all pick and choose.  Who among us obey all 613 commands of the Mosaic law?  That’s right.  Some people believe that the Law is just the Ten Commandments.  Actually, the Law of Moses contains 613 commandments covering everything from blood sacrifices to men’s haircuts to sewage disposal to charging interest on loans.

The New Testament seems to take a few steps further than the Supreme Court:

Romans 6:14: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 7:4: So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  

Galatians 2:19: For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

Romans 7:6: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Galatians 3:24-45: So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian

Colossians 2:14: ...having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 10:9:  He sets aside the first to establish the second.

Romans 10:4:  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Ephesians 2:14-15:  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances…

Not under law; died to the law; dying to what once bound us;  released from the law; no longer under a guardian; nailed to the cross; obsolete; set aside; Christ is the end of the law; abolishing the law.  Strong words.  Clear communication.

I can hear the objections: “But wait!  What about Matthew 5:17-19? Take that!  See, the law is still in effect.  We’re still supposed to follow it.”  Jesus said,  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished…”

Well, this is confusing.  Paul says Jesus abolished the law (Ephesians 2:15) and Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law!  What’s up?

Back it up.  Jesus did say the law would disappear when two things happened: 1. heaven and earth will disappear,  and, 2. everything is accomplished.   When those two things happen, the law is out of here! It’s gone. So long.  See ya later.  Gone like Roger Daltrey’s shirt.

#2 – Everything is accomplished –  At a key moment Jesus announced that everything was finished – at that moment. “It is finished.” John 19:30

#1 – Heaven and earth will disappear – Well, that obviously means a literal heaven and earth disappearing. Doesn’t it?  Maybe not.
If “heaven and earth” refers to a literal, physical heaven and earth, then, yep, the Law of Moses has not passed – it’s still alive and kicking.  But I believe that “heaven and earth” is a metaphor for political or national systems.  Take a look at these references:
Isaiah 1:1-2; Isaiah 24:3-6; Isaiah 34:3-5; Hebrews 12:26-28; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:32-33

In the last two references Jesus wasn’t speaking of a physical heaven and earth but of a system – a way of doing things – the Mosaic Covenant with its laws, sacrifices, priesthood, tabernacle (Hebrews  9:8-11).  Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem that would happen about 40 years later in A.D. 70 when God removed the things that could be shaken and in their place gave His people a Kingdom which can never be moved (Hebrews 12:18-28).

Luke 21:32-33 contains the same elements as Matthew 5:17-19 – the disappearance of heaven and earth and everything accomplished.

Jesus and Paul are not in conflict with one another.  Heaven and earth – the system under the Mosaic covenant disappeared bringing on the abolishment of the law!!!!

So, I guess we can just let ourselves go wild?!  God, as always, has this covered;
So Christ has truly set us free.  Now make sure you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law…For you have been called to live in freedom … but don’t use your freedom to satisfy your flesh.  Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love…So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide our lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your flesh craves (Galatians 5:1-16).

The law or the Holy Spirit?  What is our choice?

What About the Law?

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Over the last few weeks I have followed the discussion in the blogosphere concerning the role of the Old Testament law.  The question centers on a variation of Moses’ statement made in the above “Speed Bump” cartoon: “What part of the law is meant for us?”

People answer that question in one of three ways:
1. All of it.  2. Some of it.  3. None of it.

Let’s look a bit more closely at the three options:

1. Think hard about this before you say, “Of course all of it is meant for us! God said it so I’ll do it!”  Placing yourself in that group means that you’ve cleaned all of the cotton-polyester     clothes out of your closet – Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11; that you order your     steak “well-done,”  Leviticus 19:26; that you never cut your hair, Leviticus 19:27 (If only I would have used that verse during the great hair-debates of the 60s); and other behaviors that just don’t make much sense to us today.

2. The “some of it” group is huge.  This view breaks the law into three categories:
a. The moral law – declares how man should live.
b. The civil law – describes the legal structures for the ancient nation of Israel.
c. The ceremonial law – declares how Israel was to worship.

The “some of it” group says that only the moral law is “meant for us.”  The ceremonial     and civil laws were meant only for ancient Israel.   So, “Don’t murder” still applies but not the “no haircut” rule. This view is the one held by most Christians today.

3.   The “none of it” answer is the one that I believe is the right one.  To explain why will take a lot longer than one post! Let’s jump in.

*The Bible gives no hint of different “kinds” of law.  It’s all one.  Joshua speaks of the Law as one unit when he writes in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

It sounds like Paul does the same thing in Galatians 5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

No division by either Joshua or Paul.

*How do you pick and choose?  It gets confusing.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”  Should verse 18 be seen as “meant for us” while verse 19 is dismissed as nonapplicable?   The text gives no indication that any kind of hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses.

One of the clearest examples of the confusion in picking which law to keep and which to dismiss is the 4th commandment out of the Big 10 – Exodus 31:14-15 – the one about keeping the Sabbath.  The “some of it” group says that the 10 Commandments are part of the Moral Law, and thus, meant for us today. Wouldn’t most people believe that we are to keep the 10 Commandments?  Yes, but do we really keep the Sabbath?

“Sure. I go to church on Sunday.”

That’s great.  But that’s not keeping the Sabbath.  If we’re going to keep the law, we can’t alter it or adjust it.  The Sabbath is the seventh day which is Saturday.  Keeping the Sabbath didn’t have anything to do with going to church.  It was having a day of total rest.  No work, no chores, no cooking, no traveling.

“But aren’t there passages that say we don’t need to observe the Sabbath anymore?” Yep.  Take a look at Romans 14:5, “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike.  You should be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”  Want another?  “So, don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come.  And Christ himself is that reality.” Colossians 2:16-17

So are we required to keep the Sabbath?  It doesn’t sound like it.  So I guess that means we are to obey the Nine Commandments…right?  Confusing.

Paul may clear it up a bit.
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.”  Galatians 3:19

So, Phillip, what do we do with the 10 Commandments?  We follow many of these same commands like “no adultery”, “no murder”, etc.  But we don’t follow them because they are the 10 Commandments.  We follow them because we follow the way of love – the way of Christ who is the Seed who has come.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  Galatians 5:14,18

Love, as experienced and expressed in Jesus is what is meant for us.

“I Feel Good”

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The word on the street is that the church I pastor is “just a feel-good church.”  I guess that makes me “just a feel-good pastor.”  It wasn’t meant to be a compliment.  So, it’s OK for James Brown (I Feel Good) or Chuck Mangione (Feels So Good) or Three Dog Night or Flo-Rida (Good Feelin’) to “feel good” but it’s not good for people who go to church to “feel good?”  I don’t get it.

The fella who passed on to me the word he had heard had this commentary: “Who wants to feel good after going to church?”   The kind of church I want to be a part of is one that makes you feel terrible!”  I like that fella.

Why do we feel threatened by “feeling good?”  What is in our theology that equates “feeling good” with “being bad”?  How many of you who grew up in church grew up thinking,  “If it feels good, it’s probably sin.”  That’s Jack LaLanne thinking, not Jesus thinking.  Do you remember Jack LaLanne?  He’s the father of the modern fitness movement.  One of his nutrition rules was, “If it tastes good, spit it out.” I guess his rule worked well.  He lived til he was 96.  Jesus seemed, though, to turn conventional wisdom upside down.  Gain by losing. Lead by serving.  Receive by giving.

So, what’s Jesus thinking when it comes to “feel-good” churches?   We get a clue from the name we’ve given the 4 New Testament biographies of Jesus – the Gospels – which means “Good News.”  This story of Jesus is “good” news, not “bad” news.  When I hear good news I usually feel good.

The sermon preached by the angel to the shepherds “watching their flocks” on the night of Jesus’ birth was certainly a “feel good” sermon.  Do you remember this line? “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  Good news results in great joy.

Listen to Jesus himself:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, becasue he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19

“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”  Luke 4:43

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

People who “go off” on “feel-good churches” are implying that these churches are not teaching the truth because the truth is hard to swallow – it doesn’t feel good going down.

Let’s be clear: there are times when truth hurts.  As James Garfield said, “The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable.”  For a bit more edgy version of this idea check out Gloria Steinem’s take: http://thinkexist.com/quotes/gloria_steinem/.  Jesus said some tough stuff- mostly to religious people.  In fact, here are the stats:  Going off on “sinners” – 0.  Going off on the “religious” – I can’t count that high.

“Pride, hypocrisy, insensitivity, judgmentalism, ”  are a few of the things in the Pharisees that Jesus called out.

I have concluded that it is not my job to make people feel good OR bad about where they are in their spiritual journey.  It is my job to show people Jesus and let Him, through the Holy Spirit, do what He does.

John said this about Jesus, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).  Sometimes we’ll feel bad at church because we realize we’re not like Jesus.  But all the time we should feel good at church because we know that no matter what, Jesus loves us, He’s for us, and wants to express Himself through us.

That sounds good.  That is good.  That makes me feel good.

“Accusation is Not Proof”

It’s old news now – Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted about President Obama during the Inauguration.

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I’ve stared at this tweet off and on, not knowing how to respond. Not knowing if I should respond.  “Some thoughts are better left unexpressed,” I’ve told myself. “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” advice I obviously have not followed in the past.

News came to me this week, however, that made the tweet personal.  Driscoll lobbed a bomb at the President.  The pastor, along with all Americans, has a right to criticize our leaders and their policies.  It’s the American way.  No problem there.  Driscoll’s tweet though was the delivery of a spiritual slam.

“…who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Several months ago a message began circulating that “Phillip doesn’t believe the Bible.”  Like the Energizer Bunny the message keeps going and going.  I heard it again this week. I thought, “Really?”

The charge came as a result of a teaching I gave in September 2012.   I’ve listened to the audio of that teaching three times  – I never said what was said I said.

I did say this: “We can’t build our faith on the foundation of the Bible, but on the person of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:14)

And I said the following in response to an earlier comment from another teacher at the same seminar concerning inerrancy: “Every inerrantist I know, or have read, believes that only the original manuscripts are inerrant.  So if you base your trust in the Bible on its inerrancy then you won’t be able to trust this book (the one I’m holding in my hand), because the Bible you have right here is not the original manuscript.  And if you base your trust in the Bible on whether or not it is inerrant then you can’t trust what you have here…”

The claim is made by those who hold an inerrantist view, that the trustworthiness of the Bible stands or falls with inerrancy.  If the Bible contains any real errors it cannot be trusted.  Then there is the admission that every Bible that exists probably contains errors.  Only the original manuscripts can be considered perfectly inerrant.

So…think along with me…if the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on inerrancy- as defined as “without error” –  and only the original manuscripts – which no one has – are inerrant, then that does not bode well for the trustworthiness of the Bible we do have.

That is why I like and hold the definition of inerrancy given by John Piper – “Perfect with regard to purpose.” The Bible’s main purpose is transformation, not information (2 Timothy 3:16), and it’s unfortunate that so many people spend their time arguing over the “information” part.  The Bible is absolutely trustworthy to do what it is intended to do.

Back to the tweet.

I do not know why the President is accused by Driscoll of not believing the Bible.  I do know that in the words of Edward R. Murrow, the pioneer of television news reporting, “Accusation is not proof.”

Yeah, it’s a bit personal.

Holiness? “Love God, then do what you please.”

Let’s continue thinking about holiness. There seems to be a conflict.  Christianity Today asks the question, “Do American Christians Need the Message of Grace or a Call to Holiness?”  What is your answer?  My answer has not always been warmly received.  I’m still trying to figure out why. Personally, grace is like ice-cream. You can’t have too much.
Maybe Paul clears up the confusion when he tells us to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)  “True holiness?”  Did you catch that?  If there is true holiness, there must be false holiness.  Maybe we’re all hung up on a holiness that is false.

False holiness is about keeping Christian rules.  
False holiness is about keeping away from bad influences.

See any problem with the above definitions of holiness?  One big one!  Jesus.  Jesus was holy.  No question about that.  Yet, Jesus broke quite a few religious rules – so many and so often that the religious leaders put him to death. Maybe Christianity is not about keeping the rules.

Keeping away from bad influences? Jesus kind of messes with that one as well. “A friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), Jesus was called.  He hung out with and even ate with people who were “bad influences.” The Gospel writers didn’t say that Jesus tolerated sinners, or that he made an allowance for them to be in his gathering.  It doesn’t say that he tract-bombed them and then ran. No, the writers tell us that he was a friend of sinners.  He went to their houses, talked with them over wine (not grape juice).

For those who follow a false holiness, holiness requires them to keep away from certain people. For Jesus, holiness compelled him to reach out to those same people.

So, no one lived a holier life than Jesus, yet he broke religious rules and the irreligious considered him to be their friend.

False holiness is controlling my sin.   Borrowing the term from Dallas Willard, holiness is all about “sin management.”   In this view of holiness, the gospel is little more than a list of good behaviors. Christianity is about being good and making sure other people are good.  We focus on our behavior and even more so at times, other’s behaviors.  Result? We turn into guilt-ridden, judgmental, list-makers.  And the sins keep popping up like “Whack-a-mole.”

There’s a better way.  True holiness.  Think about this until next time:  What was the first sin about?  A broken rule or a broken relationship?  Did God really care about a piece of fruit? When Adam and Eve broke the rule they were demonstrating that they didn’t trust God.  They doubted God’s love and goodness.

St. Augustine once said, “Love God, then do what you please.” Paul puts it like this: “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised (Fill in your own rule here).  What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” Galatians 5:6

“Faith (dependence on Jesus), expressing itself in love.”   Now, that’s true holiness.

“Bible-minded” “Christ-like”

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Mark Twain

The latest “facts” from the Barna organization were released January 23 under the title, “America’s Most and Least Bible-Minded Cities.” Coming in at #1 is Knoxville, Tennessee, the home of the Lady Vols, with 52% of the population being “Bible-minded.”  Coming in last is Providence, Rhode Island with 9% being “Bible-minded.”  How ironic that a town named “Providence” is last in this category.  Roger Williams can’t be happy with this.  The town where I live, Springfield, Missouri, is in the top ten at #6 with 49% being “Bible-minded.”

As always, I have questions:

How do they reach these rankings?  What are the criteria? What does “Bible-minded” really mean?  Why didn’t they ask me?  For the past seven years the Barna people surveyed through phone and online interviews 42,855 adults.  The organization defines “Bible-minded” as having read the Bible within the last seven days and strongly believe that the Bible is accurate in all it teaches.  Apparently they just asked people how often they read their Bibles.  That’s like asking people how often they exercise. Do our answers reflect what we actually do or what we should do?  How honest are the answers?

And what about the “accurate in all it teaches” line? What if a survey taker loves the Bible, values it as God-breathed, not only reads it but works hard at understanding it and applying it to life, yet sees Genesis 1 not as “accurate” history but as “accurate” poetry Tim Keller or who sees Jonah as “accurate” story but not “accurate” history C.S. Lewis?  Would they be considered “Bible-minded” or not?

Here are some take-aways for me:

* Thinking biblically is more than reading or even memorizing a lot of Scripture.  It is learning to think critically and practically about the Bible.  It’s about trying to understand the Bible in its original intent, its contexts, and its relevance to us today.  It’s about combining all of these things in both personal application and community encouragement.

* The Barna people say that the rankings “reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible.”  That means that in my home town of Springfield, 51% of the residents are closed or resistant to the Bible.  Hmmm.  Being that Springfield is in the “Bible belt” maybe Christ-followers here need a little fashion advice on how to wear the “belt.” I know I’m “fashion challenged.”

* While I want to be “bible-minded” I want to be “Christ-like” even more. 1 John 2:6  Maybe the better question is, “Do I look like Jesus?”

* “I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me – they’re cramming for their final exam.” George Carlin

That hits home.  It’s good for all of us to read the Bible a lot more.  The Bible tells the truth about the Truth and leads us to Him.

This I believe…

Another song from my Sunday School days went like this:

“I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery.
I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’M IN THE LORD’S ARMY!”

The song was always accompanied by lots of stomping on our part.  It felt like we were stomping on anyone who didn’t agree with us.   I’ve seen a lot of spiritual stompers.  I’ve been one myself.  Maybe still am at times.  I’m sure I’ve got some boots close by.

There’s a lot of stomping going on around the topic of the Bible.  I was in college and seminary during the Scripture wars.  Harold Lindsell picked a fight with plenty when he wrote Battle For the Bible. The book pitted a bunch of evangelicals against one another.   Some of the casualties of the war included godly, Christ-honoring, Bible-believing professors under whom I sat.

Back up the church bus!  How can they be casualties of Bible wars if they are Bible-believers?  Great question.  For spiritual stompers it’s not a matter of believing the Bible but a matter of believing certain things about the Bible. “You may be a Christ-follower, you may seek to let Christ express Himself through you, but if you don’t believe as I do about the Bible…” then stomp, stomp, stomp.  For instance:

Inerrancy – the belief that the Bible contains no mistakes.  The thinking goes like this: “God is perfect.  The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore the Bible is perfect.”  “Jesus, the living Word is sinless, so it is assumed that the written Word is sinless.”  (Does anyone see the danger in that thinking?) Back to Lindsell’s book: He says, “…the Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine…when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us.  It does not contain any errors of any kind.”

Then we run into statements in the Bible that aren’t perfect.  I hate it when that happens.  Take this example: Mark 6:8, speaking of Jesus sending out His disciples, says, “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff…”  The same account in Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10 has Jesus saying, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff..”  So, who got it right? Mark or Matthew and Luke?  Did Jesus tell his disciples to bring staffs or not?

This freaks some people out.   “All Scripture is God-breathed…” after all.  That means the Bible is always right.  It is, in fact, impossible for the Bible to be wrong about anything.  If it’s wrong about anything, well, it may be wrong about everything.  Yikes! Then what do we do?

So what does it mean to “believe the Bible,” “confess it’s true” when we are well aware that certain “facts” don’t fit?

First, questions are good.  I know, we’re not supposed to ask questions.  We’re supposed to provide answers to other people’s questions.  But, sorry, I have questions.  So did Origen.  Origen was a theologian and respected Bible interpreter in the 3rd century.  He read the war accounts of Joshua and couldn’t get a handle on them. “Why would God command His people to commit genocide?” he asked.  Others have asked the same thing.  His take on it?  He concluded that the conquest stories in Joshua are allegories of how we battle the temptations we face.  How would that fly in the church today?  No matter if you agree with Origen or not, you have to love the fact that he asked questions, that he wrestled with the texts and that he tried hard to apply the Bible to his life and world.

Second,  Literal or not?    Shouldn’t we read the Bible literally?  Sounds right, doesn’t it? Right but not simple.  Here are a couple of definitions of “literal:”
1. “It happened exactly this way.”  or,
2. “What the writer intended.”
So, for example, what does it mean to read Genesis 1 literally?  If you follow the first definition, Genesis 1 is a play-by-play description of how the world was created. If you follow the second definition, it could be a God-inspired meditation on the origins of the universe attesting to the creative power of God.

Tim Keller, who believes that Genesis 1 is a poem, says this: “The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken.  Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.”

Third, accept the Bible for what it is. Some years ago the late Adrian Rogers, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked for his definition of inerrancy.  He answered: “It means the Bible is truth without mixture of error historically, philosophically, scientifically and theologically.”  While I have huge respect for Dr. Rogers, he was making claims about the Bible that the Bible doesn’t make for itself.

The Bible does not claim to be inerrant. It does claim to be true.  “The entirety of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” Psalm 119:160.  “True” does not mean “inerrant”.  The Bible is 100% true, but that doesn’t necessitate that all of it has to be 100% scientific and historical “fact.”  To require the Bible to be “factual” in the areas of history, chronology, science,  is to impose on it a 21st century mindset that distorts it.

When you’re dealing with any book, you have to know what its purpose is or you won’t understand it correctly.  The main purpose of the Bible is found here:

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself…And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27, 44-45

The purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s final Word: Jesus.

Let’s take off and keep off our stomping boots and put on our sandals and walk with Jesus – the Living Word.