Persecution doesn’t happen in the USA! Oh really?
“The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”” (Gen. 3:1).
These are some of the most famous words of Scripture. They also help us to understand something about God’s self-revelation that we have contained in Scripture; God spoke and did so in order to be understood by man. Thus, He enabled man to understand language. Along with that God taught Adam to speak and entrusted him, at least in part, with the disseminating of the original prohibition against eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to Eve. Based on these truths it is evident that God divinely created language, designed for communication between Himself and man, designed man to be able to utilize that language and did so in a way that was universal. Every person on earth, with the exception of those who are mentally or physically incapable of doing so, is able to communicate using the divinely created vehicle of language. We can even learn languages that are not native to our own. Language, communication, is a gift from God. At least it used to be thought of as such.
The year is 2011 and you and I can no longer communicate. At least that’s what I understand the Postmodern intellects are telling us. Oh, but if we can no longer communicate with the confidence that we will understand each other, then why am I still writing? The same reason they continue to blow their hot air. No one truly believes their fallacious conclusion. The same can be said of those in the Emerging Church arena, like Rob Bell, who believe that we cannot really understand God’s word with certainty. I make this assertion about Bell’s conclusion from reading what he wrote in Velvet Elvis (pp. 53-54). On these pages Bell discusses something that one of his staff members said some time back. She had been attempting to understand a certain passage of Scripture and had consulted several commentators from every side of the issue. In the end she decided “to get back to the Bible and just take it for what it really says” (53). His assessment of her conclusion? In his words, “this view of the Bible is warped and toxic, to say the least” (Ibid).
Those are strong words, and wrong. To be honest he does make the correct point that anyone who attempts to interpret Scripture will bring their own presuppositions (preconceived ideas) to the task. But the trained interpreter (pastors, that means you need to train your people to properly employ Hermeneutic principles) will identify his/her presuppositions and strive to not allow those presuppositions to influence his/her interpretation. On the other hand, Bell abandons the possibility of doing so. Bell says, “But let’s be honest. When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true. They are telling you what they think it means” (54). Therefore, Bell, if not explicitly at least implicitly, abandons any hope of discovering the objective meaning of Scripture.
So where does that leave us? If we take Bell’s philosophy to its logical conclusion then we must affirm the idea that God’s word cannot be understood objectively, but it is left to each person to state, “this passage means _________ to me.” In this realm we will find that any single passage will have as many interpretations as there are people interpreting it. Thus Scripture comes to mean absolutely nothing. God cannot communicate clearly.
But there is another problem that must be addressed in another realm of Christianity. It occurs among those who would vigorously argue against Bell’s ideas about Scripture. They believe that God spoke and that He did so in a way that man can understand. They also believe that each individual has the capacity to understand the true meaning of God’s word for himself/herself because of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit indwelling them. However, in their interpretive practice they cast a cloud upon the perspicuity (big word for clarity) of Scripture, and in the end CAN lead to the same conclusion to which Bell and others have arrived – Scripture can’t be understood objectively.
Of what am I speaking you may ask. It occurs when those in the Covenant Reformed realm demand that Israel refers to the Church, or, the Church is the new Israel, spiritual Israel, true Israel, etc. Much ink has been spilt and much space on the internet has been occupied in arguing either for or against this interpretation of Scripture. My contention is simply that this is fuel for those who believe that Scripture is not understandable. If words mean anything, then Israel must mean Israel, the nation, the ethnic descendants of Israel (a.k.a. Jacob), or Scripture is truly open to anyone’s personal interpretation.
Here are some facts. Every, yes EVERY usage of the name Israel in the Old Testament refers to the nation, the people, the land, or Jacob. The Old Testament doesn’t speak of the Church as we understand the New Testament Church. You can argue against that all day, but the only way that you can is if you read the New Testament back into the Old and change/alter what the term Israel means. When one comes to the New Testament he will find that the word Israel is used some 74 times and every, yes EVERY time it refers to the land, the people, the nation, Jacob or his descendants. The ONLY way that one can come to the conclusion that it refers to the Church is to change the meaning of Israel, and Scripture does not do that, ever. There is absolutely no context in which Scripture changes the meaning of Israel (or Jew) to reference the Church. The two are separate entities. God is using the Church, the Body of Christ (a term never, yes NEVER used of Israel) to accomplish His purposes now. In due time He will again use Israel to accomplish His plan – to glorify Himself in the whole earth. God clearly identifies this truth in Ezekiel 36:20-36;
“When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord; yet they have come out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” Thus says the Lord God, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken and will do it.”
I will illustrate the outcome of changing Israel to mean the Church. If that is a legitimate practice, then let’s look at the preceding passage and make some observations. First of all we need to read Church instead of Israel where applicable. Now, in verse 20 what land is God speaking about? When did the Church, the Universal Church, profane God’s name among the nations (v. 20-22)? (Of course with the way things are going in the Western Church that may not be a stretch to imagine) In verse 24, which of the lands is God going to bring us into? If Israel, then the land of Israel has significance for today, which is denied by many in the Church. If Israel, then when will we go there and how much land do I get? If not Israel, where? Maybe it means heaven? If so, we once again must assert that God is not clear when He speaks. In verse 28 we need to decide what land was given to our forefathers and who are these forefathers of whom He is speaking? If the land is Israel, then when do I get my ticket there? If it is not, guess what, once again you have to change it to mean something that is not in the context, such as heaven, or America. In verse 30 He speaks of multiplying the fruit of the tree, etc. But we here in Western Texas can’t even get rain. We must have done something for which God is bringing punishment. But if that is the case, then what about His promise that we will not experience famine? Well, we’re not experiencing famine, but we are having a severe drought. What wasted cities is He speaking of (v.33), or the desolate land?
Can you see what happens? If the Covenant Reformed brothers change the meaning of Israel to Church then that is not the only thing that has to be changed. Many things must be allegorized, spiritualized, or otherwise changed to mean something other than what is written in order to fit with the Church as Israel scenario. And in doing this we fuel the view that God’s word is not clear, that He cannot be understood with certainty. It is a slippery slope that leads to confusion and, yes, a failure to communicate. Ultimately, it leads to a denigration of the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of God’s word.
If words mean anything, if God desires that we understand Him and His message to us, Israel must mean Israel and Church must mean something other than.
I pray this helps.
The title of this entry has been borrowed from two sources. It is the title of an article written in Voice Magazine, July/August 2008 (the publication of the IFCA, The Independent Fundamental Churches of America) and was written by W.W. McEad. In turn, he borrowed the title from a line in President Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural address who stated that he had asked his staff these questions concerning his mission to return America to greatness; “If not us, who? And if not now, when?” The article from Voice magazine is an excellent one and also very convicting.
For the brief time that I have been a pastor and blogger I have continually attempted to sound warnings concerning the “downgrade” that is taking place within the Church. It is a downgrade that is caused by and feeding the moral and cultural downgrade taking place in Western civilization. Unfortunately too many times the response of the Church is to withdraw from the arena of ideas and hide away behind the walls of our church buildings. In such cases the culture is left to continue an unimpeded slide into moral morass. On the other side of the coin many churches have decided to adopt much of the swill being produced by the culture in order to somehow reach the culture. In that case both the culture and the church together slide unimpeded into the mishmash of religious confusion and moral decline.
Instead of taking a lot of space to address this issue on my own, I would like to share with you some of what Mr. McEad wrote in his piece for Voice. In this article, Mr. McEad addresses what the need of the hour is for both the Church and the culture.
In America today we must not quake before the enemy and circle the wagons, gathering together within the walls of church buildings, acting as a beleaguered fighting force bereft of its will for battle. We must stop the practice of praying for the Lord’s soon return in hopes that we will no longer have to be offended by the sights and smells of the growing corruption of our society. The church cannot continue to carry on with what has become “business as usual” because “business as usual” is not accomplishing our “business” in this nation. America is in critical need of a Church that will come out from behind the sanctuary walls and mobilize for a great spiritual offensive aimed at claiming new territory, establishing beachheads in new communities, and branching out from those communities into even further reaches, wherever people are in need of spiritual deliverance and liberation from bondage. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
If there be any hope for America, if there be any salvation for our society as a whole, there must be a deliberate, effective and immediate move to reverse the tide. It is time for another awakening in America. This awakening must be driven by fanning the flickering flame of Great Commission activity in the Church in America.
Although we should and must continue to look up in hope of Christ’s return we must not, we cannot cease to labor in His name and power. We must be like Noah who when commanded by God to build the ark that would save him, his family and many of God’s creatures, took the slings and arrows of those who most assuredly derided him for building a ship in the middle of an arid land. It is not hard to imagine Noah proclaiming the coming judgment of God in an attempt to warn those with whom he came in contact. Both temporal and eternal punishment are coming by the hand of God. We must be about the Father’s business of gathering people to the ark of safety found only in the person of His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. And we must do so by the proclamation of the one true Gospel. We must give both sides of the story, for there is no good news without bad news. We are separated from His Creator by our sin. We are dead in our sins and unable by any means to save ourselves. And we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) simply waiting for an eternity of punishment in a real place called Hell (Revelation 20:11-15). But God did not abandon us to that state. Instead He sent His son Jesus the Messiah Who lived a perfect life and died as the perfect payment for our sins. Jesus died in our place; “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21); “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8-9). This is the message that leads the lost to saving faith in the One Man who is also God, Jesus the Messiah. And believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who is able to save is the only way of salvation.
God bless. I pray this helps.
I have often had people argue with me over whether or not God still speaks to us. It’s the old cessationist/non-cessationist row. In his most recent blog, Phil Johnson demonstrates the dangers posed by those who do not hold to Sola Scriputra, which is true of those who are non-cessationist, who believe that God still speaks or reveals things to us supernaturally.
I offer this blog with a strong warning, a warning that echoes Johnson’s warning. The video of Mark Driscoll’s sermon is GRAPHIC and should only be viewed by the spiritually mature believer.
To read the article and view the video you can go here – Pyromaniacs.
In our society it is a common thing to hear a believer say that he/she wants to know the will of God for his/her life. I believe the premise is flawed and therefore will lead to a wrong answer and a life of constant doubt and frustration. God’s will for every believer is clearly presented in Scripture. The problem is that in our fast-food, microwave, want everything handed to us wrapped with a neat ribbon society Christians are too lazy to search the Scriptures to find the will of God. It is not found in a single verse, but throughout the word of God. However, the promise is that we have available to us the ability to “prove what the will of God is” (Rom. 12:2) an ability made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit and the renewing of our minds by God’s word.
The Greek word translated “prove” means “to put to the test, examine” (BDAG) the idea meaning to “put to the test for the purpose of approving, and finding that the thing tested meets the specifications laid down, to put one’s approval upon it” (Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament). This is not to say that the process of proving God’s will puts the Christian interpreter above the Word, but that when one actually begins to live in obedience, a.k.a. put the word to the test by living in obedience to it, he finds that God’s will and word are perfect, and reality is the way that He describes it. The major point is that God has revealed everything that we need to know to live life the way that He wants us to (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). Along with that He has given us the power, through His indwelling Spirit, to carry out His will. Look at it in this light; there are enough passages in Scripture that explicitly state that such-and-such is God’s will for you that it would occupy every moment of every day to actually live in obedience to them. If we did that then we wouldn’t have time to sit around questioning what God wants us to do with our lives.
The following may help us understand why we have such difficulty knowing God’s will: 1.) Christians, for the most part, don’t know God’s word well enough to live in obedience to Him and therefore we live life questioning what His will for us is. 2.) Christians, for the most part, aren’t willing to spend the time studying God’s word to know it and therefore they don’t know their God like they think they do. 3.) Coinciding with that, Christians, for the most part, want some “spiritual giant” to hand deliver the answers so they don’t have to get off their duffs to search for it. 4.) Most Christians are more interested in hearing feel-good, 12-step, how-to messages instead of careful verse-by-verse exegetical teaching of God’s word. 5.) Most Christians don’t live in obedience to what little they do know about God’s word.
In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers offers some pertinent insight to this last point. In my copy the date is July 27th where Chambers states,
The golden rule for understanding spirituality is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey.
No man ever receives a word from God without instantly being put to the test over it. We disobey and then wonder why we don’t go on spiritually.
Allow me to state the bottom line. If you want to know what God’s will is then study His word. I don’t mean a ten minute read in the morning, but an in-depth study of His word. It takes a lot of time and effort, but that is the only way to come to know Him and His will. After studying His word ask Him for wisdom to apply it to your life and then live in obedience to what you know. When you live in obedience to what you know He will begin to illuminate more of His word/will to you. As you live in obedience to all that you are learning (none of us do it 100%) you will be living His will for you. Then questions as to what type of work you should do or what school you should attend, etc., will simply depend on what you want to do, not receiving a special message from God. I base this on reading Psalm 37:4-5; “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Here’s a hint to help you understand verse 4; the desires of your heart are not referring to giving you the car you want. It is speaking of the desire that you have will be from Him.
In this day and time Christians better study God’s word and learn to live in obedience to it. The day is coming when all the other stuff that we try to stuff into the modern concept of God’s will aren’t going to matter. I doubt that our brothers and sisters in China sit around wondering about what career God wants them to engage in. Their concerns are bigger than that.
I pray this helps.
P.S. If you are interested in a great education in how to really study your Bible Tyndale Theological Seminary’s class Advanced Hermeneutics is it. You can get information on this at http://www.tyndale.edu. Classes are inexpensive, but very profitable. I highly recommend this course. I teach it at Cornerstone Bible Church in Lubbock, TX, which is an official Tyndale Learning Center.