Tuesday, June 28, 2011

End Times Madness

The following are questions asked of me, and my answers, in an online discussion or debate. [Whether it was a "discussion" or a "debate" depended upon who was asking the question!]. Talk of “last days” and “Israel” is all the rage right now. It seems that the everyday Christian, and even the curious unbeliever, are fairly caught up in eschatological speculation and what I affectionately call “end times madness.” May the Lord add His blessing to your reading and further study.

Q: What is Dispensationalism?
Dispensationalism [the system of eschatology/soteriology depicted in the “Left Behind” series and other such books and movies] arose in the middle of the 19th Century. Basically, Dispensationalists believe that God has two chosen peoples: national Israel and the Church. Because national Israel rejected Jesus, God's "program" for national Israel has been "put on hold." Now, God is dealing with the Church's "program." The promises of God have NOT been fulfilled in Christ, rather the promises are now "on hold." I repeat: Jesus did NOT fulfill the promises. His first Coming resulted in the delay of the promises.

However, according to Dispensationalists, God will keep His promises to national Israel, sometime in the future; AFTER He finishes His "program" with the Church. The church will be "raptured" and then God will go back to His “program” with Israel. Thus, Old Testament saints are NOT part of the Church [i.e. the Body of Christ] and those who will be saved after God's "program" with the Church is concluded [i.e. folks in the "Great Tribulation"], also will NOT be part of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Dispensationalism is a very convoluted scheme. It divides the people of God into two disparate groups. And it puts forward, in essence, 2 ways of salvation [though Dispensationalists are loathe to admit this]. For example, Dispensationalists repeatedly allege that Old Testament saints did NOT have faith in Christ because they didn't know of Him. But this is untenable, for the New Testament everywhere preaches Christ FROM the Old Testament. The Jews who rejected Jesus did not do so because they lacked information. Their problem then, as it is today, was unbelief; not ignorance.

Dispensationalists are fond of labeling non Dispensationalists [such as myself and all Christians before the 19th Century!] as "Anti Semitic." Nothing could be further from the truth! Do I have an Israel-centric view of scripture? No. And neither does the New Testament. The New Testament presents the promises and prophecies contained in the Old Testament as finding fulfillment in Christ. We, like the Apostles and Jesus Himself, have a Christocentric view of the Bible. We preach Christ from every text. In other words, the Old Testament is Christian. To properly understand the Old Testament, one must look through the lens of Christ.

The Old Testament saints, by grace through faith, looked to Christ. He was preached or revealed to them in types, shadows, prophets, law, and sacrifices. There is one people of God composed of Old Testament and New Testament believers. God has one chosen people, His elect. The Jews living in and outside the nation of Israel have the same hope of salvation as Gentiles living there and everywhere else: Repent and believe the Gospel.

Q: Do you think the church has replaced Israel?
That’s not how I would word it. No. The promises of God are fulfilled in Christ. Old Testament saints were NEVER saved because of their ethnicity. They were saved just as we are: By grace through faith in the Messiah. Only those Jews and Gentiles who have the faith of Abraham are the children of Abraham. This is true in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. Abraham had many biological children, but only those who were of faith are "the children of Abraham." The "Israel of God" is not synonymous with national Israel, and it never was.

Q: Doesn’t Romans 11 tell us God has not cast away his people, Israel?
I do not disbelieve Romans 11. Can you present one comment from me which says, "God has cast away His people, Israel"? This is what we call "straw man" argumentation [misrepresenting a position and then attacking the mischaracterization, instead of interacting with what is actually being said].

I believe Romans 11. But here's the problem. Romans 11 says NOTHING even remotely similar to the end times madness laid out by Dispensationalists. Please show one verse from Romans 11 which speaks of raptures, Great Tribulations, or geopolitical kingdoms. I'll take just one.

No. The hope for Jews in Romans 11 is the exact SAME hope for Gentiles: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I do NOT believe that the nation of Israel is inexorably doomed to another holocaust. [Isn't it ironic that those who wholeheartedly DO believe this, are fond of referring to those of us who disagree with them as "Anti-Semitic"?]

Rather, I pray for God to sovereignly open the nation of Israel to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is also my prayer for Iraq, Iran, Libya, the United States, Europe, etc.) My prayer for national Israel is that her citizens will repent and believe the Gospel; and thereby become citizens of "the Israel of God," the Church (Gal 6:16). And thus, "all Israel [the Israel of God] will be saved" (Rom 11:26).

Q: I understand what you're saying about Dispensationalism not having a history prior to the 19th century. Does this automatically render it inaccurate?
 Of course it doesn't. Please show where I've said anything like: "Dispensationalism is new, therefore it's false." I would never make such an illogical assertion. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's wrong, and just because something is old doesn't mean it's right.

I like to point out that Dispensationalism is new because Dispensationalists present their system as being "as plain as the nose on your face" so to speak. Obviously, if this were true, there would have been Dispensationalists before the 19th Century.

Also, I find that the "run of the mill" Dispensationalist has NEVER EVEN HEARD of other eschatological positions. (And the vast majority who have heard of other systems, only know them from the writings of other Dispensationalists --what we call “hostile witnesses.”)

In addition to this, Dispensationalists tend to look upon non Dispensationalists with suspicion--they're either theologically liberal or Anti Semitic, and so on. They will say things like: "Well, I believe the Bible. If you disagree with me you have no respect for God's word!" (Such things have been said to me on numerous occasions.)

All Christians were non Dispensational before the 19th Century. Were they all liberal? Did they lack respect for the Bible? I think not.

These are some reasons why I point out the "Johnny come lately" nature of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalists tend to make their system a litmus test for orthodoxy--and it isn't.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Common Altar: Worship in the High Church of CNN

[N]obody knows what's in God's mind. He doesn't have a cell number. Or if he does, it's not connected, and nobody has spoken to him personally. Nobody can say, who's going to be admitted in heaven and who's not going to be admitted. Judaism believes that it ought to be based on deeds, not dogmas. --Rabbi Marvin Hier
The above quote is taken from a transcript of the CNN talk show, Larry King Live. The Rabbi was participating in a roundtable discussion which included a Muslim scholar, a CNN correspondent, a conservative Christian pastor [John MacArthur], and another gentleman who calls himself a Christian but does not believe that the Bible is the word of God or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for man’s sins and physically rose from the dead. Please understand, I don’t begrudge this gentleman’s right to believe as he chooses, but I do wish he’d refer to himself as something other than “Christian” and refrain from wearing the title “Reverend.”

Lest you think me to be uncharitable, consider this. Suppose I had been able to ask our Muslim scholar friend the following question: “Can a person deny that the Koran is the word of God and that Mohammed is his prophet, and still be considered Muslim?” What do you think the answer would be? Of course, the answer would be a resounding “NO.” Such denials preclude one from the Islamic faith. In like manner, rejecting God’s word, the Holy Bible, and His Son, Jesus Christ, bars one from the Christian faith. You see, both historic Christianity and classical Islam are deeply committed to the concept of objective, transcendent, absolute authority; while our so called “reverend” is committed to nothing but his own subjective, personal preferences.

To be sure, Christianity and Islam are very much disagreed as to what this objective, transcendent, absolute authority is or consists of, or where it is to be found; but they do agree at least that this authority does exist and that it has been revealed to man. The exclusive truth claims of Islam and Christianity cannot both be right, i.e. Mohammad cannot be God’s prophet if Jesus is God’s Son. Or it cannot be true that God is a Trinity and that He is not a Trinity. It cannot be true that the Koran is the word of God and also that the Holy Bible is the word of God. And so on.

That Islam and Christianity cannot both be right is evident to plain reason. That is, truth is necessarily absolute and non contradictory. If this is not so, then all knowledge has perished and life is meaningless. But we know better. Plain reason dictates that man does not live, because he cannot live, devoid of all knowledge. How can one purposefully live meaninglessly? This is a contradiction. Adhering to conflicting truth claims, the Muslim tenaciously obeys Mohammad and the Christian wholeheartedly trusts Christ. Meanwhile, our so called “reverend” friend tenaciously obeys and wholeheartedly trusts himself.

Into this caldron of competing truth claims jumps our aforementioned Rabbi friend. We gather from his own words that he is Deistic [that is, he believes in a god who is entirely disconnected]; and correlatively, he is also agnostic [that is, he knows that he cannot know]. Hence he offers, “Nobody knows what's in God's mind...Nobody can say, who's going to be admitted in heaven and who's not going to be admitted.” Our Rabbi friend knows that he cannot know. He then proceeds to tell us that whoever does get into heaven will get there by “deeds, not dogmas.”

Two things stand out here. The first is this: How can the Rabbi--who is convinced he cannot know God’s mind [and I infer that if one cannot know God’s mind in any sense, one cannot know God]--possibly know which deeds are “good” and which deeds are not so good, according to this disconnected and unknowable God? How can he know which deeds meet God’s approval? The second problem with his assertion, is simply this: His assertion is an assertion. In other words, he dogmatically asserts that we get to heaven by “deeds, not dogmas.” This is a contradiction [sort of like the Christian whose creed is, “I have no creed but Christ!”].

Now we come to the CNN correspondent. The correspondent came to the table under the pretense of neutrality. I call this “neutrality” a pretense because all such "neutrality" is merely pretended. When it comes to God there’s no such thing as genuine neutrality. Even the most sensitive and self conscious correspondent cannot be rid of his/her own set of presuppositions. No matter how meticulous the reporting, the presuppositions bleed through.

The correspondent strove to convince herself and her audience that each of these religious perspectives were equally true and valid and to be equally esteemed. To do this, of course, she had to equally devalue and equally dismiss all other religious perspectives in order to uphold her own religious perspective of pluralism. Basically, our pluralist friend says to all religions, other than her religion of pluralism, “You guys are all wrongly saying the same wrong things and are going about the same wrong things in the same wrong ways, but are too wrongheaded to know this.” All pluralists say this, in one way or another.

More could be said, but I close with our conservative Christian brother. One thing separates him from all others at the table [or shall I say "the altar"]: his allegiance to Jesus Christ and to Him alone. In the final analysis, everyone else [including the Muslim scholar] places their hope in themselves; in their mechanical obedience to a set of standards, or in their enlightened humanism, in their ancient traditions, or perhaps in their attempted goodness according to their own conscience. In the eyes of God all of these things are utterly insufficient to save man. Thankfully, God’s unmerited favor and the sufficiency of Christ alone make all the difference.
I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord...that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness...but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Philippians 3:8,9)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Anti-Rapture: Taking the World Out of Christians, part II

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:15-17)
Last week we discussed the subject of sanctification from the perspective that the Christian is in the world but not of it, because God Himself separates the righteous from the unrighteous. God has always done this and He always will. This is what I referred to as the “theological side” of sanctification. The question before us now is this: How do Christians live out, in the day-to-day, their sanctification?

Are we to close ourselves off--much like the Amish--from the rest of the world, or practice some sort of monasticism? I think not. For Jesus clearly says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world” (John 17:15). Thus, we are called to have meaningful points of contact with the world around us; and at those points of contact, we are to be salt and light. We are not to simply withdraw from the world around us. For example, the Apostle Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1Cor. 5:9-10). How shall we love and evangelize our neighbor if we will not “keep company” with him?

Since we are not to withdraw from the culture around us, and since we are not to be unduly influenced by the world, we must seek to combat our natural or carnal tendency toward worldliness. In short, we must fill or instill our hearts and minds with the word of God. Notice, Jesus prays, in His high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John17:17). God’s word, active in our hearts and minds separates us from the world. So, first of all, we must fill our hearts and minds with true knowledge of God and with true love and devotion for God.

The only way to combat error is with truth. The truth of God, as revealed in the Holy Bible, should act as a grid or a filter; God’s instrument in our mind to expose error. For example, when a song is played in our hearing, or a movie for our viewing; we should consciously evaluate the song’s/movie’s message(s) or theme(s) in the light of God’s word. Neither we, nor our children, will do this little exercise without mental training. We must develop in ourselves and in our children the art of critical--or shall I say biblical--thinking. I am speaking now of the need for Christians to be discerning. Perhaps we should ask ourselves and/or our children, “Does this entertainment’s message [and all entertainment does have a message] concerning love, sex, women/men, religion, etc., agree with God’s truth?” It is understood that we cannot thwart worldliness in the minds of the ungodly but we can train and discipline our own minds.

Second, we should seek to live consistent Christian lives, eschewing all contradiction. In other words, we should avoid hypocrisy. I’ve heard it said tongue-in-cheek, “One definition of a hypocrite is this: Someone who is constantly offended by all of the sex, language, and violence, coming from their VCR.” [Obviously, this definition is somewhat dated. Perhaps now, in the name of precision, we should say that a hypocrite is someone who is constantly offended by the things coming from their "dvd player."]

The bottom line here is this: Our homes should be Godly. We cannot control music/media in the world, but we certainly can control it in our own homes. And yes, this includes controlling what our children say, hear, and watch in our homes. The attitude needs to be something along the line, “Ours is a Christian home and the media we bring into our home will reflect this.”

Now, I’ve no intention of being legalistic, offering some sort of unbiblical “checklist” for all forms of media acceptable in a Christian home. The matter concerning sanctifying our home and home life should be done prayerfully, biblically, and authentically under the Lordship of Christ. What the Griffins allow you may not, and what you allow the Griffins may not. We are not called to please each other, to give an account to each other, as much as we are called to please and to give an account to God.

Each day affords ample opportunity for us to humbly teach and model godliness to our neighbor [in the biblical sense of the word] and to our children; not by withdrawing from the culture, but by engaging the culture from within a biblical worldview. Finally, I close with a sad observation, written some years ago: The problem is not that the church is in the world but that the world is in the church.

Let us pray as Jesus prayed: Father, do not take the Church out of the world, but please, do take the world out of the Church. Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Anti-Rapture: Taking the World Out of Christians

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:15-17)
Last week we addressed the vulgarity, specifically of a sexual sort, in much if not most, of contemporary, popular music. I concluded by drawing attention to a study in the August issue of Pediatrics, which found that teens who regularly listen to sexually charged music are much more likely to be sexually active than those who do not. Like it or not, we are influenced, heavily influenced, by media. This influence comes to us from media of all types, not just music. Think of how influenced our society is by television and movies; not to mention the cultural phenomenon of the internet. A shrinking number of our society is still impacted by the print media. We would also point out that the Christian must not only deal with entertainment media, but also with a twenty-four hour, ratings starved news media [which of course seeks to be more and more entertaining]. And let us not overlook the secularized education media, with its undisguised prejudice and disdain for the Christian faith.

As we contemplate all of these things, a burning question arises: How are we to be in the world but not of it? Obviously, being in the world is not at all difficult, it’s the “not of it” part that gives us pause. The question now before us is both theological and practical, and it is as old as man himself. The question of separation from the world, sanctification, if you will; did not come about with the advent of secular media. No, the righteous have been set apart from the unrighteous--by God--from the time of Cain and Abel [one could arguably go even further back than man, even to the fallen and un-fallen angels], all the way through to this present time. The separation of the righteous from the unrighteous will ultimately culminate, eternally culminate, in the final states of Heaven and Hell. This ultimate and final separation between Heaven and Hell is wonderfully depicted in C. S. Lewis’ fictional work, “The Great Divorce.”

It is God Himself who separates the righteous from the unrighteous. Jesus tells us this in startling terms.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household...When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 10:34-36; 25:31-33)
So it is, God always has, and always will, separate the righteous from the unrighteous. This is what it means to be God’s “elect,” His “chosen,” His “called out ones” or “church.” God’s children are separated, by God Himself, from the rest of the world. This is the import of Christ’s indicative statement, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Do we not see God Himself separating His saints from Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob [Israel], et al.; all the way through the redemptive history of the Old Testament church? And do we not further see God, in the lives of the Apostles and each and every follower of Jesus Christ, separating unto Himself the New Testament church?
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God...(1Peter 2:9-10a)
Notice the words of Jesus again, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” God separates His elect people from the world, in both Testaments, by placing them in Christ. Only by being in Christ are we separated from the world. There is no middle ground. We are either in Christ or we are in the world. This is the “theological side” of the issue of separation.

Next time we will explore the “practical side” of our sanctification. The question then becomes, How do Christians live out, in the day-to-day, their sanctification? Are we to close ourselves off--much like the Amish--from the rest of the world, or practice some sort of monasticism? Or is there another way to be in the world but not of it?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

  A few years ago I was watching my daughter playing softball. In this particular tournament, a disc jockey was playing popular music over two loudspeakers. He played between innings and in-between every batter. The girls, including my own, loved it. I hated it. “Why did you hate it?” you ask. Well, it wasn’t that they were playing music, it was the music they were playing. You see, and I’m being generous here, I would venture to say that at least seven out of every ten songs were nothing short of vulgar. Vulgar has two definitions. First, vulgar connotes: “of, characteristic of, belonging to, or common to the great mass of people in general; common; popular.” Second, vulgar means: “a) characterized by a lack of culture, refinement, taste, restraint, sensitivity, etc.; coarse; crude; boorish b) indecent or obscene.”
            The songs were vulgar in every sense of the word. One of my boys remarked to me, “Don’t they know this tournament is for ‘12 and under’ girls?” Obviously, [and maybe because I was there?] he felt the weight of vulgarity, spewing forth for all to hear. Let me add, he felt the weight of vulgarity, spewing forth for all to hear and enjoy. Yes, enjoy. In our society, vulgarity is quite enjoyable. I observed many of the girls, in the dugout and warming up on the field, sort of “dancing” [thankfully, none of their “dances” were inappropriate] to the music. None of this was surprising. This kind of movement to music is almost involuntary. We’ve all experienced this.
            Also, not surprising but rather disturbing, was the response of the parents to the onslaught of vulgarity aimed towards their little girls. Parents, especially moms, seemed to enjoy the sexually charged maestro every bit as much as the impressionable youths in their care. I heard moms singing along, rhythmically swaying in their lawn chairs, delighting in illicit lyrics with their young daughters.  Some at this point, will judge me to be a Puritan, a prude, or something worse. But something is amiss when vulgarity is no longer met with any amount of shame whatsoever.
            There was a time, in the not so distant past, when such filth wasn’t fit for “women and children.” Such things were considered unfit for women and children because it was perceived that women [here we refer to women in the sense of “ladies”] and children were pure or innocent. I am persuaded that our society has all but lost its sense of shame, and consequently, we have severely diminished the concept of innocence. This diminishing of innocence results in our children, at younger and younger ages, being inundated--unceasingly bombarded--with graphic sexual images and words. If you don’t believe this, turn on the country music channel or rock music channel on your television. If you do this, I assure you, every day [mornings and afternoons] and every night you will be confronted with words and images of perversion. In pop culture, vulgarity rules the day.
            Some time later, as I discussed this moral erosion in popular music, someone remarked to me, “Well, most people don’t think about things as deeply as you do.” My reply to this assertion was basically twofold. First, a question: How deeply does one have to think in order to comprehend such blatant vulgarity? The messages in popular music today aren’t hidden. They’re incredibly straightforward and explicit. Subtlety is a lost art and the days of “innuendo” are long gone.  Whoever writes such vulgar lyrics clearly isn’t thinking deeply, so why is “deep thought” necessary to navigate the writer’s shallow cesspool? Vulgarity is shallow, not deep. This too reflects dismally on our culture. Second, I pointed out to my friend that I witnessed mothers and daughters singing along with the music. In other words, they were thinking sufficiently enough to utter the right lyrics at the right time. Granted, they may not have consciously processed what they were saying, but nevertheless the message seeps through. And the message which inevitably seeps through is absolutely demoralizing.
            Some would say that I’m making much ado about nothing. The argument may sound something like this, “Well, sure. The music’s vulgar and everybody knows it. But what’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone. Older generations have always disapproved of popular music. Remember Elvis? You’re just showing your age. Lighten up!” I understand the sentiment, but I believe it to be misguided; and a study published in Pediatrics, backs me up on this.
Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs...Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music. Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14227775/)

           I remember a little ditty from childhood with a line which reads, "Oh, be careful little ears what you hear." I don't suppose I fully appreciated the truth of these lyrics as I belted them out in Sunday school.  But the established truth is, that messages set to rhyme and rhythm have a way of seeping into our consciousness and affecting our thought patterns. Why else would studios, stadiums, and stores, select sound tracks? Why don't dental offices play the theme from "Jaws"? Why do churches wage "worship wars"? Because music matters. So do be careful little ears what you hear. Be careful indeed.